Explorations in Digital Drawing

The cleanliness of computers as a creative medium – it appeals to me greatly.

Rarely in the past 25-plus years of my career have I truly let my hands get dirty during image-making.

Click on the image below to view my gallery of drawings and sketches:

Drawing Explorations Gallery

It didn’t start out digital…

In 1984, prior to entering Foundation art and design studies at Emily Carr College, I pushed myself through a phase of drawing and sketching around my neighbourhood. It was my attempt to add more meat to my portfolio, and more confidence to my hand and eye. I sketched people throughout the Granville Island Public Market, and filled numerous cheap drugstore sketchbooks with felt pen and graphite scribbles of the backs of a zillion unsuspecting heads. I bought cheap black markers at corner stores, and nice fine-tipped fibre drawing pens at the UBC bookstore. I used to enjoy coming home stiff, sore and chilled from sitting outside for hours drawing fishing boats and beat-up staircases, with my hands covered in graphite and little black ink smudges. It felt like work. It felt like paying dues.

In Foundation and Beyond: The computer as a drawing tool…

I’ve had an interest in drawing using digital tools ever since I plunked around on the Commodore 64 in 1986. We started in computer drawing and animation using Microsoft BASIC, by typing in some programs to turn the C-64s coarse coloured blocks and symbols into some kind of animated representation. I failed utterly in my first attempt, and was only able to get a yellow box to blink, while at least one classmate had created a lighthouse with sweeping light. My first attempt at drawing with light by programming was difficult one.

Later, in 1987, using a KoalaPad drawing tablet made drawing and animation a lot of fun on the C-64. For years after that, I was a firm devotee of the college’s Amiga platform, and became very adept at 2D and 3D drawing and animation using a mouse (or as one of my instructors called it, “drawing with a brick on a string”).

Expanding the definition of “drawing”

If drawing can be defined as making distinguishable marks on some kind of background, then I eventually began drawing with light (pixels) in more ways than by using the brick on the string. I learned about human-computer interfacing projects and electronically augmented performance pieces by artists. I began exploring different ways to interact and interface with a computer, and new ways to interpret hand movements into marks in real-time.

My first drawing/interfacing project was using the Atari 800 and AtariBASIC. The 800 had a lot of game ports for reading joysticks for multi-player games, so I was able to attach a couple of homemade interface devices to it in order to turn different movements into drawing actions.

Here are two interface devices I created:

  • The Glove: A cloth glove with tin contact plates glued and sewn onto it. By touching my fingertips to my palm I could specify a direction in which a little dot would travel. Pressing my thumb to the side of my hand would cycle to a random colour. (This glove was featured with my AmigaBASIC program in the drawing and 2D educational TV series “Mark and Image”.)
  • The Arm Slider: On my other arm, I had rigged an analog potentiometer – a surplus volume slider from an old stereo – which gave me a way to send an analog value from 0 to 255 to the Atari’s two analog game ports. By bending my left arm up or down at the elbow, I could specify a value, which I would use as the radius of circles or the length/height of squares.

Through those experiments, drawing lines and shapes took on a particular physical performance and sensation. Much more of my upper body was involved in image-making.

After leaving art school, rediscovering sketching

I’ve kept all my sketchbooks since high school. My high school art teacher Mr. Prinsen had impressed on me the importance of keeping sketchbooks and use them regularly. As I’ve gotten busier and more involved in my multimedia and digital graphic design career, my sketchbooks have seen less and less use, but every so often, when I need a creative boost or feel the need to reconnect with drawing, I will go back to them.

Recently, I’ve rediscovered sketching as a creative outlet. Some nice brush pens from Deserres helped make pen and ink fast and clean. But, I’ve also used smartphones and tablets as drawing devices.¬† In 2007, I first tried doing little drawings on the tiny screen of my Palm Treo 650 smartphone, with limited success. Recently, I began sketching on my Blackberry Playbook tablet using a Jot precision stylus, with reasonable results. By using a precision stylus, a Playbook or iPad becomes a much more satisfying full-colour drawing and painting tool. It still doesn’t have the responsiveness and control of pen and paper – yet.

Probably in the next 5-10 years, large touch-sensitive flat panels may replace easels and drawing boards at a price point I could afford. That is something to look forward to…

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Explorations in learning, ideas, and design by E. John Love