I Draw Too

the journey is the destination. dan eldon

I have been experimenting with ideas on how to build a simple drawing application. I am putting aside my technical limitations by concentrating on the pure action of drawing and it’s relation with the computer. I am looking at two components of the drawing activity that i find equally important: the process or experience of drawing, and the product or final image. I am adopting a methodology based in the setting of obstructions, inspired by the Danish filmmakers Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier on their 2003 therapy-documentary film De Fem benspænd (the five obstructions). Based on a short film directed by Leth in 1967 called Det Perfekte Menneske (the perfect human), Lars suggested him to recreate the same film five more times, giving him a set of different technical/conceptual restrictions each time. Obstructions would provide a framework for the artist, defining what he could do in terms of what he couldn’t. It is a well known procedure in philosophy to define the space of a concept by measuring the boundaries of its negative space: I don’t know what this is, but I am certain it’s not that, or that or that. This is the reason why Jørgen found it really disturbing when Lars gave him the obstruction of ultimate freedom on his third assignment. It was too much freedom! Commercial graphics applications try to deliver the illusion of freedom in a very odd way. First, they almost remove the potential confrontation of the user with the act of drawing through a series of predefined objects and procedures, and second, they pretend to eliminate errors by delivering the famous undo command (probably the most used computer-only action added to the creation of graphics, an action that actually removes the effects of an undesired action from happening at all). The undo, although a very practical feature all of us have made profit from so many times over the years, might not have much of a place in the realms of experimentation and learning. Sometimes it is by fixing a mistake with the same tool that caused it what leads to a new form. Graphics applications make it possible to standardize graphics into a purely manufactured realm where everything looks just neat, and just the same.


The first general obstruction will take the mouse for granted (or trackpad or pen-and-tablet if you want) as the standard device to input the human gesture of drawing into the computer. It makes sense, because it’s relation with space is very similar to that of the pencil, or any other traditional drawing tool. The selection of this devices immediately forces a first fundamental difference between virtual and real: the resulting shape will not be rendered in the same place where the drawing has been made. Your eyes will not be looking at your hand as you draw.


The second general obstruction is to forbid the existence of the undo command. An action shall be an action. Once you did it, you have to live with it, and try to fix it if you regret it. You can delete the object you don’t want, or splatter something else on top of it until it disappears from your sight, but you will not undo. The rest of the obstructions, all of them particular, lead to different simple prototype sketches, that I am using to test and filter potential ideas. I will call the set of these Obstructions ProtoDraw (from first, anterior, primitive, original… um, drawing). My first couple of examples for subsets of ProtoDraw can be tried online as Processing Java Applets. Processing is a graphics programming environment that makes it easier to prototype sketches for systems and applications that heavily rely on graphics and interaction. DrawToo explores the integration of the keyboard into the drawing tool, enhancing the expresive potential of the stroke and giving the remaining hand (left or right) an active role in the process of drawing, without compromising the centralized one point in motion nature of drawing. As an obstruction, it means you can’t use the mouse events for anything but drawing. The rest will be the keyboard’s realm. Ink is affected by the importance of time both as an influence on the perception of the materials and as a tool itself. In general, graphics applications respond inmediately to the user when an action is chosen, but the response to the user’s command could also be meant to happen over time, giving the user a chance to understand his requested changes in a deeper way. As an obstruction, Ink means to force action on the setting of parameters such as color, or stroke weigth. Instead of being one mouse click away as usual, the selection of a certain color will involve a process of figuring out how to build that color, and a process over time that cleans the tool so it can be filled with the recently built color.




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