Drawing and the Computer

The artistic and educational implications of using digital technology to modify and display drawing


Robert P. Taylor, Teachers College, Columbia University


Drawing and the Computer is written to celebrate the limited but revolutionary assistance digital technology puts in the hands of the artist and the art educator in the year 2000. The discussion is organized into three sections : (1) Using digital technology to modify art, (2) Using digital technology to display art, and (3) Implications for art and art education. Illustrations are taken from digitized versions of the author's drawings, prepared either for one of his websites, for an exhibition, or for some other purpose. Relevant websites are listed by URL in electronic references, and catalogues or other appropriate print sources are listed in print references.

Figure 1: Representative modifications of the digitized version of a drawing of Barnard's Great God Pan

Before proceeding further, two important facts should be stated. First, the author creates drawings initially using traditional tools (pencils, pens, etc) and not digital. This is by choice, and is conditioned by the artist's feeling that these traditional tools remain easier to manipulate, and by his practice of drawing in the field where viable digital alternatives remain harder to use and insufficiently portable. This is a personal choice and is not meant to imply other artists should necessarily follow suit. Second, this article does not mean to suggest that drawings, however created, should be displayed only in digital form. Some strengths the web has as a display vehicle are mentioned in the discussion, but this is not meant to imply that the web is always the best way to display art. Art modified with digital technology can be advantageously de-digitized and displayed on paper and other traditional display vehicles, as indeed have many of the author's drawings. What is implied is only this: where digitizing can be used to advantage, either for modification or display, it should.


Using digital technology to modify art

There are a number of ways to use technology to modify images once they have been scanning into the computer. In one sense, they represent ways to modify that are possible with traditional drawing tools, but so inconvenient, so slow, or so irreversible that artists attempt them only sparingly. The modifications discussed here include: (1) modifying the color or degree of brightness of a drawing's digitized version, (2) resizing all or some portion of the digitized drawing, and (3) replacing a detail within a drawing's digitized version with a new version of that detail .


Adding color or hue to a drawing's digitized version

The ability to easily modify a drawing's original color or brightness with digital technology is startling. Figure 1 above and Figure 2 below illustrate this. The drawing represented in three variants in Figure 1 was done in black pencil on thin, nearly translucent white paper, and looks in the original rather like the middle image in that figure. Because the paper was thin, a green hue was added to the digitized drawing by backing it with green card stock while scanning it into the computer. The brilliant background was added once the drawing was digitized, producing the colors in the left and right images. The miniature images in Figure 2, digitized composite of five drawings of Maillol's Springtime offers a further set of examples of such modification. Each original was done in pencil on white or nearly white paper, but the digitized version of each was uniquely brightened, given a particular background, or (in one case, the middle image) tinted, making the five digital images more varied than the originals. And Figure 3 offers yet another example - both the full images and the separate head were tinted after the image was digitized. In all cases, modification were done by using standard graphic software.

Figure 2: Maillol's Springtime - five views


Resizing all or some portion of the digitized drawing

Resizing an image once it has been digitized is routine and can be done within a remarkably wide range, without appreciable distortion. All the sites mentioned in this paper provide examples of resizing because to appear in the paper, each image had to be resized to fit this format. Each has appeared in website or traditional exhibition elsewhere, at two or more sizes different from its size here. The Great Good Pan image seen above, for example, can be seen at several slightly (2 or 3 inches ) larger sizes in the website SeeAnew and a radically larger size (24 inches high) in an exhibition in New York. The situation with respect to the five image Figure 2, is similar. A resized version of that five part image also appears in the site, SeeAnew, where it is displayed at about 1.5 times the size shown here. Moreover, the original drawing size is three or four times that shown here for each of the five images. Figure 3 (below) reproduced from Fountain, another website, presents a similar case with respect to the relative size of the original drawings compared to the versions reproduce in Figure 3 - the original drawings markedly larger. But in this instance, there is still another radical example. To accomplish the detail replacement (see discussion in next paragraph), the new substitute head (center) had to be re-scaled downward to less than a third its original size to match the scale of the recipient body (left image). Figure 6 below, (also from SeeAnew), presents other clear examples of the scaling up or down of digitized images. None of those thumbnails (see discussion later about thumbnails and displaying) are the size of the image or portion of image they point (link) to. Within SeeAnew, each of these thumbnails is less than half the size of corresponding portion of the original from which it was digitized.


Replacing a detail within a drawing's digitized version with a new version of that detail

The ease with which a detail may be replaced, whether the substitute detail is drawn traditionally and then digitized, or is created directly in digital form, is also remarkable. Figure 3, based on work for the website Fountain, presents a typical example, reproducing the relevant portions of the drawings discussed. In the course of making many drawings of Walter Schott's 1910 fountain piece Three Dancing Maidens to create the website, a drawing was done that was just right for its intended purpose in the website, save that the face was no good (the left image presents the relevant portion). A new drawing (center image presents the relevant portion) of the head alone was done, so it could be substituted for the original image's head once both had been digitized. To make it easier to draw the facial details, that new head was drawn at more than 4 times the scale of the original head.


Figure 3: Replacement of a Maiden's head

This head (center ) was then digitized, resized, tinted to match the original figure, and substituted for the unsatisfactory head in the digitized version of the original drawing, and the new image (right) was created. Figure 5 presents a similar example, from the work on Maillol's Springtime from website SeeAnew. There a scale misjudgment made in drawing the original with traditional tools left no room on the paper for the head, so the head was drawn off to the side, at the same scale. The two part drawing was subsequently digitized, the off-to-the-side head picked up, patched seamlessly on the trunk, and the resulting product saved as the new image.


Using digital technology to display art for instructional purposes

To demonstrate the power of digital technology to display are for instruction, this section elaborates three possibilities: (1) preserving initial, selected intermediate, and final stages of a drawing, (2) juxtaposing successive versions of a drawing to demonstrate error correction or routine development of that drawing, and (3) using thumbnails or miniatures to create visual references and pointers to related drawings. While additional possibilities might be articulated, these three suffice to suggest the power of using digital technology in this context.


Preserving initial, selected intermediate, and final stages of a drawing

To preserve versions of a drawing is simple with digital technology. Any version one wishes to preserve is simply digitized and saved. It can then be resurrected intact and displayed, exactly in the state it had reached when digitized, minus any and all changes made to the original thereafter. The three image composite from SeeAnew in Figure 4: Stages of a drawing provides an striking example of three stages in the development of one image. That on the left was a digitization of the initial sketch, the first version of the original drawing, completed quickly on the first visit to this sculpture. The center image is the digitization of the original drawing after it had been filled in extensively during a second visit. Because upon review next day, this second version's abdomen and breasts looked distorted and unlike the sculpture's, another visit was decided upon. First, however, the unsatisfactory version was digitized, though, prior to any further alteration of the drawing, so that this stage, with its defects, could be displayed later, as a step in the process of creating the final drawing. The last image is the digitization of the original drawing after appropriate improvements had been made, during a third visit and final visit. SeeAnew presents the three stages side-by-side, as shown here, to illustrate the process of drawing.

initial first final corrected final

Figure 4: Stages of a drawing:


Juxtaposing successive versions of a drawing to demonstrate error correction or routine development of that drawing

Besides showing three or more successive images to illustrate the general process of a drawing's development, two immediately successive stages can be displayed side-by-side to highlight error correction or change in a very convincing form. Figure 5: Fixing a misjudgment ( also from SeeAnew) offers an example, without including a distracting initial sketch as Figure 4 did. This composite includes two versions of a drawing. On the left is the digitization of the original version, a version in which, misjudging size, the artist ran short of space at the top for the head (where it should be) and drew it instead, in scale, out of place but on the same paper, below and off to the right. On the right is a later digitization showing how the drawing as it should look. To create the corrected version, the scanned in version of the original body was pasted into a larger frame, and the off-to-one-side head was merely picked up and pasted in place at the top of the figure's neck where it should have been in the first place. Again, the result was seamless, as one can see here or by inspecting the same image in

Figure 2 (second from the left in the series). By displaying the two contiguously, the viewer is able to appreciate the correction, and the composite image's maker is able to re-affirm that drawing is a process.

Figure 5: Fixing a misjudgment


Using thumbnails or miniatures to create visual indexes and pointers to related drawings

The use of miniature versions of part or all of each of a set of images adds a very powerful addition to the indexing of a site of images and to the pointer assistance given to the visitor. Figure 6: An index of thumbnails (from the site Flowery) provides a typical example. The viewer naturally can anticipate that each link leads to an image and can in many cases make reasonably appropriate assumptions about the kind of image to which each

Figure 6: An index of thumbnails

leads. Moreover, if the viewer is familiar with media, he or she can immediately infer from the thumbnail that some are watercolors, two are cutouts, and so on. These thumbnails and the miniatures in Figure 2 play similar roles, serving as keys to the contents of the website or portion of a website very effectively. The difference is that the greater detail of a full image miniature can convey more information but because it includes more information, it consumes more space on the display area.


Some implications for art and art education

This short presentation of some of the possible uses of digitization in modifying and presenting drawings is very suggestive the benefits its use can provide artists and art educators. Here is a summary of the implications for one or the other or both. First, art images can be digitized, and once digitized, can be modified in several ways that are consistent with those artists have long used in the time before digitization was possible, but that were never as easily accomplished or as irreversible as digitalization makes them.

Second, works of art once digitized can be productively displayed in ways difficult or impossible to manage without digitization, which can help reveal how art is made. In particular, displays of digitized images can be arranged to clearly demonstrate that creating a piece of art is a process and not an instantaneous discrete event in which the final product, complete in every sense, suddenly materializes, from nothing. Such displays can reveal both the process of normal progress or development without significant error and the process of error correction once it is detected. And finally, the wide range of digital image resizing facilitates constructing new more visual indexes to displays of various kinds, both in websites and elsewhere.

In summary, the single most important implication of all this, is that digitizing, saving, resurrecting, and using digitized versions of art images, the process of art can be easily and convincingly demonstrated, to the signigicant benefit of art appreciation and understanding.



Electronic References

Below are listed websites of drawings by the author, including those through which many of the ideas in the article were developed. The oldest is webbery, the first site Taylor developed to display drawings and the one in which many of the later ideas first appeared, like resizing, tinting, shading, and thematic organization with visual indexes of thumbnails.

Taylor, Robert P. ArtonArt New York, Teachers College, 1999

URL: www.tc.columbia.edu/~academic/taylor/artonart

Taylor, Robert P. Flowery New York, Teachers College, 2000

URL: www.tc.columbia.edu/~academic/taylor/flowery



Print References

Below are selected print references. Some present examples of drawings and other art that contributed to the author's ideas about drawing and the modification and display processes that have been used. Some discuss displaying, resizing, and preserving original images as they have been traditionally been viewed.