How to Make ASCII Art Pictures with Keyboard Keys

Originally published to my HubPages account. Moved here.

I make ASCII art. I started in 1998 and I still take time to type out a picture now and then. Usually, the holidays inspire me to get creative with the keyboard. Making art is a nice change from using the keyboard to type out word and sentences.

Finding Notepad on a Windows Computer

Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Notepad

Click Start or the Windows graphic at the bottom left on your computer. This will pull up a list of programs. Select All Programs, so you can see everything. Then go to Accessories and find Notepad on that list. Open Notepad by clicking it.

Actually making ASCII art is simple and straight forward.

Start with an empty (clean, untouched) Notepad on your computer. In MS Windows this is a plain .txt (text) file. When you open this file you can tap your mouse on the empty space to set your keyboard cursor in the right place. Go down a few lines, use carriage returns. Then use the space bar to move the cursor out towards the middle of the page/ screen. This gives you a little working space above and to the side, so you don’t start typing on the first line, as if you were going to write. This time you’re going to make art and you want some space over and under your cursor. Consider this blank text file to be your canvas. Don’t be intimidated.

Look at your keyboard. Unless you have an old (faded and worn) keyboard (or use a language other than English) your keyboard should display everything you need right there. My own keyboard is a bit faded and worn for most of the letter characters – I’ve done a lot of touch typing. But, I know where things are. Still, it is easier to work with a keyboard that shows all the characters. If you want to start making ASCII art this could be a good reason to get a new keyboard, treat yourself.

Before you begin, have an idea of the picture you want to create.

I like to have a simple line drawing or clip art to work with. I often make my own doodle/ sketch if the idea has come from out of the blue, inspiration from my own mind. Having the drawing is a great help when it comes to actually creating a picture. I don’t see it as stealing art when I have a drawing from someone else. I am not copying it – but using a different medium to create my own vision, my own point of view of the original drawing. Trust me, my finished creation may not look much like the original once I’m done.

When you create art with the keyboard some things have to change in order to fit in with the text medium which you are using. For instance, you can’t put a line or a space exactly where you want one to appear. It has to be where the keyboard types it in. So you work with this and sometimes you can even make it work for you. Also, of course, you are working with the keyboard characters as they are. So you can’t make a J just a bit taller. You can’t make W thinner. You get the idea, or you soon will once you start working with all those characters.

Actually getting started is easy. You don’t need any extra supplies like paper or pens or guide books or whatever else you may imagine. A fresh coffee is nice, but that’s a personal touch.

Pick a place on your drawing/ sketch to start from. Look at the shape of the line.

The Shapes of Keyboard Characters

Does it have a curve?

) ( 6 9 C D c j S

Does it go straight up and down or does it lean?

| / \ l i L I : ; T t

Does it branch out?

Y V v U u W w K H X

Or is it a flat line?

_ – = +

Does it bend?

> < U N W R 7 2 ?

Maybe you want a circle?

O o () CD q p d b e

Do you need something high or low?

‘ , – ~ ` _

Do you want to make a dark space?

% & # @

As you type above and below your original work use the space bar and your mouse to move the cursor. You will need typed spaces in your work to line things up right.

When you begin typing in the next row of your picture start by moving the cursor to the spot that matches up with the work you have already done.

You can make an ASCII art picture in all sizes, from tiny to huge. But, start with something a bit smaller. Mainly, it’s just easier to work with something that isn’t sprawling across the whole screen. A small sized ASCII art picture is easier to see as a whole when you begin working on how all those keyboard characters will fit together to shape a whole, finished picture.

Keyboard Art

Note – This was originally posted to a friend’s site in 2011. Her site is down now.

I’ve been working with ASCII Art again this year. It’s been awhile since I was active in the old ASCII art groups or wrote about it for WZ.com as a newsletter. I can’t even find a mention of my ASCII art section with the Wayback for WZ.com. Anyway, too long ago to keep track of I guess. ASCII art itself is considered pretty old fashioned in the evolving world of online art/ digital illustration. I miss it. Those days before HTML email and Flash on websites. ASCII art gave the Internet images without clogging up the loading speed for email or web pages. It was nice. The irony is that we have so much faster speeds now but it really doesn’t load much faster than I remember from 10 years ago with a 14K modem. The bloated files slow it down.

ASCII art is basically keyboard art, text art, created with the characters on the standard computer keyboard. The letters, numbers and range of punctuation available at the touch of your fingertips. Some people use more characters and create ANSI art. I’ve always felt that was a bit of a cheat, adding more characters takes away the challenge of sticking to the limits set by the keyboard.

Back when IRC (Internet Relay Chat) was popular people used the ASCII Art to add images to their lines of chat. Using some Java and some HTML they created ASCII pictures in colour. The downside was that they used ASCII art, coloured it and then claimed it as their own work. This caused friction between the original artists and the colourists. The artists didn’t want their work reclaimed, with the artist initials removed (forgotten). The colourists said they just wanted to make pretty pictures. Of course, I’m a bit biased.

ASCII art began with typewriters, before the computer age. If you search online you can find some examples for typewriter art.

I’ve been using my own ASCII Art (old and new) as well as the art of others on my blog, Word Grrls.

Saving ASCII Art History

Maybe ASCII art will just be a short term thing, relatively. It might pop up in our culture a few times over the next thousand years and some people could take a mild interest in it. I’m not thinking ASCII art is a classic art form which will endure the ages. But, it does bother me that, in the future, most ASCII art will be credited to “Anonymous”.

It’s easier to label it all anonymous than to track down original artists. Especially when initials (artist credits) are removed often and some artists never did add their initials. They were just little doodles done for a momentary amusement, a puzzle to work on before getting some real work done.

With that in mind I think I am worrying about nothing, or putting more thought into this than it deserves. But, I don’t think so. Sort of anyway.

I have a lot of files I have collected, mostly in plain text. It will be a LOT of work to sort them out (decide which artist initials were original and which it may have been stuck with along the way) but I would like to get this done. For posterity, for archivists and for Internet history.

I don’t think I will even try to find a history for each artist. Most use just their initials, or a nickname. They would be too hard to track down. Maybe some future historian will have better data and be able to figure it out. At least a few.

For now here are cars, a traffic jam, from Koshy George. Some of the original site is still online and some is online at the Wayback Machine. Note, the bottom line of text is out of place. I started fixing it then noticed I still missed the tire under the cabin part of the truck. A lot of the old files have problems like this. I have to assume my fixes are as originally intended.

I’ve saved the ASCII art. I will decide, figure out, what works for starting to post it. I could make it a membership thing. Or send out some of it as a newsletter. I don’t have a lot of faith in newsletters but it seems to be what people like (maybe a mobile phone thing).