Text Art Used for Newspaper Advertisments

It seemed that many of the newspapers of the era carried such illustrations, with large titles and sometimes simple shapes like hearts and crosses all composed out of type. I know it as ASCII art, but it appeared roughly a hundred years before the personal computer even existed. Of course, before there were computers, there were typewriters, and the first recorded instances of typewriter art date back to at least 1893, but I’d never seen a record of any other ASCII-type art as early as the 1870s. I felt like an archaeologist who picks up an ancient clay urn and finds a modern emoji on it.

In the early days of computers, those first graphics were text inside terminals or printed by daisywheel printers. However, unlike other ASCII art, the designs in these newspapers were definitely not created on typewriters—but painstakingly composed one letter at a time with blocks of type by professional typesetters. Nor are they actually art per se, but stylistic tactics employed to exploit scarcity as an advantage.

For most of the 19th century, newspapers were slim things. Every page had to be typeset by hand, meaning that the largest daily newspapers stretched to only 8 or 12 pages—and many were even shorter. Advertisers soon figured out how to exploit this scarcity of space by buying more ads than they needed, perhaps to deny their competitors any room. But once they had all that real estate, what do they do with it?

An ingenious solution emerged: What if, instead of giant letters, you could build large letters out of smaller blocks of text? I haven’t yet figured out the exact point when and where this practice started, but I did learn that it predated even the 1870s. I found an 1860 ad for hoop skirts in the shape of a skirt. And in 1862, Smith & Brothers brewery in New York placed ads with ASCII text in several papers nationwide.

Source: Solving a Century-Old Typographical Mystery – The Atlantic

You Don’t Need an ASCII Art Generator

Don’t be afraid to make your own ASCII art. Of course it won’t look just as you imagine, or want, right away. Mine didn’t. There are still ideas I start working on and end up deleting because they just aren’t working out. If something still has hope, I keep it. The point is, don’t get discouraged too easily.

Don’t be lazy either. Software can convert an image into text, that doesn’t make it art. Computer generated images are not art. Computers are not that advanced yet. A human still needs to be part of the process. If you’re just using software to copy art created by someone else… why are you bothering? Make something of your own.

Lastly, don’t steal or claim art as your own. Try making something of your own and don’t decide it’s too hard before you have really tried.

How to make your own ASCII art with your computer keyboard

I use Notepad with MS Windows. No extra features, nothing fancy. My favourite font with Notepad is FixedSys or Consolas. Change your Notepad settings by going to Format and then Font. Don’t use italics or bold. Later, if you save your ASCII art to an image file, you might see if it looks better using bold. Leave it off while you work on creating it. Set your font size to something you can work with. A little bigger helps but too big just doesn’t help at all.

Start with a stick figure. Pretty simple to make those basic shapes and then add details. Don’t try to start making some epic masterpiece on your first try, or your second, probably not your third either. Keep it simple while you figure things out.

Give yourself room to work. Start creating in the middle of the Notepad screen, not at the top or right at the side.

It can matter what part of the picture you start making. ASCII art relies on spacing, not just the space between characters but the space the letters hit on the page. Not everything meets up where you would like it to. Experiment, it’s the only way to really figure out how the letters, numbers and symbols work together. A stick figure is a good way to begin to understand this.

Start with the head. Go with a small head or try something bigger. Curved lines are harder to build. You will learn to layer things to make your curves. Don’t forget you can also skip a space, leave it empty, that can work better than adding more characters to fill in every space but make your picture look cluttered and complicated to work with.

You’re going to need to go back and forth, a lot. As you type in ASCII characters things move around and get out of place. The backspace key is the one you are likely to use more than any other on your keyboard. Pull characters (typewritten/ font characters) back into place with the backspace key. To move them the other direction, just use the space bar. Have patience! Moving things around can be a fiddly thing.

Add lines for the body, arms and legs. Feet can be a simple line too. Hands are easier to work on if your stick figure is bigger. Smaller pictures require more experimenting. You have less space to work with and only so many ASCII characters will fit in the space where you want them to.

Add a hat to your stick figure. Give it something individual, original and uniquely you. Or, try adding hair.

Get creative, try different characters to create the face for your stick figure. Can you change the look with just a small change to the face?

What will your stick figure wear? Try shoes instead of the simple flat feet.

Save what you have along the way. Just copy and paste your work as is and leave one as a reference and the other as a working copy. It helps to look back and see what worked before you made more changes. You might go back to what you had before, with a modification or two.

Don’t forget you have capital and small letters to work with. Every character you can see on your keyboard is available. A few are great for just that spot you needed a little something for.

Work on bigger and fancier images when you get the general feel for it. Consider using line art, my favourite, or get into shading and other more complicated methods.

Last tip – Don’t work in the dark. It’s really hard to see the keyboard that way.

When you’re done, or happy enough with what you’ve made, add your artist initials or your full name as a signature and artist credit.

 

Tracing Images to Make ASCII Art

How to make ASCII art by tracing digital images

I got the idea to try making ASCII art by tracing an image. To do so I had to find a way to make my Notepad transparent on the screen. I ended up using Peek Through. It has the least extra features but it gets the job done, with my own Notepad and settings for font, etc.

The two text editors have some interesting features, but I didn’t explore them. I may yet. At the time I just wanted to try tracing an image.

Tracing an image did not actually work out as well as I thought it could. For me it was better to stick with using an image (usually several different images) as inspiration for my own creation.

I found tracing difficult to work with because the font was smaller, in Transparent Notepad.

Most of all – I just didn’t want to work with the image exactly as-is. When tracing I lose the ability to adapt as I go along. It was too much like making a copy than making my own art.

An Interview with Joan Stark (Archived)

I knew Joan from the newsgroup but I have not found her online since she left the ASCII art newsgroup/ community. I think of her often, at least as often as I still see her ASCII art ripped off online. She has a style I can almost always spot, even if someone has removed or changed the artist initials with her art.

Her kids will be grown up now and she won’t be fighting for computer time. I hope life has gone along well for her, where ever she is.

Joan G. Stark’s Original ASCII

Believe it or not, I “discovered” ASCII art in winter of 1995. I think I saw a tiny bicycle made in ascii characters and was totally amazed by it. I joked that someone must have had too much time on their hands! But still I was in awe of it… I didn’t even know what it was called. After e-mailing several friends, I found out that it was called “ASCII art”. It was then that I found the USENET newsgroup alt.ascii-art and started lurking to find more of these computer pictures.

I then started collecting as much of the ASCII art as I could. I began wandering through the internet and realized that there was way too much to save. I would forget my idea of having a huge collection… I know where to find the pictures if I want something.

Being a “crafty” type person, I decided that I would try to make the ASCII pictures myself. I’ve always like to doodle on paper, so I figured it couldn’t be that much different. My first project was to make a signature for me to use. I started diddling around with the keyboard in May/June of 1996 by doing lettering. Someone then told me about “FIGLET”. For those of you who don’t know, FIGLET is a computer program that creates fancy lettering from text. Hearing about figlet took the thrill away from making the fonts- I could spend an hour creating an alphabet by hand and someone else could just press a computer key and have the letters pop up “pre-made”.

And so I went on to the pictures… I know that there are programs available to create ASCII art — (I don’t know that much about them…) — but the programs usually create solid-type ASCII art. Even then, the pictures still are pretty rough and need touch-ups to make them aesthetically correct. I have collected some conversion software information from alt.ascii-art and offer them to you– no guarantees– .

I make the line-style ASCII pictures and I don’t believe that there are programs for this style. Basically I sit down at the keyboard and start typing.

OK– so I can’t consider myself a “newbie” at ASCII art any more. The honeymoon is over! I’ve been making the pics since 1996. Some people are anticipating my “burn-out”– but I continue to make the ASCII art pictures and I still look forward to improving. I’d like to be able to look at each of my creations and say “wow!”– there are some that I like a lot and there are some that I consider “ok”. Most of the crummy ones have met their demise at the hands of the delete button. Despite this, I’ve included some of my early works in this gallery so you can see how my artwork has evolved. Perhaps I may inspire other budding ascii artists…

I am just amazed at all ASCII artwork. There are a limited number of characters available on the keyboard and they are all fixed. Considering this fact, it is truly remarkable that there are so many different ASCII art pictures.

I don’t know how long ASCII art has been around. I’ve been told that it dates back at least to the 1960s when computers consisted only of large main frames. There were no PCs and no monitors. Transmissions were done through terminals that were very much like electric typewriters. Games and pictures were done in ASCII. (Remember the original “Zork”?) Some of the pictures passed around then are still being passed around today. See History of ASCII Art.

For me, the ASCII art is still pretty new … although I remember as a kid, my father would take me to work with him on an occasional Saturday. While there, I would play on the secretary’s typewriter and make pictures on a sheet of paper using commas and lines– my “first” ASCII drawings!. (I would also link all of her paper clips together– shhh, don’t tell my dad!). I had a lot of fun those weekend mornings… I guess you could say that I’ve been making text art — even before computers! 🙂

But times have changed! Gone are the typewriters, papers, and carbon copies. I doodle as I did as a child… but now I don’t need a new sheet of paper or white-out when I make a mistake. Sigh… and my children have already connected my paper clips together! 🙁 But that’s OK, I don’t need them! 🙂 I just have to fight the kids for computer time!

Source: About Joan Stark