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.

ASCII Art Christmas Tree Lights Up

Update: I’ve been added as a contributor to the project on GitHub. With a link to my site. I’m happy with that. 

This is my original.

The copy below is nicely decorated, in colour. But, there are no artist initials.

I just went through and deleted all my art from Zazzle, all but closed up shop there, due to stolen art on the web. So much of it, without a link back to me,  without any credit for the original artist. People still assume any ASCII art is there for the taking. Wrong!

This script created with my ASCII Art Christmas tree has been downloaded 179 times in the last month. It is a project on Github. I would think people working in open source would give credit to people who have done the work.

In the past, I have given permission to people who wanted to use my art.  Mostly because they asked. No one has asked in a long time. They just take.

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.