I Like Making ASCII Art

This post was originally posted to Squidoo while I was writing there. That site was closed in 2014.

I Like Making ASCII ArtMaybe you have seen ASCII art and didn’t know what it was.

I make pictures using my computer keyboard – the characters of the keyboard, the text letters, punctuation marks and the numbers too. I enjoy ASCII art. Working with text to make a picture instead of words is like a puzzle, trying to fit the pieces into the right places and finding which text characters work best in which spaces.

I always thought I couldn’t draw so ASCII art became my outlet to put images from my mind into something I could show in print. (Because no one else can see all the stuff in your head).

My Experience as an ASCII Artist

1996 to Current

For me, ASCII art began in 1996 when I was new online and noticed amazing work done in keyboard text and used as signatures in email and online forums. I had to search to find the actual name, ASCII art. Those were the pre-Google days. I actually found it by asking someone on a website which was a one man project. I wish I still had the link so I could give credit to him. But, I don’t even know if the site is still active, or even still online.

My first ASCII art was a house with a tree and other touches added in. It wasn’t any house in particular so I had the freedom to create it however I liked. It did not turn out as well as I hoped. I was glad to have completed something in ASCII art myself but it wasn’t something I was going to show off.

In 1998 I found a group of ASCII artists on the newsgroups. You can still find those newsgroups, they were eventually taken over (and the archives kept) by Google. Take a look at Google Groups, search for ASCII art and you will find two groups in the alt and rec sections. There are actually even more ASCII art groups if you look for those in German and other European languages. Now and then I use a translator online because there is some really great ASCII art in those groups too.

I met several artists in 1998. My early attempts were given fair critics, some suggestions and only a little snickering behind the computer screens where I couldn’t see it. Joan Stark became famous for her ASCII art in those days. But, there were so many others who had wonderful ASCII art too. Joan was the most prolific and later, the most broken hearted as more and more of her ASCII art was stolen – credit for the work ripped off or claimed by someone else.

For a few years in between the late 1990′s and about 2010 I dropped out of making ASCII art myself. Most of the people from the group were also winding down. Our newsgroup was plagued with spam, our art was being stolen, some was taken to be coloured by people using IRC (Internet Relay Chat) but they also took the credit for our work off and claimed it was their work because they had changed it so much. Another problem was someone who took the art and perverted it into obnoxious jokes and then posted it to the group just to aggravate everyone. Myself, I was disheartened when a set of jack-o-lanterns I created was ripped off – a woman in Australia claimed them as her own. She even posted them to the ASCII art newsgroup and asked everyone what they thought of her great ASCII work.

At the end of 2010 something sparked in me and I once again took up ASCII art, just for myself. I had enjoyed it so much when I was just creating something for myself and then showing and getting feedback, tips and encouragement in the group. Almost no one was left from the group and I have only tracked down a few of them since 2010. But, I found it didn’t matter. My skill had somehow improved over the years, even though I had done almost nothing.

I began making ASCII art for holidays, like Christmas and Halloween and some which had very little (to none) ASCII art – like Groundhog Day. It became fun again and I didn’t mind working alone.

Lately I have been getting requests for ASCII art. I didn’t put my name out there so it was nice to be asked for something special. I have made ASCII art for a print literary magazine. They offered to pay but never did, so I won’t be mentioning their name. The rest has been freebie work and at least it’s honest freebie work. I have created ASCII art for a text based game and have a ‘contract’ to work on larger images for another game which wants ASCII art backgrounds. I’ve also created ASCII art for family events like a friend’s wedding, the birth of my sister’s first baby and my nephew, Zack, who started living on his own while attending his first year of university.

Doing More With ASCII Art

ASCII art in itself is nice but you can do things with the ASCII art you create. I’ve got a list of things you may not have thought of.

ASCII Art in HTML Source Code – Now and then if you look at the source code (the HTML code) of websites you can find ASCII art. Its like a secret surprise for those who dig a little deeper.

ASCII Art as Image Tags – If you know what the alt image tags are (and where they are) you could give this a try.

Passwords in ASCII Art – One line ASCII art can be used as a unique password.

Word Play with ASCII Art – Rebus Puzzles, also known as Wordies can be created with ASCII art.

Places to Find ASCII Art Online

Curlie – ASCII Art  – I founded and still maintain the links in this category at the web directory, formerly known as The Open Directory Project.
Chris’s ASCII Art Collection – Still actively maintained but a more selective collection of ASCII art.
ASCII Art Dictionary – My favourite ASCII art collection, the easiest to search, but not as actively maintained.

These were comments from the original post on Squidoo. I couldn’t find a good way to import them but didn’t want to leave them behind. Right now the links to the images and profiles will work. I expect that will change when the entire site is due to be pulled offline in October, 2014.

Read more

ASCII Art as Alt Image Tags

Unfortunately, I can not find the original source I read for this idea and my image showing how I did get it to work is also lost due to moving my site around and losing post content. So, this post is a bit of a bust now. It should work but somehow I’m not getting it to load with the ASCII art in the alt description. Maybe it is an update to current web browsers that has foiled the old trick. Anyway, I am leaving the post up because I still like the idea.

Not everyone tinkers with HTML any more. If you have and know what the alt image tags are (and where they are) you could give this a try.

It’s not very practical now that almost no one uses a text based web browser. In the early days of the Internet a text based browser was practical because there were few images and if you stuck with text only web surfing you could be much faster in the days of dial up modems.
As you can see below the code is basic HTML for adding an image with the addition of the alt attribute to describe the image. This alt tag is still practical for people who concern themselves with SEO. Mainly it is good for keeping your site accessible for those who are vision impaired and have technology which will read those image tags but be unable to describe the image unless the tag exists to be read.

To do this, have your ASCII art ready. Create an ASCII image to go with the image (graphic/ photograph) you are using.
In your HTML code include the entire <IMG> tag inside <PRE>…</PRE> tags, and put the ASCII art inside the ALT attribute.

With this code a text only web browser would pick up only the image text and thus show your ASCII art picture. The ASCII art picture would not benefit the vision impaired web reader/ browser. So it is a good idea to add a word to describe your image along with the ASCII art picture.

Do not add text before or after the image itself. It will work as part of the image. Keep it all between the quote marks and the PRE tags (which tell the web browser this is pre-formatted information which should be kept “as is” with line breaks and spaces).