Big Draw Day – Walking with Code

October 24th was “big draw day” and our school joined in a fantastic day of art themed workshops, which saw some marvelous work produced by our students and an opportunity for us to get them involved in using ICT around the theme for the day, which was “Taking a line for a walk”.

Initially when we discussed plans for this day, a colleague, Rob Carpenter, asked if we could consider something using fractals as a workshop, sadly we didn’t pursue that angle, maybe next year, however we did manage to follow the theme and literally take a line for a walk with code and also enjoy a fantastic day of fun, exploring interactivity using the Microsoft Kinect.

The focus artist for this years event was Keith Haring, he is someone I wasn’t particularly aware of but whose work seems oddly familiar, so if like me you haven’t come across his work before, you might wish to pop his name in your favourite search engine and explore his work a bit more.

Keith Haring, American Pop Artist, Graffiti Artist and Social Activist
(1958-90).

“The only way art lives is through the experience of the observer. The reality of art begins with the eyes of the beholder, through imagination, invention and confrontation”. – Keith Haring (1958-90)

Keith Haring a pop and graffiti artist whose work responded to the street culture of New York City in the 1980s, died in 1990, however his work, in much the same way as Warhol’s, became part of the artistic visual language of the last century.

I don’t remember having seen much of his work before but it’s easy to see why our students would like Haring’s work, the bright bold colours and thick black lines give a cartoon feel to many images and I think it immediately feels comfortable and accessible to our students, although Haring’s social comment and subject matter is often more controversial and  provocative.

“Dance”- Keith Haring.

I had considered using code from a previous application we had used about a year ago, which used lines as well as other shapes to create an image but it didn’t work as well as another project I had been working on, so I think because that was fresh I sent some images to two colleagues for feedback and we decided to use the newer Generative Art application together with some Kinect applications created by Amnon Owed and the “Drawing with Sounds” application I covered in an earlier post.

Example of the Art produced from an earlier sketch built in Processing (2011).

The earlier sketch produced some nice results but required further manipulation in PhotoScape, an open-source photo manipulation package.

The newer sketch I had been working on was inspired by something I had seen on another website about three months ago, which if I’m honest produced a much simpler but more beautiful result than mine, however overall I was happy with the results and “big draw day” looked like it might be the chance to use it.

I had used it in school once or twice as a trial about three weeks before “big draw day” including a session with a student in my class in the sensory room who really liked to create images with the sketch projected onto a large white wall, producing an image over twelve feet wide.

An example is shown below.

An example of the type of image the new sketch produced for “Big Draw Day” 2012.

The program starts by running in a monochrome value but allows the user simple controls to change the colour by either pressing the ‘space bar’ for a random colour, ‘m’ for additional monochrome values from mid grey to white and ‘b’ for black only, all the fill() values have a degree of opacity or alpha value, so you can see the other layers and colours through the top ones. In addition the user can wipe the sketch at any time to start again and the application allows for the user to export their image as a .jpg file, with a time and date stamp together with the framecount number.  This sketch went through 4 versions but somewhere along the development path I over complicated it and broke the type of image it produced.  The sketch uses 4 instances of PVector to animate and draw 3 lines and 3 ellipses to produce the thinner black lines the code was taking for a walk. The vectors then have a number of “if” conditional tests and statements applied to them, which change the direction and behaviour of the lines when that condition is met or exceeded.  I also discovered I needed to change the starting position of the vector coordinates several times to get a more open type of image and reduce the velocity of the vectors as initially it was too fast, leading to the black lines being broken.  Overall I think we were pleased with the results, but mainly because our students enjoyed it and found it easier to use than the earlier sketch.  One student said  “I really like the colours and watching the image build up”.  I had played around with this idea for a few months, when some of you might recall from an earlier post that my laptop died, it was one of the pieces of code I hadn’t backed up.  I learnt several things on this project, back up regularly, exercise better version control so I could more easily resort back to earlier, less complicated and better versions and remember to code the escape key out as a usable function, especially as one of our students discovered this early and quite enjoyed the cause and effect of pressing that repeatedly as a way of demonstrating his critical judgement on my efforts perhaps.  There is an excellent tutorial on the use of PVector on the Processing site which can be found here, which is based on Daniel Shiffmans book “The Nature of Code”.

The other really enjoyable aspect to the day was the engagement with the Microsoft Kinect  running two applications coded by Amnon Owed, which has been covered by my colleague James Winchester on his site SEN Classroom and a session in the afternoon using Visikord, which is a fantastic application for use with the Kinect covered here on the KinectSEN Wiki created by Anthony Rhys at Trinity Fields in Ystrad Mynach, Caerphilly, Wales.  Overall it was a fantastic day, with about 25 students joining us to have fun producing art or accessing interactive applications on the Kinect, across 5 sessions throughout the day, where we were able to successfully use the technology to provide engagement, interaction, increase access, promote social communication and enhance learning opportunities for our students.

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