The History of Computer Graphics and Digital Art Project
Describe your field. Why are you interested in Computer Art/ Computer Graphics and what (event, need, idea, hope, obstacle) caused your involvement? Summarize your line of development (the essence of your input to the field) in relation to concurrent technology.
I begin exploring the computer’s potential for fine art imaging in 1978. It has been a continuous path since then. I knew that the computer would be impacting my future, and wanted to be on the front lines as it infiltrated the visual arts. I had support for my research from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and started teaching a Computer Graphics course there in 1984. I have been deeply involved in the intersection between computing and the visual arts ever since.
Does the computer allow you to think visually about some topic or process in new ways? How has this influenced your work? Describe your ultimate accomplishment.
We continue to be challenged by the power and versatility of this mega tool that is our primary creative medium, repository of vital information and link to ideas and people –especially each other as we live in three different time zones. In addition to exploring new ways of combining digital and traditional media, together we have shared what we learned:
• at Vinalhaven Press & Foundation, Work/Tank Think/Shop: Media for the New Millennium, working with curators from across the country to help them understand digital processes in 1997
• at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in a 21 day artist-in-residency, introducing artists, staff and the general public to Digital Atelier: printmaking for the 21st century.. For this work we were awarded the Smithsonian/ Computerworld Technology in the Arts Medal in 1998;
• at the Brooklyn Museum of Art 2001 opening for Digital: Printimaking Now, demonstrating the integration of digital and traditional media;
• authoring Digital Art Studio: Techniques for combining inkjet printing with traditional art materials, Watson- Guptill, August 2004
In addition Dot worked in administration and taught for 27 years at Massachusetts College of Art, computerizing the college’s administrative and academic programs in the mid 1970’s and founding the Computer Arts Center. Karin taught computers in the arts for 14 years at colleges and universities in Iowa, California and Washington.
We are all professional “visual thinkers” and find the computer a natural extension to that skill. “Undos” encourage visual experimentation just like digital word editing frees one to explore written composition.
The computer allows us to rapidly test color shifts, densities, and layering of collage element prior to coming to an idea. As we continued to develop new ways of working, the computer is seamlessly integrated into the process.
Has the field of computer art and graphics progressed in the ways that you expected? What has surprised you? What do you like about its progress and what do you wish had happened differently? What do you think the future holds for visual computing in science/art? Please make some predictions or wish lists for the near- and long-term future.
The exponential growth in the use of computers during the past decades has exceeded anyone's wildest expectations. There is a sense of personal vindication as what was initially viewed as an insane career choice now seems to have been visionary.
In the early 90’s we approached printer manufacturers to request access to printers that were marketed to the sign industry. Asking to use these machines as art tools was met with a “you want to do WHAT?” It is the artist that has driven the demand for archival inks and paper and the ability to print on thick, irregular surfaces.
We see flatbed technology migrating to small sizes and spilling into the artist studio, following the path large format inkjet printers forged ten years ago, and opening the door to imaging on every conceivable surface.
Our wish list includes white and metallic inks, water-based ink-sets that can be used on untreated surfaces, print heads higher off the paper, and more flexibility in printer functionality.
Although most media attention will remain on the electronic arts, print artists have quietly integrated the digital printer into their studios as it is an irresistible and powerful tool. The computer is a tool/ medium that one can never completely master - a moving target that continuously challenges us to grow and change.
Describe your dream environment for enhancing your project ideas. What are your preferred tools for creating and how do they work? What tools (hardware/software) you have used initially had the strongest impact on your work?
My experience was similar to Dots. I used and taught on IBM with 8 colors, Mindset/Lumina, Amiga and finally Macintosh computers, but my first exposure was programming graphics in Basic.
I would like to see the digital tools become even easier and more transparent in my studio. Most days they are, but when something goes wrong there is only me to fix it and it can take hours to days. Part of the transparency would be to work with larger files without slowing down the computer: I want my CPU to keep pace with my imagination in terms of speed. Wireless and problem free small area networks would be wonderful.
Describe how you think specific advancements in technology, such as wireframe, hidden line removal, scanner, laser, HTML, Java applets, or any other advancement determined the way the approaches to creating art/graphics evolved?
Lenticular software for the computer, high resolution large format printers and lens up to 4’ x 8’ have given artists the ability to create a series of "frames" (usually 2 to 24) and view them sequentially to create animation, depth and/or morphing of images. Because of the illusion of movement and depth in the image, there is a level of ambiguity that engages and involves the viewer. While some artists may be deterred by the steep learning curve, this emerging technology creates a new challenge and opportunity for artists who are interested in pushing boundaries.
An artist desiring to create lenticulars must learn a new way to think about molding unseen forms in three dimensional space using tools that provide no previews or references to that space. It is the ultimate exercise in visualization.
The first demonstration of wide-format inkjet printing for wearable art was at Bonny Lhotka’s studio in 1998 with silk fabrics coated and mounted by Jacquard. It was apparent that the ability to map images to the garment patterns would provide an opportunity to create unique garments that would lead to mass customization for textiles. Although reactive and acid dyes are the traditional methods for coloring fibers there is work being done to develop pigment inks with binders for direct digital imaging on textiles.
How would you characterize the milestones (every ten years) in the development of computer technology? Which ones were most influential in art/graphics?
From the fine art standpoint, two critical points were improvements in ink longevity and the release of commercial precoats (like inkAID) that can be painted on any surface to make it inkjet ready.
Thermal inkjet printers introduced in the early 90’s provided the first opportunity to an individual artist to make prints in their own studio.
Scanners have become an image capture device for collage artists.
Flatbed and 3D printers will again change the way digital artists create work.
Which persons would you indicate as the pioneers in the particular areas/stages in which decade?
The artists of Digital Atelier, Dorothy Krause, Bonny Lhotka and Karin Schminke explored inkjet printing from the time it was introduced to the present. They have had access to nearly all inkjet printers and shared their findings with other artists. They have influenced the product development and developed many new processes for integrating digital and traditional media. Their work has been widely published and they have given presentations and contributed to numerous books and publications.
In addition to the events listed in Question #2, some of their accomplishments are listed below:
In the early 90’s they developed a process for creating a digital print transfer similar to a Polaroid transfer. They then developed a gelatin solution that can receiver the fresh print to create a digital transfer fresco. This research led to the development of a process for making another product, similar to a Polaroid emulsion transfer, but larger and sturdier, that can be applied to dimensional surfaces.
In 1994 they proposed to Encad that “plotters” could be used as an art tool. The company loaned the artists printers and later along with Encad, Epson and CalComp became a major sponsor of the Digital Atelier at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1997.
In 1995 Bonny Lhotka approached Tangent Scanning with a proposal to use their 36 x 48 in flat bed scanner as a image capture device to for create original art (and as a tool for making art reproductions). The company had never considered the scanner would or could be used for art.
In 1996 they created hand cast paper at Tullis Studio and then printed on the sheets at AlphaMeric corporation. At the time it was the only flat bed printer available and it had never been used for fine art printmaking.
They were asked to be artists in residence at Herman Miller, Holland, Michigan to introduce the designers to the potential of digital imaging for customized office applications. The also introduced the concept of using lenticular images as a way to change the static office environment. The artists are on the design team for digital imaging of ‘blankets’ for the Resolve product line.