My Artistic Journey Though Computer History

Posted by on Oct 8, 2010 in Blog, Memoirs | No Comments
Art School Watercolor Project (2000)

Art School Watercolor Project (2000)
© The Wilkinson Gallery,LLC 


Computers, they are hard to avoid or even live without these days. They are all around us from our desktop to our pockets and just about all of us know how to use them on some level. I am guessing you are even using one to read this.

I remember the very moment that the computer profoundly changed my life. Back in 1984 I had the distinct pleasure of attending summer school (long story). One day our teacher took our class of underachievers down to the library to let us some educational games on the Apple IIe‘s they had there. Sure, like many kids of the time I had an Atari 2600 at home but the interactivity that I felt with the computer instantly blew me away and my life was forever changed. Thank you Mr. Jackson! I instantly knew I wanted one.

In sharp contrast to today where a computer can be purchased just about anywhere from Target to Best Buy and in hundreds of makes and models, back then there were far fewer choices. The industry was in it’s infancy. Apple’s first Macintosh computer with it’s Graphical User Interface or “GUI” (pronounced gooey to us nerds) was just released which would forever change the way we all interact with a computer but not before DOS based IBM compatibles would saturate the market with their boring text based interface.

I remember pouring over a copy of Consumer Reports which compared the IBM PC Jr. and the Apple Macintosh deciding which one I wanted. The Mac was nice and the concept of the mouse was intriguing but I was underwhelmed by it’s small size and it’s smaller black and white screen. So instead of making my decision based on what I would ultimately be able to do with it, like a naive kid I made my decision based on what it looked like. Plus the PC Jr. had a really cool wireless keyboard! In hindsight, the Mac would have been the better choice for me. If I only knew the Apple “fanboy” I would eventually become. Oh the irony!

IBM PC Jr. (1984)

IBM PC Jr. (1984)

On Christmas 1985 at the age of 14 I received my shiny new IBM PC Jr. Problem was I did not have the first clue what to do with it. I would certainly go on to learn a lot about them quickly and most importantly I would achieve a comfort level with a computer that most people did not yet have. I would add my first 1200bps modem and seach the telephone lines for BBSes (Bulliten Board Systems). These were really a primitive version of the internet before there was such a thing. I would go on to waste numerous hours plugging in countless lines of code that I found in the back of geek… I mean computer magazines for programs that just never seemed to work. Programing was clearly not in my future. With the aid of a new black and white printer and a print shop application, I was soon creating and printing out my first computer generated art… sort of.

That same year Commodore would release the Amiga. A computer way ahead of it’s time. With it’s Macintosh like mouse, GUI interface and it’s ability to display photo quality images, it stood out as a multimedia art machine much like today’s computers. With software that soon followed like Deluxe Paint and the Disney Animation Studio, the Amiga had the ability to create art and animation that my PC Jr. could not dream of. Of course I had to have one.

My desk 1988 (Amiga 200HD with EasyL tablet)

My desk 1988
(Amiga 200HD with EasyL tablet)

In 1988, once again I bypassed the Macintosh. This time for an Amiga 2000HD. Not a choice I regret either. It was an amazing machine and for the first time, I was truly creating computer generated art. I eventually added an “EasyL”, a pressure sensitive drawing tablet that would digitally transfer my drawings onto the computer as I drew on a piece of paper placed on the tablet (see inset photo). It is not unlike the Wacom Cintiq’ I use today. I would go on to create many digital illustrations with my Amiga as well as dabble in animation.

As I entered art school in 1990, I brought with me an elitist attitude that any other computer that was not an Amiga was crap. Yes, the Amiga was ahead of it’s time but I was in denial that by 1990, the rest of the industry had caught up and the Amiga platform was slowly dying. It was discontinued in 1991. During our Sophomore year we were first introduced to the Macintosh. With it’s easy to use interface, sharp graphics and Adobe Illustrator’s ability to draw perfectly smooth vectored graphics I was soon hooked and once again, I had to have one.

In 1993 I got my first Macintosh. A modest model called the LCII. What I did not realize I was missing in all the time I was using the PC Jr. and the Amiga is the fact that the Macintosh was a platform made specifically for someone just like me. Like everything Apple makes it was reliable, artistic and easy to use. It took away the intimidation of trying to figure out how to work the computer and just let me focus on being creative. In the years since I have owned nothing but Macs. I currently own a 17″ Macbook Pro and my workhorse Mac Pro.

These days I have completely traded my paints for pixels and use the computer as my tool to create just about everything I do. What I love about using the computer is the freedom it has given me to be more creative without the fear of ruining countless hours spent on a painting. I can throw digital paint all over my digital canvas with reckless abandon and if I don’t like it I can simply remove it.

Maybe this is not the most artistic attitude to have. After all, I was taught to explore, experiment and “work around the canvas”. Problem is I never

My desk 2010 (Mac Pro with Wacom Cintiq')

My desk 2010
(Mac Pro with Wacom Cintiq’)

listened to my painting teachers and always remained a very meticulous and controlled artist rendering little areas with my little brushes so I always felt in control of the painting.Working digitally I always have complete control. I no longer had to live with the creative fear that if I screw something up it is going to take hours to fix and I found this liberating. In an ironic twist, it is the computer has allowed me the freedom to explore and be more creative than I would have ever allowed myself in the real world where I can’t “undo” a mistake, or several of them with the click of the button. This has changed the way I work and create my art. It has opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities.

Technology exists to make our lives easier and it does. I can’t even begin to tell you what an amazing tool the Wacom Cintiq‘ is and how owning one has also once again changed the way I work in ways I never imagined. It allows all the traditional intuitiveness of working by hand with all the flexibility and convenience that the computer offers. It truly brings both worlds together and is SUCH an amazing time savor. I literally do everything on it and now feel I could not live without one. This video gives a great demonstration.

As wonderful a tool as the computer is, what we as artists or aspiring artists can’t lose sight of is the fact that the computer and technology should remain just that… a tool. A means to achieve a creative goal. Unfortunately there are too many people who buy themselves a computer and because their type looks crisp, they call themselves a designer or because they learn to throw a few Photoshop filters on a picture they call themselves an artist. They let the machine do the work without adding an ounce of creativity. At this point it has become less of a tool and more of a crutch. Unfortunately I see this far too often. In the end, just like a paint brush, a computer will not make great art on its own. It takes an artist to use it the right way to create great art.


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