User Interaction in Digital Art Programs


Tools and productivity artifacts developed in just the last decade for digital art are absolutely new media that still mimic its original counterparts, paper and pen. While an eminent figure like Theodore Nelson may see this as baffling and counter-revolutionary, it is more of a transitional phase in art history. If art is to express oneself graphically or to accompany another work such as text as a comic book, then why should that artist be forced to accept a single way to input his information to a computer via electronic stylus?


Digital art and graphic manipulation tools like the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), Adobe Creative Suite, Blender, and Maya are already able to reproduce works of art on other mediums down to simulated paint strokes and canvas-emulating filters, yet the methods of creation are quite limited.


To encourage the artist’s ability to interact with the creative digital space, the tools mimic what the artist (at this point in art history and education) are likely to already be proficient in, as traditional drawing and painting is a core principle in educational programs. That is the computer window is laid out similar to his table at art school, with the main canvas taking up the majority of the screen real estate and a bar on the side holding all the utilities, tools, and palettes.


Macro actions like filters allow a commonly used effect to be applied with minimal extra work, while still allowing some modifications to its parameters. Toolboxes and help menus aid the user’s transition into a digital space, and tool icons are all pictorial representations of their function. Furthermore, these individual tools are grouped by effect, affording the user a logical connection with the layout of the palette window. However, this is one constraint imposed on the user: the inability to change layout and rearrange tools as he sees fit. While likely not dealbreaking, it breaks the illusion of traditional setups on a table.


This great difference from the tools used before digital media is a set of constraints for the user. The most obvious difference with using digital art tools is when drawing the curvature of a human with a supple wrist and charcoal pencil is replaced by a program with splining and curve-fitting algorithms. Digital tools of art and design seem less eloquent with the current limit on input methods: dropping the painter’s brush, the comic artist’s pencil, and the sculptor’s putty all to take up either a stylus and pad or mouse and keyboard. While tools have changed from stone-age smearing to pop-art blending, physical skill and techniques established and taught throughout history are now sidelined or pushed away entirely to allow the digital conversion.


This poor translation from analog to digital input methods is also seen in tactile feedback – a channel of information for the artist present in all forms of graphic design that is almost lost in digital art. The ability to reach out and feel a creative piece allows another dimension that digital art could not mimic, drawing hyperimmediacy into the study of differences between digital and analog art creation. Sometimes, however, feedback is conveyed through simulated feedback, such as a touchscreen keyboard vibrating slightly upon pressing an image of a button on-screen or the fine metal tip of a Wacom tablet’s stylus barely making a scratching sensation on the screen.


The process for creating digital art usually follows one of two paths: scanning or graphics tablets. The former involves drawing the design and then scanning it into a high-resolution digital image to be colored and modified to its final form. The latter relegates the artist to either peripherals usually not designed for art like mouse/keyboard or a drawing tablet, a stylus-based drawing platform, like Wacom products. Only peripherals like Wacom are specially designed for digital manipulation of images and are only usable with a stylus, whereas in tangible situations like canvas/paper the peripherals range from sketching with pens to brushing with brooms. Improvisation is harder with a medium that is limited to stylus input. Even via highgrade equipment like Wacom tablets, artists may still have trouble sketching on computers; they may instead opt to scan their drawings and use the computer for inking, coloring, layers, and realization (mise-en-scene, animation, print-ready products).


Aside from these interface constraints, compared to non-computing graphic creation, digital art, either created or scanned, is able to be created much faster with a higher degree of quality. For example, the painting La Trahison des images could be compared to image macros and memes in terms of what has physically been created – a simple image with a line of text – and at what cost in time and material. The portability of digital art is most facilitated by its mediation, where there are extremely popular sites dedicated to sharing images that could be uploaded in one geographic location and be immediately available for download anywhere else. Such portability is impossible with a page in a notebook. The ability for any work to be remediated as anything else is possible, such as creating an anime music video (amv) out of individual images taken via screenshot of an anime that may itself have been created by digitalizing (scanning or traced) from an initially drawn design, or comp. The content of the digital work is also often made for the digital medium, made to be displayed on a screen of some sort more often than canvas or paper. These choices made by multiple actors (drawer, illustrator, animator, poster, re-poster, remediator) who all used some kind of digital art manipulation program (Photoshop, Inkscape, Maya, Flickr, Canvas Networks) engage the agency of digital art and its respective tools.


Agency in narrative is essentially a live-blogger, narrating one’s own life where anything he decides becomes the next step in the narrative. The degree of agency in games can be limited by whether the game requires a certain objective to be moved on and thus how many outcomes the level designer created, or limited by the ways to manipulate the environment like in Minecraft. The latter is a better comparison to the agency within graphic arts programs. The user is able to take control of a large and complex set of tools to come to an infinite number of conclusions based on an infinite canvas, or at least innumerable conclusions based on a limited (although still very large) canvas. The schism that digital art tools have started with its analog counterparts is closing with recent improvements such as vector graphics, allowing the work to be less constrained by computer memory and rendering capability, and an expanding array of tools for both input and manipulation of graphic art.