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Lesson Plans


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Robert Beeching (robprod)
Sun, 26 Jul 1998 12:19:26 -0700

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Are we talking about creating or manipulating here?

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Robert Beeching First Serial Rights

44655 Femmon Ranch Road Copyrightã 1998

POB 206 Approx.: 1103 words

Ahwahnee, Ca 93601

209 683 8293



By Robert Beeching


The year was 1981 when I purchased my first Apple IIe computer. As a visual artist, I was intrigued with the possibilities of transferring my knowledge of drawing and painting to the computer screen. Learning to draw at an early age, I felt confident that my skills would contribute to the success of my newfound computer literacy. WRONG!

The arduous task of learning to program a simple circle on the computer soon convinced me that computer graphics were far behind the capabilities of a human hand. Seventeen years later, computer limitations in the area of drawing and painting have not appreciably improved. Although the intricacies of computer programming have been disguised for the neophyte user, the actual end product is still sorely lacking in the areas of drawing and painting techniques. The computer continues to generate a pseudo artifact.

The quality of a hand-drawn line is virtually impossible to achieve when using the computer instrument called a "mouse." The process involves moving the mouse around on a flat padded surface, and trying desperately to keep a steady line going where you want it to on the computer screen where there is no contact to be made with the human hand. This lack of human contact, alone, produces an artificial and limited approach to the drawing process.

This tail-wagging-the-dog effect of technology has not only inhibited the natural drawing process, but has imposed its own physical limitations on the entire field of drawing and painting in the traditional sense. The human hand is now subjected to the limitations of the computer mouse not the other way round. Consequently, computer drawings and paintings are subject to the limitations of current technologies to the detriment of the drawing and painting process. This unnatural behavior results in inferior renderings which have become (out of ignorance) acceptable to the general populace.

The artificial line control, and pseudo painting techniques developed for computer use are a far cry from what can be produced by traditional drawing and painting methods of instruction. When children learn to draw, they use their own nervous system to transfer images to a sheet of drawing paper under their hand. Whether using a pencil, pen, or brush, this requires a sensitivity and control completely foreign to the computer mouse and drawing tablet.

Drawing with a computer mouse is somewhat like drawing by looking into a mirror. There is no direct contact with what one is attempting to draw or paint. The quality of line is set by the limitations of the computer program. There is little evidence that even with a pressure pen, one can achieve the quality of thick and thin line of the Chinese brush stroke.

The jittery line produced with most computer mice is caused by the limitations of the mouse, not the artist. The mouse does not react to the sensitivity of the human nervous system. On the contrary, the human nervous system must continually adjust to the limitations of the machine resulting in an artificial rendering at best.

After testing Disney's "MAGIC ARTIST," I questioned the company's claim that this was "The Ultimate Art Studio That Lets You Create Like A Disney Artist." In fact, no Disney animators use this program to create the cell animations for any of their feature productions. It would be virtually impossible to get the unique line flow of a Disney animated character with such a program.

What "Magic Artist," like other "paint" programs, offers is nothing more than a built-in set of prescribed lines, textures, and color palette from which to choose. The child is left to manipulate rather than to create images of his or her choosing, bypassing all traditional methods of visual arts instruction.

The artificial look of computer draw and paint programs tends to emphasize the current limitations of computer programming which contributes nothing to necessary process/skills development in the visual arts. In fact, these programs are inhibitors of the natural drawing and painting process.

By forcing children to buckle to the limitations of a computer mouse does little to develop the necessary visual awareness necessary to art production as a whole. What these programs encourage is a slavish adherence to a prescribed formula approach to drawing and painting.

Allowing children access to the mouse before the pen or brush, sets an artificial standard of acceptance that directly inhibits a child's natural progress toward learning traditional drawing and painting techniques. The most insidious element of the insensitive mouse is its propensity toward false ease of use. Once activated, a child can scribble with the mouse to his or her heart's content without once questioning the quality of the shape and form. Once enamoured by the effects produced with the mouse, it is difficult to wean a child away from the novelty of a computer-driven program.

What a child needs to learn is to draw what one sees rather than what one remembers! It is this store of memories that produces sensitive recollections of past experiences; experiences that cannot be produced by working directly with computer-driven draw and paint programs.

Children must be exposed to the use of the primary, secondary, and complimentary colors in order to be able to manipulate color. This is accomplished by using watercolor based tempera paint; not by manipulating a computerized and prescribed color palette. Children need the hands-on experience of mixing color in order to appreciate the effect.

When a child draws from the environment, he or she comes into direct contact with what is out there; not subjected to a blank artificial electronic window. Experiencing three dimensions of an environment should be made real not virtual. The computer mouse experience is after the fact.

When we allow technology to downgrade the human experience, we must ask the question: "Why?" Computer technology has alleviated repetitive office tasks, and has afforded graphic artists release from time-consuming page layouts, paste-ups, and typesetting chores. But computer graphics programs and equipment have yet to match the sensitivity of the human nervous system. The elegant line drawing of a Hirschfeld is yet to be accomplished with a mouse or pressure-sensitive pen.

We must begin to recognize that Drawing and Painting is still in the domain of a human artist, not in the domain of a computer. When children are exposed to the legitimate processes and skills of drawing and painting, they will be in a better position to recognize the difference between computer-generated imagery and the real thing.










Robert Beeching is a Stanford graduate holding an MA in Art Education; a former NBC art director and CEO of Scope Productions, Inc., film/video producers to Business, Government, and Education. He works with his designer-editor wife from their home-studio located in the Central Sierra near Yosemite National Park, CA. He is author of "MGM and OTHER GRAND ILLUSIONS" and DTEK/2000 video visual arts program series.