Easel 1998

"Easel" looks like a large paining easel with a blank canvas stretched on a frame mounted to it. The painter uses a small paintbrush in the same manner a painter would. Instead of solid colors the brush applies live video from cameras positioned nearby. Each new stroke of the brush brings a new coat of "current video" to the canvas. The painter can select between a few live video sources by dipping the paintbrush into a few paint cans that are mounted on the easel. The computer that runs the "Easel" software is hidden in the background and there is no computer screen in sight.

In the heart of "Easel" are a video camera and a video projector aimed at the canvas. The camera is sensitive to infrared light only, and the projector projects the computer screen. The paintbrush's bristles are made of fishing wire that serve as fiber optics and emit infrared light through the canvas. The infrared light is captured by the camera that transfers it to the computer via a video digitizing board. A second video camera is connected to the computer and inputs a picture of the surrounding view. The computer mixes both video sources according to a few simple algorithms, and the result is sent through the projector back to the canvas. The effect is an illusion that the images are being applied by the brush. Sensors in the paint cans switch between video sources for the input of the second video board.

"Easel" is interesting aesthetically both as a work in progress and as a final piece. As a work in progress every new stroke of the brush brings a new coat of video to the canvas, since there is no erasing, the background is always some previous video. The changing proportions between new and old strokes change the viewers perception of positive and negative spaces. As the piece is completed various patches of video are blend into a soft collage with multiple levels of transparency, a hint of three dimensionality is present due to the layering effect of the coats of video.

The content of a piece painted with "Easel" is not set. However the placement of the video sources does imply a set of expanding circles around the painter. The first circle is the closest. It is a camera pointed at the artist allowing him/her to portray themselves or any objects near by. The second circle is a video camera pointing at the surrounding environment such as the room. The third circle is a live feed from TV or a camera pointed out the window. Using these three inputs the artist can create a picture that reflects a certain moment in time at a certain location and state of mind.

No one starts from a blank canvas, each piece builds on the work of previous artists. This is something we are used to in the "real world" but seldom see in the "digital world"

The canvas is a tool that composites content. The artist does not have to create all the material from scratch, and some content is supplied, however the freedom within that content is great and allows for personal expression.

The Easel has no user interface in the conventional computer way. All aspects of it perform as one would expect, the canvas displays the work, the paintbrush applies the paint, and the paint cans select the colors. By eliminating any uncertainty regarding the operation of the tool, the painters are free to concentrate on the painting itself, while the computer adds its calculation power seamlessly.

Since "Easel" requires no "drawing talent" to create a rich and interesting piece, most people are not anxious about using it, and are rewarded by the richness of the result.

All hardware used is off-the-shelf and easy to find. It is the software and the specific setup that make the result interesting.

One person can paint at a time and probably 10-20 more can observe and participate passively by having there pictures incorporated in the piece. The resulting images can easily be broadcasted over the internet using web cam technology, and then thousands of people can see the live work as it is created.


Picture of the Easel. Click to enlarge


Quicktime movie showing the Easel in action. Click to play.

Pictures of collages people have created with the Easel. Click to enlarge

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