This section provides regularly updated content about my ongoing practice-based PhD research at the Edinburgh College of Art. I will treat this blog as if it were a sketchbook. My research explores possible uses of an eye-tracking device as a drawing medium, and I primarily focus on drawing with my eyes from life. This research is supported by the Malta Arts Scholarship scheme.
Figure 36: Generative development from a series of eye-drawings to a digital sculpture
Figure 37: A generated digital sculpture
Through 3-dimensional algorithms such as Lofting, I am developing the eye-drawing geometry into sculptural forms. Perhaps, further practice will teach me how to anticipate and control the formal values within these digital sculptures, along with other questions which had been brought up in earlier posts. An important concept I will mention here, is how the material itself (a digital skin generated along the eye-drawings) influences the development of the form and therefore the mind (and our perception of it). I feel that within developments such as Figures 36 and 37, the crucial material involved is the combination of the Loft algorithm and the eye-drawings themselves, while everything is being developing in the virtual world, away from the material-making of the hands. The dialogue between development and making, is therefore taking place conceptually.
Figure 35: Generative development between the eye-drawings in Figure 34
The eye drawing session in Figure 32 was designed in anticipation of a possible generative development. An eye-drawing can be both exported as such, as a rendered 2-dimensional image, or further developed using computer-aid tools. Technically speaking, the eye-drawing becomes a geometrical polyline sitting in a 3-dimensional space where the perspective viewport is flexible and interchangeable. The view of the eyedrawing/polyline curve can be positioned as needed. One might therefore argue that the eye-drawing acquires sculptural value within 3-dimensional virtual platforms and this is the stage where I feel that my position of an editor is enhanced. The practice within Figure 32 was designed in view of the latter considerations, with the knowledge that the eye-drawing results from different viewpoints can be plotted within the virtual space, with the possibility of further computer-aided development.
Within my practice of eye drawing, the tangible surface is not present, and therefore the act of drawing navigates between the eye and the mind. This enhances my visual perceptive mechanism, as the gazing point on the subject (my hand) is a conceptually imagined point. I have no physical reference of where the point is while eye drawing, and technically speaking I would be lost if not for our inner perceptive mechanisms such as imagination and memory. The latter are mental functions which are of a volatile and flexible nature, and therefore this also means that its limitations characterise each eye-drawing. This point reminds me of the question that if drawing is merely about the eye-hand coordination, what difference is there with a game of tennis? (Walker 2005). I feel that the correspondence with our interior mental image while drawing is this crucial difference. Figure 31 explicitly illustrates the tension provided by the restraining of my body movements — and specifically, the controlling of the eye movements. Occurrences of evident inattention can be observed. These make-up for the aesthetic compositional arrangement of the eye-drawing, which is characterised by occasional spikes away from the concentration of the hand. I find this information to be of utmost interest within this practice. Firstly, I am not aware these movements happened while eye drawing my hand — I only discovered them at a later stage during post-processing. Therefore, I see them as being part of our innate biological aspects which escape the attempt of restraining my eye movements into a different way of looking from our natural perceptive functioning.
__________ References: Walker, J. (2005). Old Manuals and New Pencils. in Davies, J., & Duff, L. (eds.). Drawing, the process. Bristol, UK: Intellect.
Figure 29: An eye-drawing of my hand resulting from Video 2
In view of treating Figure 29 as a drawing, there are two particular qualities which need to be discussed. The first relates to the biology of the eye, in so far as it being an organ which is constantly in motion, even when we focus on a particular point within our worldview. The linear quality within Figure 29 is therefore made up of long linear stretches (saccades) and smaller accumulation of lines at specific points (fixations). Cognitive science states that no vision occurs during saccades motion, as these consist in fast movements travelling from point A to point B. On the other hand, fixations are resting points where the gaze focuses and acquires visual information. While eye drawing, my resulting eye-drawing is therefore inevitably influenced by this biology, and my contouring travels in small ‘steps’ along the edges of my hand. This contrasts to the fluidity present when hand drawing. The second important characteristic concerns the compositional element within the eye-drawing. Since I do not have any visual reference to the formation of the eye-drawing itself while I am eye drawing, there are no compositional decisions taken during the performative act. This decision comes into place once I assume the position of an editor, and are taken through the viewport display view of software like Rhino3D. These two main characteristics apply to all of my eye-drawings which have been processed so far. This is also my interpretation of them, and the practice itself will lead me into further necessary knowledge concerning the restriction of my body, properties of my eye movements, properties of the technology (both hardware and software) and the eye-drawings themselves among others.
The following video documents myself while eye drawing my hand from different viewpoints. Like most of you, I am now working from home due to the Covid-19 outbreak. I am therefore using my room as a studio. The video below includes some visual documentation of how I have been eye drawing my hand, and I will be posting commentaries about the process and development of this in the near future. In the meantime, stay safe and let’s help each other.
Video documentation while eye drawing my hand from different viewpoints during the Covid-19 lock-down in Edinburgh. Stay safe!
Figure 25: 4 superimposed eye-drawings of my hand as seen from 4 different viewpoints, resulting from the eye drawing session in Figure 28
Figure 26: 30 generative tween curves between every resulting eye-drawing in Figure 25
Figure 27: Generative stop-motion animation of Figure 26
I can argue that I assimilate two different attitudes while eye drawing. The first concerns the limitation and the restriction of [hand] drawing itself, which is characterised by the restraining (and unconscious snaps) of body gestures; by thinking and concentration; by a specific project of looking and by our innate perceptive mechanisms. It is also an attitude of frustration (as is typical of drawing). The second attitude is more flexible and concerns the methodology acquired while post-processing is taking place within the virtual plane, which is also technology dependant. To a certain extent, this brings to mind what Dillon states in his essay On Elements of Drawing (2009); “we can no longer draw without a certain self-consciousness regarding the medium itself, and therefore we can [afford to] re-visit its fundamental elements.” Through the practice of eye-drawing, I am re-visiting fundamental elements of drawing through the primary intention of contouring the world with the eyes (and mind), which is leading me to a process of learning, re-learning and un-learning (not necessarily in this order). I am finding that one of these fundamental elements concerns the instability of drawing itself, which offers an element of change and fluidity. Eye-drawing is also strictly characterised by [ways of] looking. I find this to be strongly expressed through the generated drawings between different eye-drawings made from different viewpoints. Figure 25 shows the superimposition of 4 eye-drawings of my right hand, made from four different viewpoints. Figure 28 can give an idea of two different views involved. Figure 26 generates 30 tween curves between each eye-drawing shown in Figure 25; while Figure 27 is a generative stop-motion drawing animation of this hybrid between computer-aided curves and eye-drawings of different viewpoints.
__________ References: Dillon, B., (2009). On Elements of Line, in The end of the line : Attitudes in drawing. Harbison, I., Dillon, B., Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Bluecoat Gallery, . . . Drawing Room. London: Hayward Publishing/Southbank Centre.
Figure 28: A superimposition of two worldview video frames while eye-drawing my hand from different viewpoints
Figure 24: Lofted result between the eye-drawings in Figure 22
Tween between curves is only one option from the computation possibilities I am exploring, as illustrated by Figure 24, which is the result of a lofting algorithm between the eye-drawings in Figure 22. This immediately alludes to a sculptural value and several questions can be raised both from a practical and a theoretical point of view.
Figure 22: 5 superimposed eye-drawings of my right hand
Figure 23: Generative development of 30 tween curves between the 5 eye-drawings in Figure 22
What universe of drawing does the practice of eye drawing really fall under? I feel that the performative element while eye-drawing my chosen subject matter is embedded into my previous knowledge of drawing. I seem to automatically adapt certain methodologies which are comparable to techniques that have a long history in drawing (and which I should both highlight and challenge). A primary example is the intention of attempting to ‘contour’ along the subject being looked at and to present them as such (as in Figure 22). At the same time, the adaptation of the eye-tracker into a drawing medium is in itself allowing me to question several acts of looking while drawing, and by choosing the hand (and body) as subject matter, the practice is being given a specific context. Therefore, during the act of eye drawing and during my first reactions to the data processing, the general mood is that of drawing ‘as drawing’. However, examples like Figure 22 contain more information other than the eye-drawn contours. Within the virtual space, they exist as 5 individual curves in a three-dimensional field constituting in several possible viewpoints (Figure 22 is closest to a conventional drawing result). Each curve (eye-drawing) consists in a set of time-based coordinates, along with several other data provided by the eye-tracker. The mood of drawing ‘as drawing’ starts to fade within this context and Figure 23 is essentially a product of this condition. It becomes a computer-assisted drawing, or a computer-generative drawing. In Figure 23, the curves stop being referred to as eye-drawings and become information for a set of instructions — specifically, 30 tween curves in the space between every 2 curves (eye-drawings). In this scenario, the eye-drawings become data/information which guide the algorithm in order to create the instructed tween curves. The generation of the tween curves is generative and I therefore do not have full control on its appearance. However, I can vary several inputs like; the number of tween curves, viewpoint of the exported image, distance between curves (eye-drawings) and positioning of the latter within the virtual space, among other options (which I will continue to explore through the practice). The linear form of the eye-drawings, are themselves the primary influence for results such as Figure 23.
Figure 20: Stop-motion animation between the 3 eye-drawings in Figure 15
I experimented with a different post-processing development for the 3 eye-drawings previously shown in Figure 15. A frontal viewpoint of the rotating model was chosen, as illustrated in Figure 19. The curves/drawings within the image were individually exported and these were in turn imported into a video editing software (acting as video frames). The export resulted in the moving image illustrated in Figure 20. Several questions can be raised by this methodology, concerning both the conceptual and its technical/practical aspects. Firstly, where do these animations stand within the practice of eye-drawing as described in my previous posts? An animation emerging out of a hybrid of subjective eye-drawings of the body (hand) and computational (algorithmic) generation is definitely an interesting call for more experimentation. Figure 21 is another animation resulting from a different set of hand eye-drawings.
Figure 21: Stop-motion animation between 3 eye-drawings of my right hand