A personal exploration of connections between creative computing, maker-centred learning, self-expression and social engagement; with a special twist on hacking fine arts.

April 15, 2019

Playing with René Magritte, micro:bit and Scratch


Today I share an activity very similar to the last one. It consists of using micro:bit and Scratch to play computationally with a work of art (it could be from a museum or also public art). In this particular case we play with the works "Golconda" by René Magritte from The Menil Collection (Houston) and "The Treachery of Images" also by Magritte, on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Golconda, René Magritte (1953) and The Treachery of Images, René Magritte (1929).

Magritte is an artist that children like very much (they like all surrealists) because of his ability to unsettle you and make you wonder what you're seeing. After exploring his works with the children (either in a museum or on the Internet), you can let them choose a couple of them and think about how to create an interaction between a physical work (on paper, cardboard, etc.) and a virtual work (on the screen).

In my example, as you can see in the video above, the idea is that by rotating physically the painting of the pipe we can animate the digital Golconda painting, creating the effect of raining men (up and down), and if we shake the pipe we turn the men into pipes.

The programming of the effects is quite simple, but we use many sprites and also clones, so it's probably an activity for kids aged 12 and up. The materials we need are: the micro:bit board, a computer or tablet with an Internet connection, a device that can take pictures, and some graphic editing software (although with the Scratch editor can be enough). In my example, one painting is on the screen and the other is printed, but the activity would be even better if the children draw or paint their own works (inspired by Magritte or by others). To use micro:bit from Scratch we must install ScratchLink and add the micro:bit extension inside our project (more info here).

The most laborious part of the activity would be to cut out the men from the painting, but luckily I found that a digital design studio (commoners) created the same animation, so I used their cutouts. Another arduous task if we work with the painting Golconda is to place all the sprites in the same positions as in the real artwork, also taking into account that they are in different layers. Getting the characters and placing them in their initial positions are the only two tricky tasks of this project.

Like I said, the Scratch programming is simple. It is based on using the micro:bit extension to detect the tilt angle of the board (which is attached behind the printed paint). Depending on the tilt angle we then make the men move up or down. And if we detect a shake, then we change the costume of all sprites (from man to pipe, or vice versa). You can check my Scratch project and the scripts here (feel free to remix!).

Main scripts. The angle will depend on how you place the micro:bit. 
Positions will be different for each sprite.

The "raining men" animation.

Reimagine

You could try a similar project but with your own physical and virtual artworks instead of using paintings by Magritte. Or you could build a small museum room with cardboard and colors, and create interactions between the virtual room and the cardboard room. If you want to be inspired by other projects that can be done with micro:bit you can take a look at these ideas.

March 20, 2019

Playing with Joan Miró, micro:bit and Scratch


Today I share a very simple activity. It consists of using micro:bit and Scratch to play computationally with a work of art (it can be from a museum or also public art). In this particular case we will play with the work "Painting on White Ground" by Joan Miró from the collection of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Madrid).

Painting on White Ground, Joan Miró (1927).

As you can see in the video above, the idea is that by moving the micro:bit board we move the painting, and if we shake the board we cause a chaos in the elements of the painting, which in a few seconds is recomposed.

It is an activity that can be performed with children from 8 years old. The programming of the effects is simple. The materials we need are: the micro:bit board and its USB cable, a computer or tablet with an Internet connection, a device that can take pictures, and some graphic editing software (although with the Scratch editor can be enough). To use micro:bit from Scratch we must install ScratchLink and add the micro:bit extension inside our program (more info here).

To work with Miró's painting we need a photo of the artwork and the we have to cut out all its elements and add them as sprites within a Scratch project. To cut out characters we can use free and open source software like Gimp. There are also online editors like Pixlr. And if you prefer a straightforward solution, the Scratch paint editor is very simple but still powerful enough to play with pictures.

Then you have to program two behaviors: (1) make all the elements rotate together when we rotate the board, and (2) cause chaos in the elements when we shake the board.

 (1) Rotating the sprites when we rotate micro:bit

 (2) Shaking the sprites with random turns and moves when micro:bit is shaken

You can see my Scratch project and how it is programmed here.

 Moving the elements of the painting in a chaotic way.

Reimagine

You can try a similar project but with your own creations instead of using a painting by Miró (Kandinsky works would also be great for this kind of projects). You can also make the elements of Miró's painting dance to the rhythm of some music. Or you can build a small museum room with cardboard and colors, and create interactions between the virtual room and the cardboard room. If you want to be inspired by other projects that can be done with micro:bit you can take a look at these ideas.

March 8, 2019

Imitating Sophie Taeuber's abstract art with Scratch


Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889–1943) was a Swiss artist, painter, sculptor, textile designer, furniture and interior designer, architect and dancer. She is considered one of the most important artists of concrete art and geometric abstraction of the 20th century.


Today, on Women's Day, I want to write a post dedicated to this amazing woman, who was a pioneer of the early twentieth century avant-garde.

More than two years ago I published in Scratch a project on how to imitate Sophie Taeuber's abstract art. These projects that mimic ways of painting are useful for getting into the artist's mind, understanding what he or she was doing, and designing prototypes and starting points that might lead you to create your own works of art. This particular project can be implemented in many ways, and can be programmed by children, youth or adults. It was inspired by this painting below.

Six espaces distincts, Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1939).

My Scratch project divides the stage into six parts, just like the painting. The shapes are also the same (each is a sprite) but their position, direction and color are random. Although of course the result is far from perfect, I find it a fun and easy way to play with an artwork, and at the same time learn from it. You can try the project in Scratch to see the randomness:

Scratch project.

Each of the shapes has its sprite within the Scratch project.

And each of the sprites has different costumes, with different colors.

The algorithm is as simple as distributing the shapes in the six available spaces, giving them a random direction, and also a random costume.

Reimagine

Can you do something similar with another abstract artist? What if the shapes don't move randomly but following a music, or responding to some physical interaction through a sensor?