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Generative artist brings analog sensitivity to an ever-expanding digital canvas

Generative artist brings analog sensitivity to an ever-expanding digital canvas

Combining hand drawn images with computer coding, Joshua Davis taps into a dynamic juxtaposition for creative expression.

"I’ve long pushed the idea of using tools and technology to surpass what the human hand is capable of," says Joshua Davis, an artist well known for his dynamic work in digital design. "But I still want a hand-drawn feel to the work I do. It's what I call my 'impossible aesthetic.'"

Davis first used a Wacom pen tablet more than 10 years ago. Having a background in painting and using a brush, it was a natural fit to use the Wacom stylus instead of a mouse. Davis says the pen tablet gave him a way to achieve an ideal juxtaposition of hand drawing and technology, and opened the door to what has become his signature style, a hybrid between analog and digital.

His style has caught on with big brands. Davis gave life to IBM's Watson, the computer that competed against human contestants on the game show, Jeopardy! Watson's development team wanted to give their star player a face and personality to go along with his advanced artificial intelligence. Davis created an avatar using colors, boundaries, controls and variables mapped to 27 Jeopardy! trigger states (answer correct, answer wrong, buzzer, Daily Double, etc.) to express levels of confidence in Watson's answers.

Davis explains his artistic challenge: When creating circles, squares and triangles, using a traditional tool such as a mouse, those shapes are perfectly formed. Then when those circles, squares and triangles are placed into an algorithmic computer program he develops to generate thousands of images, those shapes remain pristine —not the outcome he is seeking in his work.

Joshua Davis

"Perfect shapes are missing a lot of life," said Davis. "I want to bring in circles, squares and triangles drawn by my comparatively shaky hand. That's why I use Wacom tools. I can combine my hand drawn images, which I create using the pen and tablet, with computer-generated vector designs, adding analog warmth to digital assets."

A recent design created for Anderson Ranch, consists of 120,000 vector points, which was rendered in just 40 seconds. "It would have been impossible for me to render this type of image by my hand alone," said Davis.

Seven-step process for static and dynamic works

While Davis was one of the first to use a Wacom Cintiq 21UX pen tablet in 2010, he recently began using a Wacom Intuos Pro, which lets him pan, zoom and navigate naturally with finger gestures on a multi-touch surface. The pen gives him more than 2,000 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt recognition, which closely emulates an artist's intuitive feel with a traditional brush and pen. For a recent project, Davis used a Cintiq 24 HD tablet, which gave him advanced capabilities for illustration and design, which he described as "dreamy."

Davis has long found inspiration in the abstract art of Jackson Pollock, who splattered, poured and dripped paint across large canvases to create "action paintings." Davis attended the Pratt Institute, where he also learned to write HTML and ActionScript programming language. By combining computer code with illustration and painting, he was able to bring Pollock's dynamism to his own technology-based design work. The code distributes, arranges and distorts his hand drawn artwork, essentially creating new and random images.

Davis has not only developed his own style of graphic artistry, he has also developed a unique, seven-step workflow process:

  1. Hand draw assets using the Wacom Intuos 5 pen tablet in combination with a vector-based tool, such as Flash or Adobe Illustrator
  2. Output those images to SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)
  3. Apply Java code, which Davis writes specifically for his design work
  4. Combine with banks of hand-drawn SVG images in a digital program
  5. Run the program multiple (hundreds or thousands) times, with each run generating a unique composition
  6. Choose the best compositions, then render to PDF
  7. Re-open the PDF in Illustrator and fine-tune the design

Davis sometimes puts those designs to video, which he displays on his Tumblr page. He uses his Wacom pen tablet to play with interactive graphics using new hardware like the Leap Motion, the 3D gesture controller, and Microsoft Kinect for voice, movement and gesture.

Seeking that "beautiful accident"

"The beauty of the work I do is in the surprise — the randomness and chance that allows a composition to reveal itself through thousands of digital generations," says Davis. "I always want that beautiful artistic accident to happen."

With Wacom, he merges art, design and technology to make beautiful accidents possible every day.