I was first introduced to ASCII art in the mid 1970s. It was during a tour of a home where I was to babysit. There, above the bed in the master bedroom, were two huge computer print-outs of female nudes. I about died of embarrassment the second I spotted them, and desperately tried not to see them, but they remained etched in my mind enough that I thought of them when I got my first dot matrix printer. And when my friend Laura Brown showed me her ASCII art website, I instantly knew that that’s what those nudes were. But that’s about all I knew, so I asked Laura to tell me more about the art.
What is ASCII art? Does it differ from typewriter or keyboard art?
Both ASCII art and typewriter art are keyboard art, both text art — art created with text. But typewriter art is created with a typewriter machine on paper, while ASCII art is created on a computer and if you want a print copy you will need to print it after the art is completed.
When and why did you become interested in ASCII art?
I became interested in ASCII art when I started online and began seeing ASCII art signatures in email and forum posts. In 1998 I started trying it myself. My first creations were pretty goofy looking. It took me a few weeks, months to get the flow for it. I started collecting ASCII art before I tried making it. It was easier to be a collector and admire the work of others. Sometimes knowing how to make it now spoils a bit of the feeling of awesomeness I used to get. Now I know it never really was as hard as it looked.
[Laura has some tutorials: How to Create ASCII Art (Pictures) with Keyboard Text, A Simple Way to Colour Your ASCII Art, and You Can Have Designer Tweets with Twitter Text Art.]
What we’ve been looking at does seem pretty simple compared to those nudes I saw all those years ago… What about those works that look more like photos?
Those are computer generated, not human made. They use software to turn a photo into text art. The software tends to be all shaded using the same set of characters. The computer generated looks more like tombstone etchings than something hand drawn. You can also tell it’s not done by a human because the computer tends to make everything square shaped and copies right to the edges. Some people will touch up the computer generated art so it looks less automatic — like something scanned.
When it’s done by a person, it’s more like line art with shading added. See the flower on this one? (I think that’s a Susie Oviatt work; but the initials aren’t on that one.) It’s shaded but was hand drawn.
How does one collect ASCII art? Do you collect the actual printed papers or what?
I’m sure there are people who collect printed ASCII art, if they have the space. I collect digitally; I’ve kept all of mine, created and collected, on the computer.
I’ve heard the main difference between collecting and hoarding is in how you display it. My collection of my own ASCII art (the art I created myself) is a lovely collection. Nicely organized on a website. You can find it at ldb ASCII Art.
My other ASCII art – the art I have gathered from other artists – is a hoard. Not nice and tidy, not well-organized; it’s just a mess in plain text files on my hard drive and burned onto a DVD (just in case my hard drive fails). That site is ASCII Art Bazaar.
I noticed your site name includes what I’m pretty sure are your initials, L.D.B., but in lowercase… Why is that?
It’s all in lower case because LDB would be shouting. Plus ldb almost looks like an ASCII art picture. I like the db part.
Are there other items related to ASCII art that people want in their collections?
If there was anything related to ASCII art that people might collect it would be old typewriters, books, or, most likely, digital fonts. There are only certain fonts which work to display ASCII art correctly. It’s kind of fun looking at new fonts and seeing which give you a more rounded character, or a darker print on the screen. I prefer a darker type/print than something that looks pale and doesn’t really stand out well from the computer screen itself. I’ve written a post about ASCII art fonts.
And there are all kinds of people who have taken ASCII art and put it on T-shirts, computer accessories and so on. This is not very ethical, in my opinion. Unfortunately, many don’t create the art; they don’t have permission to use the art to make money either. The ultimate in stupidity is seeing someone use ASCII art on Zazzle and CafePress and knowing they haven’t got a clue because the ASCII art is displayed off-line. Usually it’s the difference of just adding one more space that would line everything back up. But, because the seller doesn’t know anything about it, they don’t fix it.
This is where I will mention the Respect ASCII Artist’s Campaign. When an artist creates a new ASCII art image or picture, they add their initials to it. Often when someone uses ASCII art they remove the initials, taking any claim to fame the artist has for their work. This is not really fair to the artist. The ASCII art is free to use, [so] the least people can do it leave the artist’s initials (like an artist’s signature on a painting) on the art. Then there is the whole thing with people who take the art, strip the initials and sell it for a profit. I don’t know why Zazzle and CafePress allow the sale of stolen art. I did send an email to Zazzle about it. I was told to send a ticket in to their customer service forum and see if anyone cared. No, that’s not a quote exactly but that’s how I felt when I read it.
Is there a Holy Grail in ASCII art collecting?
Joan Stark is known as The Queen of ASCII Art due to the quality and quantity of her art. I knew Joan. I met her on the ASCII art newsgroups in 1998. By 1999, Joan had disappeared. Her art was being stolen, abused and reclaimed so routinely and thoughtlessly that she became too discouraged to continue creating art. I like to think she kept on creating but just kept it to herself and shared very discriminately. I’ve tried to find her a few times over the years but I’ve had a sad lack of success.
Joan isn’t one of the first ASCII artists but she did become the most popular and best known ASCII artists. She’s written a more detailed history of the art here.
What are some other sites and resources you can recommend?
You can find a list of ASCII artists on my own site – as I create it. Or, make a trip to the current ASCII art newsgroups, here and here, now part of Google Groups and see what’s being posted live and in the moment. It’s not a crazily active group but it’s the best place to find new artists and new art. Some old art gets re-posted too, especially around holidays and events.
I do know of three people who collect ASCII art. They have sites online which are well-organized and two of them are updated fairly regularly. Chris.com is the most often updated. RetroJunkie: The ASCII Art Universe has a large collection; it’s a bit tricky to find just what you want but it has been sorted out and maintained. The ASCII Art Dictionary is well done but I’m not sure when, or how often, the site’s updated with new art.