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Susie Oviatt's ASCII Art Tutorial
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1.  What is ASCII art? or "ASCII stupid question, get a stupid ANSI." 
 
    What is ASCII art?  Basically, it's creating pictures using the 
    letters and symbols found on a regular keyboard or typewriter.  Trust 
    me, the computer keyboard is MUCH easier to use than a typewriter. 
    Related art can be done with ANSI (sometimes known as "higher ASCII") 
    characters, but since those don't show up on Aladdin or GEnie, I've 
    never played with them.  Most everyone has seen some sort of ASCII 
    art, either in regular ASCII Art topics, (such as in the Family RT), 
    as part of the opening screen for various RoundTables, or as part of a 
    cute little signature by the members themselves.  This is a sample of 
    a signature ASCII art: 
 
                 _ 
               ('v') 
               (   )   "Birdie" 
              ~/'~'~~ 
 
    My pictures are done for the computer screen, and look best on a 
    screen that is set for a dark background and light letters.  Viewing 
    the pictures on a light background with dark letters (either on the 
    screen or on paper, printed up) makes them look a little like photo 
    negatives, light where it's supposed to be dark, and dark where it's 
    supposed to be light.  Just keep in mind how your pictures will be 
    viewed, while you're creating them.  Some of the pictures I've done 
    will "translate" just fine to a different setup, some don't do nearly 
    as well. 
 
2.  The CANVAS, or "Targon's secret." 
 
    One of the very first ASCII artists on GEnie, TARGON, came up with the 
    idea of creating a "canvas."  To make it easier to put your characters 
    where they need to go, start with a blank canvas.  In most word 
    processing programs, (including Aladdin's text editor), the cursor 
    can't be moved somewhere it's never been before.  That's fine if you 
    know exactly where you want each character, and can type it in 
    perfectly the first time, but if you need to experiment, like I do, 
    you'll want to move that cursor around with your arrow keys. 
 
    The canvas consists of a screen full of lines, and the lines consist 
    of nothing but spaces you've tapped in with your spacebar.  This is 
    the way I made mine: 
 
    First, go to the program you plan to use to make your pictures. Since 
    I use Aladdin, I'll describe the procedure I use.  While offline, go 
    to a reply screen, such as the ASCII Art topic in the FAMILY BB. 
    (Category 3, topic 18.)  Hit "r" for "reply."  When the screen comes 
    up, draw a line of dashes across the top, and then hit the enter key 
    oh... about twenty times or so.  At the end of the screen, draw 
    another line of dashes across the bottom. 
 
    Go back to the top of the screen, press the down arrow once, and start 
    hitting the space bar.  When you get to the end of the line, use the 
    down arrow to get to the next line.  Do not hit "enter" again, and do 
    not let the line of spaces wrap around.  Hit the space bar again, 
    filling the next line with spaces, and again when you get to the end 
    of the line, use the down arrow key to get to the next line.  Continue 
    doing this till you've filled all 20 lines with blank spaces. 
 
    At this point, it would be wise to "save" the "canvas" so that you 
    don't have to go through this every time you want to do a picture.  To 
    save a file on Aladdin, you hold down the control key and tap the K, 
    then the W.  A little screen will pop up, asking for a name.  I chose 
    the name "canvas," but then, I'm an original thinker.  :)  From then 
    on, when you want to create a new picture, you can "recall" the canvas 
    by going to a reply screen.  To recall the canvas using Aladdin, hold 
    down the control key and tap the K then the R.  You'll see that little 
    window come up, asking for a file name, and you type in the name you 
    gave your canvas.  Then hit enter, and the canvas will be on the 
    screen.  For those who would rather skip this step, I've included a 
    canvas at the end of the file.  Since most of my pictures are rather 
    large, the canvas is larger than I've specified here. 
 
3.  How to start, or "Whaddaya mean, just start tapping keys?" 
 
    Now you're ready to begin creating your picture.  The first thing you 
    need to do is make sure your text editor is in "overwrite" mode.  In 
    Aladdin's default setting, that means you'll need to hit the "insert" 
    key one time.  This way, each character you tap into place will 
    overwrite the blank space.  If you do not have your text editor in 
    overwrite mode, each character you tap in will be inserted between 
    your spaces, and the lines will begin to wrap almost immediately.  If 
    that happens, don't panic, just delete the extra keys, press the 
    "insert" key and start again.  I guarantee you, you'll notice quickly. 
 
    Another pointer to remember:  If you've tapped something in and you 
    don't like it, or if you've made a mistake, do NOT erase it using the 
    backspace key.  The backspace key will delete that space, and it'll 
    offset the rest of that line by one.  You may not notice that if 
    you've only backspaced once, but if you've backspaced a dozen 
    characters out of the way, you'll have a line that's shorter than the 
    rest by that many spaces. 
 
    If you want to correct a mistake, just use your arrow keys till the 
    cursor is on the space you want to change, and tap in the character 
    you want.  (Again, make sure you are in overwrite mode.)  If you 
    forget and backspace an error away, hit the insert key again, then hit 
    the spacebar till you've added back in the spaces you accidentally 
    deleted, then hit the insert key again to go back to overwrite mode. 
 
    Oh, one more thing... For some reason, it's best to leave the first 
    space on each line blank.  Your art will look fine while you're 
    creating it, but when it gets uploaded to GEnie a character on the 
    very first space of the line will cause the following lines get 
    shifted over one space, and that's enough to mess up a picture.  This 
    is especially true if you have used any asterisks (*) as first 
    characters on the line.  The asterisk is used on GEnie to say, "The 
    following is a command, not part of the text."  People viewing your 
    work won't even see that line. 
 
4.  Sources, or "Where do I find pictures to try?" 
 
    Most of us have some little doodle we've done for years... I've always 
    drawn little elephant fannies all over papers and scraps.  I'd suggest 
    that you translate YOUR doodle to ASCII art as your first piece.  It's 
    familiar, and you'll know if it doesn't look quite right.  Play with 
    it till you're satisfied with it. 
 
    For your next piece, choose something simple.  You'll have an easier 
    time, and you'll build your confidence.  Children's coloring books are 
    a great place to find simple pictures to try.  While you're finding 
    the sorts of pictures you enjoy doing, you'll be developing your very 
    own style of ASCII art. 
 
    One of the greatest things about this particular art form is that each 
    style is so distinctively different. Once an artist has the basics 
    down, you can almost tell WHO did a picture before you see their name 
    at the bottom of the screen.  Some of the ASCII Artists you've 
    probably seen at one time or another here on GEnie are TARGON, 
    PHOENIX, TSUEX, and RIKROK.  All of these people have very individual 
    styles.  Some pictures look like drawings with ASCII characters, some 
    look more like paintings.  They're all delightful. 
 
    Holiday pictures are my favorites.  I can find samples from 
    newspapers, comic books, coloring books, art books, and sometimes from 
    my own imagination.  Most of the time I need a pattern, even if the 
    finished product doesn't look anything like the original.  It gives me 
    an idea of where to go first.  :) 
 
5.  Choosing Characters, or "Which characters do I want to use?" 
 
    First of all, your choice of characters depends on what effect you're 
    looking for.  If you are "sketching" with ASCII characters, you'll 
    want to pay special attention to the following keys: 
 
         / ` " ' \ , . _ - = ~ ^ ; | 
 
    Notice that all of these characters have been entered on the same 
    line, but many are in different positions on that line.  The 
    apostrophy is higher on the line than the comma, for instance.  Keep 
    this in mind as you "sketch" because sometimes that small difference 
    is enough to make or break your picture. 
 
    If you are going for a more filled in look, such as I do in my 
    pictures, you will also want to keep in mind the relative value of the 
    characters as far as light and shade go.  Look at the following 
    characters: 
 
          @ # $ & X % > / ; : 
 
    Notice that when you are using a dark background, light letters, that 
    the @ and # keys provide a lot of light.  You would use these 
    characters to highlight your work.  The : and ; let much less light 
    through, so those would be the characters you shade with.  If you are 
    working on a reverse screen, with a light background/dark characters, 
    the opposite would hold true. 
 
    Keep in mind, too, that for detail work there are several characters 
    that are very similar, but subtly different, and can add just the 
    right amount of contrast to get the effect that you want.  For 
    instance: 
 
        S $    : ;    % X    0 O 
 
    One more thing that will help you get the look you want is the 
    relative height of capital and lower case letters. When you need a 
    line to taper a bit, using a lower case letter is sometimes the 
    perfect "bridge" between high and low characters.  For instance: 
 
        S s    X x    O o   @ a 
 
    To taper these lines even further, when a very gradual decrease is 
    wanted, use both of these methods, somtimes using them more than once. 
    For instance: 
 
        Ss,..,sS          or    -=*@*=-     or     .,%,. 
        SSss,,..,,ssSS    or    ..,,;;|;;,,.. 
 
    Also remember that what is low on one line can be the perfect bridge 
    for something high on the line directly under.  This is especially 
    helpful when you're creating signatures of some kind... For instance: 
 
                  ,;;;, 
                 ;;  .;'                 ;; 
                 `;, 
                 . `';,.  .;. ;.   ,;;;, .;.  .;;;. 
                  ';.  ;;  ;; ;;   ',,.   ;;  ;; ;; 
              ,;;;.;;  ;;  ;; ;;   .  ;;  ;;  ;;'' 
             ;;   ';;;;'   `;;';;' ';;;'  ';. `;;;' 
             `;;;;' 
 
6.  Small pictures, or "Good things come in small packages." 
 
    VERY small pictures can be a lot of fun to do.  Just remember that 
    with those tiny ASCII pictures, a LOT is left to the imagination. 
    Sometimes a suggestion of what you're looking for is the best you can 
    do.  For instance, the following was done on only two lines: 
 
             ~|_ 
              (_)\_ 
 
    It's certainly no photograph, but most people will recognize this as a 
    wheelchair.  Another fun use for tiny ASCII graphics are for signing 
    off e-mail, especially during the holidays.  For instance, during the 
    Christmas season, I like to sign letters off with one of the 
    following: 
 
 
                 <\oOo/> 
                 ### ### 
                 ### ### 
 
                   
                   /\ 
                  //\\ 
                 ///\\\ 
                   ][ 
 
    It's important to remember that many RoundTables on GEnie (Such as the 
    FAMILY and Personal Growth RoundTable) frown on the use of excessive 
    ASCII art in regular topics. This is due to the fact that users who 
    are visually impaired and use voice synthesizers have a heck of a time 
    with this stuff...  For instance, a blind user coming across the top 
    Christmas miniature would hear, "lesser than, backslash, o, O, o, 
    slash, greater than..."  And that's only the FIRST ROW!  Can you 
    imagine how irritating that would be? 
 
    Some voice synthesizers do not "pronounce" punctuation, but they do 
    pause for many punctuation marks.  For instance, if your little ASCII 
    picture consists of a lot of periods and commas, the voice synthesizer 
    will pause for each.  If there's enough there, the user may think that 
    he or she was discontinued. 
 
    If you are on a RoundTable and you don't know what their policy is, 
    it's best to preface any ASCII art with a warning phrase, placed a 
    line above the actual art:  "WARNING:  ASCII Art to follow."  And 
    don't be offended if it's returned to you.  There are many ASCII Art 
    topics on GEnie, and your work is VERY welcome there.  :) 
 
7.  Big pictures, or "Bigger is better, right?" 
 
    Though a large picture can be a little intimidating, it is often 
    easier to do than a small picture.  Large pictures give you room to 
    add detail.  If you are doing a picture on, say, ten lines, you don't 
    have as much room to develop curves and angles.  Your work has to be 
    much more precise, and it's not always possible.  On the other hand, 
    on a large picture, you have much more room to develop not only curves 
    and angles, but also shading and highlighting. 
 
    Where do you start on a large picture?  Well, first of all you'll 
    probably want more than one "canvas" to work on.  Just add another 
    canvas or two on the end of the previous one so that you have plenty 
    of room.  Get rid of the excess lines between them with the 
    "control-y" keysequence. 
 
    Some ASCII artists consistently start with the eyes, if the picture 
    HAS eyes.  Personally, I start in a different place each time, but 
    most often I start on what will give me the most problems.  For 
    instance, on the tiger I started with the nose.  I'm not exactly sure 
    WHY that nose was such a bugger (sorry, couldn't resist... :) but once 
    I got that done, I figured I could finish the rest of the picture. 
    Other times, when there isn't an area that I feel I need to start on, 
    I might start at the very top, so that I can get a relative feel for 
    the width and length of the picture. 
 
    Once I've started the picture, I will most of the time go ahead and 
    tap in the rest of the basic shape.  Afterwards I'll go through and 
    add the highlighting, shading, and other detail work that I want. 
    Sometimes when you're sitting so close to the screen, tapping in the 
    pictures, NOTHING you do looks right.  If that's the case, stand back 
    from the screen.... Or squint your eyes.  Or if you wear glasses, take 
    them off for a moment.  Many times you'll see the picture "come 
    together" when you try one of these little tricks. 
 
    When you're finished, make sure you save your picture.  You save your 
    picture the same way you saved the canvas; hold down the control key, 
    hit the K and then the W.  When the screen comes up, give your picture 
    a name.  That way you can bring it up again whenever you'd like. 
 
8.  ASCII Art protocol, or "Gee, this is neat, can I show my friends?" 
 
    ASCII art IS neat, and it's great to get it in the mail.  Kids (and 
    the kid in all of us) enjoy watching it download, as the picture takes 
    shape right before our eyes.  Though I can only speak for myself, I 
    don't mind at all when pictures are "shared" with others.  Some of my 
    pictures have been to many different countries, on many other 
    continents, and that tickles me.  Though tastes differ, appreciation 
    of art is something everyone has in common, especially in such a fun, 
    unexpected form as ASCII art.  What I do ask, though, is that my name 
    be left on the picture.  If you KNOW the source of the art, include 
    the artist's name.  It's not enough to put in a line that says, "yes, 
    it's stolen." 
 
    There have been times in the past that I've received my OWN artwork 
    back in e-mail to me, along with a note that says, "See, you're not 
    the only one who can do this stuff..."  Even more irritating is seeing 
    my own picture with credit given to someone else.  This stuff may not 
    be as "important" as some great literary work, but ASCII artists DO 
    spend an hour or more on each picture to make something that will give 
    others pleasure.  Give them credit. 
 
9.  Printing up ASCII Art -- or "Eww. Why does this look so bad on paper?" 
 
    Why is it when we print up this ASCII art it looks sort of squatty? 
    One reason is that the "characters per inch" is different on the paper 
    than it is on the screen.  In old "typewriting" terms, "Pica" print is 
    ten characters to the inch.  "Elite" print is twelve characters to the 
    inch.  The screen is fairly close to "elite," the default pitch of 
    many printers is closer to "pica."  The printer will print the 
    line character by character rather than inch at a time.  The 
    difference isn't much, but when the picture is six inches wide, that 
    means when it's printed, it'll be seven and a half inches wide. Thus, 
    the "squatty" look.  To correct it, when you print out the work, 
    change the default pitch to something that is closer to the size on 
    the screen.  If you play with it enough, it'll work out. 
 
    The second reason ASCII art may look a little strange on paper is that 
    it may have been created for a dark rather than a light background. 
    (Paper is light.  :)   For instance, if I create a picture, using the 
    @##@ characters as highlights, it's easy for you to see that on a 
    white piece of paper, those characters are actually DARK, not light. 
    The solution is to either   1) keep in mind HOW the picture will be 
    seen.  If your picture will be seen mostly printed up, work on a light 
    background with dark characters while you're creating it.   2) Hand 
    the picture to a child to color.  They can fix anything. :) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
My canvas... (I put a + in the center): 
 
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See Susie Oviatt's ASCII Art
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