Rock, Paper, Digital Interface.

Rock Paper image 1  

This project was developed and executed by Maria Hayes, Artist and Alison Walker, Welsh Video Network. 

Involved in the project were 27 Year 9 pupils from Ysgol Y Moelwyn, Blaenau Ffestiniog and 11 Year 10 pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr, Swansea.  


Alison and Maria met at a conference and both being interested in developing drawing skills by using videoconferencing, decided to research into the use of videoconferencing and data sharing software to develop drawing techniques.

To start, we needed to set up meetings using Tandberg See and Share software to carry out initial experiments with both very simple imaging software and Photoshop. The most satisfying of these early experiments came when we shared an image Maria had already drawn by hand and scanned in, and Alison worked into it digitally. This was our first collaborative image making.

Rock Paper image 2 

 We then asked ourselves how was this ‘additional’ to the curriculum and how could this technology be best applied to a classroom situation? We set up a series of virtual meetings and experiments. Maria was keen not only to be sharing images in the way we initially experimented, but as she is researching observational drawing practices combining with digital technologies she felt this was the most innovative and best educative use of the technology.

Rock Paper image 3

We worked out how we could replicate the ‘projection’ technology Maria uses in her art studio, but in a virtual environment. We had a lot of frustrating delaying issues with the technology, but we worked our way through them as best and as quickly as we could. Initial problems included broadband speed, getting a Mac laptop on line at the school and to work with the software, working out the right drawing software that would be compatible with the whiteboards and working out how to best use the drawing software in a shared drawing.

We began to see how to make images in a new way. Alison stood in front of a white board with Camera 2 tightly focused on her. She then sent the image of herself to the projector in Ysgol Y Moelwyn. This meant Maria could see a large image of Alison in real time on her whiteboard. We were also sharing Alison's desktop with the drawing software on it. In this way Maria could draw directly into Alison's image on the white board using the Promethean pen. The drawing appeared on Alison's desktop (and Maria's as we were desktop sharing) as well as being projected on the white board.

We began to see how to make observational figure drawings or portraits of someone in real time, even though they were 200 miles away. We asked ourselves what implication this might have for the curriculum and observational drawing practices.Maria devised a workshop that looked at collaborative image making between the classes and observational figure drawing using Alison as a live interactive model.

However, we were unable to get the two schools to participate at the same time so then planned two separate one-hour sessions for the same day.

Ysgol Y Moelwyn were first with their teacher Annette Pugh. Maria was in the room with the students and able to communicate directly with them. We explained this was experimental and warned them that we may encounter technical difficulties and asked for their patience and co-operation. We gave each of them a sheet of A3 paper and invited them to observe the process and make comments both in writing and sketch form.

 Alison then projected herself onto the screen at Ysgol Y Moelwyn and Maria demonstrated how to use the technology to make a representational drawing by drawing directly into Alison’s image.

We then invited volunteers to have a ‘go’ to see what they came up with. In a second round of drawing we invited students to draw into their own shadow on the whiteboard to see the difference from drawing into an image. This was frustrating because calibration and delayed response problems began to happen. We needed to stop the conversation and re-connect. This interrupted the flow of work and shifted the focus from the act of drawing.


Rock Paper image 4 

The hour’s session threw up other problems too. The students were unable to see the bottom of the digital page and were unwittingly drawing over the ‘paper’ edge, which then switched the pen from drawing into other functions, such as ‘move’ or ‘re-size’. It took us a while to work out what was happening.

Despite the problems, the class began to understand what we were trying to do and were enthusiastic about joining in and having a go.

 In the time between sessions we reworked the workshop to try to avoid some of the technical difficulties and give the second group more time to do the virtual portrait drawing.

Working with Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr was the most remote situation – Maria in one place, Alison in another, and the group in a third.

Maria began to advise the group on how to draw. This was challenging as Maria didn’t have a good image of them, the sound was poor and we kept breaking contact.

Despite this we got through the exercises and the group produced some good drawing. The most successful was a collaborative drawing of Alison in different poses done with layers of different colours.


Rock Paper image 5

All the drawings at this stage are Virtual but can be saved as digital images to be worked on and manipulated with software, or printed out and worked on with traditional materials, which could then be scanned in and worked into digitally. In addition, the digital material can be animated, replayed, shown on the Internet as film or single images, sent by email, burned to disc, etc.

Feedback on the conference: