Stephen Bell | computer graphics at The Slade 1977-79


"When I first arrived at The Slade in autumn 1977 programs were entered using a teletype machine - what you typed was echoed on printed paper, not on screen. The images generated by your program were previewed on a green-screen before being plotted on a flatbed plotter using mapping pens. The preview screen was an oscilliscope about 150mm across I seem to recall. Later a Tectronics vector graphic display with built in keyboard was acquired.

I hadn't written programs before so I attended the workshops run by Chris Briscoe, introducing the equipment and programming in Fortran using the Gino graphics library. I think most of our year attended the first workshop, about half turned up for the second and then attendance dropped off to a few stalwarts who had a feeling for the process. After a few weeks, the workshops became tutorials. As well as getting advice from Chris and Julian Sullivan, there were a number of students in the second year who were able to advise me.

I had trouble finding books on programming that I could understand and for many years although I used computers I had very little idea of how they actually worked. I went along to the Computer Arts Society a couple of times but found that the conversation didn't seem to be about art. It may well have been that the other people there did talk about art really, but to me they conversed in an esoteric language that I couldn't understand. I seem to recall overhearing discussions about how powerful the latest machines were but most of it went straight over my head.

Nevertheless I was hooked. Programming followed on quite well from the approach I had been using on my undergrad course. My first programs were based directly on sculptural work I had done at Bristol. The following pages document how my way of working changed as I responded to the aesthetics of plotted drawings.

Drawings could take several hours to plot and you had to check regularly to make sure that the ink hadn't dried in the mapping pens. After initailly using black ink I switched to using cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink as I felt that the process was akin to printing. I eventually chose to drop the black and use instead the grey resulting from over-drawing c, y and m.

The Ranstak algorithm was based on a system that I had used with sculptures whilst at Bristol Polytechnic Fine Art Department in 1976 - 1977." For an explanation of that system see Folding Sculpture MkII

Initial Ranstak Algorithm

Take a matrix of points in 3D space, e.g.30 x 30, 30 X 30 X 3 or 4 x 4 x 4.

For each location in the matrix:

Randomly select an object to draw centred on that location.

Rotate the object randomly about its local origin before it is drawn.

Draw in perspective.

Part 2 | background | folding Sculptures