Paint A Picture


Project Description

‘Paint a picture’ merely derives from the main aspect of my aim – to create an interactive installation. This particular piece was to get the audience involved and let them be free in terms of being creative amongst themselves or with their friends/family. It is essentially a blank canvas in which you can “paint a picture” using gestures, for instance hand movements or as such, captured via webcam.  Whilst moving a diverse range of colours are displayed and after a while the picture created fades away and returns to the blank canvas.

Intended Audience

Initially I thought my audience would be those who were interested in digital art or art itself and from teens to late twenties. Nonetheless, during the exhibition I discovered that it was not only those who were artists or those who were engrossed in art that found the piece intriguing but it was quiet a range of people. For instance, there was a father and child who enjoyed the piece by painting a picture they thought it was playful and had a ‘bonding’ moment. Other times it was adults and senior members. I believe they were engrossed in the interactive piece due to it allowing themselves to freely create a picture of colours without anyone judging them, taking them back to their childhood moments.

Background Research

My background research initially came from studying interactive installations. I have always liked the concept of getting people involved with your art work rather than them just staring and observing the piece, as it allows them to freely express themselves via interaction. You get a sense of inclusiveness and more engagement from the spectators making it beneficial both to the artists and those experiencing the artistic piece. “Interactive art emerged in the late 1950s in parallel with artists’ desires to find less alienating and exclusive environments in which to show art. As the street, the warehouse or the shop front became their choice of venue, the art also became more participatory and inclusive”. My original concept was derived from research via the processing website, here I came across “Shadow monsters by Philip Worthington”.  It is an interactive installation produced by a New York based British artist Philip Worthington. It “invites Museum visitors to take part in a fully Immersive art experience. Participants create their own shadow plays as their silhouettes are recast in fantastic forms.” “Essentially a digital version of a traditional shadow puppet theatre, Shadow monsters turns into a childhood game of imagination into a reality. Peoples hands become mouths with razor-sharp teeth; tongues, eyes, and fins appear from every appendage and birds and dinosaurs”. Essentially this provided me with the foundation of my interactive installation as it focuses on evoking a childhood experience.

I then particularly looked into ‘frame differencing’.  It is a “technique where the computer checks the difference between two video frames. If the pixels have changed there apparently was something changing in the image (moving for example). Most techniques work with some blur and threshold, to distinct real movement from noise. Because frame could differ too when light conditions in a room change (and camera auto focus, brightness correction etc.).

 Creative Process + Build

At the beginning of this project, after my background research I wanted to create a piece similar to Philip Worthington’s “shadow monsters” as it was what I was looking for in terms of experiencing childhood- bringing your inner child out. To do this I had to use both background subtraction and frame differencing techniques via processing. Background subtraction is “a common and widely used technique for generating a foreground mask by using static cameras” It “Calculates the foreground mask performing a subtraction between the current frame and a background model, containing the static part of the scene or, more in general, everything that can be considered as background given the characteristics of the observed scene”. By using background subtraction, I would have used the static image of the gesture to create the shadow formations and frame differencing to find the difference between the two frames in which the shadow would detect the static and moving gestures. I also thought of including story modes in which I would use my smartphone or otherwise to initiate the ‘story modes’. These would consist of 5 different sceneries for instance:  farm, beach, park, mountains and theatre stage. All created from processing. Once I trigger these story modes the spectators would be able to go in front of the webcam to create their ‘shadow art’ and create a story or merely create whatever they wish based on the scenery displayed on screen. Thus, allowing the audience to bring their inner child out and freely use their gestures to be part of their own art work. After attempting to code for the initial idea I came across many errors and coding incapability’s which therefore led me to my second Idea. This idea was simpler but effective as it still produced my main notion of childhood experience. Instead of using both background subtraction and frame differencing I used just frame differencing by itself. With the use of my external webcam and using processing I ended up producing a program in which the audience interacts with the webcam via gestures and body movements. Whilst moving in front of the webcam the screen will display an array of colours and create digital art, with this the members of the audience get to interpret the colours and what they are creating or simply have fun with it.  Furthermore, instead of participants sitting down on a chair and creating art with the piece I changed it so that they can move freely and allowing themselves to create pieces with their family or friends simultaneously. This was done by placing my laptop and external webcam facing straight ahead so that as people walk past they can see the colours emerge alongside their gestures.







Although I did not get to produce my initial idea of “shadow art” I am quite happy with how my final piece turned out. Observing the piece come to life was an amazing experience.  I received a lot of positive feedback, from a range of people, with their own interpretation of the interactive installation. One interpretation a viewer got out of it was the fact that the art created warm and cool colours which was almost therapeutic. There were also one set of mature viewers who got together to try and paint a ‘shark’, collaboratively interacting by joining their gestures to paint the shark. They found that it was really fun to be like children and said the amalgamation of the dark atmosphere and colours on screen helped them to feel calm and de-stressed. My colleagues also enjoyed participating with the piece, as they really loved how the concept was unique and playful as it allowed them to experiment with movement in many different ways. In terms of coding, I would ensure I have practised by producing different programs and watch tutorials in order to strengthen my coding capabilities to be able to produce my desired idea of shadow art in the near future.  For further improvement on my final outcome, I would project the canvas on a much larger scale, for instance on a blank wall, so that many people at once could interact with the piece and also create a function where it takes a screenshot of the art made, to be printed out and given to those who participated. This way, it allows the spectators to receive a memento, to reminisce the day they took part in the interactive installation and admire the piece they generated. I would also include sound to provide more of an effect and make it more interesting for those who take part.

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