We were Drawing with Code this Month at Artisan’s Asylum

Students were relaying ideas for their final projects to each other. There was a buzz about colors and patterns. One participant asked, “how can I make the shape stay on the screen after I am no longer clicking?” One student focused on generating a display of colors of various opacities, while another was eagerly learning to navigate the new spatial system in which graphics made with JavaScript live.

I teamed up with Artisan’s Asylum to facilitate creative coding workshops for adults. The April Drawing with Code workshop was a blast! The students were excited to use code and technology to conceptualize their artistic visions. Students worked hard on creating an array of projects, ranging from 2D geometric stills to dynamic, interactive animations such as these beautiful works created by the students in the April workshop. 

The Group

It was very exciting for me to introduce adult novice coders to creative coding. I work with a lot of kids, and have seen them fall in love with programming while exploring how coding can be used to create artwork. I was determined to make coding more approachable for novice adult coders and creatives with limited tech experience. I wanted them to enjoy coding and see it as the creative endeavor that it is, in the way that my younger students had come to do. While everyone was new to programming, the group largely consisted of graphic artists, UX designers and art educators. By working with this group, I learned that creative coding courses can have huge benefits on graphic and UX designers trying to understand the mechanics behind how digital visuals are created and art educators looking to introduce more technology into their work. 

The Curriculum

The workshop lasted four hours. I was leading the group in learning JavaScript in p5, a visual sketchbook development environment on openprocessing.org. The time was split between two parts, creating stills and creating interactive animations. Students learned to draw 2D shapes, generate colors of specific hues, saturations, brightness and opacities, to make their work dynamic with randomization of object positioning and color and to develop response mechanisms for mouse and keyboard clicks. The entire workshop was hands-on, including demos and explorations. Students eased into creating their own projects by doing small independent exercises after watching demos and remixing several projects that were premade. Every student walked out of the workshop having completed one or two original works, which they programmed from scratch. Take a look at the functions we explored:

Drawing Board.jpg

Students’ Impressions

The workshop was a lot of fun for everyone! According to exit survey results, students reported enjoying working with shapes and colors, as well as the small-group learning environment. One student said she enjoyed the, “small class size and attentiveness of instructor.” Another wrote,

“I thought the pace was really good. Irina stopped to check and make sure we were all keeping up and answered questions. She taught us things that may have been outside of her original plan if we asked questions or were interested.”

The students also reported being pleased with the amount of time that the workshop took and the time of day that it was scheduled- Saturday late morning and early afternoon. When asked whether they would recommend the workshop to a friend, all the participants replied that they would. One elaborated,

“Absolutely! Very accessible, but also challenging. Great amount of skills that pair well together to enable you to make really cool things!”

Looking Forward

For future workshops, I’m hoping to individualize the content to more directly meet the needs of participants. For example, I’m looking forward to incorporating lesson ideas for educators, as well as integrate solutions for issues that graphic artists deal with in their daily work. That may include topics such as navigating the coordinate system that digital visuals are produced in or how to use code to produce visuals with text and how to program various text fonts. Moreover, I’m excited to continue sharing coding with a broader audience and how it can be used in a range of fields, especially creative fields.

Making Room for Invention

Have you ever struggled with deciphering between which types of learnings environments spark innovation and which stifle it? Educators, myself included, are always looking for ways to spur students' creativity. Similarly, as students, we all want to be a part of learning environments that help us tap into our creativity and use it to create original work.

One common dilemma when planning a lesson or activity is how much autonomy to give students. Famous educational psychology researchers, Ryan and Deci found that autonomy was one factor contributing to students moving towards having higher intrinsic motivation. Through the years, I've learned that students need a balance of guidance, constraints, open-ended questions and freedom to create. The general structure of my lessons includes:

•  a hook to excite and inspire
•  a short demo to model
•  some time to create
•  some time to share
•  and reflection

The time to create is very important- it allows students to apply their skills while discovering the potential of their imagination. The autonomy to explore independently and with each other, without having stepped out instructions, creates the space for students to confront the power and beauty of their minds. I consider the time for creating as a time of slightly-structured creativity, when students work through the chaos of solving a complex problem drawing on focus inspired by a small set of guidelines. 

In Coding Club, after being shown the basics of building complete circuits using LittleBits, my third to fifth grade students were given a series of open-ended challenges. Their only constraints included sticking to the broad theme of the challenge, a thirty minute time-limit and using the available materials: LittleBit sets and crafts that were available in the room. The time limit was the hardest for them to adhere to, because most students wanted to continue to explore and iterate their designs. Students were allowed to choose their own teams, or work individually. These are some of my students' inventions:

Invent something that illuminates

Night Lights with Fans, in case it gets hot

Invent an electronic creature modelling an animal (animatronics)

It's a Bird!

It's a Bird!

Whinny Fish

Invent something magical

My Superpower- Light by Touch

My Superpower- Light by Touch

Students enjoyed the freedom they had to explore circuits and developed inventions that organically evolved from their explorations. They were energized and inspired by their own work. I know this because they were eager to share their inventions with each other and to return the following week for more discovery and creation. The autonomy that students had in designing the challenges gave them space to cultivate and test their ideas. I believe that seeing their ideas turn into something tangible translated to the motivation to continue learning and creating. 

When it was time to share, we celebrated the unique ideas that all the students brought to life.