Distributed Drawing

butchering diagram

For the last three Novembers, I’ve coordinated a project called DrawMo!, whereby persons around the world, both known and unknown to each other, draw every day for a month. Some people post their work to Flickr, some blog it either on their own sites or on the group blog, some work only offline; but everybody draws, separately, in his or her own special way.

So what I’d like to do for my final ICM project is add a more collaborative component to this than the group blog, which is, frankly, pretty dull lately. (The Flickr feed is where it’s at.) The idea is to create online Exquisite Corpse–type drawings, in which multiple people draw different parts of a single composition, without being able to see most of each other’s work, or the whole drawing, until it is done. It would have a Web front-end, using PHP to collect and organize the drawings and information about the participants, and there would be an optional Processing-based online drawing tool.

What Happens

  • A person, let’s call her “Elisabeth,” visits the site and fills in her name and e-mail address.
  • If Elisabeth is the first person to arrive, or if a new drawing is being started, she is asked to choose a square to work on and whether she wants to upload a drawing or use the online drawing interface.
  • Elisabeth can’t see the the composite drawing-in-progress, but she can see a schematic with gray boxes for squares that are done, labeled with the artist’s name. If someone else already has a square that is adjacent to hers “checked out,” she will be told that she is on the waiting list and will receive an e-mail when the square is free. (She needs to be able to see the edges of any adjacent squares, so that her drawing can link to them visually.)
  • Elisabeth has one hour to work on her square. After that, she will receive a nag message, which will ask if she wants to continue. If she doesn’t click “yes,” the drawing is posted and it’s the next person’s turn. She can only postpone three times, for a total of four hours.
  • If Elisabeth chooses to use the drawing tool, she’s presented with a Processing window with a toolbar along the side—rather like Jonathan’s project from a few weeks back, but with more options. She can draw lines and simple shapes and can control the line width, color, and transparency. There is an eraser, an eyedropper for matching colors, and a “start over” button. Maybe a straight line tool. Elisabeth gets a fixed-size canvas, and if other people have already participated in the drawing, she will see the edges of the squares that are adjacent to hers, so that she can line things up
  • The drawing consists of a 4 × 4–square grid, with each block being 600 pixels square. So the finished piece is 2,400 pixels square, or 8 inches, if printed out at 300 dpi—suitable for framing.
  • If Elisabeth has chosen to upload an image, she can then draw on top of it.
  • When Elisabeth is done, she saves her drawing and it is added to the composite drawing. Once she’s saved her drawing, she is allowed to rejoin the queue, if she wishes to draw another square.
  • The next person on the waiting list gets an e-mail announcing that it is his or her turn to draw. Everyone except the last person can choose which square to draw on.
  • Finished drawings are archived on the website and can be viewed at any time.
  • When the drawing is complete, everybody who participated receives an e-mail with a link. The final piece is posted to Flickr and can be downloaded as a JPEG or PDF.


  • How to let multiple people draw at one time?
  • Should people be able to revise their squares after they’ve check them in?
  • Should comments be allowed on the squares? On the whole drawing?

Some Other Collaborative Drawing Programs


Photo: butcher shop cow diagram in window in bernal heights, san francisco, california by veganstraightedge / shaners becker.

One thought on “Distributed Drawing”

  1. Thanks for the props on KrazyCanvas.
    KrazyCanvas answers all 3 of your questions with an astounding YES!

    We let multiple people draw at the same time. They can’t draw on the same square though (yet).

    No only can people revise their own squares, anyone can revise them at the approval of the original owner at any time.

    In order to invoke a greater sense of community not only do we allow people to comment on each square, the users can also rate each one on a 5-point scale.

    Another great thing about KrazyCanvas is that there are multiple canvases all with different themes. We could even do one with a Exquisite Corpse theme in the future.

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