Another pattern by wirehead a.k.a. Ken Wronkiewicz

Earlier we posted on Flickr light-writing art and the experiments Ken Wronkiewicz in generating photographs using software-controlled LEDs.

WRT interviewed artist Ken Wronkiewicz about his work:

WRT: What first sparked your interest in light-writing?

KW: I have been a bookworm since a very early age and designed my first typeface at least a decade ago, so you could say that I’ve always been a little textually-oriented. I had always found long-exposure photography interesting but the slightly expensive nature of film made that a little hard to play with. When my wife got us a digital camera, my thought was “Gee, it’s not going to take as quality of pictures as my old manual-everything camera, but I can take all the pictures I want,” and I started to visualize long-exposure pictures in my head.

The text light-writing part of things came almost entirely because of Flickr. I had spent quite some time without much feedback or interaction on my light art. However, after I joined Flickr, I discovered a whole crew of people to bounce ideas and pictures off of. One of those ideas was to try writing instead of images of “swirlies” as I had before.

WRT: What led you to experiment with programmable LEDs?

KW: I have had a variety of mental pictures of sculptural pieces of light art over the past 3 years that would require programmable LEDs that I’ve wanted to build, but most of them have remained as mental pictures for me to do later. Upon finishing my first set of pieces, where I posed a model and created a scene with the light, I felt that it was the next logical step.

There are alternatives, mostly using bits of analog circuitry, timers, etc. I’ve spent some time on them, but have found that to get LEDs doing things other than the usual flashing effects, it’s much faster to just use an AVR microcontroller (a programmable computer on a single chip) to do my art — new variants can be programmed in an hour or less.

Tags: , ,

WRT: Novelty text LEDs are commercially available, yet you built your own chip. Was the attraction superior features, or was it the challenge of home engineering?

KW: The biggest attraction is superior customization, although the fun of a home engineering project cannot be denied. The novelty LEDs have a specific preprogrammed font, display at a rate tuned to our visual systems, etc, whereas the camera is not constrained by such things. One of the things that I’ve discovered in my photography is that the best pictures come from things that you wouldn’t see in reality… a car becomes a streak, a neon sign tube forms a texture, and the world of the night becomes a brilliant sea of colors. Often times, in order to get the patterns I want, you can’t wave it fast enough for your eyes to properly merge it into an image, but it looks great once I take a picture.

Similarly, my board accepts a simple bitmap that I create on my computer. This means that I can feed in fonts of any sort, characters from other languages, ideograms, abstract patterns, etc. I’ve got some stuff planned that will use kanji.

I have always been a tinkerer. The “I should make that” instinct overrules the “I wonder if I could find one at the store” instinct. I make a lot of things myself, so building my own board was probably to be expected.

WRT: Photographing patterns that you can’t even see until the photograph is taken must require some testing and debugging. How would you compare your artistic process to your work as a software developer?

KW: I tend to view problem solving as a general abstract skill. I can imagine how I’d like my art to look in much the same way I can imagine how the software I create should work, but the real effort is figuring out how to make it all work.

The two big differences are that I’m using different tools for my art and I’m doing projects that I only have to answer to myself for. The software I write for my day job is used on the desks of stock traders and analysts on a fast desktop computer, generally with two or three monitors. My programming for my art runs on a tiny microcontroller and is built solely to my needs. Testing and debugging software for Wall Street is much more involved.

For my art that doesn’t involve software control, there’s more that’s different, but I’m still using the same problem solving skills.

WRT: Your work has attracted attention not just for your light-writing art, but also for discussing and even photo-annotating your building process. Do you have plans to distribute instructions, schematics, or programs you’ve developed?

KW: Well, I’ve met quite a few artists who insist that they have some sort of deep secret in their art. To them, if they were to tell you their secret, you would be able to make better art than they would ever be able to.

This annoys me because I don’t think that it’s just the individual technique you use, but the (unique) grace and artistry that you use it with. I’m learning how to make neon flowers from my friend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to produce flowers that replicate hers… or even flowers at all.

The schematics and software are not complicated enough to need to be distributed quite yet. I’d love to be able to enable other artists without programming abilities to make their own patternings without needing to know something about electronics or programming, but I’m not there yet.

I generally try to keep my exact combination of patterns (generally the exact source code I use for a given effect) to myself, and I don’t like to tell people what I’m going to do before I actually do it, but otherwise I try to be open and supportive to other artists and give them more than enough information to build upon my efforts.

After all, what would have happened if the first painter who made oil paints kept it a secret? Or if Johann Gutenberg had kept secret how he made his bibles so quickly?

WRT: Thank you for participating in this interview.

KW: You are welcome. Thanks for asking me.

3 Responses to “Light-writing: an interview with artist Ken Wronkiewicz”

  1. 1 Portrait From Photo

    To create light-writing effects using software or programs generated in the computer is indeed a unique kind of art. I wish you can let some of us, spectators, get a hands-on experience in doing it.

    Also, hope you can also try out your program not just on text. Making use of light to create silhouettes of images can become another great leap from the basic. What do you think?


  1. 1 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » Digital Lightwriting
  2. 2 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » WRT interview with Chris Crawford

Leave a Reply

thesis writing service