Web application, 2001

Custom software, contributed drawings.

shareddrawing_screenshot_2 is a website that allows visitors to collaborate to create a hand-drawn animated film. The site provides a unique drawing tool through which visitors work together side by side to create individual drawings. Each completed drawing is dated and appended to the end of the film.

The resulting film is a time-ordered stream of images, a visual journal of the community responsible for its creation. No central editorial control is exercised on the content and the results are, in turns, beautiful, topical, silly, and profane.

104.09.29_07.58.04.0000  102.02.12_10.28.00.0000

104.09.29_06.14.46.0000  102.04.09_15.23.36.0000

103.04.27_09.10.35.0000  102.01.05_08.38.27.0000

101.06.10_14.49.06.0000  101.04.19_15.46.43.0000

105.10.05_08.27.05.0000  105.03.05_10.48.51.0000101.06.09_12.58.52.0000

A sample of drawings made on the site.


The website was conceived as a vehicle to explore the following questions:

  • What sort of human computer interface is required to facilitate collaborative drawing by remote participants?
  • Can people successfully collaborate to create visual art using strictly visual means of communication (i.e. without using written or spoken language)?
  • What will emerge as the dominant form of collaboration: synchronous collaboration where participants work together to produce one or more drawings or asynchronous collaboration where individual contributors produce drawings that are then united into a single film.
  • What sort of film will be produced by this process?

The site incorporates a drawing tool enabling up to five visitors to draw simultaneously. Each visitor is represented in the interface by an animated iconic proxy that appears to be doing the actual drawing. From the perspective of an individual using the tool, one is sitting elbow to elbow with other artists around a drawing surface. Visual and sonic cues keep each participant aware of people joining the group, leaving the group, and making marks on the drawing surface.

Drawing Tool User Interface
Collaborate with others to create new drawings.

Each participant can select a brush type, which determines the visual style of the mark produced, a brush size, which determines the width of the mark, and a brush color which determines the color of the mark. Additional buttons allow the participant to clear the drawing surface and save a snapshot of the drawing to the gallery for inclusion in the film.

Gallery User Interface
View thumbnail images of completed drawings.

Successive drawings are saved to a gallery where they can be viewed in chronological order. Each gallery page lists the date of the most recent drawing on the page and provides controls to navigate to other pages in the gallery. Clicking on a thumbnail image of a drawing opens a new window that displays the drawing at its original size.

Play the film in the viewer.

Individual drawings can be viewed at full size and played in sequence as a film. A visitor can view a segment of the larger film by selecting the first and last drawings of the segment.

Construction is a client-server application that connects visitors together through a central server. Drawing operations made by one participant are submitted to the server and relayed in near real-time to all other participants currently working on the drawing.

The drawing tool is implemented as a Java Applet. The server-side software is written in Java and uses Java Server Pages, Servlets and the Tomcat Servlet container.


The site was available from December, 2000 through April, 2007.  Hundreds of artists from around the world worked together to create over 4,700 drawings. was featured in the research paper Why Use Computers to Make Drawings?, a survey of digital tools for the creation of drawn art written by George Whale of the Loughborough University School of Art and Design. The paper was presented at the Fourth Conference on Creativity and Cognition in October, 2002.

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