An introduction to data and information
An introduction to data and information

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An introduction to data and information

5.2.1 Transforming the natural to the designed

The artist Christine Martell lives in Oregon in the United States and works with beads and visual images. I asked her to describe how she makes use of a computer to create her visual images of flowers and trees. She writes of her work:

I start by finding flowers that are compelling in some way, most often in form and colour. I take photographs with a 35 mm camera having a macro lens.

I'm usually looking for a line that might suggest movement or gesture. I find a place that might be the resting place in the movement, and focus the camera there. Often times the background is out of the focal range.

When I have the film developed, I choose a lab that tends to make the photographs saturated [with little or no admixture of white] and rich. I prefer to bring the colour ‘down’ electronically rather than try to enhance it. I have the prints made in 5 by 7 inch size.

I scan the photograph into the computer, using a simple consumer grade scanner. I copy the image to make a working copy. I keep the original photo scan as a separate file, so I can move back and forth between the images to restore original edges and details.

When I draw into the images electronically using a drawing tablet, I am usually looking to create a dynamic energy; to express a movement and visually emphasise the contrast between that energy and the stillness of the flower. I draw back into the images with my digitising tablet, using Painter software. I hardly ever use filters [standard effects made available by ‘painting’ software, equivalent to using a lens filter on a conventional camera] as the effect is too uniform for my taste. Once in a while, if I need a uniform texture for a background, I'll use a filter… or I might start with a filtered texture, then draw into it.

The computer gives me the freedom to mix the visual effects of media that would not readily combine in traditional media. I also can work through many more ideas electronically.

Figure 14 shows one of Christine Martell's original scanned-in photographs beside her final image. Of course, in a way even her original photograph is art. She has been careful to use her skill to select a viewpoint, a moment and a field of focus, and then to choose a developing laboratory that will do what she needs with the colour saturation. Finally, in order to achieve the result she wants, she uses a drawing tablet with a ‘painting’ program to ‘paint’ effects.

Figure 14 (a) The photograph, already ‘art’, and (b) the completed visual image (courtesy of Christine Martell). She used an ordinary 35 mm camera with a special, but commonly available, lens to produce the original photograph, and a computer, scanner, drawing tablet and a painting program to produce the final image.

Most of us will never be professional artists. However, we can aspire to be creative for our own pleasure and the pleasure of those around us. The computer offers considerable scope for doing this.

Note that Christine Martell uses a standard scanner to scan in her photographs. Having an electronic drawing tablet is more unusual, but these are easily purchased and anyone with sufficient manual control can use one.

Perhaps the biggest advantage the computer gives Christine Martell as an artist is that she can make as many electronic copies of her scanned image as she requires. This allows her to try different effects, freely discard those that she is not satisfied with, throw away mistakes, or use the power of the computer to make many different images from the same original photograph. To do the equivalent by hand using an actual photograph would be far costlier, and some mistakes which are not erasable would require the artist to throw away prints.

The other main advantage of the computer as an artist's tool is that it can produce effects that would be difficult using traditional media. Christine Martell mentions one, i.e. to be able to reduce the saturation of her colours. She can do this selectively to parts of a photograph – something which is virtually impossible using conventional film-developing methods. By choosing to have her film developed in such a way that the colours are deep and saturated, she gives herself the freedom, using her computer, to alter those colours to whatever saturation she desires.


  1. What characteristic of computer systems enables them to be used creatively? In which part of a computer system does this characteristic reside?

  2. Give an advantage a computer system offers the creative artist and state why it is an advantage.


  1. The flexibility of a computer system is key to being able to use them creatively. It is the computer program that makes such flexibility possible.

  2. It is possible to make many copies of something. This enables the artist to experiment freely, throwing away mistakes or results that don't please, or making many different versions from a single original.


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