Ben Guerrette: on Creating Deco Sketch, the Geometric Effects and Drawing Suite

Ben Guerrette

Ben Guerrette

Hello Ben, could you tell us a little more about your background. I love your title, Creative Technologist, and my feeling is that you're an artist and developer? 

Thats exactly right, I'm an artist and developer. I began my career in graphic design many moons ago and then eventually transitioned to programming. Now I combine the two disciplines for use in my own work for arts sake and for others to interact and create with. Most of my career has been in web development though I'm now working to getting out of the browser putting efforts towards app creation for mobile, PC and Mac. Hopefully I can also find more time for creating interactive art installations as well.

What does it mean to be a Creative Technologist?

The term Creative Technologist is essentially another step past Creative Coder, which is to me, someone who programs visual output of some form or another be it for interactive or just viewing purposes. A Creative Technologist is someone who incorporates hardware into their work as well with audio, visual, controller and motion sensing equipment. My work spans multiple outputs and forms of interaction from mobile to desktop and live projections. I can’t claim ownership of the term. There’s lots of people in my field who use it as well.

I never sought out to build a painting application that mimicked anything you could do with a physical brush. I wanted unusual painting tools that users didn’t know what to do with at first. It pushes people to work outside of their comfort zone and thus discover and create something completely new and different.
— Ben Guerrette
Deco Sketch

Deco Sketch

How did you get the idea for developing your own art app? 

The initial release of Deco Sketch was a bit of an experiment. I wanted to try my hand at app development after spending the last 15 years working primarily on the web. At the time, standards were changing rapidly so it seemed like a good direction to move in.

The basic idea for version 1.0 was to create a simple drawing app with brush strokes that animated. It needed to be a simple in that anyone artistic or otherwise to create something beautiful or chaotic. The early versions of Deco Sketch had animate shapes as you painted. The elements would grow slightly. It was somewhere between art app and meditation tool.

The name derived from the look of 2 of the initial brushes that when combined, gave an art deco type look.

What makes you really excited about expressing yourself creatively with your iPhone or iPad?

I’d have to say the restrictions presented with a the size and form factor of a mobile device. It forces me to bend and tweak a particular tool and explore new ways to use it. Not having the “kitchen sink” so to speak, forces you explore every angle and nook of a particular tool finding new ways to use it. And while it may seem obvious, the ability to draw on a screen. The mouse was always a huge hand to eye disconnect and imprecise. I spend a lot of time sketching and drawing doodles when I was younger and unfortunately stopped altogether after working on a computer for so long. I always dreamed of a Wacom tablet that doubled as a screen which I believe eventually came out way before affordable touchscreen devices but was much too expensive for the average designer.

Card Trick. By Ben Guerrette. Created with Deco Sketch

Card Trick. By Ben Guerrette. Created with Deco Sketch

What makes Deco Sketch a unique tool for creative expression?

The lack of familiar tools and the “outside of the box” approach with the various brushes. I never sought out to build a painting application that mimicked anything you could do with a physical brush. I wanted unusual painting tools that users didn’t know what to do with at first. It pushes people to work outside of their comfort zone and thus discover and create something completely new and different.

With the Grid Snapping feature in Deco Sketch you’re able to space things easily while also varying stroke sizes. You can then layer on strokes in a more random approach giving a nice juxtaposition between neatly spaced elements and some chaos. Added with the Color Sampling when painting on a photo, the instant matching of color brings composition to a whole new level.

Additionally, Deco Sketch provides simple tools in which a non artist can create something striking just by experimenting and playing around. No art skills required.

Show us a feature in Deco Sketch that you love. 

If I were to narrow it down to one thing it’d have to be Color Sampling. The ability to instance match geometry color to that of which I’m painting provide endless creative opportunities while paired with the various shapes that can be painted with. Depending on the size of the brush you can go in with detailed strokes creating abstract pointillism looks, patterned color landscapes or just simple and subtle embellishments.

Deco Sketch: Color Sampling Feature

Deco Sketch: Color Sampling Feature

Deco Sketch: Continuous Line Tool

Deco Sketch: Continuous Line Tool

And another?

The new continuous line tool is definitely a versatile favorite as well. I’m always finding new ways to use it and stumbling over accidental coolness. Being so different from the other brushes I think it’s an untapped feature that few users comprehend. There’s some folks I see experimenting but it seems most just use the presets. I’ve no doubt this is a direct result of the unorthodox approach I’ve taken with the app. I’m completely aware of the steep learning curve and working to come up with a smarter approach for version 2.0.

A quick tip for users. Using one of the line tools presets that has grid snapping on, scroll to the end of the brush settings and check the poorly named “Dot Lines Echo” option. This provides some pretty cool effects. Turn on 1 or all of the “speed affects” options for some more unique effects.

Deco Sketch: Quick Tip

Deco Sketch: Quick Tip

What’s the most important element of a well designed app for photography and art?

Even before a well designed user interface, quality of effects, and ease of use, the app MUST have high resolution output. At a bare minimum, 6 megapixels is good though 8 is preferred. The higher the better.

While resolution is important it has less to do with how well designed the app is and more to do with user expectations. A great app for photography art or otherwise should be intuitive and easy to use. The interface should not get in the way and there should be no question on to use it.

Which role do the users of Deco Sketch have in the development of the app?

Photo loading was the absolute biggest request. There was a small user base early on that was outputting images from DS and blending with other apps. I worked hard to include photo loading for 1.6 but ultimately failed right out of the gate. I implemented it as a secondary feature when it really need to be a robust first tier major function. I went back to the drawing board and revamped the core of the app for version 1.7 based on a lot of beta testing and user feedback on how it should be done.

The zoom, eyedropper, redo and 1.8’s improved UI were all user requested features as well. And while not directly requested by users, some of the brushes were inspired by work I saw on Instagram.

Deco Sketch Tutorial

Deco Sketch Tutorial

What would be your advice to someone who's just starting out using Deco Sketch?

Follow the rainbow tutorial on the help page. It covers a number of the brushes and their nuances, how to customize their various settings as well as a look into the power of the erase tool.

Additionally, try turning off the “Draw speed affects...” settings to see how they change brush strokes. Experiment with different brushes using the Color Sampling feature. You’ll be surprised of of the different effects you can achieve.

One of the unique aspects of digital art is that it's illuminated, emitting light from the screen? This light is lost when we print out our work on paper. Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to easily display your art as light projections in a room, with the help of an app? 

Video projections are an old passion of mine that I’m still experimenting with when I find the time. Specifically, large scale interactive pieces using motion control technologies like the Microsoft Kinect. Motion Sketch is a recent piece I showcased at Create:Fixate in Los Angeles in the autumn of 2012. Below is a short teaser. I’m actually in talks with someone right now about putting together a large scale piece to promote a major shoe company for an event in Stockholm.

It's easy to burn out on a job you're passionate about. How do you deal with staying enthusiastic, creating your own organisational culture, and finding time to refill your well?

I’m incredibly inspired by the iPhoneography community on a daily basis. I use Instagram quite a bit and follow some very talented folks. Their work pushes me to better both my own art, Deco Sketch as well as coming up with new ideas for other creative apps.

The co-working space I spend my days in, 3rd Space, helps to keep me motivated also. I’m surrounded by incredibly talented young entrepreneurs who are all very passionate about their work. Everyone is very helpful in pushing each other to better themselves and stay motivated.

When I’m not creating art or working, time in nature and the oppositely bustling city keep me inspired.

Post modern futuristic retro art found during time travel to the 17th century. By Ben Guerrette. Created with Deco Sketch

Post modern futuristic retro art found during time travel to the 17th century. By Ben Guerrette. Created with Deco Sketch

Artists are often interdisciplinary "neophiles." We're in love with novelty, invention, innovation and reinvention. Connecting the dots in new and unexpected ways. Sometimes that even means constantly reinventing yourself. How do you allow for flexibility and creativity, whilst maintaining the solid presence needed to support your software business?

Expressionist creative projects are a necessity to keep the mind working. Things that don’t necessarily make sense or have a legitimate purpose are required to keep ideas moving. It doesn’t need to have any deep meaning but rather just give me or anyone who wants to experiment with it something to play with. Like this Grid Glitcher or this String DNA. You need to be willing to scrap an entire days work or just turn around and walk away from the so called “good idea” you had. Accepting change is necessity as well as trying new things. Change in trends, new technologies and wants from users.

What do you find to be the greatest challenges and rewards of developing your own photo and art app?

The greatest rewards are in seeing the different ways in which users utilize Deco Sketch. The creative community continually inspires me giving me new ideas for future updates.

The biggest challenge would have to be containing all my ideas and figuring out a smart way to package them into either Deco Sketch or a new app.

In Time. By Ben Guerrette. Created with Deco Sketch

In Time. By Ben Guerrette. Created with Deco Sketch

Any suggestions to others who would like to develop their own app, but don’t know where to start?

Start small. Keep all your ideas on paper but keep the final output limited. It’s very easy for users to get overwhelmed with features. It’s better to have an app the does one thing well rather than a lot of things OK. Get feedback early on from the type of people you expect will use it.

Can you share any of the goals you have for Deco Sketch during 2013?

This has been an incredible life changing year so far and I’ve got a number of projects in the works right now. I’m currently porting Deco Sketch for use on both the MAC and PC with capabilities to take advantage of the Leap Motion Controller that’s coming out in late July. I’m actually running an crowdfunding campaign to help complete the project. You can learn more about my goals here.

Additionally I’m collaborating with Pixite, the team behind photo management apps Web Albums, Flickring, and Unbound. We’re building a new creative app for iPhone called Tangent where you can apply patterned photo filters to your images while also using unique framing tools. It’s something new unlike any other photo filter apps in the App Store. There’s an Instagram account @tangentapp for news and updates.

I’m hoping to get a revamped 2.0 version of Deco Sketch with more user friendly approach launched before the end of the year. I’m also playing with the idea of publishing a book of the many talented works being created by Deco Sketch users.

Thank you Kate for this opportunity and for all your support in my projects!

Explore Deco Sketch:

Exploded Diagram. By Ben Guerrette. Created with Deco Sketch

Exploded Diagram. By Ben Guerrette. Created with Deco Sketch