Process of Creating Art with Technology

Sam Fry introduces TECHnique Two

Artists talk about the process of creating art with technology

TECHnique returned with its second edition as three artists talked about their artistic practice and how they use technology.


Have you ever looked at a piece of art and wondered how it was made? How do artists create work using technology? These questions and more were explored as Create Hub’s artist talk returned with TECHnique Two.

TECHnique Two included 3 artists from different fields describing their experiences of working with technology. The speakers were Rachel Ara (data artist), Nick Rothwell (software architect and artist) and Shelley James (research-led artist). The event was part of the V&A’s Digital Design Weekend, bringing together artists, designers, engineers, technologists and the public to celebrate and share contemporary digital art and design. It was also a part of the London Design Festival, celebrating contemporary digital art and design.

How do artists create digital art?

Samuel Fry introduced the talk, explaining that he had been looking at some of the artworks on show at the V&A that morning and, like many people, he was often left with two thoughts: ‘first I think, “wow – that’s cool” and quickly after I wonder, “how did they make that?”. This talk is about the question “how did they make that?”. During the talk, 3 artists shared their experiences of creating a piece of art and how they used technology during that process.’

The event was recorded and each of the three artist talks are available on Create Hub’s Youtube channel, plus photographs are available online. However, we thought we would summarise each of the speakers talks here…


Rachel Ara talk at TECHnique

Rachel Ara

Rachel Ara gave the first talk of the night, beginning by explaining that ‘I am more of an artist that a speaker’, but she went on to give a very engaging, open and honest presentation about her art and her relationship with the technology industry.

Rachel started began her career as a programmer, but she explained that she has always hated working in IT. She explained that, ‘The first escape was when I did a Fine Art degree at Goldsmiths, then I couldn’t work out how to make money out of that so went back to programming. The second escape when I tried to become a cabinet maker, but I couldn’t work out how to make money out of that so went back to programming.’ Finally she said, ‘we sold the house and I have now been a full time artist for two years and I’m really enjoying it.’

Rachel explained that technology has skilled her but also politicised her. Now she produces works that primarily respond to the themes of queerness, feminism and mis-information.

Self-evaluating artwork – This much I’m worth

The focus of Rachel’s talk was the process of creating her latest artwork, called ‘This much I’m worth’.

The artwork is self-evaluating, displaying its value in sterling continually. It is 4m long and 2m high, weighs half a tonne, is made of 80 pieces of neon and a Windows 7 server. The value is set based on a set of algorithms based on the financial markets, social media and other data sources. She made everything apart from the neon. As it is made by women over 40 she jokingly called it her ‘menopausal masterpiece’.

The full video of Rachel Ara’s talk is available here.


Nick Rothwell talk at TECHnique

Nick Rothwell

Second up on the stage was Nick Rothwell.

Nick began by talking about what he does not think it means to work with technology when creating artworks. He stated that he does not necessarily believe that it needs to involve disruption, interaction, a new aesthetic, digital, big data or Virtual and Augmented Reality. Instead, Nick argued that technology can amplify projects in a way that you couldn’t do otherwise.

When talking through some of his own projects, he explained that part of the art making process is making tools. However, you can get obsessed with creating tools and lose focus on the artwork. He faced this challenge when he created a tool for Toomortal, which is a music score with no music notes; yet, when it plays the score evaluates audio, loops part of it and shifts those loops around.

Using technology to amplify art

Nick Rothwell’s walked the audience through a number of projects that he has worked on. He has coded artworks to help them interpret images, projected large artworks on churches and represented cells manipulating. He explained that, ‘Software is essentially a material and it can surprise you’ depending on how you use it.

He finished by talking about the piece he is currently working on. The project is called ‘Cosmoscope’ which will be a 3D projection using LEDs.

The full video of Nick Rothwell’s talk is available here.


Shelley James talk at TECHnique

Shelley James

The final talk of the day was research-led artist Shelley James. She started by explaining that, ‘I use technology to see things and do things that I couldn’t do with my own hands and my own eyes.’ Shelley started off working in branding, using technology to understand how people behave the way they do. When Shelley fell off her bike she had difficulties and doctors were trying to understand what had changed in her brain. She became curious about what these doctors could see, ‘could they see who I was?’ she asked. Shelley took images from some of the doctor’s scans and wondered how they could represent these in three dimensions, first taking a print of her retoner and suspending it in glass.

Working with data to create artwork

Shelley explained that, while at the Royal College of Arts, she worked with a team of young scientists at University  College London who ‘wired up’ her brain to see how she was responding to visuals. She used this create a set of artworks that explore how we see and how we interpret what we see.

Shelley now works with glass blowers, some 3D modelling software and a laser cutter to create very precise patterns in glass. The result is creates an illusion of depth in the glass, which plays with the idea of how people interpret what they see.

She finished by talking about how she is working to create complex geometric shapes with glass that fit together. This is hard to do by hand as any small mistake will lead to a gap between pieces of glass. So, instead she is also now working with 3D printers too. This creates very accurate shapes that she can fit together and suspend them in the air without any glue. Shelley said, ‘That’s the great thing about geometry, that when it’s perfect it just sits there, in space.’

The full video of Shelley James’ talk is available here.



Thank you to the Victoria and Albert Museum for providing the venue.

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