The Computer is a Better Artist Than I Am

journal coding

The backstory: I've been working on a Pebble watchface. It has a single "hour" hand that moves along a semicircular dial from a user-defined start time to an end time.

Thus far, this hand has been a simply-drawn little arrow, and now that it's moving properly, I decided it needed to be a little fancier.

So I made a little pixel-art hand, reminiscent of the video games that inspired my design in the first place. (In the finished design, it will pivot around the round end so the sun moves in an arc.)

A pixel-art watch hand with the sun on it.

I think that looks pretty great, for a first draft, though it would probably have needed refinements for the rotation. It took less than an hour to draw. But after wrestling with the Pebble's alleged ability to display rotating PNGs, I read that rotating PNGs is actually quite processor-intensive, and that means battery-intensive, which is really bad for a watch. So I figured I'd better turn my design into a vector graphics equivalent.

Soon I'd fired up Inkscape, and found in its documentation that one can "trace" a bitmap, turning it into a vector image! That sounded great, though I wondered if it would have trouble with something so low-resolution. I gave it a try, without any adjustments from the defaults, and this was the instant result:

The watch hand rendered smoothly like tattoo art.

Holy cow. That's flippin' gorgeous. That's too damn good for a Pebble; the only appropriate place for that is if your Solar Exalt with Archery 5 decides he wants a tattoo. Inkscape actually accentuated the slight asymmetry of my design (a concession to the sun's small size relative to its pixels) and made it look even more intentional. The gaps between the sun and the arrow (again a concession, so the sun's outlines wouldn't turn into a blob) became showcases for tapered strokes.

That arrow's beautiful, and I can't take full credit for how good it looks. My interaction with Inkscape was not that of an artist using a canvas and brushes, but of a client saying to an artist, "make it like this sketch, but better".

I tried turning off "smooth corners", and the computer obligingly changed its artistic style to woodcut.

The watch hand rendered like an angular woodcut.

Sadly, the whole point of doing the original art as pixels was to fit on Pebble's tiny screen, and this wonderful image will probably need to be overhauled so it will survive the return to low resolution, not to mention rotation. I never got the original PNG rotated on the watch, so I didn't even see if it looked any good in practice. I only hope I can live up to my computer's artistic vision.

I'll make sure to post here when the finished watchface is available.

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