Perhaps you’ve seen them in an e-mail forward or a signature file: pictures that are made entirely of keyboard keys. These pictures, commonly called ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) art after a code system that can be used to designate keyboard key characters, can be surprisingly fun to create and a unique creative outlet.
When creating pictures using only keyboard keys, you should start with a fixed-width font such as Courier, Monaco, or FixedSys. In a fixed-width font, each letter and character takes up the same amount of space. So in spite of being much thinner, and will occupy the same proportion of a line of text as an m. This will help with the proportions of your pictures when all characters take up the same amount of space. But most importantly, using fixed-width fonts will let you share your ASCII art with others more easily. Fixed width fonts are not unique to any one operating system or computer program, so your pictures will maintain their original look as they are passed from computer to computer.
A good place to start in designing your own ASCII art is to look at examples that others have created. By simply performing a search engine search for ASCII art you will find a multitude of sites devoted to the practice. Look at a variety of pictures using diverse subjects. Think about features that you would like to duplicate in your own creations and look for special tricks like methods of creating curves or the best characters to use when filling in the eyes.
After you’ve studied the existing ASCII art, don’t be discouraged because you’re a beginner. There are varying degrees of complexity in ASCII art. If you’re looking to expand your skills, you should start with simple exercises. See how well you can make common shapes like squares, triangles, and circles. By starting with smaller pieces, you can get a feel for the characters available to you and how they work in creating straight lines, diagonals, and curves. You can also work on creating patterns and designs that don’t make a particular picture but add a decorative touch to an e-mail or website.
When you’re ready to move on to larger pictures, begin with a single concrete image. Cartoon characters can be an easy place to start since they already have defined lines that you can use as a guide. But any design is possible as long as you can break it down into its component lines. Begin by creating the outer shell of your design. Be careful with your proportions. Will there be enough room for both eyes and a nose? Will the hands fall at the right place in relation to the legs?
The earlier in the design process you notice potential problems, the easier they will be to fix. After you’ve created the outline, then you can work on filling in the details. Once you’ve gotten the intended image on the screen, look for ways to tighten it up. Are there spaces that could be closed with a small character like a period or comma? Are there details that would be better accented with a tilde rather than a hyphen? Keep working on the finer points until you’re satisfied with the result.
When creating an ASCII art picture, there is no right or wrong answer. Practice and develop your own style, and you’re sure to create many pictures you’ll be proud to have posted all over the internet.