A few days before I wrote this article, I happened to read a really interesting BBC Future article about modern photographers who enjoy using primitive low-tech cameras that were originally designed to be affordable cameras for people in 1980s China.
This made me think about the subject of creating things with older and/or low-tech tools, since I usually tend to do a mild version of this sort of thing. For example, here’s a preview of one of my upcoming digitally-edited drawings.
The line art was drawn with a pen and pencil, then it was scanned using a mid-’00s scanner connected to a mid-’00s computer. Then, the image editing and digital colouring was done using an old program from 1999 (“Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6” if anyone’s curious). The most modern element of the production process was some small corrections I made using a version of MS Paint from 2007 (but could have probably been done in even older versions of the program).
Although I often use watercolour pencils rather than digital tools to add colours, this is pretty much my “ordinary” routine for making art. Yes, all of this stuff isn’t exactly that old-fashioned, but it probably gives me some vague insight into why using older or low-tech tools to create things is so awesome 🙂 So, here are some of the reasons:
1) Simplicity: Old and low-tech tools can sometimes be a lot simpler and more user-friendly. For example, although I’ve dabbled with graphics tablets in the past, nothing is more intuitive than just using a pen and/or pencil when it comes to drawing complex things. You don’t have to worry about drivers, settings or anything like that – you just draw.
Likewise, older graphics programs contain all of the basic features that can be used for editing art. They aren’t filled with that much needlessly complicated stuff. Plus, because they’re designed for older computers, they tend to load ultra-quickly and apply image effects ultra-quickly when used on very slightly more modern computers. In other words, they don’t get in the way of what you’re trying to do with them.
2) Skills: Another great thing about old/low-tech tools is that they place much more emphasis on skill. Not only can this provide an interesting challenge (like making art with a mouse and MS Paint), but it also increases your creative confidence too. I mean, if you’re used to creating stuff using old/low-tech stuff, then you can create with pretty much anything.
If you use older and/or low-tech tools, you also need to think about ways to use them inventively. In other words, you need to be more willing to experiment and to have more of a knowledge of the underlying principles of your chosen field. After all, your tools won’t do everything for you. This can also put you in a more creative frame of mind too.
In other words, these things remind you that practice, creativity and skills matter more than the tools you use.
3) Egalitarianism: Simply put, there’s something wonderfully egalitarian about slightly older and/or low-tech tools. Usually, these types of tools are cheaper and/or more easily available than their more modern equivalents.
For example, compare a freeware open-source image editing program like “GIMP” to a certain well-known modern “software as a service” commercial image editing program with higher system requirements and a monthly subscription fee. Yes, the latter may be trendier and have more fancy features. But the former can be used by anyone on both older and newer computers that run a wide range of operating systems. One program is more democratic than the other.
There’s a beautiful egalitarianism to older and/or low-tech stuff that you just don’t get with “the latest thing”. And this is really cool 🙂 The tools for creating things shouldn’t be restricted to the wealthy (directly or indirectly) or controlled by a corporation or anything like that. They belong to everyone.
Or, to give another example, ordinary ballpoint pens have been around for a few decades and they are everywhere. You’re probably within a couple of metres of one right now. They are made by many different companies. They are compatible with both cheap and expensive paper. They cost pennies. They are sometimes given away for free. They can last for months or years. They are a great example of what all creative tools should be like.
4) Timelessness: Simply put, making things using older or low-tech tools makes your creative works feel more timeless. Going back to the digitally-edited drawing I showed you earlier, I love the fact that this picture could technically have been made as long ago as 1999. That it could, theoretically, have existed any time within about the past two decades.
By making things with tools that could have been used ten years ago or fifty years ago or whatever, you get to feel like you’re part of a much larger tradition. You get to feel like the things you create could potentially have existed in the past or that they could exist in the distant future. This is a really difficult feeling to describe, but it’s a really cool one to experience.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂