Call it procrastination, call it creative exploration; either way, I certainly lost a significant chunk of the work day when I first stumbled across Glyph Drawing Club. Inspired by the limitations and possibilities of ASCII art, the contemporary text art editor is a simple tool for creating modular typography, illustrations, unicode art, logos, poetry, or whatever other application you can think of. Any font or glyph can be dropped into the system and used to create a composition. By placing characters next to one another, you can design elaborate typographic compositions in a way that is almost impossible with normal layout or word processing programs.

After tinkering for an hour with the sites custom Tesserae Regular font (which is inspired by PETSII), I found myself with a somewhat irregular patchwork of two eyes, a nose, and a linear mouth; the process of patiently building some sort of image block by block reminding me of the restrictions of weaving.

Glyph Drawing Club editor. Heikki Lotvonen, 2018.

This intriguing tool was developed just this year by Finnish designer Heikki Lotvonen as part of his Master’s project at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. It’s part of a larger interest in exploring contemporary uses and applications of ASCII-inspired design (head over to Lotvonen’s portfolio website for a lively assortment of ASCII calendars and logos). Frustrated by the restrictions of text art editors, which only use one or two fonts, and the difficultly of designing ASCII images using InDesign, he created the Glyph Drawing editor initially for himself. “I wanted to see what would happen if you dropped Arial in, what kind of images could it produce? In order to experiment, I had to make the program.”

Unlike its closely related type-based ancestors—such as concrete or visual poetry from the ’60s and ’70s—ASCII art is widely considered an amateur practice, with few catalogs or extensive histories written about its developments. To promote new interest and knowledge of ASCII art and its long history, Lotvonen has made his editor freely available to all. The program has been of particular interest to type designers and graphic designers, as creating custom type is very simple with its system. Game designers have also been in touch with Lotvonen, using the program for game assets, and textile designers are also experimenting with its potential. “A friend and I are currently using designs from Glyph Drawing Club on ceramics,” says Lotvonen. “I’m excited to bring these works out of the screen.”

At the bottom of editor’s website, there’s an invitation to submit your own completed artwork: in a few months, contributions will be published in a zine (an official call for submissions starts next week). A risograph book, entitled Glyph Drawing Club User Manual, provides extensive details and instructions for using the editor, as well as 80 pages of contributions from artists and designers that have used it. Many of the submitted drawings are surprisingly expressive and detailed despite being constructed from tiny text elements, like an images of a nude woman leaning on a bed of glyphs and another of a truck storming through a tunnel.

“I’m still working out what the possibilities of this program are,” says Lotvonen, “and seeing work by others has helped me see unexpected potential. I’m surprised, for example, that all the people who have made something with the tool still retain their own style; it’s restrictive but also very open.”