ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original idea sketch next to a finished piece. This week, artist Evan Roth shares a computer sketch of the renowned project EyeWriter which allowed graffiti writer TEMPTONE — almost completely paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — to create graffiti using only his tracked eye movement and project it on buildings miles away.

Members of Free Art and Technology (FAT), OpenFrameworks, the Graffiti Research Lab, and The Ebeling Group developed this as an Open Source project. It is an incredible demonstration of how new communally developed technology can change art and lives.

I made this sketch at the very beginning of what turned into the EyeWriter project. This sketch was originally used to communicate internally with the other team members (Chris Sugrue, Zach Lieberman,Theo Watson, James Powderly and Mick Ebling), as we were working together remotely between New York, Boston, Madrid and Hong Kong.

The project has moved into a different phase. Zach Lieberman has really lead the development of the 2.0 version (with additional help and input from Takayuki Ito, Kyle McDonald, Golan Levin and students of the eyewriter collab at Parsons MFADT). The EyeWriter 2 is no longer head mounted, is much more robust and is being used by many different people for many other things besides just writing graffiti. Zach Lieberman has really been leading the current development efforts, and has made some great progress along with his students at Parsons in NYC.

The highlight of the project for just about everyone involved was getting to know TEMPT1, who is an amazing, inspiring, intelligent and funny person. The technology has gone on to help others, but it started with a personal interest to help this one person make art again. TEMPT1’s chapter is still my favorite part of this story.

The Eyewriter is open source. This is a project originally built by 6 artists, none of whom had any professional software or hardware training outside of art school but were able to leverage the power of open source software to create a low-cost eye tracking system. I feel that this is an example of how open source can be an important alternative to more proprietary development models when those models fail to supply essential tools to those that need them.

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