Drawball: from Chaos to Community

8 January 2007

Drawball, collaborative web graffiti – this post in Smart Mobs (7 Dec 2006) first drew my attention to Drawball. Yes, at first glance it may look like graffiti, but if that’s all you see, you’re missing the art in it. Certainly there’s plenty of aimless doodling, but there are also artistic gems hidden in there – although finding them can be like finding needles in a haystack of scribble. It’s too easy to dismiss it as mere web graffiti, I define Drawball as collaborative web community art.

Drawball 6 Jan 07

Show off your skills on the enormous circle of potential art known as drawball.

That’s what the site says and, amazingly, that’s what a number of artists have done, despite the transitory nature of this communal drawing-cum-gallery space.

If you draw something of premium quality and we find it, we will protect it and maybe even add it to the hall of fame with your contact information, URL, etc.

You can be banned; it is wise to play nice.

Artemesia, my drawing

Apart from this carrot and stick, and a finite quantity of drawing ink per session, limiting the amount of damage an individual can do, there are no rules in Drawball. If you make a sustained positive contribution, you’ll be rewarded.

I was delighted to earn infinite ink after my first intensive drawing session, during which I produced Artemsia, my artist in residence.

Click image, right, to see it in Drawball (you may need to click on ‘disagree’ to gain access)

The pen is mightier than the sword

Stake a claim in Drawball by drawing something. Co-ordinates map the entire area so you can revisit your precise drawing location. But you can never be sure what you’ll find on your return – anyone can draw anywhere, anytime (unless your drawing has been protected by site admin, which seems to be rare).

Mine claim in DrawballSome, unrealistically, try to reserve their plot (click image, left, to see if the Mine strategy worked).

Others draw and keep on drawing. If you stake a claim you’ve got to be prepared to defend it. In this environment the digital pen is certainly mightier than the sword. Territorial battles are rife. Group logos and national flags are recurring motifs, and expressions of Korean nationalism are sometimes notoriously invasive.

Who and how many will co-operate to protect a good drawing? What’s worth protecting? How long does a good drawing last? Protecting drawings, whether your own, your group’s or whatever you consider to be good, could prove to be subject to the wisdom of crowds, given time.Drawing of Geisha A longer term study is needed, and Drawball’s browse history feature, which archives the changing state of the entire space twice a day, could be helpful.

Evolving community art

A characteristic of web 2.0 software is that it’s perpetually in beta. Likewise with Drawball, it’s forever evolving, there will never be a finished product. The process of change, how the community negotiates the shared space, how it collaborates and handles conflicts, is fascinating – and to find art here too… In such a volatile environment it’s remarkable how artists will devote considerable time, effort and skill on artworks which may only have a temporary existence. What makes them do it?

Most Drawball contributors are anonymous. Although some sign their work and plug their websites, it’s too easily erased or defaced to be a reliable form of self-promotion, and very little gets into the Hall of Fame. So it must be the social aspect that keeps artists coming back to draw.

Evolving communities

A more detailed look at two different communities within Drawball may elucidate. See my Flash guided tours of the self-styled Drawball Fans and a group I’ve dubbed the ‘Peace & Love Community‘.

Click here for an essential guided tour of 2 art communities

Peace and Love CommunityDrawball Fans section

Is Drawball a worthy subject? Wikipedia thinks not

The read/write web, it may be, but Drawball shows it’s the view/draw web too. Ironically, since my interest in it has grown, Wikipedia’s has diminished to the point where on 19 December 2006 it deleted its article on Drawball (quoted in Smart Mobs, see above ). This says a lot about the differences between a text-based community and a visual arts-based community.

Arguably, the majority of active Wikipedians are biased towards the written word and perhaps don’t fully appreciate the significance of a primarily visual phemonenon. A big deciding factor in the decision to delete the article was that hardly anyone was writing about it. To appreciate what’s happening in Drawball, you have to spend time looking and/or drawing in it – activities which most bloggers and wikipedians, prefering to read and write, are unlikely to do. Whereas Drawball enthusiasts themselves are more into drawing than writing, judging by the almost exclusively terse but ardent blog mentions I’ve come across.

Unsurprisingly the wider art community hasn’t taken much notice either, which is the usual fate of community art in the real world too. Drawball obviously hasn’t (yet) achieved the respectable status of a collaborative art project, probably because the collaborative experience is not being orchestrated by a bona fide artist or other respected creative group.

All in all, I think Drawball is being overlooked.

Hall of Fame – the future?

What Drawball lacks is a facility for the community to influence what goes into the Hall of Fame. It’s currently up to the site administrators, who aren’t always on the ball, in more ways than one. There’s a lot missing from the Hall of Fame (see below). I’m looking forward to the next stage when drawings can be tagged, annotated, recommended and, as with Digg, promoted by the community. A Hall of Defame might be useful too to keep the vandals at bay. But like a wiki, it’s the constant maintenance and restoration work that keeps the community thriving – and doubtless the battles are part of the fun for some.

Hall of Fame

An interesting phenomenon, but is it art?

Drawball is archetypal web 2.0, it’s collective, collaborative, social – but is it art? Who is the artist? Is it the programmer/site designer? The person who came up with the idea? Or is there a collective artist? Is it anyone who contributes, or just those who do ‘good’ drawings? Or is it not art at all – even notart (like the notbooks idea in the Penguin blog)?

Perhaps it’s a redundant question in a web 2.0 world. As far as Wilx the Collector is concerned – it’s interesting, it’s collectible, it’s here – therefore it’s art.

Granted, the Hall of Fame doesn’t do much to support my claim that there’s art in Drawball, the site admin’s choices are pretty kitsch on the whole. But there’s some interesting artwork in the ball, if you’re prepared to look for it – and if you’re not, I’ve picked out some of my favourites below.

The Wilx Hall of Fame Refused

Maybe the Wilx Collection by reframing these drawings can re-present them as art. Judge for yourselves…

Click a thumbnail to see larger image

Geisha and ManJapanese Print inspiredFace amid chaosFace with turquoiseGreyscale faceNina Hagen BandMother and babyHand holding crystal ballLet’s DrawLet’s Draw landscapesLandscapePastoral scene amid graffitiGolden birdCathedralManga D’AvignonMonet’s bridgeBroken faceThe end is nearInterior sceneGeisha with red rope

See how drawings emerge in these interesting examples from the Drawball Hall of Fame (animations generated by the Drawball site):

| Woman with globe of light | Tiger | Barn with waterwheel |



  1. I’ve not seen this site before, Chris – it looks amazing. I love watching the pictures morphing. Thanks,
    Chris 2

  2. http://www.drawball.com/playback.html

    I thought you might like this

  3. Thanks Jeff, that’s absolutely fascinating.

  4. hi i recently creted a web forum to help create a sense of comminity betweet drawball fans like you and I!. i hope that i can work together with this site to work torwards that goal.. please sop vy sometime!

  5. http://www.drawballfans.com

  6. How do you really PLAY it? I get the drawing thing, but before I can do that I have to connect the dots to a house-looking thing… I don’t understand…

  7. You have to connect all the dots in the ‘house’ without going over the same dot twice. There are a number of ways to solve the puzzle. Tip: start by going round the square then be prepared to crossover at some point. Once you’ve solved the puzzle, you’ll be able to draw.

  8. MAKE THE /b/

  9. art is fractal

    that is to say

    drawball is very “meta” !!!

    i wonder if they have an API, i’d love to port drawings or sections of drawings into metanotes!

  10. stigma says : I absolutely agree with this !

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