Tech+Art Podcast: Joanne Hastie


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Welcome to the new Tech+Art Podcast!

Join us on this adventure as we meet & speak with: artists, makers, researchers, designers and creators from all background and fields.

Our objective is to understand their creative perspective, dive into their workflow & creative process, be inspired by new ideas and their work – and stay one step ahead of cutting-edge industry developments.

"But sometimes I’ve noticed that when something is missing - that’s when I see that there’s an opportunity to do something about it or an opportunity to be different."


In this episode, we’re chatting with , a Canadian artist & engineer based in Vancouver.

Joanne’s focus is in using technology to be more creative. In her current work she uses robotics, programming, AI and paint to create art.

Joanne has over a decade she worked as an R&D Engineer in various small companies while painting on evenings and weekends. She kept both careers very separate – until they suddenly collided just a few years ago. She taught herself python and dove right in.

Question 1: At what point did the art side come into that merger that you just spoke about?

[ 2:48 ] – I’ve only started to merge all of that together in the past couple of years. A lot of advice that I was given early on was to keep both of those sides of me separate. A lot of people don’t understand that you can be both an artist and be technical. They see them as very different sides of your brain, different personalities.

[ 3:08 ] – […] I don’t see much difference to them; when I’m painting, I’m trying to develop a picture and so I’m constantly problem solving. Where you do the exact same when you’re doing design work or engineering work – you have a problem to solve so you’re going through the process of problem solving. So it’s been interesting to me as a person because I see them very similar but most people see them differently.

Question 2: Can you elaborate on the type of work that you explore and produce with these robotic arms? What’s involved? What does it look like? What do you typically try to have it do?

[ 6:09 ] – […] and going back to the fact that I was a painter for over a decade and painting by hand and now I paint with a robot. And doing the two types of work that the robot and my hand do are very distinctive. Which has also confused people. Why I’ve diverged on my styles…. But that’s because I’m still learning how to use the robot.

Question 3: You mentioned that as soon as you started to mix the robotics and sort of the code and technology with the art - your style diverged. Can you talk to me about that Creative Process? Where do you get ideas or inspiration from - for your style - versus this experimentation with technology? Have you started to adopt one style more than the other?

[ 8:25 ] – A lot of things that the style and the problem solving that I’m doing with the robot is actually based on: ‘how do I paint? How do I hold the brush? When do I clean the brush? When do I get more paint?’ Those are the types of things I’m programming, because going back to my experience in automation, we would sit in team meetings and it would be very focused on ‘what does this object have to do as it goes through the assembly floor?’. Because you can’t really really re-invent new things, you have to figure in that moment, it’s more what are the basics that are happening? And so that’s what you’re seeing in my robot – what are the basics that I need to get color on a page?

Question 4: A moment ago, you mentioned the technology element and so beside the robot arm, what other elements of technology have you introduced into your work? I read on your website that you taught yourself how to program in Python?

[ 9:22 ] – So the biggest unknown with painting with a robotic arm was ‘could I teach myself to program’? […] And that’s why I focused on a smaller robot at first, because I knew that I would be spending almost a year or two learning how to program. So after I had that year and got it programmed to apply paint to a page, my next idea or the next evolution of my paintings that I wanted to follow through on was Machine Learning […]

[ 10:06 ] – And so you’ll see another series that I have on my website called The Machine Learning Abstracts. And these are hard edged, geometric abstract paintings and these are actually – I paint them by hand, but I created code – python code – that collages shapes. And then I use a classifier to decide whether it’s a good composition or not. And at first I wanted to decide if it’s a good composition based on all kinds of factors that I thought might be possible like social media ranking or image ranking somehow bringing in the bigger picture. But then I realized that it would be easier to program it based on my personal preferences.

Question 5: So throughout that journey and all of the projects that you’ve undertaken, what’s been the most ambitious and challenging one?

[ 11:44 ] – So I had 2 weeks to get the robot ready to be shown in a gallery. Prior to that, I had only used my robot in my studio, which meant that it was in a very safe space. If I didn’t like what it painted, I could throw it in the garbage. I could restart. I could work on my computer while it was painting. So it was a very safe place to paint. Whereas in a gallery, you can’t be mucking about with code, you just have to present the robot, it has to be painting something worthwhile and people are watching it […]

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Question 6: When you approach building some of these tools, these creative systems or programs, what do you think about in terms of how to balance what you need versus realizing your ideas and your art?

[ 13:30 ] – That’s probably where the magic happens. And magic is just a nice word to say ‘i don’t know’. But I find what’s the most fun – and I’ve had a stint as a research manager – and you just dig and learn and find out things that are in a related field and some things are hits and some things are misses. That’s kind of the exciting place to play because you don’t know how things will work out.

[ 13:53 ] – Prior to that opportunity to show the robot I didn’t even think about putting my classifier with my robot code… It was just ‘what can I do with 2 weeks before this show?’ and ‘how can I make this happen?’ and realized that that would be an opportunity. So it’s more the keep learning and keep pushing forward and things happen to come together. And it seems like it all makes sense, but there’s kind of this funnel before hand where you have all these different ideas and you don’t know which two are going to come together.

Question 7: What do you wish existed?

[ 14:35 ] – One of the challenges I see right now or one thing that I probably wish that there was is more accessibility. But sometimes I’ve noticed that when something is missing – that’s when I see that there’s an opportunity to do something about it or an opportunity to be different.

[ 16:00 ] – And so, to have the computer, trained on my preferences, to find those images, actually gave me new things to paint by looking at what I had photographed. So those types of tools I think are very interesting for an artist to have access to. But right now, you have to be able to access the code and know what’s going on before you can use that technology in your art. So I think there is limited accessibility, but then that’s also opportunities to be different.

Question 8: What’s next for you? Any upcoming focuses or projects that you’re working on?

[ 16:55 ] – So I’m working on getting my 7 degrees of freedom robot painting larger paintings for that. So currently the images that you see are 6”x6” cause that’s the limitations of my small desktop robot. This robot is 18”x24” so I can get much bigger pieces. So I’m basically taking the code from the smaller robot and bringing it into the bigger robot.

[ 17:16 ] – But one of the opportunities that I’m not taking advantage of yet is the previous robot only has 3 degrees of freedom; so it can only hold a brush upright and it’s very difficult to manipulate a brush when it can only be vertical. […] in the long term [the bigger robot] it will able to manipulate the brush at angles and that’s actually more complicated than it sounds because you have to not only have your x, y, z positions in space but you also need to think about the rotational positions. So that will be the next, big, long term goal – painting with this robot but using it to its full potential.

Question 9: What’s a piece of advice that you would share with someone who is just getting started?

[ 19:39 ] – Be consistent. […] what I noticed is with just a very small block of time, I was able to create a lot of work. And once you’re creating a lot of work that’s when ideas start sprouting. So be consistent with your artwork. And yes, as I mentioned before, look to other artists and look for ideas and what’s going on out there, but I’ve had the most fun and most opportunities with my art when I finally sat down and said ‘well what can I bring that’s different to the table?’. So sit down and figure out what are all the things that excite you, even if they seem unrelated – and you might be able to find some opportunities in there.