Analyzing Artwork Using Newly Developed Smartphone App
April 28, 2013

Peeling Back The Layers: New App Let You See Art In Progress

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A new mobile app unveiled Friday during the 2013 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing in Paris will allow users to essentially peel-back the layers of a piece of artwork and see what it looked like during the very first stages of the artist´s creative process.

The smartphone and tablet computer program is called “Repentir” and was developed by Jonathan Hook of Newcastle University's Culture Lab and Jo Briggs of Northumbria University. Hook and Briggs worked alongside contemporary British realist painter Nathan Walsh as he worked on his latest piece of artwork, “Transamerica.”

According to Newcastle University, Repentir makes it possible for smartphone users to view the artwork at different stages of the creative process, allowing them to see it in several normally unseen states all the way back to the very first pencil lines drawn by Walsh. Following the app´s presentation, both it and “Transamerica” will be featured at the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York City starting on May 2.

“The app means that you're not limited to just looking at the art - you can interact with it and feel your way through it,” Hook, who specializes in human-computer interaction, explained in a statement. “Repentir works by picking out prominent features in the original painting, such as corners of buildings, and then looking for the same features in the image captured on the gallery visitor's iPhone. This is known as 'scale invariant feature matching'.

“The app then replaces the iPhone photograph with the multi-layered images taken during the different stages of the artist's creative process,” he added. “This means the process works even if only a small area of the painting is photographed or if it is taken at an angle, allowing visitors to get up close to the painting and explore particular regions. And because every visitor will capture the image from a slightly different angle, rub away the layers in a different way and focus in on different points, it means everyone's appreciation of the piece will be totally unique.”

While creating Repentir, Hook and Briggs installed a digital camera in Walsh´s York-based studio. The camera captured an image of “Transamerica” every day as it was being developed over a period of four months. The developers then made the app, which was named after a term used by artists to refer to changes or corrections in his or her work, using computer vision algorithms to recognize the painting in a variety of photographs.

Art lovers viewing the painting only have to download the currently iOS-exclusive free app onto their Apple-branded smartphones or tablets, then take a photograph of either the original painting or a print. Repentir is then able to overlay the sequence images, allowing viewers to explore the drawing and painting process step by step. They can either scroll through the entire collection of captures images, or use their fingers to essentially erase levels of “Transamerica” in order to reveal the various layers hidden beneath.

“Repentir shows how I construct every element of my paintings from scratch,” Walsh said. “I'm quite happy to promote my original drawings as it demonstrates the fact that drawing is at the heart of what I do. The app allows people to get a feel for my journey through making this work. It gives an indication of my methodology and the honesty of my creative process.”