CAD / Art History - CAD as an Abstract-Art


When we think of Computer-aided-design (CAD) software & drawings, we usually think of highly technical straight line diagrams and shop-drawings used by architects, engineers, product designers and the like.

However, this simply does not necessarily have to be the case. CAD drawings can also be very creative and can in fact be used to create abstract artworks. Traditionally, when one thinks about true art it is usually humanly created works without the aid of computers playing a big role.

On the other hand, CAD softwares such as AutoCAD, Solidworks, Maya and various others are constantly used in creative art forms, from still images, CAD drawings to animation and movies. Over the last decade or two, Computer aided design (CAD) has empowered many artists to create some truly innovative and creative works and in some subdivisions of the art scene, CAD is now an integral part of the creative process.

How it all started

The beginnings of computer aided design (CAD) can be traced back as far as the year 1957, when computers were still largely out of the hands of the public for personal use and was mostly confined to laboratories, universities and big corporations.

Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty developed PRONTO, the first commercial numerical-control programming system but it lacked a human friendly interface. In 1960, Ivan Sutherland MIT's Lincoln Laboratory created SKETCHPAD, which demonstrated the basic principles and feasibility of computer technical drawing.

Due to the fact that in those days input devices such as the computer mouse, trackballs & pens were still unheard of, the early days of CAD artists often saw creatives partner with computer programmers in order to create their works.

Output and media

Even though artists were able to produce creative works using CAD software as early as the 1960’s, there were still a major obstacle in how, and to which media format to output the works for all to enjoy. Early output machines were fairly limited in what they could achieve. Modern computer graphics did not yet exist, and CNC was still in its infancy.

Artists and CAD operators were at least able to output their works in a physical form using plotters, even though compared to today’s printing technologies, it was a slow and cumbersome process. Similar to a CNC machine, early plotters used physical pens to guide it across the drawing surface following instructions given by the computer the only difference being CNC machines use lasers instead of pens.

Even though compared to today’s output technologies, plotters were rather primitive, they represented a huge step forward in the output and printing of CAD creations in the form of vector art.

Advances in technologies and CAD

During the 1970s, a number of important advances were made in the development of CAD art. For one, the Xerox Alto was the first computer to feature a graphical user interface (GUI) enabling a more user friendly approach to CAD design and computers in general became more widespread and affordable to the average user. There were also big advances made in computer monitors and users were able to view their CAD creations on a display for the first time.

During the 1970’s up to 1980, CAD programs began incorporating increasingly complex capabilities. The earliest programs offered only simple 2D drafting, but by the end of the 1970s, the first 3D CAD software started to appear. By the late 1970s, the first wave of commercially available CAD software came into existence, and a major step forward came with the release of AutoCAD in 1982 which was the first CAD software available for PCs.

From then to now

During the 1980’s, CAD and especially AutoCAD became the must-have tool for architects, engineers and drafters and really broke into widespread artistic use. This marked the beginning of a shift in how CAD was used in the world of art.

No longer on the margins of the technical world, these days, CAD plays a big role in many branches of the visual arts. Artists of all varieties have embraced CAD for its ability to create visually stunning yet realistic works. Artists can now achieve a wide range of once-impossible artistic tasks thanks to the application of CAD software.

Though many branches of the visual arts make use of CAD software, its best known applications are in the field of architecture. CAD is well suited for architectural use for a number of reasons. First, it enables architects to create floorplans, elevations and cross-sections with much greater accuracy than is possible using a pen and paper.

CAD for Architects

Architecture is perhaps the largest field of the arts where CAD software is universally known and has become a requirement for the modern architect. Various dedicated CAD software exist specifically to serve the needs of architects, such as AutoCAD Architecture or Revit Architecture. These softwares typically comes with a limited set of standard architectural blocks to get going, but extensive CAD block sets & libraries have been developed over the years making it easier to complete an architectural draft.

CAD Resources

To get going in the world of CAD design & draughting, here are some companies specializing in pre drawn architectural block and drawing sets that can be modified to same time in the creative process: