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Updated Feb 27, 2014 at 03:38PM EST by Brad.

Added Oct 18, 2009 at 10:25AM EDT by flower power.

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ASCII Art is a method of composing an image by using the symbols, letters or numbers contained in the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) character encoding scheme. These images are often very complex and take up a large area to fully form the picture. While some ASCII artists are dedicated to more serious work, some artists stick with more humorous imagery known as LOL ASCII.


Though it is unclear where ASCII art originated, creating images out of letters dates back to as early as the 1890s. British typewritist Flora F. Stacey created eight artworks with frames made out of symbols using her Bar Lock typewriter. In 1893, they were displayed with the machine at the Chicago World’s Fair.[3] In 1898, more of her work was published in the Pitman’s Phonetic Journal.[4]


Between 1923 and 1929, Dutch typographer H.N. Werkman created a number of abstract artworks using a typewriter. He named the series Tiksels[5] after the Dutch infinitive tikken meaning “to type.” In 2008, a number of these works were curated in an exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.[6]

In 1948, an instructional article on how to make “Keyboard Art” was published in Popular Mechanics.[7] In the 1950s and 1960s, poets began to experiment with creating imagery with their works in what is known as concrete poetry[8] (shown below, left). Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, more people began exploring the world of typewriter art and one of the first anthology books of this type of work[10] was published in 1975.

In the 1990s, two Usenet groups dedicated to sharing ASCII art were created, alt.ascii-art[19] and rec.arts.ascii[20], which were active as early as 1993.[16] Artists also began maintaining their own art collections on their personal websites.[24] Additionally, other personal websites[22][23] began hosting collections of art they found online. ASCII Art was first defined on Urban Dictionary[11] on November 6th, 2003. Textfiles[21] also hosts a large collection of archived works. In 2008, a subreddit[12] dedicated to sharing ASCII artworks was created, gaining nearly 300 subscribers as of August 2013.

Notable Examples

Search Interest

External References

[1]Wikipedia – ASCII Art

[2] – Boat – Submarine – Navy – Sail – Sails – Nautical

[3]The Journal of Commercial Education – Flora F. Stacey

[4]Geocities – History of ASCII Art

[5]Google Books – H.N. Werkman

[6]Currybetdotnet – H.N. Werkman’s “ASCII art” in the Van Gogh Museum

[7]Modern Mechanix – ASCII Art – 1948 (Oct, 1948)

[8] – A Brief Guide to Concrete Poetry

[9]CGI Historical Timeline – 1960

[10]Modernism 101 – Typewriter Art

[11]Urban Dictionary – ASCII Art

[12]Reddit – /r/ASCII | 04/24/08

[13]ASCII Art Farts – Home | 06/25/1999

[14]ASCII World – Home

[15]ASCII Art Dictionary – Home

[16]Google Groups Archive – SEARCH: ASCII-art list | 08/27/1993

[17]HIGH WEIRDNESS BY E-MAILnot necessarily inane .sigs, or .sigs containing 20 lines of ascii art surrounded by a screen’s-worth of whitespace, | 10/25/92

[18]Christopher Johnson – ASCII Art Collection

[19]Google Groups Archive – alt.ascii-art

[20]Google Groups Archive – rec.arts.ascii

[21]Textfiles – ASCII Artwork

[22]The World Wide Sushi Restaurant Reference – Sushi ASCII Art

[23] – ASCIIArt Documents Archive

[24]Philip Kaulfuss – ASCII Art

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