Dan Droid and Autism – A Digital Art Design

This week I worked on a simple greyscale digital art design of an android. I called him Dan because if you say Dan Droid it sounds close to Android (which I thought was funny) and also he reminds me of Asimov’s Daneel Olivaw who was my favourite robot as a child. (I think I also rather unconsciously modelled his human looks on a Euphonium player I knew at school called Daniel.)

I began with a simple sketch. One of the things I’ve been working on recently is how to better use my drawing tablet to get nice tapered lines. I really tried to work on that here. It meant drawing faster and having more faith in my hands to do the right thing without the constant supervision of my brain. Here’s the sketch…

Next I planned out a basic elecronic look for the part of his face which is showing his internal structure. I looked at reference for the muscles and bones of the face for this so that I could mimic real human anatomical structures with electronic equivalents. So the group’s of wires you can see, for instance, model muscle groups in the face.)

After that I added my darkest shadows. I really do love the way solid blacks look in comic art. At this point I gave him black hair to balance the image tonally, even though my Euphonium friend had blond hair.

Then I added 2 levels of greyscale tone using a cell-shading approach.

Finally to finish off the image I surrounded him with a background reminicent of electronic circuit diagrams. I though he looked really great amongst all of that.

So here is the final image…

Reviewing the art

Looking at this drawing, I like the way he’s walking across the frame but turning to look the viewer in the eye. I think it engages the viewer a bit more and also reveals his inner nature. I also like the simple cell-shading style although that’s really just a matter of personal taste.

If I wanted to add more I think I would render the background into 3D and make some parts of it look like matte metal and some parts look like chrome. I could then drop a shadow behind him onto the background to really make him stand out.

Reflections on Androids and Autism

In terms of the meaning of the art, I personally think people draw their own meanings from things like this. For me, this is all about what it feels like when I suddenly make a mistake and reveal my autistic nature. It’s very much like I have suddenly turned my head and now they can see what I really am. The electronic background he seems to carry with him is like the label of autism which other people then see.

There are some folks who think autistic people shouldn’t be compared to robots, but personally I think it’s a good metaphor. In order to do the normal social things that neurotypical people find automatic I have to set up a whole raft of decision-making flowcharts in my head, remember them in detail and follow them. This feels like having to build and maintain external circuitry to my regular self in order to hold simple conversations. The huge extra work of managing this circuitry is one of the things that makes socialising so draining.

For a long while I have felt ashamed of being this way, sort of deficient. However now, through counselling, I am beginning to believe that being my own self might be OK (with the same caveat as everyone else in the world, which is that a person acts decently).

I follow Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax on this one. She says. .

It’s not my place to tell ‘em what to believe, if they act decent.’