Tag Archives: art

shpaint: For the Toulouse-Lautrec of the terminal

Part of the fun in spending two and a half years sifting through random text-based software has been the occasional joy in finding something amazingly cool. On occasion I’ve stumbled over stuff I didn’t even think was possible, and yet there it is, in plain view.


That’s Martin Bruchanov’s shpaint, which is a simple, mouse-driven ANSI art editor for terminal emulators. You can probably figure out how to use shpaint just by looking at that screenshot; click on a foreground color, a background color and a glyph, and click away until your artwork is complete.

It’s all the more impressive when you realize it’s written in bash. And to really blow your mind, Martin points out that it’s done in only 180 lines of bash. 😯

If I have 180 lines to work with, I’m lucky if I get “Hello, world” to appear on the screen. :\

shpaint isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t detract from its coolness. For one thing, it doesn’t work in a virtual console; I tried to fire up gpm and draw my rendition of the Mona Lisa (imagine a stick figure in garish colors), but apparently shpaint doesn’t work that way.

shpaint also can’t really do more than plot a glyph at a time. No line functions or paint-fill buckets. You have to do this old-school, like we used to do things back in the 80s.

Martin admits that occasionally something goes haywire between shpaint, bash and the terminal emulator, and clicking a cell will cause weird and random painting effects. That happened to me once or twice, but the fix is easy — just exit shpaint with CTRL+C, which saves your file automatically, then restart it and all is well.

shpaint sends your rendition of Whistler’s Mother to a flat file that will spill out the same image just with the cat command, meaning you can probably work this into other, more advanced editors to handle more intricate touchup. Don’t feel guilty doing that; our artist at work regularly sketches with a pencil, then scans her work into a computer and does everything else in Photoshop.

In fact, I’m no Picasso, but I daresay there are probably some parts of text-based artistry that would be well-served by relying on shpaint as an option to aewan, cavewall or duhdraw, even if it’s just for the speed of plotting points with the mouse, as opposed to cursor controls.

shpaint wins points from me just for being amazing and cool, but also for doing its job cleanly, obviously and without unnecessary bloat. I know this technically falls down on some of the points I like to see in text-based programs, but I think it deserves a star anyway: ⭐ Give it a try. πŸ˜‰


jp2a: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick

Quick, nimble, short and fast programs are always to my liking. We’ve been through plenty of image-to-text converters for the console, but here’s one that just plain works, on the first try: jp2a.

2014-12-15-6m47421-jp2a-01 2014-12-15-6m47421-jp2a-02

I’m showing two screenshots there because I wanted to point out one small thing about jp2a that I really like: It’s smart enough by default to keep the original aspect ratio, and confine it to the available terminal space.

I know that seems like a small issue, but the original smiley face image that I used was 1024×1024, and some utilities try to convert that as pixel-to-character, on a one-to-one basis. Which complicates things.

jp2a can certainly do that, and if you dig through its flags you’ll see that it can do quite a bit more too. I used only the --colors flag to generate the images above, but you can set output dimensions, redirect to a file, flip an image on conversion, put borders on output and a mess of other options.

If you’re looking for a quick, fire-and-forget conversion tool this might be the one. And given that it has only libjpeg (and curl) as its dependencies, it definitely won’t burden your system with random and impractical features that draw in obtuse libraries.

And once you’ve got your conversion tucked away, you’re only a hop, skip and a jump away from completing your text-only masterpiece. Don’t forget to invite us to the unveiling. πŸ˜‰

duhdraw: For the Van Gogh of the vc

duhdraw, as I understand from the home page, has been around for almost 20 years in one form or another, and has its beginnings as an offshoot of a DOS program called TheDRAW. And so if you’re familiar with accents among native English speakers, you may better understand that name. πŸ˜‰

Having a near 20-year history may make it look weak when compared to tools like aewan or cavewall, or even cadubi, but duhdraw might still have a few tricks up its sleeve.


That is not the world’s strongest screenshot, and for that I apologize. That was my passive-aggressive way of pointing out that duhdraw, regardless of your terminal dimensions, is going to confine itself to that small window.

Your canvas will actually stretch down to about 1000 lines, if the README file is to be believed, but width-wise, 80 appears to be its limit.

And the unreadable characters there in the screenshot are supposed to be “high ASCII” characters — pipe symbols and others, I believe — but were not properly rendered by my framebuffer …. or by rxvt-unicode, which was more disappointing. It may be a sign of its age, but apparently duhdraw had trouble reaching that high.

Most of duhdraw’s features are accessible through ALT keys, so the help screen, for example, is ALT+H. Erasing the canvas and starting over is ALT+E. Saving is ALT+S and loading is … well, you get the picture.

I found a copy-and-paste feature, such as was in cavewall or aewan, but it seemed quite primitive (or perhaps was incomplete) to me and hard to control. No transparent stamp effects or editable polygons, sorry.

duhdraw is not without its own interesting gimmicks though. ALT+D enters a line drawing mode, where just moving the cursor begins a continuous line you can control.

And I like the pickup commands of ALT+P and ALT+U, where you can instantly adopt the character and the color scheme of any character on the screen, and use it elsewhere. It’s quicker than running back and forth to the ALT+F keys for the color palette. And attribute mode is even easier, turning your cursor into a sopping wet paint roller, wherever you go on the screen.

And to be honest, trapping commands against the ALT keys is a good way to do business, since it frees up virtually every other key as a stamp, without losing out to shifted characters or special sequences. I like the way duhdraw does that.

It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t see all the characters duhdraw offered, because I have a feeling that duhdraw had more interesting approaches to ASCII art than just what the bigshots like aewan or cavewall could offer.

But duhdraw is not the do-all, be-all end of the line for ASCII art tools. In fact, if anything, it may be just the beginning, or as close as Linux users could get in 1996. 😎

aewan: For the Klimt of the console

I’ve seen about three or four ASCII art editors for the console now, and it’s becoming clear that each one has unique features that are very appealing, but misses out on something another one offers.

After I found cavewall, I figured any other ASCII art editor was going to fall flat. After all, cavewall had a slew of features that I hadn’t thought possible in text-art program, and didn’t expect to see again.

And along came aewan.


The ASCII Editor Without A Name actually includes layer management, much like you’d see in GIMP or That Other Graphics Program which shall go unnamed and unlinked. The one that starts with “foto” and ends with “shoppe.”

If you’re skeptical, so was I, but aewan pulls it off quite gracefully. And those layers are the key to copy and pasting, moving blocks of images, creating stamp pad effects and even transparent stamping. It’s amazing.

You can add dozens of layers to text drawings, set their visibility, name them and rearrange them. Set their dimensions and move them around until you complete your masterpiece.

aewan has hotkeys for the color palette, a menu-driven interface with key commands for some of the most important features, and can save all your work into a file that (supposedly; I didn’t try it) can be used in a pager to display animation effects.

Wow. 😯 That’s impressive for a program that saw its last update in 2005. My hat is off. Again. For that alone, an incredibly rare and immeasurably valuable K.Mandla gold star is warranted: ⭐ Well done.

But … I can see where some features from cavewall don’t appear in aewan. cavewall has adjustable stepping features for example, making line drawing and the like more convenient. aewan doesn’t have that, or if it does, I don’t recall seeing it.

aewan does have a specific line-drawing mode though, and that’s quite handy. Pressing the hyphen or pipe symbol actually draws the appropriate extended line, so you can draw in continuous bars, instead of just the text character. But vertical lines aren’t as easy with aewan as they are with cavewall.

And neither aewan nor cavewall has the polygon drawing and editing features that were in textdraw. But that’s only black-and-white, and so loses an edge to cadubi, which behaved more like a colorized stamping program that could import images rendered by caca, and edit them.

So I’m at the point now where each of these has a particular feature that makes it shine, but misses out on something mastered by its brethren. Perhaps at some point a Grand Unifying Text-Based Art Tool will appear. And it shall be known as GUTBAT, and the people shall rejoice. … πŸ™„

cavewall: For the Kahlo of the console

I had to scrounge around the Internet for a while, before I could find the home page for cavewall. It was worth it:


cavewall is another ASCII “image editor” allowing you to draw and create pictures using text symbols and so forth. We’ve seen a few of these in the past, to include classics like cadubi, or hidden gems like textdraw.

A lot of the files that are in the latest cavewall tarball date back to 2006 or even earlier. I didn’t expect it to compile, but as you can see, it worked more or less flawlessly.

For as hard as it was to find cavewall, it’s a huge step forward in ASCII drawing programs. It has, for example …

  • Block selection and range functions, which is a huge addition, because it adds things like …
    • Copy and paste functions
    • Fill functions
    • Paste from clipboard options
    • Custom box and frame creation, and more
  • Stepping modes, so pressing a character moves you in a specific direction — not just to the right
  • Menus for most program functions, plus hotkeys for the most common ones
  • Export to plain text or HTML
  • Import back from those formats

And a lot more. cavewall manages to take a lot of cadubi’s high points, and some of textdraw’s best functions, then add a few bonuses of its own, and combine them all in a very usable way.

It’s clear not everything is finished (I would have loved to see the “inject figlet-ized text” feature work), and it needs a little polishing on some points (the menus are sometimes obtrusive, or overwrite themselves, and cavewall intercepts some command sequences as text … small points). But the majority of it seems to be working.

Like I said, cavewall doesn’t appear to have seen attention in almost a decade. Very rarely do I wish for someone to adopt a program and bring it up to date (well, okay, sometimes I do), but cavewall is so very nearly perfect, that it’s sad to see it languish unnoticed in a corner of the Internet. 😦

I’m going to give cavewall a great big shiny gold K.Mandla star though, in the hopes that someone will see its potential and give it the boost it deserves: ⭐ πŸ˜‰ Enjoy!

cadubi: Once more, because it’s worth it

cadubi is one of those programs I really wish I had more of a need to use.


I’ve mentioned it before and I know it’s a bit awkward to think, but this might be a close as it gets to art at the console.

cadubi is a simple up-down pen stamp program that you can also force-feed images into.

Now I said “images,” but what I should have said was “images converted to text.” There’s a difference.

Each time I mention cadubi I remember how impressed I am with it.

And perhaps sometime I will actually have a chance to put it to its proper purpose, instead of just pasting it on some stupid blog somewhere on the Intarnet. 😐