Teletext Art

Artist Spotlight: Sarah Burgess (Make Today Colourful)

Welcome back to the Teletext Artist Spotlight. Today’s willing subject is Sarah B, who has recently been discovering teletext as an artform. She is well on her way to superstardom as her very first teletext piece (above) was recently featured in the BBC’s Lockdown Orchestra project (Sarah’s work can be seen at 1m 05sec in the video). Not bad for a start, eh?


Dan: Wow, that’s amazing – both your teletext art and the fact it was shown on the BBC Lockdown Orchestra. Well done! 🙂

Sarah: Aww, thanks. I’m really chuffed that they liked it enough to use it.

It makes a change from loitering at outside broadcasts like I used to do. To be fair I wasn’t always trying to get on camera, I just loved seeing how they worked and having a chat with everyone from on-air talent to the floor manager.

For the cat pages, I particularly like the shadows, and the fact you’ve used text characters for the emanata (yes, I looked up what they’re called just now) above the plate.

The idea of adding shadows came to me quite late in the process, they weren’t initially there in my mind’s eye or on early sketches on paper. The emanata (ah, new word, thanks!) were in the back of my mind all along but I added them at the end. It just seemed natural to use text chars, I like how they can be used in a graphic way.

I love the composition and position of text and graphics, down to the way you’ve used black borders.

All of that was instinctive really. I selected a poem that I hadn’t yet illustrated and just visualised what I wanted to do with it. I sketched it out like any other sketch but over a grid (yeah, one I downloaded that has your name on it) to make typing it in as easy as following a cross stitch pattern (not that I do cross stitch any more, haven’t the time or the patience). To get the layout exactly as I want it, these sketches are full of arrows telling me to move things up a row or whatever. I also mark in the control characters, and try to figure out in advance how I’m going to disguise them.

The poem is really funny, too!

Thanks. I enjoy making silly things like that. I treat my blog as a bit of a creative playground where I can experiment with things.

It’s always wonderful to see teletext art getting out and about, especially on things like the BBC, the home of Ceefax. I love that you decided to submit your art as teletext rather than anything else (like a paper drawing). I think it would have helped your art stand out from the other entries.

Getting my work on the BBC has been a goal of mine lately. So far the closest I’d got was my radio drama script getting in the top 36% of entries for some writing opportunity.

So when this orchestra thing came up I couldn’t resist joining in even though it’s a bit of a diversion from script writing. Teletext art was my immediate thought as I was itching to start making some. At some point I realised that it would stand out, the question was whether that was in a good way or a bad way!

Which program did you use to make the pages, may I ask?

I thought you might ask that. And I’m not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed by the answer. It’s a program that I wrote myself but it’s buggy and unfinished.

How this all came about was that I found the Computer Literacy Project Archive on BBC Taster, but couldn’t just enjoy watching the old programmes, oh no. I felt the urge to play with BBC BASIC, especially when I discovered Richard Russell’s implementation that can run on Android. So I was tinkering with that, and at the same time reading the Stardot forum which I believe is where I spotted some teletext art. Which is how writing a “Mode 7 graphics editor” ended up on my New Year’s goals list!

Sure, the sensible thing to do would be to use an existing editor but I wanted to play about with BBC BASIC, I found it very absorbing and relaxing, not to mention nostalgic. It also meant I could design the program specifically for the on screen keyboard on Android, making it ideal for grabbing in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep and want to do something productive.

The danger now is that using it is such fun that I might forget to fix all those bugs and add all those missing features!

It’s incredible that you made your own editor to create teletext art! Are you planning on releasing it or is it just one of those things for personal use?

I’d always had it in mind to publish it (if only to give my blog more content!) if I can finish it to a good enough standard. I am a perfectionist so I have to talk myself into putting my work out there.

So yeah, that depends on getting it polished up sufficiently… which could take a while. The bugs would have to be fixed for a start. And ideally I’d need to add features like undo/redo and find/replace. Though I guess to speed things up, some features could wait till a later version. I have been making progress on it, but I don’t know how long it will be before I feel it’s ready.


Visit Sarah’s website at maketodaycolourful.co.uk, or see her teletext art adventures here.

Dan Farrimond

Teletext artist and head mad scientist at the UK Teletext Art Research Lab (TARL). | hello [at] teletextart (dot) co *dot* uk | danfarrimond.co.uk

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