Artists use technology to create

Alicia Colombo

By Jay Nachman


Art has come a long way since the first cavemen and women scribbled mammoths and lions on the walls of their caves. Professional and amateur artists alike are using technology to enhance their creativity.

After retiring in 2014, psychologist Susan Gordon turned to art, mostly working in digital mediums. Sometimes, she’ll draw and paint on her iPad. On other days, she prints her digital photographs on paper and fabric. Gordon also makes digital compositions to make quilts, art books and pop-up cards.

Gordon, 72, took art classes as a child in West Oak Lane but put it aside for her college education, career and family. But when digital cameras came on the market about 20 years ago, Gordon figured using one would be a good way to learn photography. She could take as many pictures as she wanted without the expense of buying film and having it developed. She began taking digital photography classes and found that it allowed her to expand into other types of art.

“I like the feeling of completeness that it gives,” Gordon, who now lives in Center City, said about making art. “I like the process of it. I like the problem solving. I like figuring out how to do something. I like having an idea come to me and
then trying to visualize how would I do it. What medium would I use? How would I go about it, and then carrying it out to execution.”

The most frustrating aspect of photography for Gordon is its two-dimensionality. Photos can be printed on paper with a shiny or matte finish, but the end result is still flat. “I like texture. I was thinking a lot about how I could add texture to photography,” she said. “Once I realized how to print photographs on fabric, then I could go from that to … making art quilts with the photographs. And that way I would be getting a collage, but I would also be getting the texture that I was interested in.”

Gordon is being recognized for her work. She won First Prize in Fiber Arts at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial’s Annual Student Exhibition for a screen-printed soft sculpture. One of her art books is in Swarthmore College’s Book Arts & Private Press permanent collection. “Philly Pops Up,” a three-dimensional work constructed by Gordan
using her own original digital photography, is pictured at the top left of this page.


Ruth Thornton, 75, played the flute in her school’s orchestra and band in her native Houston. After moving to the Philadelphia region, she played with Lower Merion Symphony and still practices every day.

Now living in a retirement community in Wynnefield, Thornton shares her music with fellow residents and church members, thanks to technology.

The church’s music director sends Thornton a piano or organ part. Thornton listens with earphones, records her part into a microphone, and then emails the music file to the music director, who adds in voices.

After all that, Thornton said, “It sounds pretty well on Sundays.”

For community sing-alongs, Thornton prepares and plays themed programs. Last fall, her weather-themed repertoire included “Windy,” “Shine On Harvest Moon” and “Autumn Leaves.”

She’ll record her alto part and then play the soprano part live with the recording during the sing-along.

“It feels good to do something a little different than the classical music I usually play. I really like it,” Thornton said. “You get some satisfaction because you are helping other people.”


Lillie Jones uses an app on her smartphone to digitally paint beautiful pictures.

Lillie Jones, also of Wynnefield, is a retired nanny who always enjoyed coloring, painting and making books with her son and young charges.

The 72-year-old still loves to color and paint, but eye problems make it difficult for her to stay in the lines. Now, using an app, she picks a scene or theme and paints on her phone. It could be a landscape, a building, or a Bible story. With a palette of more than 100 colors, Jones simply touches the screen to fill in an area of the picture, paint-by-numbers-style.

There are times when she gets so absorbed in her painting that she’ll look up and notice three hours have gone by. “For me, I love doing it,” Jones said. “It’s relaxing, and it makes me feel good.”

Sometimes, Jones will print out a colored picture she created, frame it and send it to one of her young friends. They really like superheroes, she says.

“I love looking back at them,” said Jones, who enjoys scrolling through her phone to admire her completed work. “The colors are so beautiful.”

With technology available to give their inspiration a boost, Philadelphia artists will find new and innovative ways to keep creating.


Jay Nachman is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who tells stories for a variety of clients.

Categories: Arts & Crafts Milestones eNews Technology