Sit nearly anywhere in Palo Alto these days and one is bound to encounter that latest branch of human evolution, Homo mobilis -- Mobile- electronics Man -- hunched over digital devices.
Seemingly oblivious to their surroundings and hopelessly engrossed in what an outsider might observe as trivial pursuits, they may in reality be true artists in the midst of creating works. Fingers are their brushes, laying down colors with broad swipes across the digital screen; photographs become montages of mixed media in pencil, pen or pastel.
This is the new artistic mobile age, where technology stretches the boundaries of art -- and art is literally at everyone's fingertips. A three-day event at the Pacific Art League, the mDAC -- Mobile Digital Art Exhibition and Mobile Digital Arts & Creativity Summit -- will give viewers and participants a chance to experience how far the boundaries between art and technology are expanding. The 80-artist, juried exhibition opens Aug. 1, and the two-day technology and creativity workshop begins on Aug. 2 with something for everyone from beginner to master.
"Our key vision is to teach art, no matter what the platform is," Seth Schalet, Pacific Art League's executive director, said. "We want to teach people to discover their creativity. Traditional art forms and digital art are both part of the same lineage in our view.
"We're here in the (Silicon) Valley. Our goal is to leverage this technology. We want to teach corporate classes and workshops and to take art into the community and make it easier to engage."
The two-pronged approach of exhibit and workshops aims to spark creativity in everyone, regardless of their level technical or artistic ability. The exhibition, now in its second year, runs throughout the month. It is free to the general public. The Digital Arts and Creativity Summit, the first event of its kind globally, offers two days of workshops and lectures by renowned speakers in their fields from around the world. It is a paid event.
The summit offers 17 classes ranging from basic digital mobile drawing skills to art applications for oil and acrylic painters, making comics, caricatures, portraits, creative art collage, photo manipulation, printing and publishing mobile art and 3-D modeling and 3-D printing using programs and applications such as SketchBook Pro, Paper 53, ArtRage, Art Apps, Procreate, iPad Animation and iColorama.
If it all sounds daunting, the subject matter is divided into two tracks: a mobile digital-art track that focuses on creation of digital artwork using key mobile art applications (apps), and a mobile creativity track that focuses on the creative aspect of mobile devices, including basic digital art creation, animation and 3-D printing. People can attend any session from either track based on their interest, said Sumit Vishwakarma, founder of iPadtoArt.com and Mobile Art Academy, who is partnering with the Pacific Art League to put on the exhibition and summit.
With prices coming down for digital applications over time, the ability to make digital art available to everyone, Schalet said. And digital art can expand the horizons not only of people who consider themselves artistically talented but also of those who don't. Many people in technology use their creativity every day to write programs or develop computer products, but they don't necessarily consider themselves the "creative types." But mobile digital arts allow tech types to expand their definition of creativity in unexplored ways. Such exposure could also encourage people who thought they had no artistic ability to gain confidence and further explore the more traditional arts, said Schalet, who has a background in manufacturing data center equipment.
Vishwakarma has tapped into his own artistic talents through mobile devices. His inspiration can come at a moment's notice, he said. He creates art on an iPad and tablets using different applications; his fingers or a stylus are his brushes and pencils.
"If I want to draw in the train station, I can just take out my iPhone and sketch. You have a full studio in your hand," he said.
Vishwakarma's love of mobile digital art sparked him to found the Mobile Art Academy with Education Director Caroline Mustard. The academy offers digital art classes for all ages and levels of ability, from toddlers to seniors, and offers free tablet-art workshops in public libraries and to local organizations.
Mobile digital art can especially benefit children, Schalet and Vishwakarma said.
"Kids can draw free from fear. In digital art, you can erase. It gives people the chance to experiment," Schalet said.
Digital art can inspire kids because it removes much of the frustration.
"Digital art allows you to draw in layers. If something goes wrong in that layer, you can delete it," he added.
And, Vishwakarma added, many apps "are less than the price of a coffee cup."
The exhibition offers a sampling of the range of techniques one can now use through applications, from watercolor to pastel, oil to pencil. The show attracted 720 submissions from 300 artists and from a dozen countries, including Canada and Singapore, Schalet said.
Because it is immediately transportable, digital art enables local venues such as the Pacific Art League to have a truly global exhibition that is representative of different cultures and socioeconomic levels -- one that mirrors Silicon Valley's cultural diversity, he said.
Jurists were also surprised by the overall quality of the work, he added.
"The bar was very high. It was a tough call," Schalet said.
The jury panel included traditional and digital artists, a mix perhaps reflective of a growing acceptance of digital art as a "true art."
Schalet said digital art can be measured in some of the same ways as any art form: composition, level of detail, texture, for example. But there is something deeper that makes any work of art great art whether it comes off a microchip or a canvas, he said.
"In the end you ask, 'Does it speak to me?'"
What: Mobile Digital Art Exhibition and Mobile Digital Arts & Creativity Summit
Where: Pacific Art League, 668 Ramona St., Palo Alto
When: The Mobile Digital Art Exhibition opens Aug. 1 at 5:30 p.m. and runs through Aug. 31. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Mobile Digital Arts & Creativity Summit takes place Aug. 2 and 3 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
Cost: Art exhibition admission is free; the mDAC Summit costs range from a one-day pass for $129 in advance ($149 at the door) to $159 for both days ($199 at the door).