The Art of Automation: Prependix

12 min read

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Covered in this chapter

  • Interviews with the artists featured in The Art of Automation eBook
  • Insights into process and artistic inspiration
  • Deep dives into the meaning of each cover art
  • Automation in Art

The Art of Automation: Table of Contents

Behind the scenes

Like any good television show, musical, or other pieces of media, the success and popularity of The Art of Automation podcast has quite a bit to do with the support staff who make the show happen from a distance. The cover art for the Art of Automation is recognizable anywhere. Each cover’s simple — yet detailed and meaningful — art is seen by every listener and has helped establish The Art of Automation with its own unique personality in the world of technology podcasts.

This is by no means an accident. The Art of Automation has worked with some of IBM’s most talented designers and visual artists to create the cover art that is now recognized by listeners across the world. Let’s take this chapter to “pay attention to the people behind the curtain.”

Matt Cardinal

From left to right: Podcast Cover, Episode 0, Episode 1

From left to right: Podcast Cover, Episode 0, Episode 1

The Art of Automation’s first artist was Matt Cardinal. During the formation of the show, Matt helped design the overall podcast cover and the art for Episodes 1 and 2. Matt grew up in a number of locations, including Alberta, Arizona and Oregon. He now lives and works for IBM in Austin. Since he can remember, Matt has constantly been interested in two things: drawing and bicycles. While these might seem like two entirely separate topics, Matt will probably disagree. In Matt’s opinion, the more tactile the art, the more he enjoys it. This includes painting and, of course, welding and making bikes. In fact, he even founded his own bicycle company.

When Matt was designing his cover art, he knew he wanted something simple but impactful, especially in his choice of colors. During video calls, Matt sometimes finds himself doodling meeting participants on a sticky note, so the images of Jerry and Rama in his art came naturally. Imagery associated with the forward-thinking and futuristic nature of the podcast gave rise to the “bleep bloop!” robot as a metaphor for the AI bots used in practice. The rest of the cover started with a conversation and developed from there.

Matt’s art beyond the cover art can begin from anywhere. He says inspiration isn’t the difficult part, it’s turning that inspiration into a final product. When making commissioned art, he actually welcomes direction and constraints, noting that it provides a place to start, while still leaving room for creativity. His process always involves a lot of trying, failing and correcting. Once the art is complete, one of Matt’s favorite things is the beauty of rediscovery. This can happen when one looks at art they haven’t seen for years and finds something completely new about it, leading to newfound appreciation.

When asked if he thinks automation can ever play a role in the creation of art, he responded with, “I have no idea. What does it mean to be more than an artist?” He went on to suggest that he’d like to see the creation of something that helps artists reach an end product or help remove fear from the vastness of a canvas by helping form a starting point.

Orizema Cruz Pina

From left to right: Episode 2, Episode 3

From left to right: Episode 2, Episode 3

The Art of Automation’s second artist was Orizema Cruz Pina. Orizema, a visual designer from San Jose, designed the covers for Episodes 2 and 3. While she’s always been a creative person, doodling and decorating since she was young, she didn’t consider herself an “artist” or a “designer” for many years. She discovered design in the ninth grade and was immediately drawn into the structure of it. She loves doing digital art, but lately has found a bit of a balance by expanding her interests to include painting, charcoal and watercolor.

When Orizema took on the task of creating cover art for the podcast, she thought of it as a fun challenge to design within a system, where color and style had already been established by Matt. She loved building off what he made in the first few episodes, while adding in her own flair. She had never done art in this style, but she knew she wanted to make it friendly. Just like the podcast itself, the idea of Orizema’s art was intended to be consumable, even for someone who is just beginning their journey in the AI and Automation world. Images like the “robot handshake” and the “stack of paper guy” are designed to be fun, while still conveying the main points of that podcast episode.

Orizema finds artistic inspiration from her own experiences in life. This includes her cat or things she’s seen in nature. She doesn’t really enjoy trying to realistically draw people, but this has manifested in a new passion for cartoons and comics, as is evident in the podcast art she made. Her process always begins with a pencil and paper, loosely drawing out sketches and ideas. This is followed by tracing and layering, which leads to moving around different images to get the ideal layout. This happened quite a bit in the Episode 3 cover art, where the two characters and the robot moved around at least three times each. Her final step is making the text more fun and cleaning everything up.

When asked if she thinks automation can ever play a role in the creation of art, Orizema responded by saying that automation could best be used to improve what exists today. This could take the form of better features in a graphic design program, such as perfecting shapes and lines. Overall, she sees automation as a tool that designers and artists can use to help make their visions come to life.

April Monson

From left to right: Episode 4, Episode 5

From left to right: Episode 4, Episode 5

The Art of Automation’s third artist was April Monson. April designed the covers for Episodes 4 and 5. She is a User Experience Designer from San Diego who attributes her interest in visual design to her childhood as an “indoor kid.” Her brother was also interested in visual design, so it turned into a form of competition, which still slightly exists today. April’s mother was also very supportive of her and her brother’s passions and fostered it by taking them to museums and encouraging their artistic drives.

When designing cover art for The Art of Automation, April said she was a little nervous at first, as she does not consider herself an expert visual designer. So, her first piece of art on robotic process automation (RPA) was essentially done in the style of how she takes notes during lectures or all-hands meetings. To April, drawing small images and diagrams makes things stand out and stick to one’s memory, which is what she tried to capture in the art for this episode. She wanted to convey the idea that software robots are your friends, there to help make your work easier. For the next cover art, however, April wanted to do something a little more unique. She was inspired by the quote “automation eats software,” as well as the imagery of Russian dolls and Pac-Man. She like the idea of taking up more whitespace than previous art and showing how different levels of automation can help you find context/improve/learn to become more helpful.

In general, April likes to find inspiration for her art by walking in nature, sitting on her balcony or listening to music. As a first step in creation, she likes to journal or doodle on a topic to see what comes up. A lot of her art is reflective of what she’s feeling or what she did that day. She loves art that is “in the moment.” As such, some of her favorite artwork is done simply with a pencil and paper, because it is cheap, easy, and she has all sort of journals lying around. She also very much enjoys knitting and pyrography, which is the art of decorating wood with burn marks from a heated metallic burning pen.

When asked about the relationship between automation and art, April had several interesting ideas for what she’d like to see in the future. One technology that she’s seen early versions of involves entering a phrase or idea as text and having AI generate an image (that fits your project style) to be used in your art. She was also interested in the idea of using AI and automation to learn about famous paintings or art and translating those insights into tools or suggestions that could be used by artists today.

Caroline Scholer

Episode 7

The Art of Automation’s fourth artist was Caroline Scholer. Caroline designed the cover for Episode 7 on Intelligent Document Automation. She is an artist from Durham, North Carolina who took a serious interest to art at 11 years old through reading and cartoons. Her favorite kind of art is painting, but she also enjoys working on digital platforms from time to time. Caroline enjoys painting the most because it allows her to experiment with mediums and gives her opportunities to grow artistically. She particularly enjoys the process of painting and seeing a project progress step by step. 

When designing for The Art of Automation, Caroline’s process began with a few concept sketches. This was a way for her to pilot several ideas for general design and decide what specific images she wanted to include. Her next step was taking a photo of her final sketch and tracing over it digitally. She then altered the color scheme and adjusted placement to get a layout she liked. Her final step was to set everything and add the Art of Automation watermarks.

Outside of creating cover art, Caroline is inspired for art by the idea of incorporating emotions and experiences into something visual, allowing others to experience it as well. She also likes to be inspired by her fellow artists, taking observations and insights from other creators and incorporating them into her own work. In general, Caroline believes that art is based on someone’s interpretation of an idea, and she finds it fascinating to be able to share her perspectives with others.

When asked about how art and automation can work together, Caroline remarked that “automation allows for a faster and more structured execution of an artist’s ideas.” She elaborated that when barriers are eliminated in the artistic process, it allows for more genuine and efficient work. This can be as simple as mechanical pencils saving time on sharpening, to advanced AI tools helping speed up other processes. She firmly believes that automation has the ability to help artists and will continue to do so in a greater capacity as technology evolves.

Danielle Elchik

From left to right: Episode 8, Episode 10, Episode 12

From left to right: Episode 8, Episode 10, Episode 12

The Art of Automation’s fifth artist was Danielle Elchik. Danielle designed the covers for Episodes 8, 10 and 12. She is a graphic and visual designer from Pittsburgh who has been interested in art and creativity from a very young age. In her free time, she likes to do physical, tangible art (such as drawing or painting), but professionally, she focuses on digital art. Although, she always enjoys when her work is printed onto actual paper, such as when she wrote and designed for the IBM Variable Magazine.

Her process for designing the cover art of The Art of Automation began with listening to each episode and taking a few notes. From there she would use individual quotes and try to identify an overall concept or message that could be transformed into some sort of powerful visual. The next step for Danielle was making thumbnails, rough sketches, and messing around with the layout.

One goal she had when designing the art was to not have everything make complete sense from one’s first look. For example, when first looking at the Episode 8 artwork of a person standing at the edge of the cliff, the meaning is not immediately clear. However, after listening to the podcast and learning more, one can easily come back to the visual and find a clearer meaning relating back to the main idea of pushing automation to edge devices in a business (and other topics covered in the episode).

It’s this sort of abstract interpretation that Danielle enjoys, which can similarly be seen in her Episode 10 artwork, combining “finding a needle in a haystack” and “the gift of time.” She notes that she especially enjoyed playing with texture and shadowing in that cover art. Additionally, all three of her pieces of art contains datapoints and numbers to fill out the white space and illustrate the idea that data in coming from everywhere. Automation, Danielle says, always comes back to the data that fuels it.

Artistic inspiration for Danielle comes from all sorts of places, but she particularly likes browsing online designer collaboration sites. This allows her to learn from other artist’s styles and investigate how they are telling stories and communicating through their artwork. Danielle is very interested in this practice of telling stories through design and visual art. To see how talented she is at doing so, one needs to look no further than the IBM Variable Magazine mentioned above, where Danielle was instrumental in the creation of pieces such as “The Unconscious Mind” and “Welcome to the Savage.”

Danielle’s first thought about incorporating automation into the world of visual art was that it should be used as it is in other fields – to help humas focus on more meaningful tasks by automating the repetitive and boring ones. One idea she had was to help artists with the experimentation process, to help them discover what they’re looking for. Perhaps an AI model could give you 50 different variations of one of your drafts, with a variety of layout and pixilation options to inspire you for your next steps. Or, when creating something like a slide deck, design and layout suggestions can be massively beneficial to someone who is not as confident in their artistic skills. She also suggested a number of ways automation could help in the User Experience design process, by automating tedious tasks to allow you to focus on addressing customer pain points and needs. In this scenario, humans are still doing the problem solving, but automation is helping speed up the execution.

Adaoha Onyekwelu

From left to right: Episode 9, Episode 11

From left to right: Episode 9, Episode 11

The Art of Automation’s sixth artist was Adaoha Onyekwelu. Adaoha designed the covers for Episodes 9 and 11. She is a UX designer from New Jersey who spent five years of her childhood living in Nigeria. She became interested in visual design during elementary school and always remembers having notebooks dedicated to drawing. While she enjoys drawing on paper, most of her work is done digitally on a tablet. Although, some of her favorite projects were done entirely by hand.

Her process for creating cover art for the Art of Automation began with listening to the episode a few times and trying to pick out key words. After getting all the words on paper, Adaoha’s next step was word association, where she brainstormed any images, items, or objects that related in her mind to the key words. For Episode 9, an obvious keyword was “observable,” which gave rise to images of eyes and a magnifying glass. After she decided on the images she wanted to use, she solidified the visuals by sketching them out and organizing them in a desired layout. Finally, she digitized everything and added finishing touches. 

While Adaoha enjoys cover art design and UX design, her favorite form of visual art is hand lettering. Hand lettering, as the name suggests, is an art form that centers around letters and words to convey images and ideas. Adaoha discovered hand lettering a few years ago and has since been intrigued by it non-stop. As she puts it, “hand lettering is so freeing,” mentioning that she likes hand lettering so much because it is not restrained by the usual formal art rules of colors and structures. In hand lettering, anything goes; the only limitation is your imagination. She now enjoys digital lettering the most, because she feels like one can do so much more on a digital platform. Although once in a while, she will go back to brush, pen and paper. Some of her personal recent projects include wedding signs and hand menus, and she is having a lot of fun establishing her own artistic style.

When asked how automation can play a role in art, Adaoha’s first thoughts were around finding artistic inspiration. She is interested in how technology can play a role in inspiring artists, whether that might be learning their style and making suggestions for a new project or providing inspiration for where to take a project next. She then suggested that technology can go even further, perhaps helping artists in their creatives processes in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

Artists in episode order

Thank you to all of our featured artists. It would not be The “Art” of Automation without you.

  1. Matt Cardinal – Podcast Cover, Episode 0, Episode 1 (mattcardinal@us.ibm.com)
  2. Orizema Cruz Pina – Episode 2, Episode 3 (orizema@ibm.com)
  3. April Monson – Episode 4, Episode 5 (amonson@ibm.com)
  4. Caroline Scholer – Episode 7
  5. Danielle Elchik – Episode 8, Episode 10, Episode 12 (Danielle.Elchik@ibm.com)
  6. Adaoha Onyekwelu– Episode 9, Episode 11 (Adaoha.Uzoho@ibm.com)

About the author

Ethan Glasman is a technical content creator based in San Jose, California. He is currently the producer of The Art of Automation podcast as well as the technical communications lead for IBM Automation. His background is in Applied Mathematics and Theater, and he enjoys combining technology and creativity to make engaging stories that are accessible to anyone.

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