Face blindness and drawing portraits

If you follow us and read and watch everything we ever do (and why AREN’T you?!? haha lol not serious but yeah like and subscribe) then you’ll know I’ve been dabbling with teletext art.

The thing is, I have a degree of face blindness. It’s not to the extreme that I can’t recognise anyone, but it does take a while for me to be able to match someone’s name to their face. It’s why I can watch a long running series, and yet by the end I won’t be able to name the characters on screen. The face-name matching doesn’t work. This is unless they’re really distinctive, for example my brain lets me remember a lot of Star Trek characters, because they’re unusual or striking in some way. Beardy man is Riker, but pre-beard he blended into everyone else. Serious bald man is Picard. Data is Data.

Gamora. I’m pretty sure.

The way I deal with it is by having memorable nicknames for people, and I try to make bridges between their nicknames, their characteristics and their names. For some reason, my brain is more willing to make connections to these nicknames than their actual names.

Also, I can’t remember what folks faces look like or describe them if I’m not looking at them.

Captain Marvel. I think.

But, because I like to challenge myself, (or perhaps I just hate myself, either is likely) I set about trying to draw faces in a ridiculously restrictive medium – teletext.

The thing about looking at a human face is that our brains switch into a different mode. We’re hard wired to recognise faces from the moment we can see, so we recognise our parents. Instead of seeing the shapes and features, we resolve the face into the person, and make the face fit the pattern of what a face is internally. Such a lot gets adjusted by our own internal face processing. Take a look at this picture, demonstrating the “Thatcher Effect”.

That’s good ol’ Pres O, right? Yeah he’s upside down, but apart from that, normal looking. Except here he is the right way up…


So much gets processed by our brains to make faces work. Except if you have face blindness, in which case, it doesn’t.

So how the jamming heck am I drawing these portraits, and hearing people assure me that they do in fact look good?

I had to stop seeing faces as faces.

Here’s an example. It’s an eye, right?

However if I try to draw an eye, or remember what an eye looks like, it all goes haywire, even if I’m looking at a source image to copy it. I have to break it down into abstract shapes that aren’t a part of a face. Here’s an example showing some abstract shapes in that eye.

Those four shapes in isolation don’t look like an eye, but the overall image does when they’re put together. It’s when all the abstract shapes fit together to form a face that your brain’s face processing takes over. Once the basic shapes are there, it’s a matter of adding smaller details and shading. In the case of teletext art, it’s about picking out the smallest detail that has the most impact, because of the low resolution and restrictive nature of teletext.

3-bit art

Who remembers Teletext? Knowing our audience, there’s a good chance that you do, but if not, the TL;DR of Teletext is it was a mostly text based data service for tellyboxes back before the signal went digital. (Yes there’s a version now, but it isn’t the SAME!)

It looked like this.

Woo, and yay, that’s a page from our favourite teletext originated thing in the whole world, Digitiser!

So where does this whole 3-bit art thing come in?

You can see in that image that there’s more than just text. There’s blocky pixel graphics too! And colours! And when there’s pixel graphics and colours, someone is going to draw things. And I have! But before I show you what can be done with teletext, let’s explain how the graphics work.

The screen is divided up into a grid of blocks. Each block can hold either one character, one set of 2×3 pixels, or one control code. Blocks can’t hold colour information AND a character or graphics at the same time. You have to set the colour using a control code, and then go on to draw in the colour. So if I wanted to draw some things in red, the blocks would look like this:

Televisions would read those blocks from left to right, they’d see the control code saying “Hey, you’re going to be drawing Red Flavour Graphics now!” and then they’d switch into the right mode for drawing red pixels.

Unfortunately, that means the block with that R control code can’t have anything else in it. It’s an empty, black block on the screen. Which makes it difficult to have two colours next to each other. If you want two colours next to each other (wow, sheer luxury) then you have to set a background colour, start a background, and then switch to a different colour, which takes three control codes in all! And it looks like this:

Setting blue graphics, starting the background, and then switching to red graphics.

Tricky enough right? Surely that’s the end of all trickyness. No! You see, the middle row of pixels in those graphics blocks are not square like the top and bottom rows are. They’re taller. Isn’t that great?

Oh, and you have red, green, blue, magenta, cyan, yellow, and white graphics. You can’t draw in black. That’s where the 3-bit comes from. You’ve heard of 16-bit graphics? 8-bit graphics? Well, with 3-bit graphics, those 7 colours are all you get.

With all of those restrictions, why bother? Because it’s fun. It’s frequently more like solving a sudoku puzzle than drawing a picture. And when you get something that looks good, the small but appreciative teletext art community heap praise upon you, and if I don’t get constant praise I feel bad.

Anyway. You came here for the pictures didn’t you. So here’s what I’ve been able to do so far!

I’m particularly proud of the Gamora image, because of how I had to find ways to hide the control codes around the eyes, and still be able to recognise her. Here’s what it looks like with the blocks and control codes visible.

Hopefully that’s been interesting, and explains why I’ve been so excited when I finish one of these!

Making perfect videos, and dealing with the people who don’t think they’re perfect.

N&B Love you. We do!

You’d hardly think our little YouTube channel and twitter ramblings could be polarising, would you. I mean, who would block two ladies who joke around, play retro games, and generally want to spread fun and joy?

Quite a few people, it seems!

Yes folks, we’ve been blocked by more than one person who promotes retro related stuff on the twitters, because we wouldn’t put up with sexist rubbish, and said that it hurts the retro gaming community.

Bad sexism, yesterday

We didn’t even say who was doing the sexist rubbish when we tweeted about it. Just that there was some bad sexism and it was bad. They saw, and either they wanted to carry on doing sexism, or it hit a nerve.

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about how we’re actually quite happy that there are people who want us to shut up, and people who want us to keep going.

We’re becoming a pasta sauce.

Mmmm, pasta sauce, yum yum yum. I like to eat it with pasta, obviously, and cheese. And sometimes, bits of bacon. Lovely lovely pasta sauce. All the different pasta sauces. There’s… tomato… and… all the different sauces. And some people hate some of the sauces and love the others AND THAT’S FINE. Even if sometimes, the people who hate mushroom sauce see it and yell “Ugh!, Mushroom sauce! I hate that!” to their friends. They might even write a letter to the manufacturer and say, “Please stop making mushroom pasta sauce, you’re trying to stop me enjoying my tomato sauce, and you weren’t there at the beginning when there was only one type of pasta sauce and IT SHOULD ALL BE TOMATO NOW PLEASE STOP YOU ARE BAD.”

And other people love the sauce.

If you’re putting out “content” and you’re seeing that type of polarised response, this is a good thing. It means that you’re appealing to a specific audience, that you’re different, and that the people who love your particular brand of stuff will keep coming back.

What you don’t want to do is give the complainers what they want – confirmation that their noise is distracting you from doing what you do.

It can be very harmful.

Let’s branch out into the second clumsy metaphor of this post!

Twatty Jasper

“Mother, mother! There was a wasp buzzing around in the garden!”

“Oh dear, my darling child! Are you OK?”

“Yes, mother! It buzzed loudly, and then flew off!”

“Well, we can’t have that. Let’s invite all of our friends round and find the wasps nest, and then aggressively rub our faces on it! That will surely make us feel better.”

Of course there’s a difference between people who harass and those who just don’t like what you do. The former warrants some action. The latter? If you concentrate on those specific people, calling them out, you risk turning your fans into harassers, too.

Of course, repeated worthless criticism can be draining. Here’s the best response I’ve ever seen to ridiculous “you are bad” claims, from Octav1us Kitten.

Anyway, back to the sauce.

Howard Moskowitz was hired by Prego, the pasta sauce people, to find out why their competitors sauces were selling better than theirs, and he said that Prego’s mistake was trying to come up with the perfect pasta sauce.

There is no such thing as a perfect pasta sauce. There are only perfect pasta sauces.

Variability and diversity matters. You might not know that you’ll love two queer women playing retro games badly until you watch. 

We know we’re smol at the moment. But we seem to be bringing some laughter to the people that join us, and that’s what we want. If we grow, we know that the polarisation will continue. And we’re happy about that. It contributes to a wonderful kaleidoscope of people – that group of perfect pasta sauces. Something for everyone, not one thing for everyone.