Alon Chitayat is a man with many titles. As a research fellow at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, he explores the magic of drawing as a means of human interaction.

“ITP is a wonderful place to be in; it's a huge playground to explore technology in its purest form,” said Alon.

He also teaches animation at Pratt Institute, and does freelance work as a motion designer, designing experiences for clients like Google, on the side.

While it’s not exactly a job, Alon always carries a sketchbook he fills with art. “On my daily subway rides I sketch people, never knowing how much time is left until they get off the train,” said Alon.

Alon is joining us at Collide Halifax to talk about how Miles Davis taught him to draw, or more specifically, how we can bridge the gap of user experience with traditional and digital drawing. We caught up with him to get to know him a bit better before the event.

What’s the best part of your job?

There are so many aspects of drawing that I love. User testing my projects is one of them. I’m always taken aback by how a cup full of crayons and a pile of paper can bring the child out of a serious businessman.

Talking to strangers is difficult. But drawing together! It removes some of that self-consciousness we all carry, even if for just a moment. This dialogue is dynamic & unexpected.

Something magical happens when people lose the expectations they have of making something that looks "pretty". I think it's similar to playing with someone -- you first have to be a good listener in order to have an harmonic conversation with someone.

Tell us a bit about what you’re working on.

My main focus nowadays is collaborative drawing, or "jamming", if you will. Here are some projects that I'm working on:

  • Improv Canvas” - Combining the analogue and digital to provide a unique collaborative playground for people to jam together on a canvas.
  • Skin Deep” (With Rosalie Yu) -  An art installation that invited visitors to draw on our 3D scanned body.
  • Subway Stories” (With Jeff Ong) - A drawing storytelling platform that consists on my daily subway sketches.

My recent projects explore the same themes of drawing as a means of dialogue.

Having drawn since age three, I grew accustomed to the idea that it's something one does in solitude. My work, oddly described as a “day job,” is trying to change that.

What’s the best career advice you were ever given?

One of the best pieces of advice came from another artist, Shantell Martin. She said to, “keep rocking your boat, the ripples you create will eventually hit the shore and bounce back to you.”

Why should people come to your session at Collide Halifax?

I hope my talk will inspire visual designers and artist to use improvisation and collaboration as part of their creative process. We all need to me reminded about what we knew as kids and may have forgotten. At the end of the day, drawing is fun. 

One fun question: if you had super powers what would they be?

I love observing people get lost in their own thoughts, so I would want the power to be invisible. Part of the reason why I love sketching is because it gives me an excuse to people-watch with less creepiness than just staring at them. If I were invisible, then zero creepiness! (Or maybe more? lol.)

You can find Alon on Twitter @animishmish, Instagram, and Vimeo.