On Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, Justin Lincoln stood in front of a classroom of Whitman College students, faculty and community members speaking gibberish.
Or at least that's how it might have sounded.
"Red, green or blue?" Lincoln asked a third-grader who attended the workshop with his father. "Blue? OK. Background. Open Parentheses. Zero. Comma. Zero. Comma. Two fifty-five. Close parentheses. Semicolon."
The boy typed the instructions into a computer, where they were displayed on a large screen for the room to see. On the screen was a blue rectangle.
"It looks like you have nothing, but I want to argue that you have something," said Lincoln, an associate professor and chair of Whitman's art department.
That "something" was the group's entry into the world of Processing, a computer software that serves as a sketchbook and teaches visual programming fundamentals. Lincoln was leading "Gentle Intro to Processing," Whitman's first class for Community Processing Day, a day dedicated to learning and celebrating visual coding using the Processing software.
Processing was designed to be a first programming language, making it teachable, learnable and accessible for all. The program was created in 2001 as a graduate student project by Ben Fry and Casey Reas at the MIT Media Lab in Massachusetts. They expected the software to become outdated, but unlike most programs, Processing has continued to adapt with the needs of its community.
From the program, Reas and Fry started the Processing Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to software literacy. Processing Community Days began in 2017. Lincoln attended the event at University of California, Los Angeles last year where he met Reas. Reas encouraged him to hold a Processing event at Whitman.
"There is excitement in learning from one another," Lincoln said.
The Whitman event featured the beginner workshop; a presentation by Raven Kwok, a visual artist, animator, and creative programmer; processing tips and tricks from Alan Chatham of Laboratory, an interactive, digital and performance art nonprofit in Spokane; and presentations from alumna Mercer Hanau '18 on her senior project, current Whitman computer science students, a graduate student and a faculty member from WSU. The event was funded through Whitman's three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Laska Fitzhugh '21 of Seattle, Washington, is studying computer science and art at Whitman and said Processing offers an intersection of her two areas on study.
"Since I am interested in art and computer science, it's a lot easier to get straight into the visuals with Processing," she said. Fitzhugh worked with Lincoln to advertise Processing Day. "I am interested in doing more graphics programming and to see what other people have done will be inspiring."
Kwok participated in the workshop via video call from China and talked about the strong relationship between work and play when using Processing to create art. Kwok told the aspiring computer science, art and Processing students that success doesn't come without frustrations and failures. One of Kwok's pieces, "Autotroph 2.0," is currently on display in the Sheehan Gallery's "Written in Light: Meditations on the Moving Image" exhibit.
During her presentation, Hanau presented a project she worked on with Lincoln in 2016 to create an interactive art installation using Processing. Hanau majored in art at Whitman and didn't have a background in coding or programming.
"Learning code can be intimidating, but it's not just for those guys down in Silicon Valley, everyone should and can learn code," Hanau said.
Lincoln has been using Processing since 2010 and continues to grow how it is used at Whitman and in his art classes.
This year, four senior computer science students are working with Lincoln to help him develop a tool that Lincoln can use with students and for his own Processing artwork. They presented the results of the capstone project during Community Processing Day.
"We became a lot more comfortable experimenting as Justin has taught us, he had us slow down and enjoy the process instead of worrying about deadlines and thinking only of the end goal," said Cooper Lazar '19.
"Using Processing isn't an exact science, it won't always produce exact results, but it is worth exploring and learning and playing with," said Niki Lonberg '19.