Automatic drawing was developed by the surrealists as a means of expressing the subconscious. In automatic drawing, the hand is allowed to move randomly across the paper. In applying chance and accident to mark making, drawing is to a large extent freed of rational control. Hence the drawing produced may be attributed in part to the subconscious and may reveal something of the psyche, which would otherwise be repressed.
Artists who practised automatic drawing include Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Jean Arp and André Breton. The technique was transferred to painting, as seen in Miró’s paintings which often started out as automatic drawings, and has been adapted to other media. Most of the surrealists’ automatic drawings were illusionistic, or more precisely, they developed into such drawings when representational forms seemed to suggest themselves.
In the 1940s and 1950s the French-Canadian group called Les Automatistes pursued creative work based on surrealist principles. They abandoned any trace of representation in their use of automatic drawing. This is perhaps a more pure form of automatic drawing since it can be almost entirely involuntary. To develop a representational form requires the conscious mind to take over the process of drawing, unless it is entirely accidental and thus incidental.
The computer, like the typewriter, can be used to produce automatic writing and automatic poetry. The practice of automatic drawing, originally performed with pencil or pen and paper, has also been adapted to mouse and monitor, and other automatic methods have also been either adapted from non-digital media, or invented specifically for the computer. For instance, filters have been automatically run in some bitmap editor programs such as Photoshop. One of the newest applications of this approach is Dynamic Painting by San Base.