Skip to content ↓
MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

The ‘Magic Paint Brush’ by Matt McGann '00

This is so much cooler than MS Paint.

It seems like every six months or so I discover an MIT video that leaves me in awe. This time, it is the I/O Brush:

[I just realized that Laura blogged this almost two years ago! Where have I been?]

The I/O Brush is a project by Kimiko Ryokai in the Tangible Media Group at the Media Lab. Her site describes the invention:

I/O Brush is a new drawing tool to explore colors, textures, and movements found in everyday materials by “picking up” and drawing with them. I/O Brush looks like a regular physical paintbrush but has a small video camera with lights and touch sensors embedded inside. Outside of the drawing canvas, the brush can pick up color, texture, and movement of a brushed surface. On the canvas, artists can draw with the special “ink” they just picked up from their immediate environment.

There are many paint/drawing programs on the market today that are designed especially for kids. These let kids do neat things, but kids usually end up playing only with the “preprogrammed” digital palette the software provides. The idea of I/O Brush is to let the kids build their own ink. They can take any colors, textures, and movements they want to experiment with from their own environment and paint with their personal and unique ink. Kids are not only exploring through construction of their personal art project, but they are also exploring through construction of their own tools (i.e., the palette/ink) to build their art project with.

The BBC also did a story on I/O Brush:

The MIT researcher took the brush into a local classroom for about five weeks to see how children reacted to it.

“I didn’t tell them to run around the classroom and look for colours,” she says, “they did it spontaneously.”

“One kid would say ‘Hmm, I need that colour’ and other kids would suggest ideas for sources for the colour.”

Ryokai is critical of typical painting programmes created for children.

“A lot of the time kids only end up playing with the clip art that comes with the software, and picking colours only from the computer’s palette” she says.

By contrast, the I/O Brush “pushes kids to look around, and explore and investigate the richness of colours that surround us”.

She found that pictures contained many personal objects and provoked story-telling about the images, such as where the colour came from, where they got it and what it was about.

“A brown wasn’t just a brown, but a brown that came from their favourite teddy bear or friend’s hair,” she says.

In one exercise they were shown a Matisse painting and were asked where the blue colour might have come from.

“Kids who played with the I/O Brush would say oceans, Jacob’s jacket, a lunchbox or someone’s pants,” she says .

“The blue wasn’t just this abstract blue but was blue from a personal object or from their environment.”

I previously blogged two other awesome projects/videos, <>Topobo and ASSIST. I’m not sure which of these three I’d want first!

19 responses to “The ‘Magic Paint Brush’”

  1. Hank R. says:

    I was totally going to say that somebody’s blogged this before, but then I saw where you put that at the top. I/O brush is amazing.

  2. Paul '11 says:

    So the toys of the future are already here…Cool stuff, but I still want my Clocky!

  3. Vytautas says:

    That’s the kind of stuff you might come to MIT for. Just to meet people who develop the craziest and most creative projects and work with those people to make even crazier stuff smile

  4. Snively says:


  5. Wings '11 says:

    I’m afraid of watching the video for fear of my computer exploding (aka overheating and shutting off… it’s kinda old… I get a new one soon!).

    But I’ve heard of that before, and I thought it was the NEATEST thing I’ve ever heard of! I want to try it =P

  6. Basant'11 says:

    Absolutely wonderful, to say the least!!!

  7. kim says:

    The media lab is heaven.

  8. PC says:

    What kind of majors do students pursue in the Media Lab?

  9. Evan says:

    Wow. Incredible stuff! That it records video is the icing on the cake.

  10. AnonWHYmous says:

    Should i switch to Macbook before i come to Boston if ive got admitted?
    or do i need to bring my own home PC to campus? (im international applicant) O_O
    cause im going to get a new PC now (im doing Alevel and will apply for year 2009), means i just use my whole new PC only about 1 year O_O
    i dont want to waste more $2k to get a new one lol.
    im just curious~

  11. AnonWHYmous says:

    o ya, what im trying to ask is, what should i buy now? Desktop or Notebook? hmmmph…

  12. AnonWHYmous says:

    o ya, what im trying to ask is, what should i buy now? Desktop or Notebook? hmmmph…

  13. Snively says:

    Having never actually lived at a college, I can’t speak to exactly how useful a desktop is compared to a laptop, but I’ll tell you why I bought a laptop:

    >Taking notes in class
    >Portable blogging/homeworking (nothing helps write an entry/essay than to be somewhere thought-provoking, something a dorm room doesn’t always provide)
    >Nowadays you can get a laptop that’s just as powerful as a desktop, so power isn’t an issue
    >Both a desktop and laptop can be used in a dorm, but only the laptop can leave. Why settle for something with less capability?
    >No having to say “Come to my room, let me show you something cool online!” You can just show them right there.
    >I love laptop keyboards, they’re so nice and make typing fast REALLY easy.

    Anywho, that’s why I got a laptop. I think the biggest concern with buying a laptop is that it won’t be as powerful as a desktop, but that’s not necessarily true. Look up the Latitude D820 from MIT’s recommended laptop page when you get certificates to view it. It’s a beautiful thing. . .

  14. X-zipz says:

    Hey, join ur survey.
    I love Mac, great design !
    or maybe should I ask, which is best suit for programming/engineering software use? Mac or PC?

  15. Anonymous says:

    by the way, what is the certificates? how to get in then? im very new here, thanks a lot for ur recommendation!

  16. Ronny CHEN says:

    Hey, can I do a little survey here? Do you prefer Mac or PC?

    p.s. the I/O brush is awesome!!

  17. milena '11 says:

    mac all the way!

  18. Snively says:


    MIT certificates are MIT’s way of only letting students and authorized viewers onto super-secret and super-special webpages. For example, special MIT discounts on laptops, MIT software downloads, and the housing lottery all require(d) certificates because they are/were for students only.

    I don’t know about programming, but I do know a bit about the engineering aspect. SolidWorks, the drafting software that is pretty much an industry standard and is provided free for students by MIT (SO AWESOME!) was designed exclusively for Windows and will likely never venture into Mac-land.

  19. kim says:

    I’m afraid of watching the video for fear of my computer exploding (aka overheating and shutting off… it’s kinda old… I get a new one soon!).