Courtesy Photo

Artist Hugh Margerum has a gift for inspiring people to interact and to take a fresh look at the world around them. In 2012, I sat down with Margerum at a small café on State Street and walked away less than an hour later having completed a very satisfying collaborative work of art. The piece we did together was one in a series based on tic-tac-toe. Margerum showed up that day with a bag full of art materials — markers, brushes, glitter, and glue — and within minutes we were filling in the nine squares of a paper tic-tac-toe board with imaginatively rendered, bold, and brightly colored Xs and Os. That series culminated in June of 2012 when Margerum had a show at the Project Fine Art Gallery of all the collaborations he’d done in this way, many of them with recognizable artists and Santa Barbara personalities.

Not content with merely reinventing tic-tac-toe as a brilliant form of low-tech art collaboration, Margerum is back in 2013 with an even more ingenious variation on his original idea called tic tac phOto. Available as a free app for the iPhone, iPad, and all Android devices, tic tac phOto does exactly what the tic-tac-toe art game did, but with cell-phone photos. Players make moves in a game of tic-tac-toe by choosing a position on the board, and then taking or selecting a photo with their phone to fill that square. Since tic tac phOto is an app, you can play at any time, from anywhere, and with anyone who also has it.

In the first few games, most people typically either shoot or find images of objects in the real world that resemble either Xs or Os. Later on, as they become more advanced, the contrasting nature of the moves and countermoves evolves, often leaving the original iconography of tic-tac-toe far behind.

But it’s worthwhile to linger for a moment on the impact of tic tac phOto’s initial impression. There’s nothing like a simple treasure hunt to reawaken the creative eye. In the original tic-tac-toe art game, images regularly reflected the immediate environment in which they were created, either by picking up color schemes from nearby objects, or by involving found materials directly. For instance, I remember one piece with a lovely metallic O that had been fashioned from a leftover candy wrapper.

In the photographic medium, this effect of involving the world around you increases exponentially. You can’t just draw the shape; you have to find it. And in the process, your eye becomes sharper, and your sense of the wide variety of ways in which shapes can manifest in the visual field becomes more acute. And if all this sounds like some kind of work, forget that — tic tac phOto is incredibly fun and nearly as addicting as Angry Birds, only a lot better for you and a lot more fun to look at, too.

Margerum got started on the development of tic tac phOto when he discovered that his next-door neighbor, Kyle Coburn, was an app developer, and since then, he’s been at it nonstop, refining and improving the experience as well as releasing a 99-cent version that’s ad-free. For more, visit and


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