Title: Emergent Harmonies
Subtitle: Generative art explorations through visualizations of natural phenomenon.
Mark making explorations through generative and computational translations.
1) Generative art explorations through mark making experiments and computational translations.
2)Generative art explorations through visualizations of natural phenomenon.
3) Visualizing natural phenomenon through generative art.
Machines and technology are ubiquitous in our lives and are also present in something as subjective as art. Generative art is created through an autonomous and procedural system. The current dialogue about generative art involves questions about originality and agency. How much creativity is derived from the program and how much from the programmer? What role does the designer play if they leave things to random chance? As graphic designers, exploring these questions will help expand how we define our agency within our work. My aim with this thesis is to engage in the community of generative artists using design to add to the dialogue through the discoveries I make in my work.
I began drawing repeated lines with ballpoint pens a few years ago as a way to relieve stress by doodling. The lines started taking a quality of their own over time, depending upon both the steadiness of my hand and my level of patience. I was then introduced to pen plotters and decided to make the plotter draw a set of horizontal lines. I was captivated by the machine as it drew each line so accurately. Watching it was as therapeutic as drawing the lines myself. From there I began playing around with the plotter as a drawing machine.
I have been working with various pen plotting/drawing machines to create a range prints. I started by creating abstract shapes and that lead to an exploration of moiré, a visual phenomenon that I was fascinated by, which then became central to my work.
Something was mesmerizing about watching the plotter draw lines over and over again, slightly curving a little each time, and once you take a step back, a shape appears, and the lines seem to move, they start looking like they’re animated. Like a slow rolling wave on paper.
The shapes were created digitally and drawn with pen plotters. I discovered that the moiré effect works best with black ink on white paper, it is sharper and looks more 3 dimensional. Creating the shapes with a pen plotter versus drawing them by hand would result in very different forms and line qualities. Plotting the same shape multiple times would often result in slight inaccuracies, each mistake would make the print more unique and more interesting than the digital drawing.
There are various interpretations of generative art, I have used Jon McCormack’s definition in my research. “All generative art focuses on the process by which an artwork is made, and is required to have a degree of autonomy and independence from the artist who defines it. The degree of autonomy and independence assigned to the computer varies significantly – from works that seek to minimize or exclude the creative “signature” of the human designer to those where the computer’s role is more passive, and the human artist has primary creative responsibility and autonomy.”
//Anders Hoff, a generative artist, states “…the main point is usually to experiment with a small system that consists of a set of relatively simple rules. Sometimes the goal is to recreate a particular behaviour—for instance, a biological process or some other natural phenomena—sometimes not.”
For the purposes of consistency, I will use the term generative art throughout my thesis to refer to art or design that focuses on the process by which it was created. The term generative art will encompass other terms such as emergent, procedural, or algorithmic design.
My thesis began as an exploration of plotters, drawing machines, and visual phenomenon. This eventually led to explorations of generative art, and McCormack’s “Ten Questions Concerning Generative Computer Art”. The ten questions are:
- Can a machine originate anything?
- What is it like to be a computer that makes art?
- Can human aesthetics be formalized?
- What new kinds of art does the computer enable?
- In what sense is generative art representational, and what is it representing?
- What is the role of randomness in generative art?
- What can computational generative art tell us about creativity?
- What characterizes good generative art?
- What can we learn about art from generative art?
- What future developments would force us to rethink our answers?
The first question – can a machine originate anything? – asks whether a machine can generate something new, meaningful, surprising and of value. Doesn’t the machine need human input? As generative artists, do we not make deliberate decisions? Are we creating the artwork or is the machine creating it? These questions led to me think about the 7th question – what can computational generative art tell us about creativity? How much creativity is derived from the program and how much from the programmer? What role does the designer play if they leave things to random chance? These questions about agency are significant in allowing us to understand and define our roles as designers.
The aim of my thesis was not to answer any of these questions, but merely to engage in the community of generative artists through the discoveries I make in my work. I also hoped to create a body of work and develop myself as an artist throughout the year. The content of the projects gets smaller along the way, they go from macro to meso to micro; space, Earth, and micrometeorites.
Here are some of the people whose work directly influenced my research.
(A full/comprehensive list of all the people who have either directly or indirectly inspired me is placed at the end of the book.)
(people who use cnc/axidraw/harmonograph/other plotters?)
The use of plotters as drawing machines is increasing, although it is not a recent occurrence. The oldest plotter drawings I came across in my research were created in the sixties by Frieder Nake, Vera Molnar, and Manfred Mohr. These three artists were some of the first to experiment with plotters and have certainly paved the way for other artists. Their work and research are all based on algorithms. It is very structured and precise, yet there is always room for explorations.
-James Nolan Gandy
One of the first artists I’ve seen using a drawing machine. He uses a harmonograph as well as other drawing machines he built to draw visual representations of musical harmonies.
Working with code is quite new for me. I always knew that some people created art with code but didn’t know how it was done. These artists have influenced my understanding of what generative art is and what it can be.
I am mesmerized by lines and repetition, finding artists whose work is based on both things is always inspiring. The work is visually dynamic and often gives a 3-dimensional effect. Ryan Tippery, Kevin Townsend, and John Franzen are three artists I came across several years ago. They create all their drawings by hand. My work is heavily influenced by their research and work. I found their drawings when I began making my own and I consider them to be the source of my thesis interest.
-Carsten Nicolai (moire index book)
(title the projects?)
experiments in form, moiré /illustrator
process: generative design?
content: visual phenomenon
form: plotter prints
These explorations are not a project per-se-, however, they were the point of departure for my thesis. I began by experimenting on Illustrator, blending shapes together to create abstract forms. From there I discovered moiré and became fascinated by it. I continued creating moiré shapes and plotting them. At this point, I hadn’t developed my thesis yet and didn’t know which direction I would be heading in. I experimented with animating the moiré forms, first manually on Illustrator and then I discovered Nodebox, a Java software that allows you to create shapes. I began experimenting with it to try and animate, however, I never actually created any moiré forms. Instead, I began learning how to code through Processing. I realized the possibilities are endless and started considering using code for my thesis.
At this point, the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft was ending its mission, and my interest in Saturn peaked. I began wondering if I could find ways to plot Saturn. I made a few quick prints of Saturn and the universe by taking images from NASA and image-tracing them on Illustrator. I also explored different colored pens and papers.
One of the most exciting aspects of working with a plotter is that things never go according to plan. The most significant lesson I learned while working on these prints is to cherish these mistakes. In most cases, the plotter or pen errors made the print much more dynamic and exciting than it would’ve been. These mistakes can give life to the plotter, making it seem like it is making purposeful decisions.
Bridget Riley’s work influenced my approach towards formal explorations, I worked solely with abstract shapes, which I had never done before. Her Op Art paintings seemed to move similarly to the way moiré does. She states: “The pleasures of sight have one characteristic in common – they take you by surprise. They are sudden, swift and unexpected. If one tries to prolong them, recapture them or bring them about wilfully their purity and freshness is lost. They are essentially enigmatic and elusive.” bridget riley
Ryan Tippery, Kevin Townsend, and John Franzen are three artists I came across several years ago. They create all their drawings by hand. My work is heavily influenced by their research and practice. I found their drawings when I began making my own, and I consider them to be the source of my thesis interest. I am mesmerized by lines and repetition, finding artists whose work is based on both things is always inspiring. The work is visually dynamic and often gives a 3-dimensional effect.
My use of ballpoint pens was inspired by Fatma Al-Remaihi and Thomas Müller. Both artists have used blue ballpoint pens to create drawings by hand. They use simple lines in their drawings. However, the quality of their lines, as well as the use of movement and textures, bring the drawings to life. I was drawn to Al-Remaihi’s Hair Play series, her line quality and the textures she created were captivating.
link / link
My use of plotters as drawing machines was inspired by Michael Hersrud’s plotter work. His graphic forms are inspired by spirographs and scientific phenomenon. He states “… drawing is not a physical gesture based on observational or intuitive processes, but systematic and computational procedures that take advantage of, exploit, and disrupt accessible digital tools and software.” This approach to drawing was new to me, and I was eager to explore it. I was curious about the process of creating the shapes as well as printing them with a plotter. This curiosity sustained my interest throughout the year and drove me to explore different directions.
process: generative design
content: space (macro)
form: plotter prints
The explorations with Saturn led me towards other space phenomena, like galactic dust or cosmic dust. Galactic dust is all over space, it is extremely minuscule, yet it creates massive interplanetary dust clouds. Images of the dust clouds on NASA are colorized and look stunning. I liked the idea of taking something as large and unscalable as a galactic dust cloud and then plotting it at a much smaller scale. I used the Hubble Space Telescope images, image traced them in Illustrator and then plotted them.
Image tracing led to a compelling line quality that I hadn’t come across in my explorations yet. That, coupled with the size of the prints and the type of ballpoint pen used, created detailed and textured prints. Some of them looked like the galaxies, others didn’t resemble space at all.
This also led to a quick experiment in which I took some sand and scanned it, image traced it, and then plotted it. After working with space dust, I decided I would try working with dust in Doha, which is much smaller and more accessible. This experiment drew my attention to the way the images are translated in Illustrator – it creates outlines of the shapes. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way they turned out, I wanted to be able to translate the dust particles more accurately. This experiment led me towards image mapping in my next investigation.
landscapes, data gathering, accurate/to scale
process: generative design
form: plotted maps
This investigation began with an exploration of what image mapping is – translating pixel information from images into geometrical shapes. I started by inputting images through Processing and making adjustments to the code to change the lines, dots, and circles. The output depends on some factors, the most important being the brightness and contrast of the image. I could control the shapes, their quantity, appearance, size, and direction.
I used images from space as well as a picture of an extratropical cyclone over Iceland as seen from space. I wanted to find out how many variations could be made with the same image.
From there I moved to Google Earth and used images of different terrains. I was fascinated by the variety of textures on Earth. I decided to create maps with the pictures I found. I also used ‘The United States Geological Survey: Earth Resources Observation and Science Center’ to access more data on the landscapes that I chose. One side of the map displays the texture of the terrain from Google Earth, while the other side shows the height map data.
A web-based tool created by Norm and Jürg Lehni that calculates all the possible combinations of some lines that you draw on the 9 point grid.
micrometeorites, data gathering, accurate/to scale
process: generative design
form: processing sketch/ digital sketch
Having gone from macro explorations of space and Earth, the final project deals with the micro. Micrometeorites are tiny pieces of meteorites that make it through Earth’s atmosphere. They range from 0.05mm to 2mm, they are made of minerals and are magnetic in nature. Put under a microscope, the micrometeorites are shiny and stunning. They are spherical due to the speed at which they fall and the heat they get exposed to when entering Earth’s atmosphere.
The objective of this project is to visualize something so small in large quantities, using the available data about micrometeorites. I also wanted to work with Processing and learn more about coding.
It is estimated that 4 tonnes of micrometeorites fall to Earth every day. That is equivalent 40 billion micrometeorites a day. Current data states that 1 micrometeorite falls in every square meter. Qatar is 132km2, which means that 36,164 micrometeorites fall each day. Taking all that data and working with a physics engine on Processing, I visualized the micrometeorites falling to Qatar in real time; 25 micrometeorites per minute. Processing randomizes the rate at which the 25 micrometeorites fall during each minute, making it seem more natural.
The physics engine, despite it being challenging to work with, allowed me to alter the gravity, friction, and collision of the falling micrometeorites. This makes the micrometeorites look more natural as they fall and collide with each other.
If you could see all the asteroids, what would the sky look like?
A 360 video by Scott Manley, visualizing what it would look like if we could see all the asteroids in space. To make the asteroids stand out against the stars and planets, he alters time so that we can see the motion of the asteroids. They move at a rate of 2 and a half days every second.
This thesis has been a space for me to explore my interests and begin contextualizing them to the world around me. I wanted to create a body of work and develop myself as an artist.
It was difficult for me to comprehend that I can create within a context. I first had to understand why I was creating work the way I was, what was the driving force, and how I could connect my interests to different contexts. It was a struggle at first to contextualize and remain honest with myself. Most, if not all my explorations, were driven by curiosity but feel unfinished. The turning point was the final investigation, which is conceptually more complete. I was able to use generative art within a context that I was curious about.
I hope to continue further with these explorations, I would classify them into two different directions. One that focuses on creative coding, and one that focuses on creating different visual languages by taking the plotter prints further.
-Autonomous: Independent and having the power to make decisions for itself.
-Computational translation/machine translation: Using computers to translate visual input into and outputting a different result.
-Generative art: “All generative art focuses on the process by which an artwork is made, and this is required to have a degree of autonomy and independence from the artist who defines it. The degree of autonomy and independence assigned to the computer varies significantly – from works that seek to minimize or exclude the creative “signature” of the human designer to those where the computer’s role is more passive, and the human artist has primary creative responsibility and autonomy.”
-Moiré pattern: In mathematics, physics, and art, a moiré patterns are large-scale interference patterns that can be produced when an opaque ruled pattern with transparent gaps is overlaid on another similar pattern. For the moiré interference pattern to appear, the two patterns must not be completely identical in that they must be displaced, rotated, etc., or have a different but similar pitch.
-Processing: A flexible software sketchbook and a language for learning how to code within the context of the visual arts.
|Artist or Creator, A. Year. Title: Subtitle. medium (if appropriate). Place: Publisher. Internet address.|
Heimans, Ralph. 1996. Gloves Off (Tom Uren). oil paint on canvas. Canberra: National Portrait Gallery. http://www.portrait.gov.au/portraits/2000.36/gloves-off-tom-uren.
1- Fall – 1963
3- Over – 1966
4-Untitled (Fragment 1/17) – 1965
6-Untitled (Fragment 6/9) – 1965
Al-Remaihi, Fatma. “Hair Play.” http://fatmaalremaihi.com/hair-play.
Hersrud, Michael. “Pen & Plotter Algorithmic Drawings, Faculty Exhibition.” http://michaelhersrud.com/pen-plotter-algorithmic-drawings-faculty-exhibition.
Larsen, Jon. 2011. http://www.geologicnow.com/8_Thompson.php
Lehni, Norm, Juerg Lehni. Sign-Generator 1.0. https://lineto.com/The Designers/Norm/Sign-Generator/Software/Sign-Generator 1.0/.
Manley, Scott. YouTube. June 29, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huC3s9lsf4k.
McCormack, Jon, Oliver Bown, Alan Dorin, Jonathan McCabe,, Gordon Monro, and Mitchell Whitelaw. “Ten Questions Concerning Generative Computer Art.” July 27, 2012. http://users.monash.edu/~jonmc/research/Papers/TenQuestionsLJ-Preprint.pdf.
Riley, Bridget. “Bridget Riley on Bridget Riley.” Artlink, December 2004. https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/2036/bridget-riley-on-bridget-riley/.
“Bridget Riley Feature.” Tate. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/bridget-riley-1845.
Tippery, Ryan. “10 by 10.” https://www.ryantippery.com/10by10.
Townsend, Kevin. “10 by 10.” http://www.kevin-townsend.com/10by10/.