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How to Generative Art

Posted by Michelle Chandra on

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If you are thinking of picking up a NextDraw pen plotter (the successor to the AxiDraw pen plotter), you can take 5% off a NextDraw pen plotter or accessories with discount code DIRTALLEYDESIGN2024 when you buy directly from Bantam Tools.

Over the past month, I have received an uptick in requests on my Instagram (follow me @dirtalleydesign) for more info on how to get into generative art and pen plotting!

Rather than dive into the specifics of my own Processing programs, this blog post delves into where you can find more resources and instruction for creating your own creative code art. op art spirograph design by michelle chandra made with axidraw pen plotter

Getting Started: What is Generative Art

First though, what is generative art? For those new to the term, generative art refers to art that is created programmatically. Often times, generative art programs are modeled after natural processes and there usually is an element of random chance so there is an element of collaboration with the computer.

kusudama spirograph pen plot by michelle chandra, drawn with an axidraw pen plotter, generative art

Creating art with code allows you to make endless permutations, there is a high level of precision possible which is a lot of fun to play with especially when plotting your designs, or the final art can be interactive or loop forever (made famous by Dave Bees and Bombs!)

What Programming Language Should I Use?

Pretty much any language you can think of! I personally use Processing, which is a programming environment based in the Java programming language. Artists like Processing because it makes it easy to make changes to their "sketch" or program, and see what is happening. Processing also has a lot of programming power and is geared towards creating visual art.

Many artists these days also use JavaScript and the JavaScript library, p5.js to create their generative art sketches. There is also OpenFrameworks (c++,  relevant if you would like to create shaders.) Pretty much any programming language can be used to create generative art though including Python, R, etc.

Generative Art Resources

If you would like to delve deeper into the realm of generative art, here is a list of resources to get you started (feel free to contact me if there is something I should add to the list below!)

Generative Art by Matt Pearson
Generative Design by Benedikt Gross (p5.js version, processing version)
Form + Code by Casey Reas
The Nature of Code by Dan Shiffman
Learning Processing by Dan Shiffman: if you are new to programming, this is a good place to start! You can learn the basics of programming while making visual sketches.
Code as Creative Medium by Golan Levin (more a resource for educators!)
Getting Started with by Allison Parish
Getting Started with p5.js by Lauren McCarthy
Processing by Casey Reas
Getting Started with Processing by Casey Reas

Online Tutorials / Videos / Etc
Coding Train by Dan Shiffman (free videos!)
Matt DesLauriers- Front End Masters Courses, Graphic Hunters Course (paid)
Eyeo Festival Videos (Free)
Generative Hut (free)
The Book of Shaders
Programming Design Systems by Rune Madsen
How to Draw Generative Art with a Pen Plotter (by yours truly!)

Conferences and Festivals
Moogfest: music, art, technology
Ars Electronica: art, technology 
Resonate: art, technology
Eyeo Festival: creative code, data, art - Minneapolis, MN 
SIGGRAPH: computer graphics, animation  
Dumbo Arts Festival: art, technology 
Gray Area Festival 

Where can I find an SVG to draw with my pen plotter?
SquiggleCam app - takes an image, and converts it to a vector line drawing.
Flow Lines by Maks Surguy
Drawing Bots
Observable HQ Notebooks such as Lionel Raddison

I Already Know How to Code, What Should I Make First?

If you are ready to make some generative art, and are likely already a programmer/developer, then I highly recommend creating flow field art (check out Dan Shiffman's Coding Train videos.) These would be especially fun to draw with a pen plotter!

Other concepts you could explore include small multiples, moire, and fractals.

New to Coding? Start Here First

If you are new to coding, definitely start with Dan Shiffman's tutorials again, but dive into the Learning Processing material where you will learn programming basics (like variables, for loops, etc) while making visual sketches. Or tutorials on p5.js if you are inclined to learn JavaScript! 

All Generative Art, All the Time

But what if you want to learn more?! Check out these additional blog posts:

michelle chandra of dirt alley designDirt Alley Design was founded just off a dirt alley in San Francisco in December of 2016 by artist Michelle Chandra. Inspired by the beauty of street grids, Michelle invented maze maps in which she transforms street grids into mazes. In 2019, she began a new project - geometry art created with code and drawn with a pen plotter. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @dirtalleydesign where she posts new spirograph designs daily 


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  • Thanks for the info. I am just getting into generative art. I build a cheap plotter and use Rapid Resizers Free Stencil Maker to make image then use DrawingBotV3 to turn it into gcode, use a Python script to read the file and send it to an Arduino interpreter I wrote and to my printer. Then I paint on my prints with acrylics. Great fun. Haven’t tried Processing yet but will get there sometime.

    James Demello on

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