Programmatic Art i.e. Generative Design

Posted by Michelle Chandra on

While a graduate student at NYU, I was really interested in generative design and generative art. This would be art or design that is the result of rules/instructions that a computer interprets to create the art. To create generative art, you would need to program a computer writing various algorithms that the computer executes to create the art. Eventually, my interests shifted to data visualization and I moved away from creating programmatic art. 


While it's been a few years since I left graduate school, I find myself still interested in generative art, especially in relationship to patterns found in nature. I follow a few people on Twitter (such as Matt DesLauries, work pictured above) who are constantly creating interesting generative art and who also are experimenting with AxiDraw (a very cool pen plotter for drawing designs). 



It all looks so fun, that I decided to take a step towards getting back into generative art by purchasing Generative Design by Benedikt Groß. This is the update to his original Generative Design book (which I also own), but the new version uses p5.js (a javascript library, a web-based programming language) for the example code. To view the code associated with the books, check out the site for the books here.

generative design by benedikt

Generative Design Review 

The book begins with a brief overview of basic programming concepts in relationship to Javascript. If you have any sort of background in programming and Javascript, then the first few chapters are a helpful refresher. However, if you don't know anything about programming, let alone Javascript, then you might want to take an intro to programming course before diving into this book!

The book then moves on to exploring how computers render color programmatically. There are two color modes available in p5.js when it comes to programming color - RGB (red, green, blue) and HSB (hue, saturation, brightness). There are several sketches (example code) which demonstrate the color modes in action by displaying the full range of color values tiled on the screen in a grid or circle. There are also sketches to show how to generate color palettes from images or rules.

While in graduate school, I created an animated music visualization called “Waltz of the Stars” which used Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) to analyze the frequency waves of the song. Star Trails is a music visualization that takes inspiration from long exposure timelapse photography of the night sky in which the light trails of stars record the rotation of the earth. 512 stars are drawn over the course of the song, each star representing a different analyzed frequency wave. As the frequency of the stars change over time, the saturation, brightness and transparency of the star that is drawn also changes. I found HSB mode very helpful in visualizing a song in an abstracted way!

generative art music video still data visualization timelapse photography

After reading the first section of the book, I would recommend referencing the p5.js documentation while reviewing the sketches. The book doesn't go into too much detail on the p5.js functions in the sketches, and I found it helpful to review in more detail the parameters for the functions used in the sketches.

Next up in my reading is Daniel Shiffman's Nature of Code. I also ordered The Beauty of Numbers in NatureWhile Generative Design is a good overview of the basics components of generative art (which are also just the basic ideas behind visual art and graphic design, but how to render them programmatically), I plan on quickly reviewing the basic concepts outlined in the book, then moving on to figuring how to execute my own ideas in p5.js or processing. Stay tuned for a review on the last few chapters of the book!

About Dirt Alley Design

michelle chandraDirt 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. 

My maze art isn't just decorative art for your home, it's a real puzzle maze you can solve (if you dare!) I think my maze maps are pretty cool, but don't take just my word for it! My maze maps have been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Print Mag and Vice, to name a few!


generative design

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