While most artists would be accused of narcissism if they talked about how great and wonderful their work was, this would not be true of someone who does what I do.

The great creative power of Clickism comes not from an artist’s mind or from their skill in operating the tools of their trade, but in clicking on buttons and occasionally adjusting a slider that improves what they’re looking at.

The only real talent in Clickism is in discovering the talents of algorithms, such as those in photoshop (“photoshop-compatible”) filters. As I wrote once before, Clickism puts the so-called artist in the role of a sports coach whose contribution is the direction of the players in the game and not participating or scoring goals himself.

So with all that put aside, I will talk about the greatness of the “Extractor-scapes”, because I’ve made yet another, and because I still marvel at how rich and creative such a simple sequence of filters can be.

It starts with any image, preferably one with many shades, since that’s what produces the intricate detail once the image is reduced to a mere black and white creation via the Extractor 1 filter from Mario Klingemann’s VM set.

Take the image (anything at all, a photograph is good) and then apply the Overlap 4 filter from Andrew’s Filters #22 set. This can be processed with the Extractor1, but it will have a nice symmetrical, ornate appearance if you click on the Mirror, Mirror filter from the Filter Factory Gallery A set and choose something good.

Now there’s nothing left to do but experiment a little with Extractor 1 and try to produce a black and white ink sketch that looks interesting. As always, one has to experiment and make several tries before finding some worth keeping, but it’s fun to do since you never know what the initial image will produce since the process is complex enough that the final result is near impossible to predict.

It’s a bit like breaking a seal on one of those jars from the Arabian Nights; the ones in which King Solomon was said to have imprisoned Jinnis before throwing them into the sea. Sometimes nothing comes from it; and sometimes out pours a great big cloud stretching across the sky and forming into something dark, ancient and troubling.

June 26, 2008

Photorealism Can Be Boring

Sometimes the primitive stuff is more exciting

A few years ago, I got a video out from the public library called “The Puzzle Channel”. It was a TV show from 1994 that featured short puzzles and mysteries for the viewer to solve. They were all pretty standard puzzles and brain teasers that revolved around a picture from which the viewer had to guess the answer to the riddle or the word that the image described.

What interested me the most was their use of “circa-1994” computer graphics to make the pictures that provided the visual clues for the various puzzles. Although, at the time, they were trying to produce cutting-edge, state of the art computer graphics, when I saw these episodes ten years later (2004) they had acquired a vintage, old-fashioned style to them which was probably never intended, and was in fact probably just the opposite impression that the original audience would have had.

Never judge an image by the number of colors in its palette

Things have changed very quickly in the computing/digital world and now graphics often have a near (close, but not perfect) photographic appearance making one uncertain at times whether they are viewing a computer-made image or a photograph of something real. It’s strange then, that the old style — primitive — computer graphics of The Puzzle Channel would have any sort of appeal to someone like me or anyone with any knowledge of computer graphics who one would expect to admire only that which is current and represents the latest technology.

I think however, that it reveals something about art that is very relevant to the digital art world but is something that has yet to be grasped by many who enjoy digital art: Photorealism can be boring!

Imitating reality is pointless in a world of easy realism (i.e. photography) and in a world which, as stupid as this may sound, realism is common and hardly eye-catching because we see it everywhere, everyday.

I mention this particularly because I’ve gotten the impression from browsing online digital art galleries, that many people seem to feel that the apex of digital imagery is the imitation of real things — photorealism — and that anything that looks “rough” or “primitive” or “poorly anti-aliased” is shrugged off as unprofessional, unskilled or ugly.

With millions of colors available at no extra cost, black and white is unnecessary

I think digital art is stuck in a very limited (and boring) role of trying to “beat photography” and come up with images that provoke the response, “Wow! I can’t believe that’s not a photograph!”. Although occasionally this may be a rewarding pursuit, it’s a creative dead end. What that means for the future I believe, is that the more interesting and more creative digital work will be produced by people who pursue the types of imagery that have never been seen before and don’t currently have categories or convenient labels. Faking photographs won’t make that happen.

Image notes: I started with a previous image and applied, Really Falling off the Paper.8bf and Mirror, Mirror, and some coloring filter that produced the simple color scheme.

June 23, 2008

Engines Everywhere

Vernissage.8bf (square chunks), India Ink (texture lines), a couple of Andrew Buckle’s coloring filters of no fixed address…

I think it’s natural for artists, or creative people in general, to acquire a semi-nomadic pattern of working. Picking up a new method or, in a digital context, a new program — a new type of imagery — eventually leads to boredom unless one moves on to something else.

The new something else doesn’t have to be something you’ve never used before. In fact, I think one gets more out of the various generators they use by taking a break and working with one at a time and coming back and rediscovering the first.

Recently, I worked with Fyre for about a month. I was intrigued by it’s smooth gradients and black and white “colors”; it was a nice relief from the colored chunks of photoshop filtering (i.e. “clickism”). But now I’ve drifted back to the Vernissage filter and working over the blocky results with various filters — back to clickism.

Vernissage, whacked to pieces by picture chopper (?), india inked (as always) then symmetrical-ified by Mirror, Mirror

One of the new things I’ve acquired is the use of a filter that does simple mirroring and produces symmetry. Symmetry can sometimes create more interesting things ironically by simplifying the image as it makes both sides the same.

Symmetry ought to be boring because it creates predictability and literally makes half the image redundant. Our brains however, don’t seem to see it that way; which is what makes art such an elusive thing to study.

June 20, 2008

Seconds in Space

Wild legends always erupted whenever anyone, usually a child, asked how the Mars colony got started. It’s of my opinion that, deep down, everyone knows the real reasons for establishment of the colony, but what exactly happened in the first days and even the first years, has always been the subject of much conflict and contradiction, even when you read the official versions recorded on Earth.

Although the colony was clearly just a badly thought out commercial venture backed by government money, I have often found myself preferring to re-tell some of these homespun legends of how our little martian village got started instead of the more drier accounts that are probably closer to the truth. My favorite one is about the ship-wrecked astronaut, although of all the legends, it’s probably the least likely to be anywhere near the truth. But it just isn’t very entertaining when everyone’s sitting around a table by gaslight at night to save electricity, to tell their children that the whole community was founded by collective greed and scientific stupidity. On the other hand, the themes of ship-wreck and survival are probably concepts we should all be giving more thought to these days, now that the Earth company is no longer around to keep things going.

The way the legend goes is that some astronaut (a lack of facts is a tradition in Mars folklore) was manning a space station in orbit around the planet. The purpose for the orbiting station was to maintain closer control and coordination of the thousand or so probes that were down on the surface searching for mineral resources. Transmissions with Earth suffered from a frustrating delay and the increasing number of probes being used multiplied the problem.

Everyone back home was expecting big mineral and energy finds on Mars in the early days, but after twenty years of nothing they became desperate. The new orbiting station was hoped to speed up the pace of exploration. It probably would have if it wasn’t for the miscalculation of the irregular orbit of an asteroid that was known to be nearby and was now threatening to collide with the space station.

In his attempt to avoid the looming collision with the asteroid, our great nameless ancestor took control of the ship for just a few seconds and descended into an orbit that was much too low and which quickly decayed. This caused the station, and him with it, to crash-land on the surface becoming the very first inhabitant (founding father, some say) of the Mars colony. Interestingly, this entire disaster, caused by only a few seconds of miscalculation, became the trigger that lead to the founding of the entire colony, since the ship-wrecked astronaut’s survival proved that the Martian surface environment was livable without expensive and complicated life support systems. Apparently, in the old days, no one could believe that people could just walk around on Mars like it was Earth.

Such are the marvellous folk-tales still being knitted and spun today around kitchen tables in the Mars colony, when instead folks ought to be spending their time coming up with better ways to locate water.

Image Notes: Tierazon fractals, india inked, tiles a go go, and a few other “effects of unknown origin”

June 16, 2008

First Christmas on Mars

After the original deposits of crystal gas had been mined out completely, the Earth company wouldn’t send out a supply ship unless we could guarantee them that we could send it back at least half full.

Despite our best attempts to lie about new discoveries and fake the levels of crystal in the storage silos, the Earth company wasn’t budging, even though it meant we would not be receiving any Christmas shipment that year.

Some of our folks back home with help from an aid group that helped out starving space colonies like ourselves, got together enough money to send out one of those old-time drop ships.

It was supposed to break apart at ten thousand feet or so and land everything in several parachutes, but my dad said they never worked and that’s why they weren’t used anymore.

It wasn’t scheduled to arrive on Christmas Eve, that was just a fluke. We saw lights in the sky, very colorful, and then a large whitish plasma cloud. I remember my dad pointing up at it and saying, “There’s our Christmas. Thanks for nothing, Earth”.

The colored lights up in the sky continued for about a week and made up for the longer than usual electrical blackouts we were having to conserve power for water purification.

Later on we found these round glass-like things all over the ground scattered between the houses and out in the desert. Dad said they must have come from the botched drop ship delivery, but he’d never seen anything like them, and he’d seen plenty of drop ship disasters.

We collected them and used the glass disks as Christmas tree ornaments and for decorating the living room. At night, during the power outages, the colored glow from the sky coming in through the living room window would reflect off our new ornaments and draw colors on the ceiling.

Although we’d all been there for some time and I was already 12 years old myself, for some reason that year seemed like the very first Christmas on Mars.

Image Notes: The 1st one started off as a Tierazon fractal, India Inked, Really sliding off the paper.8bf (Andrew Buckle), Distortion by transparency.8bf – I think. The 2nd one is a little more simpler; Tierazon fractal, India Inked, uscomic.8bf.

June 13, 2008

Cherry Orchard

My ongoing experiments with the Blockwave filter in Showfoto eventually led me, as is always the case, to diminishing returns. I then started to chart the most unlikely parameter settings to see if I could come up with something else of interest.

The results were images like this semi-obliterated one which, unlike most of the others, had immediate and strong appeal — to me. This scoured canvas seems to radiate the presence of a cherry tree (or apple) in full bloom (they have flowers) on a clear, early spring day.

Will it do the same for anyone else? Will this convey anything of value to another viewer?

1) So what?
2) Who cares?
3) You want your money back?
4) If you were as great as I am, you would see the greatness I see.
5) All of the above.

This is one of the first pieces of unintelligible abstraction that I actually like. Though the fact that I made it myself (pushed the buttons) makes me suspicious that I’m not being objective. But I often dislike my own work, and since I made this several months ago and still like it, I am fairly confident that there’s something worthwhile in it.

You can fool yourself some of the time, but you can’t fool yourself all of the time.

June 10, 2008


This series of images were made about half a year ago and I can’t remember exactly how I made them. However, my visual reverse-engineering skills suggest to me that they probably started out as a fractal and were then were distorted using one of the distortion filters (.8bf) by Mario Klingemann like Distortion by Hue or Distortion by Brightness. They were then India Ink.8bf-ed and subject to some of Andrew Buckles famous filters, particularly some of the color “adjustment” ones. In the words of the Cat in the Hat, “But that is not all, no that is not all”. I then took that single image and produced two versions by shifting the hue in the Hue/Saturation/something else – tool.

I had originally wanted to use this image (the second one was the first made) in a short vignette about weather maps depicting storm systems over the ocean, but I never got around to that. When I finally did this set of “writing on pictures”, I came up with a third paragraph and needed a third image. I then took the first image and inverted (negative) the color. I didn’t want just another hue shift, but it wouldn’t have been hard to make a bunch of variations.

The images are examples of a process I would call, “Clickism”. I’m not sure if it’s really “generative” art in the strict sense (is there a strict sense?). It has a lot of user decision making, but it’s just a matter of primarily of “clicking” on various photoshop-compatible filters (.8bf) and seeing what it does. Since one soon comes up with a “syndrome” or series (gauntlet?) of filters, it’s almost like making your own program out of individual filter modules.

June 7, 2008

A Better Mars

All the images here started out as fractals from Inkblot Kaos, were then modified with India Ink.8bf (black engraving texture), and then modified with various filters for coloring and distortion effects. The text and all the filtering was done in XnView running on WINE in Linux. Come to think of it, they’re all Windows programs running with WINE (a Windows emulator, or something) on Linux – Ubuntu, or actually more like Xubuntu, if you’re interested.


Actually, although I’m sure most of you couldn’t care less, the fonts are Windows fonts too! But really, they’re not “Windows” anything. They’re just applications that “use” the Microsoft Windows platform. If I build my own car and drive it down Acme Incorporated’s road, is it an Acme Inc. car? So if I use the WINE windows emulator to run “Windows” programs, aren’t they now Linux programs? But it all ends up on the internet and viewed through a web browser, which is fast becoming it’s own, html-based platform, isn’t it? It’s all like some kind of cosmopolitan bazaar where everything is a cultural hybrid with several different roots, or no roots at all…


June 4, 2008

Dead Souls

Made from a 2bit BW engraving from an old book with the blockwave filter from Showfoto

Someone take these dreams away,
That point me to another day,
A duel of personalities,
That stretch all true realities.

That keep calling me,
They keep calling me,
Keep on calling me,
They keep calling me.

Where figures from the past stand tall,
And mocking voices ring the halls.
Imperialistic house of prayer,
Conquistadors who took their share.

from Dead Souls, by Joy Division

The creative process has always intrigued me. So much can be made in just a short while when one is “in the grove” or “inspired” or has “the muse”.

I’ve heard of musicians composing some of their greatest work in almost the same length of time that it takes for them to write it down. I think Mozart was like that – on a good day.

When working with Generative Art programs you’d expect the process to be somewhat less constrained by the artist’s frame of mind since so much is done by the software and the artist merely selects – without creating.

My experience however is that the process is really no different from any other creative activity, although sometimes the output of the software can inspire the artist (or whatever that person operating the software is called…).

The reason, I believe, is that pushing buttons can be a very demanding and creative activity and finding and choosing something worth saving is equally demanding in terms of mental powers.

Sometimes we take to the air with the greatest of ease, and sometimes we run ourselves to exhaustion and never lift off even for a moment.

The creative mind apparently refuses to work and, like a donkey, will sit and ignore the strongest of beatings or other incentives, only to get up suddenly and walk non-stop for miles.

Grasshopper! Study the donkey. Be the donkey – and not the stupid fool who beats it.

June 1, 2008

The Crash of Color

Tierazon fractal image modified with India Ink.8bf (fine black engraving lines) then uscomic.8bf (bright 4-color comic book color and colored lines).

I’ve always found making artwork like this to be fun and since it’s just a hobby I’ve never really taken offense when this sort of thing has been described as “Eyecandy”. I’ve never thought of imagery like this as serious art, that is noteworthy or important, but having done some research and thinking about serious art over the years since I started this hobby of digital/computer/generative – art – I’m beginning to see the serious art as being not so far removed from what is often called eyecandy.

What changed my mind about all this and got me started asking myself, “Is eyecandy really just eyecandy?” was a quote by Marius Watz:

The derogatory term “eye candy” has plagued digital art since its inception, and has often been used to deride generative visuals in particular.

I think what it comes down to is partly a lack of intent. Since generative art is “generated” it seems reasonable to assume that such a process which is deliberately lacking in human manipulation and direction rarely produces work that expresses the inner thoughts and feelings of the artist. That alone used to be enough to persuade me that generative art wasn’t serious stuff like the work of a real artist like Picasso or all those other serious folks.

Art that lacks expression or feeling must certainly be shallow, trivial stuff and consisting of nothing more than something “sweet” to look at – hence the eyecandy label.

The first image modified by Picture Chopper.8bf (Harry the Raver)

Although I feel there really is a category of art that is shallow and “pretty” and best described as eyecandy, I’m becoming convinced that there is another type of art that, for lack of proper understanding (including my own), forms a different type of art, posessing the more substantial qualities that fine art does, but which has been carelessly lumped in with the eyecandy simply because it shares the same digital and generative origins.

Sometimes the difference is plainly obvious, but more often one has to really think about what they’re looking at and that can be challenging when the subject matter is largely abstract and open to various interpretations. Just like the crushed stuff I’ve got here…

May 27, 2008