star of arabia 2

in the world
there is a cave

and the eye that looks from it
sees the star of arabia

years have passed
the eye, unblinking
looks from it

pale, dark, written with red
sees the star of arabia

the wind blows
the sand is rewritten
the eye, unblinking

there is a cave
in the world
pale, dark, written with red

and the eye that looks from it

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September 27, 2007

Artists and Craftsmen

Here’s another theory in the rough; something that I think is relevant to Fractal Art, and probably all artforms: There are “Artists” and there are “Craftsmen”.

An artist is… I don’t know what an artist is, exactly. They make “Art”. What is art? It’s more of a concept, somewhat subjective in nature, but not just anything at all. When we look through an art book, something general, like a history of art, then we know what art is. You can feel it, or sense it, maybe not while viewing every item, but I think we all sense something when viewing art that we don’t sense when we’re looking at an image that is merely nice to look at or colorful.

Nice to look at. That’s the other kind of work. People who make works that are only “nice-looking” are what I would call craftsmen. This isn’t supposed to be an insult; it’s just describing what takes place, describing the audience’s experience, or at least mine. Good craftsmanship takes talent, experience and dedication –technical ability. Think of “well-crafted furniture” as opposed to sculpture. They both have qualities of beauty but one of the items is the work of a craftsman and the other is the work of an artist.

Amsterdam Canal

It takes a great craftsman to produce a good copy of an artist’s work. But it takes an artist to design the original. There are probably artists with great ideas that never bring them to fruition because they lack the skills of the craftsman necessary to do that. Artists work with ideas; craftsmen work with media (paint, clay, computer code, tools).

Artists can also be craftsmen and vice versa. In fact, you could say that someone acts as an artist when they’re creating art and as a craftsman when they’re “crafting” something (manifesting the idea).

When something looks really ugly but captures our attention and causes us to feel something and think “deeply” about it, that, I think, is art and nothing more than art. When something looks really “cool” and causes us to feel good or happy, like sunshine, trees and a handful of balloons kind of happy, that’s craftmanship. Eyecandy is probably a better word; sweet, but only satisfying in a shallow, temporary way.

So you’ve got eyecandy at one extreme and at the other, stuff that may lack any sort of visual “attraction” yet is captivating and engaging to the mind in a deep, exhilarating way. Of course, art can be as colorful and sweet as a sugary piece of eyecandy. The essence of art being, I suppose, that it’s beautiful without “looking” good. Or rather, it’s beauty is of an inner kind, which stimulates the mind and it’s appearance is irrelevant.

You could say, I suppose, that there are two kinds of visual beauty: eyecandy, and art; surface and substance. Which is better? or more important? Well, they’re different, aren’t they? Like the proverbial apples and oranges, or like candy and “food”. We want them both, I think. Although I suspect we’d put greater importance on art, the nutritious stuff, because it’s serious and deep, but what I think most people prefer is a combination, some balanced amount of both.

Alright. How “balanced” is Fractal Art? Is it all just craftsmen?. Can an internet search bring up nothing except gallery upon gallery filled with superbly crafted toys for our little eyes and tiny minds to play with, to get bored with, grabbing up another, every few seconds, then going on to the the next brightly coloured Disney-thing in the toybox/website until we’re told it’s time to brush our teeth and go to bed?

The real challenge I see for Fractal Art is, how do you make the deep, thought-provoking, serious kind of art with something like fractals that are generally abstract and lack most of the rich meaning and symbolism that realistic imagery can contain. In other words, how does one move beyond the mere “cool graphics” and “awesome” eyecanding to anything else at all?

My strategy is to focus on the creativity of the algorithms and give the machine a free rein. (Let the computer become your brilliant assistant and steal everything it makes.) This means lots of experimentation, high volume, and picking out the stuff that looks good (if there is any). Of course, I like that sort of thing. It’s fun to play with parameters and anything random.

The other strategy I can see is much more traditional and doesn’t appeal to me at all. You use the fractal machine to produce images that you then assemble (layer) and tweak (mask, I think) and do other stuff, until the artist has actually created a piece of artwork pretty well by hand. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s the normal way to make art, or was, I suppose, but surprisingly it tends to turn people into craftsmen rather than artists which is quite the opposite of what you’d expect, isn’t it? You would think that human intervention –human expression– would be the essence of art, and the raw output of a machine, lacking any sort of intelligence or intent, ought to be limp and lifeless and artless (no pun intended).

It doesn’t have to be, but it’s been my experience that where you find the unexpected, you are more likely to find art. A very creative mind can produce an unexpected piece of fractal art through layering and masking, but it’s hard, and I might add, getting harder everyday. It requires craftsmanship of the highest order.

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September 25, 2007

Fractal Art isn’t Rocket Science

The Fractal Art world is an odd place. The strange combination of technical people (mathematicians, engineers, programmers) and artsy, creative people is curious and could almost be the setting for a mystery novel. My wife once told someone at work about my fractal hobby and said they were really impressed after visiting my website that I knew so much about chaos theory and fractal math. Hmmn… I wondered, why would they think I knew anything about math?

Recently, while looking into things, I came across an interesting association of attributes: science credentials and Fractal Art. I “hmmn-ed” again. What’s all this science stuff got to do with making fractal art? Would it help me if I had such a solid math and programming background as these super stars did? It doesn’t seem to be helping them out too much. Although, honestly, some of the “scientists'” works had genuine artistic appeal.

The Rocket Scientists are the sword-makers of our artform. They adapt new fractal formulas and all that “chaos stuff”, molding it into forms that are practical and useful in our hands. All our tools come from them, and the tools of the future will come from them also, not from people like me.

Blah, blah, blah… I could go on like this forever. I propose a toast, in honor of all the…

Houston, I have a problem

Moving on. What confuses things is that the “tool-makers” can also perform the role of “tool-users”. But the skills and abilities that lead to good tool making are irrelevant when it comes to using those tools to make art. They might as well be two different people because when the “scientist” takes up the tool he made, he begins the same process of discovery as everyone else who takes up that tool.

Building the racing car vs. driving the racing car. Designing the airplane vs. piloting the airplane. Crafting nunchuks vs. swinging them like Bruce Lee. Making a guitar vs. playing that guitar.

Sure, the tool maker immediately knows how to operate the tool, and may know an awful lot about operating that tool, but being creative requires more skill than just being able to use the tools. Actually the tool maker may have a handicap: he may think he has an edge over the one who is merely a tool-user and come to think his tool-making experience gives extra weight and an enhanced quality to his artwork. Artistic activity has psychological challenges (objectively evaluating your work; creative inspiration) that the quantitative sciences have less of.

Fractal math is challenging and requires math skills that one can’t acquire quickly (I’m guessing). Programming is another thing that takes dedication and work to be able to do well, especially when complex operations have to be presented via an interface that is easy to use. But Fractal Art is Art; it’s got its own set of skills and talents, which in the same way, also count for nothing when applied to the world of mathematics.

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September 19, 2007

Song of the Geese

They sang radio waves
a chorus concurrent
talking sky river

At night they continued
gleaming monologic
radio and stereo
trumpet tail space

By morning it stank
video atomic vomit
rotting radio-liloquoy
gusting disgusting

It’s been a while since then, and the geese have come back.
Smaller and not as noticeable.
Silver steel mandible
hollow horn handle
copper creel cribable

Tim Hodkinson

August 28, 2007


If you’ve ever driven on a highway in a snowstorm you probably know that the best way to stay on the road is to drive with one wheel just off the edge of it. I think that’s a good technique when it comes to creative activities: stay half off the road. It’s slower, but ironically, you never end up going off the road completely.

While trying to find the outer creative edge of the Block Wave filter from showFoto, I discovered a rather interesting effect that mimics the natural effect of trying to scratch something to pieces. Not everyone may enjoy this pulverized effect, and I had my doubts too, but it gives a delightfully decayed and overgrown feel to imagery that is all too often polished and recognizable.

There’s such creative potential in distortion filters once you’ve discovered where the road ends and where the ditch starts.

Tim Hodkinson

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August 26, 2007

Ant Works

It’s always amazed me how careful and disciplined insects can be. One of the many wonders I saw when visiting the tropical Gulf coast of Mexico were leaf-cutter ants. Up here in Canada (Toronto), ants don’t do much except crawl around and occasionally make an anthill. Leaf cutters make Canadian ants look primitive.

Although leaf-cutters can probably be a problem when they decide to remove all the leaves off a tree you’d like to keep, they can be quite inspiring when you consider how tiny they are, and what enormous achievements they can make just by being cooperative. The Block Wave distortion filter from showFoto and the digiKam project, makes me feel I’ve harnessed a colony of digital ants to dig and chew old images into astounding new things.

This image resized to 600×800 and zapped with Block Wave, default settings, gets the above image

Perhaps, “harnessed” is not the right word. Unleashed is a more accurate one. The ants march to the beat of their own drum, their own set of instructions, which I rarely understand, but gradually learn to work with.

And to appreciate. Nothing is more pleasant than to be able to just watch insects work away without the fear that they might be threatening you. Well, actually, I suppose there is something more pleasant than that: it’s the expectation that they’re working for you, creating something of such curious appearance, that you could never even begin to imagine, much less produce on your own.

I think the label “artist” is an offense to the great machineries that make these things. These block-wave ant-drawings are more than the results of human effort. I think of it as a digital beekeeping. There’s the hive, and here’s the honey. I slide a blank sheet of digital paper into the hive, and the bees do their thing. Later, I take it out and either start all over again or save it, as is. I don’t change a thing. How can you sweeten honey?

Tim Hodkinson

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August 9, 2007

showFoto 0.5.0: Doorway to the 6th Dimension!

Made from the original, below, using Block Wave with default settings on a resized (enlarged) version

I wonder how many of us, capable of doing so many things, would be reduced to only one single, useful, function if the people we live or work with could custom configure us? That’s the way I’ve come to look at the digital camera program, showFoto. Sure, it’s probably useful for handling digital photos (I think that’s where the name comes from) but it’s distortion filter, “Block Wave”, is all I think of when I use the program.

Actually, I guess it’s not really a feature of showFoto but the digiKam filter plugin that installs the incredible block wave filter. These are both Linux programs, but I don’t think it matters much since these are fairly plain and generic functions that can be found on any operating system. Although I’m not a programmer or math person, I suspect the block wave filter I’ve used, while not as common as the circular wave, implements algorithms that are relatively simple and have been in use for some time.

That’s where I, the digital coach comes in; paying attention to what works and what doesn’t, and directing the efforts of the passed-over, and laughed-at, filter effect and guiding it onward to Olympic, NBA, and World Cup glory. Another digital Cinderella story.

Original, India Inked fractal from Inkblot Kaos

A few notes:
-I don’t know why anyone would ever want to apply this filter to a digital photo, not even me, but that’s where I found it.

-The image needs to have some fine texture or outlining in it (such as the patterns produced by the India Ink photoshop plugin) in order to produce freaky details, otherwise it just makes globby stuff, which is what most distortions usually do.

-a simple recipe is this: take any image, apply the India Ink plugin (unless it already has clearly defined details), then let ‘er rip!(apply filter).

Block Waved in showFoto using default settings

It’s the most creative graphics filter I have ever found; good example of what I like to call “click-art”, simple transforming effects. Better than multicrystal.8bf or uscomic.8bf (and that’s saying a lot). Most distortions filters produce predictable, distorted (ie. ugly) effects, but the effect of this one can be quite creative, although it’s probably a very simple, mechanical process. The “reaction”, or combined effect of the image and the filter, produces something neither of them can really take credit for. (The “Dick and Perry” effect.)

“Block Wave” doesn’t really describe the effect very well, although it may be a good description of its function. Here are some better labels I hope the developers will consider for the next update:

Melting Fog-Cloud Bejeweller

Martian Hieroglyphic Dither

Mayan Secret Script Revealer

Onion Dome Crystal Freeze Pillarizer

Amoeboid Diode Circuit-Board Generator

Alphabet Dissolving Ray

Secret Snail Machine

Alien Fingerprint Spray

Micro-Circuit City Shaper

Martian Undersea Resort Builder

Bubble Pillar Ghost Cloud

Aztec Schematic

Ant World

Liquid Light/Dripping Mind

Tim Hodkinson

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August 3, 2007


The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale, and, though very beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore; yet this pond is so remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a particular description.

It is a clear and deep green well, half a mile long and a mile and three quarters in circumference, and contains about sixty-one and a half acres; a perennial spring in the midst of pine and oak woods, without any visible inlet or outlet except by the clouds and evaporation.

The surrounding hills rise abruptly from the water to the height of forty to eighty feet, though on the southeast and east they attain to about one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet respectively, within a quarter and a third of a mile. They are exclusively woodland.

All our Concord waters have two colors at least; one when viewed at a distance, and another, more proper, close at hand. The first depends more on the light, and follows the sky. In clear weather, in summer, they appear blue at a little distance, especially if agitated, and at a great distance all appear alike.

Walden is blue at one time and green at another, even from the same point of view. Lying between the earth and the heavens, it partakes of the color of both. Viewed from a hilltop it reflects the color of the sky; but near at hand it is of a yellowish tint next the shore where you can see the sand, then a light green, which gradually deepens to a uniform dark green in the body of the pond.

…I have discerned a matchless and indescribable light blue, such as watered or changeable silks and sword blades suggest, more cerulean than the sky itself, alternating with the original dark green on the opposite sides of the waves, which last appeared but muddy in comparison. It is a vitreous greenish blue, as I remember it, like those patches of the winter sky seen through cloud vistas in the west before sundown.

We have one other pond just like this, White Pond, in Nine Acre Corner, about two and a half miles westerly; but, though I am acquainted with most of the ponds within a dozen miles of this centre I do not know a third of this pure and well-like character. Successive nations perchance have drank at, admired, and fathomed it, and passed away, and still its water is green and pellucid as ever.

Tim Hodkinson (just the pictures)

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July 28, 2007

A New Dark Age

If most of the great works of art are depictions of natural things like landscapes and human forms, then shouldn’t we expect digital imagery which creates an new kind of natural thing, like fractal formulas, to have the same depth and richness and artistic potential?

While there may have been some minor developments in the technology involived in painting during the Renaissance, the great artwork of that era came about because of changes in how people thought and how that thinking influenced their painting. Is Digital Art stagnating, not because it lacks new tools, but because of our own medieval thinking that causes us to look backward and take our cue from what has been, instead of taking our cue from what could be?

If someone with real artistic talent and a little bit of an education had creative tools like the ones we have now, wouldn’t they have posted something somewhere on the internet and wouldn’t it be fairly easy to find since even second-rate art, especially when it’s easily accessible, is hard not to talk about and point out to others?

When my own work becomes the best thing I’ve seen lately, then I’m either becoming blinded by egotism or living in what can best be described as a new dark age.

Tim Hodkinson

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July 14, 2007

Why I don’t use Ultra Fractal

In a nutshell, it doesn’t do what Inkblot Kaos, Sterlingware, Tierazon or Xaos does. I want something that sprouts artwork after a couple of clicks. Ultra Fractal? It’s just too much work. Too many layers Too many moving parts. Too many moving parts that I have to move.

My first attempt at Ultra Fractal was three or so years ago. I don’t remember what version. I didn’t seem suited to it, but I didn’t think much about it at the time because I had plenty of other new fractal programs to work with. I didn’t know much about fractals in general, so I discounted my doubts about Ultra Fractal figuring I just didn’t understand it.

I picked it up again a year later because I had seen some really awesome artwork made by Paul DeCelle. I looked at Paul’s work and thought, “I want the machine that made that and I don’t care if I have to pay for it”. Well I downloaded some UF parameter files by Samuel Monnier (thanks, Sam) in hopes of getting some insight into the secrets of making these intriguing images. I have never seen anything take so long to render. It had something like 18 layers or parts to it.

Yes, some of you may be thinking, “Only 18?”. Well, I got Paul’s machine all right. What I didn’t realize at the time, but I have now come to understand, is the machine doesn’t make the artwork, the artist uses UF as a tool to make the artwork with. The program doesn’t come with an artist.

You see, that’s the whole problem. There’s no digital Rumplestiltskin inside UF like there is in most other fractal programs. Stop me if I’m wrong, but UF is all about layers, and layers are chosen and positioned by a human mind and not a computer algorithm, although an algorithm may have made each layer, separately. This may explain why there is very little really “freaky” stuff made in UF: there’s too much artistic control.

To borrow an expression from the Bible: Freaky is begotten, not made. It comes from chaotic and mathematical algorithms, not from human hands, not even talented human hands. (And your own skill and talent is the key requirement for making good artwork in UF.)

Even Gertrude Stein agrees with me. Here’s what she had to say about UF; “Freaky is not as strange as we can imagine. Freaky is stranger than we can imagine.”

Tim Hodkinson

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June 23, 2007