Needlepoint fractals

Long before electronic computing, Grandma Mandelbrot made this simple needlepoint image.


Download parameter file needlepoint.xpf

Pillows, quilts, tea-cosies and table cloths: everything in the old homestead was decorated with her unique designs.

Book covers; curtains; table napkins; shirt collars: she was quite a prolific needlepointer.

Dresses; gloves; winter coats; canvas shoes; horse blankets; socks; bed sheets; coverings for the piano legs; doll clothes: she was nuts, obsessed, out-of-her-head; needlepoint all day, needlepoint all night…

She ran out of fabric. Her daughter burnt the wooden frame thing and took a hammer and drove all her needles into a piece of firewood.

She had extras, hidden for just such an occasion. She stole more fabric.

Back then there was no psychiatry or stuff like that so they just pleaded with her to stop and tried to keep visitors away from the house out of embarrassment.

Until she sold one.

Then it was dear mother this, and dear mother that. Get mom some more thread from town. Rip an arm off your shirt somebody, Ma’s out of fabric!

She became rich, but didn’t spend any of it except for materials. The kids came to visit alot more and then quit their jobs and moved in permanently to help count the cash.

She was just a money making machine to her family by now, and they frittered away every cent they could steal from her, which was just about everything.

They found her lying on a pile of finished table cloths. A couple days had gone by. Her kids hadn’t noticed she was dead.

Then they went out, sold the table cloths, leaving her on the floor, and never returned.

She didn’t even get any credit for what she had done. Her kids became famous in her place since they told everyone that her unique designs were theirs, and in turn sold away the rights to a major textile manufacturer.

Yep, the sad story of the first fractal artist. What a life. Ripped off beyond recognition and left for dead.

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November 4, 2005

Brave New Fractal World

“Fractals make the Sistine Chapel look like cave paintings” -Walter Merton, World Museum of Art


Download parameter file image_8.loo

Just what could the future look like if serious and hardworking artists discover the creative power of fractals?

In the year 2025, not too long from now, fractal imagery is everywhere. The restoration of great masterpieces, like that of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel have been abandoned. According to a leading restoration expert in 2025, “Why should we spend millions of dollars and years of effort when I can make something better with my computer in a few seconds?”

In schools of the future, the same attitude prevails. I open my son’s university textbook on Art History: It doesn’t start with Greek pottery and busted figurines. Chapter one, Origins of Art, is a biography of Benoit Mandelbrot.

“If you want to see what we used to call ‘the old masters’ today,” says Vito, a retired gallery curator, “you have to go to a museum. People laugh if you call it ‘art’ these days. They call it folk crafts and say it belongs in a museum, but only if it’s at least 300 years old. I don’t know, maybe they’re right.”

Vito continues, “Most galleries dumped the old stuff years ago. I’ve got everything ever painted by Whistler in my garage right now. There were coffee grinds on his mother when I fished her out of the garbage behind the gallery.”

I’m shocked. I ask Vito what happened to things like the Mona Lisa. “She was painted on wood, you know. So chances are she’s still around, maybe covering over a broken window or something, who knows? Everthing on canvas was rolled up and tossed. I mean, how many of these things does a museum want?”

You can look all day in magazines, at advertisements, on television and even in art stores, and you won’t find anything but fractals, in the future. I thought I saw Van Gogh’s Sunflowers on a kleenex box in Walmart, but it turned out to be another fractal.

I contacted Walter Merton, the curator of the World Museum of Art in New York, and asked him, point-blank, “You don’t really believe that art began with fractals, and everything before that was junk, do you?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it junk, exactly. There’s a few things I’ve seen that are rather interesting, culturally speaking. But there’s not much to it, artistically. A small brush, some paint and a square of fabric. In the past that’s all they had to work with, so it was a real accomplishment back then. But you can’t put it in the same category as something so sublime as a mandelbrot. No serious art gallery would.”

I told him that many classical oil paintings took months to complete by painters who had decades of training. All he could say was, “Great, good for them. But so what? If I look closely at even a mediocre fractal piece, I see incredible detail, the product of millions of perfect calculations, the mathematical roots of the universe revealed. If I do the same with the old ‘folk pictures’ you’re talking about, I might see a smudged finger print or some dirt.”

After that I have no more questions. It’s 2025 and I’m just an old man who doesn’t get it. Like the retired curator with a garage full of Whistlers, I’m also thinking, maybe they’re right. I always thought fractals would someday take their rightful place in art galleries, but I never dreamed they’d take over the world.

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November 3, 2005

Color Town

I just can’t get over the goldmine of color that’s been liberated by the orbit counting render methods. Until this happened, I’d come to accept the earthy and subtle colors of Sterlingware as just one of the characteristics of the program.


Download parameter file color01a.loo

It’s truly a program that can produce a great range of fractal imagery.

This image uses the “03) orbit counting” render setting, although the 02 one works well also. 04 and 05 don’t give quite the same results.

The only other parameters of note are the Stalks and Bubbles radius that has been upped from 0.05 to 0.50, and the iterations, which has been decreased to 10 from 30. The iterations value doesn’t much matter so I lowered it to increase the processing speed.

But it’s the color that’s most important. The color number is 11. Never before have I seen anything look good with this number. In fact, all the colors below number 13, I considered a waste of time to experiment with. I had actually begun to wonder what they were there for since they didn’t seem too useful.

Well I guess it just goes to show that fractal programming is all about incorporating potential and increasing the options available to the user. Fractal programs are just tools, and until you figure out how to do something with them they seem pretty useless.

Why not get even more techinical? The image is a Jpg, which makes sense since it has so many areas of smooth, gradual transitions (gradients). But I shaved 10% off the file size by saving as a 156-color, dithered (the GIMP’s Floyd-Steinberg) png.

There’s something about high saturated color that the Jpg compression doesn’t work as well on, and to offset this you have to increase the quality (decrease compression) which of course increases the file size.

Gif will probably give the same results as Png, and although Gif is not proprietary anymore, they still have this evil aura around them left by the Unisys LZW attack-on-the-internet patent thing.

Yep. Digital art is the big leagues. A guy like Leonardo da Vinci wouldn’t stand a chance today. He’d be a bat boy or a hot dog seller, just so he could get into the stadium and see the pro’s play without buying a ticket. I guess the poor fellow was born in just the right historical period, where his simple talents could shine in the primitive darkness… him and all those other wannabe digital artists, like Michelangelo…

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November 2, 2005

Take off your shoes, worm!

And grovel before the King of Sterlingware.


Download parameter file keepontruckin.loo

I’m joking, ha ha, keep your shoes on. But I just can’t get over having all this blogging power at my fingertips. And for free too.

I remember reading a book about the difficulties of getting a book published. It was really depressing how hard it is for good authors to find a publisher.

Of course, from the publisher’s point of view it’s not easy to find works that will be profitable. Printing books is expensive and it seems fewer people read these days… and it’s just that sort of depressing dilemma.

But look at all this. Blogger gives you unlimited blog space for free. No ads, simple to use templates.

Who’s paying for all this? Well actually, it’s all rather cheap to start with. Publishing blogs, or any other online content is nowhere near as costly as the old book method. And Blogger belongs to Google and Google is the friendly giant of the internet with a great big castle and plenty of room for the whole global village.

Now, for the first time in the history of the world, or maybe just the industrialized world, any book can be published for free!

It’s as if Blogger and other free internet services have made us all royalty. We can publish anything we want as if we were kings and had a royal printery at our service.

I’m sure something really great is going to happen. All the obstacles between creating and publishing have been removed and nothing can stop the great minds of our time. The disease of unpublishment has been eradicated.

Sure, there’s going to be alot of mediocre stuff published but the good stuff will shine through, eventually. Copyright will be virtually meaningless (no pun intended). After all, it only exists to protect the rights of publishers to restrict distribution so they can rip off writers with one hand and consumers with the other.

If you think about it, and I have, the cost of buying a book reduces the number of people who will read it. If your goal is to disseminate your writing, the price of a book acts as a tax on that and you’re better off giving it away in the long run.

Writers have never made any money and that won’t change. Of course you could try selling your ebook downloads for one dollar. You’ll probably make more money than if it was printed and sold for thirty-five. It will be so convenient people won’t bother trying to steal their own copies. And every penny will be profit for the author.

Alright, it might be hard to make any money off that sort of publishing, but all writers should have real jobs too. If only for inspiration and to slow them down and prevent them from writing too much. I mean, look at me, if I didn’t have dishes to wash and laundry to sort, all my posts would be as long, or longer, than this.

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November 1, 2005

Fractum Bookmarkum

I love Latin. Not the real thing, just the style and sound. Everything just sounds more important and serious.


Download parameter file book01.loo

How about Carpe Diem? Wow, eh. Why not Carpe Fractum? “Sieze the Fractals” And here’s one for the professional sales folks, Carpe Dinero: Seize the Cash.

The motto of my university was, Tentanda Via. They told us it meant, The way must be tried! That’s a good one for Sterlingware because I think the secret to Sterlingware is to try everything out, experiment.


Download parameter file book02.loo

It makes experimentation very easy since you can change menu options and instantly see the changes. What happens usually is that I make so many changes that I wander away from what I was working on and get lost. But that’s the best way to randomize your actions: get lost.

So perhaps the motto of my university should really say: Tentanda Via! – Get Lost.

Which brings me to an interesting anectdote. Last time I visited my old university, I actually did get lost. It had only been about seven years, but they had done so much building I couldn’t find the place I was looking for.

They really made the place look “nice.” When I was there it was mostly poured concrete everything. One lecture I had was in a large room that had a concrete floor, concrete ceiling and textured concrete walls. It was a cave, I liked it.

In the winter I used to call it, affectionately, Ice Station York. Snow, ice and grey concrete outcroppings. They hadn’t tried to create a minimalist masterpiece, but there it was.

They’re calling me again this year, like every year, to raise money from their alumni. For what? Better buildings and improved facilities. I don’t know how to tell them that I liked the old wasteland the way it was.

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October 31, 2005

Dance of the Microbe

I’m fascinated with these mini-sputniks. They also have some strange technical characteristics.


Download parameter file swimmer07.loo

For instance: they look good with color numbers 1-12 which is unusual as most Sterlingware images only work well with 13-26, which generally have few saturated colors. As a result there’s a greater range of color options for these orbit-counting creatures.

Also, the formulas produce clusters and even isolated, structures making it possible to find images, like the one here, that look like portraits. My images are usually “fractal-scapes,” featuring part of a huge fractal object. The image here looks like a few plankton floating in seawater.

Another peculiar thing is that the orbit-counting images look fine with no anti-aliasing. Curved shapes in particular benefit from the smoothing effects of anti-aliasing, yet the orbit-counting images, like the one above, abound in curves and look fine with no anti-aliasing. This one doesn’t have any anti-aliasing at all (options are: 2:1, 3:1, 4:1) although, the tips of the tendrils might have looked less broken had I applied it.

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s always something new waiting up there in fractal land, for those who are willing to climb the beanstalk. I don’t think we’ll ever see them all.

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October 30, 2005

Behold, the Sugar People

More orbit counting creatures, harmlessly shot with the camera and still living at large. Look at the color. Doing the RGB scrabble game (GBR-RBG-BGR…) produces some fine alternatives too in this image.


Download parameter file swimmer01.loo

There’s a famous abstract artist whose works are stored forever in my mind, but whose name I can’t remember that painted some zippy, spritely characters like this.

They have a nice Christmassy look to them. I always thought that fractals would make nice greeting card images, but getting the same thing to come out of your printer as what you see on your monitor can be a real challenge.

I could never paint or draw something like this. Without Sterlingware, I’m nothing. The colors too; there’s more than two, and the whitish highlights on the creature’s arms and legs extend out to become the thread-like tendrils that go squiggly and disappear.

People can’t imitate fractals, and fractals can’t imitate people. I think they complement each other though. I mean, I haven’t heard any complaints.

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October 29, 2005

Fractal Spider and the Gymnastic Children

The orbit-counting render methods from Sterlingware can be frustrating to work with, but once you find a half decent color setting, there’s a harvest of squiggly creatures waiting for you.


Download parameter file spider01.loo

They have an interesting water color look to them. This is because most color settings are too strong for the orbits and produce a moire-electrified look which can only be corrected by lowering the intensity of the “render” dialog on the color controls.

That’s a nice way to say I fiddled with it and the only half decent thing I could come up was washed out. Color experimentation in Sterlingware is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but it does add an interesting element of surprise to working with it.

I like the faded, vintage look to this one. Usually the fade-ishness just looks dull.

Well, what else? Fractal hunting for sport, that’s what. Orbit counting produces little pieces which often have the appearance of psycho-plankton, atomic-amoeboids and other headless creatoids (say “cree-toydz”) that jump, flip and beg to be photographed.

If you think digital photographs are cheap, fractal photographs are even cheaper. I’ve shot and dragged back to camp quite a few of these beasts while on safari lately. No high explosives, the Sterlingware Wild Game Park isn’t wired for that.

It’s nice to visit a place where the folks are as colorful and friendly as this and don’t beg for money. What am I saying? My own city, Toronto is colorful, friendly and the folks don’t beg for money, much, in the suburbs.

You shouldn’t trust me with factual information, but I heard that 48% of the population of Toronto (2.5 million total) was born outside of Canada. That’s higher than New York or Miami or anywhere.

Well technically, the percentage of foreign-born population in Miami is higher than in Toronto but it mostly comes from a single country, Cuba. And not at all like Toronto where there’s a much wider range of cultures. And Cubans can hardly be considered exotic in Miami, anyhow.

What was I talking about?

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October 28, 2005

Could people be fooled by fractals?

I’m not saying that my fractals belong in the Louvre or anything, but from time to time I come across fractal images that remind me of stuff I’ve seen in artbooks or galleries.


Download parameter file brain02.loo

I wrote about this and gave examples in my previous, short-lived blogs. Examples aren’t really needed and the image above is not intended as one.

I’ve seen images that look just like parts of Salvadore Dali works but mostly images that resemble abstract artwork. I think it’s something to think about as the fractal art genre starts to age: How does an interesting (ie good) fractal work differ from other abstract works currently in art galleries?

I’m sure there are fractal images that when printed could pass as regular artwork and fool almost anyone who is unfamiliar with fractals and despises digital art.

In an online art gallery it would be easy, since it is near impossible to spot the tell tale signs of hand made art, such as brushstrokes or the textures of canvas or paper.

People would be forced to confront the merits of the image alone without knowing what medium it was made with.

Next time you browse a fractal gallery, or any other type of digital art, ask yourself if you would be surprised to know that the image was in fact, a painting or watercolor from some famous gallery. Similarly, next time you look through some hand made art, ask yourself if you would be surprised to know that it was made with a fractal program.

Keep doing that and I think you will be less impressed with hand made abstract art and find yourself having more respect for fractal and other forms of digital art.

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October 27, 2005

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Don’t be ashamed if you haven’t seen it. You can probably figure out the whole movie from the title.


Download parameter file sinetrap01.loo

There’s a special appearance by some famous spacecraft half way through the movie. They used the same spaceships from War of the Worlds, but turned them upside down.

There are other examples of cinematic frugality in the movie. The entire cast is only three people, plus a monkey. Yes, one is called Friday.

One of the guys is killed off in the first five minutes, and Friday doesn’t appear till half way through. Mona, the monkey, advances the plot quite conveniently and even discovers the only food around.

Which brings me to the fractal connection. The food is these funny bean-like things growing on strings in a pool of water. They look just like the diamond shaped things in Sterlingware’s sine-trap 01 render method.

I like the movie. It’s incredibly dated and cliche, but it contains that delightful view of space exploration from the 50’s and 60’s that envisioned a new wild west and a grand frontier.

What exactly happened to the space age? Something brought us back down to earth. The past seemed much more futuristic. The future is no longer cities in the sky, it’s problems on the ground.

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October 26, 2005