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What I've learned from generative art

28 November 2020

Below are some things that I’ve learned from my time making generative art:

Save everything

Each sketch I make, I export an image. This improves my creative coding workflow. Even if something sucks I still export it. Sometimes later on I may like it. I save multiple images. My sketches tend to use a lot of randomness. Each sketch the elements are slightly different. I save a bunch of images to get a feel for the range of things the code produces. Whichever ones feel best I keep.

If I can go back and easily see what a sketch does, I can better evaluate my work. When I want to return to something, it’s easier for me to scroll through my images to see what something does instead of remembering what file the code I want to use is in. Having the images ready also makes sharing them with others less time consuming.

Consistency is key

Like learning how to do anything else, learning creative coding is a process. The key is to show up each day and try to create something new. Showing up isn’t enough. You have to stretch yourself in order to improve. By doing the same things over and over again you won’t get any better. The new things don’t have to be drastic. It could just be expanding on an earlier idea. Or tweaking a couple parameters. The key is to explore and try to learn new things, so you don’t stay stuck.

Learn from others

I could spend the morning looking at other’s sketches, wondering how the hell they got so good. That feels good in the moment, but doesn’t actually help me. The key is to learn from them, not envy them. The great thing about creative coding is that so much of the code is available to be seen. There are no secrets. If there’s something you like, you can see exactly how it’s done.

There are many great tutorials and courses. This is like a chef telling you how his dishes are made. If I see a sketch I like, I explore it. I try to see how it works. I try to modify it, or even break it. A good way to see how something works is to break it. This way I can incorporate techniques and make them my own.

I don’t just learn from other coders. I learn from my surroundings. If something catches my attention I take a photo of it or draw in in a sketchbook. Observing, noticing what’s around you is very important. All artists are good at this. They build it into their days. Observing. On the surface, it seems like wasted time, like nothing is being done. Actually, that’s the most valuable time. Sometimes I feel like I’m not that original. All I do is pay attention to what’s around me and understand it through code.

Nature is very simple and very complex

By coding an algorithm you can get things that look “natural” without too much effort. Natural phenomena can be reduced down to simple rules. Those simple rules are combined and layered to create stunning levels of complexity. Things happen in nature with a precision and on a scale that a computer could never hope to match. On one hand, coding helps you understand nature. On the other hand, it shows how little of it is within our comprehension.