Poetry, music, and color

March 5, 2008 at 3:08 pm | Posted in artsy, computers, design, literature, music, programming, school | Leave a comment
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[poem visualizer, designed by me]

One in the morning isn’t always the best time to embark on programming projects of indeterminate length and scope. I learned that last night when, after having spent most of the afternoon and evening on a take-home midterm for my visualization class, I was beset with the dilemma of the extra credit problem. “Design your own poetry visualization,” along the lines of Poetry on the Road. This is a series of graphic designs commissioned each year by the Internationales Literaturfestival Bremen, designed by a team of professional graphic artists led by Boris Müller. The two things that immediately struck me about these graphics were 1) their juxtaposition of visual complexity and conceptual simplicity, and 2) their obvious requirement of a vastly greater number of hours — and sheer programming virtuosity — than the 24 hour maximum allotted for my midterm.

I must’ve been struck with temporary amnesia, or just had an acute attack of masochism, because I promptly forgot about the 3 problem sets that I had been saving up my sleep-hours for later in the week, and proceeded to bang away at Processing (coolest programming language ever) for the next 3 hours. The result, humble by the standards of any legitimate computer artist — but hopefully not of my exam grader — is this, a grid of colored squares representing “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot. I chose the poem mainly because it was long enough to really show patterns in my algorithm, but not so long as to crash the program. (although I would like to run Paradise Lost or The Iliad through, just for kicks.)
Continue Reading Poetry, music, and color…



February 26, 2008 at 12:23 am | Posted in artsy, books, computers, design, geeky, internet, school | 3 Comments
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Community of Variation
[via Context Free Art Gallery and Community of Variation]

For a computer science assignment last week I wrote a program with a friend in Scheme that generates sentences using context-free grammar. By specifying a few basic rules for parts of speech and including a simple word list, you can get some remarkably coherent results — coherent, that is, in a strictly grammatical, minimalist sense. There’s actually no attention paid to the meaning of the words used, or to their relationship with each other, a consequence of the grammar being “context-free.” We had a few laughs using our program to generate bogus math proofs, but instead of puzzling you with a slew of inside jokes and insomnia-induced geekiness, I’ll point your way to a much more impressive — not to mention amusing — application of the same algorithm, this time used to generate an entire scientific paper. You can even put your own name down as an author! Here’s an example passage:

We question the need for digital-to-analog converters. It should be noted that we allow DHCP to harness homogeneous epistemologies without the evaluation of evolutionary programming [2], [12], [14]. Contrarily, the lookaside buffer might not be the panacea that end-users expected. However, this method is never considered confusing. Our approach turns the knowledge-base communication sledgehammer into a scalpel.
[Stribling et. al (PDF)]

Not too bad for randomly generated babble, is it? Continue Reading Context-free…

Day at the museum

January 23, 2008 at 11:14 am | Posted in artsy, harvard, life | Leave a comment
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Mountains, Streams, Sun, Moon (1972) Untitled (1973) Rugged Hills of North America (1989)
The Sackler Museum on campus has an interesting exhibition up right now (which, unfortunately, ends in 4 days). The title of the exhibit is “Tradition Redefined,” an appropriate but rather flat description for what are essentially paintings that defy categorization. A note on the wall of the exhibit explains:

In their inscriptions, older artists note their determined adherence to traditions of expression that go unappreciated in their present surroundings. Younger artists, who have lived and worked for most of their lives in transition between cultural spheres, exhibit a more detached, even ironic view of their place in the world. Past definitions of ethnic or geopolitical identity yield their influence to technology, art markets, and globalization. The customary division between two schools–Chinese and foreign–no longer holds.

The paintings are Chinese not just in the trivial sense of having been made by Chinese artists, but also in the way they make conspicuous use of Chinese artistic techniques, all the while displaying the distinctly non-traditional (read: Western) styles that have made their influence in post-Cultural Revolution China. Of course, whether the results are really a “redefinition” of traditional aesthetics is a matter of debate. All the paintings clearly combine Asian and Western influences, but not all of them use the combination as a way to achieve something novel or meaningful in itself. Continue Reading Day at the museum…

Vector Portraits, Z & L

December 23, 2007 at 11:00 pm | Posted in artsy, design | Leave a comment
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Two more vectors

December 9, 2007 at 5:02 pm | Posted in artsy, computers, design, silly nonsense | 1 Comment
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As you can see, I haven’t gotten a lot of work done this week. These are the first two of 5 vector portraits I’m doing of my roommates (plus myself). They’ll all be integrated into some kind of poster/decoration eventually…



Some of the line drawing is a little dubious, especially the parts on the second image where I had to make up areas that were cut off in the reference photograph. This is probably where it helps to be good at drawing in real life.

What I’m learning about time management skills

December 4, 2007 at 11:58 pm | Posted in artsy, design, geeky, humor, life | Leave a comment
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Illustrator > Homework.


What I missed out on as an aesthetically challenged 14 year old

November 28, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Posted in artsy, computers, rambling | 1 Comment
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I made a few vectors the other day. Clearly I don’t have enough work to do. Convinced I was able to create “art” after reading a few tutorials about “vector art,” I proceeded to learn Illustrator and try my hand at it. The results are pretty, but you’ll notice I prefer calling them simply “vectors.”

The idea behind these vector images, or vexels they’re called if you make them in a raster program like photoshop, is to take a photograph or some other “reference” image, trace the different blocks of color on it either with or without image-processing tricks like posterize to help you, and use layer after layer of these flat shapes to build up a cartoon-like image. You might have been struck by the originality of the animation in A Scanner Darkly, which used a vector drawing technique to convert live-action film into graphic-novel-like frames.

After spending a bunch of hours doing these, though, I realized that most of the vector art people make — my images below included — is bullshit. Tracing shapes on a photo with a computer is probably the only thing easier and less artistic than tracing things on a photo in real life (okay, so it can be argued that operating Illustrator takes more motor skills — not to mention geek points — than holding down tracing paper). Most of the good “digital art” that can be made by Illustrator really isn’t of the posterize-trace-eyedropper tool type. Even if a reference photograph is used, a decent artist usually seems to render the result with a highly stylized digital vocabulary. Since correct proportions and likeness are more or less a given, the real challenge, just like in non-digital art, is to add something to the image.

Even with a healthy dose of aesthetic insight, though, photo-realistic vector art is still unsatisfying to look at. The typical style among skilled vector artists seems to involve anal-retentive layer organizational skills, plus clever manipulations of transparency and color, which achieves an admittedly dazzling multilayered appearance. But these images lack dynamism or impact. It’s almost as if the pictorial “correctness” of digital art is a little stifling. That’s why for the time being, I’m going back to my sketchbook. The paper one. Enjoy these for what they’re worth.

derek.png drawing-038.jpgMy roommate listening to his pants on the headphones. I’m not sure what he hears. I got a little bored after putting in a few layers, so his shirt and arms look a little unfinished. His face also has a slightly weird contour. And the bottom where the reference photo cuts off is a little too obvious in the final product. Was a little too lazy to give a “brushstroke” look to the pants, but after I got the point all the contour tracing got a little boring. Was inspired to go and do some drawing though. Using a pen is much more satisfying than a mouse, although getting the proportions right is definitely more of a challenge in real life.

sunset.png Sunset over the Maine coast. This was a nice ref photo, and I played a bit with the rendering of the reflection as well as the colors. It was also remarkable how realistic I could get the sky to look with some careful color choices (didn’t go directly off the original photo with eyedropper tool), although not as realistic as some of these guys can go in Illustrator.

Reference photos, so you can see how much of a shameless tracer I am:

img_8251.jpg sunset1.jpg

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