This post is about my 6-rule drawings like the two above, and if it looks familiar; it’s based on a set of posts I made on my previous blog last year.
Most of my art right now revolves around crypsis – the ways animals and plants avoid being seen using camouflage, mimicry, and other evolutionary strategies. I’m fascinated by imagining how new species might evolve to hide on human-made materials, including our art. In 2016, I made a whole deck of cards based on crypsis in moths, & last year I collaborated with generative artist Anders Hoff (@inconvergent). Anders creates algorithms that when executed generate art, and I painted/drew on that art as a substrate for imaginary creatures to evolve and hide in. As a preparation for working with him, I picked up some drawing games I hadn’t played in a while. And well… I haven’t stopped playing them.
[The underlying patterns in the images below are made by Anders; the lizard and the frog are creatures I drew/painted over the patterns.]
The 6-rule dot/dash game
This is a drawing game I used to play when I can’t sleep (which, after more than 20 years of insomnia, happens often.) Here’s the method for playing;
Pick 4-6 coloured pens
Make up 4-6 rules
Draw the rules in layers of dots and dashes for n=3
The act of repeatedly drawing dots and dashes is very calming, meditative even. The dots and dashes are reminiscent of Morse code - & it was these drawings that lead me to investigate using Morse code as a generative drawing method the way I do now. In this game however, the output doesn’t encode anything other than the arbitrary rules it’s drawn with.
My dot/dash game used to be a nocturnal habit belonging to the hours when everyone else is asleep. However, when I played it as practice before collaborating with Anders, I found the process of devising rules very engaging, and rule-based drawing wormed its way back into my regular drawing practice. Drawing methods are sneaky little fuckers like that.
Here is an example of a set of rules from a dot/dash game, and the n=3 drawings from them
Use colours sepia, light blue, twilight blue, olive green, and gold ochre
Draw markings in olive green
Connect the markings with black pen lines
There must be an equal number of dot and/or dash layers inside and outside the black-line-connected marks
In layers with sepia dashes, the number of dashes must equal the number of black connecting lines in the nucleating layer
Twilight blue dots can only occur in a layer that also contains sepia dashes
For some reason, there is an unwritten rule in my brain that all these rule sets nucleate the patterns they produce with some kind of black markings or black-connected markings. I didn’t consciously set it myself, but art has a habit of doing whatever TF it wants. These rules were made up on the fly, and are quite flexible. They lend themselves to multiple interpretations, but the trouble is that I think about interpretation as I devise new rules. I find myself instantly thinking about the quickest way to ensure each rule is met, even as I write it. That annoys me slightly, so I experimented with including randomly generated numbers within rules, to delegate some of my subjective control over drawing outcomes.
My first experiments to take away my subjective control of some aspects of these drawings were really simple. To make the patterns above, I used a table of random numbers from 0-99. I started with a black shape, and used the table to decide whether to draw another black shape or a dot/dash layer. So the rules were;
Draw a black shape
WHILE there’s still space on the paper
(IF next random number is greater than the total number of layers in the drawing, THEN draw another layer, ELSE draw a black shape)
As the number of layers increases, the likelihood of drawing another black shape increases. I still had control over where I put the black shapes, what colour to use for the layers, and the dot/dash composition for the layers. To change that, firstly I increased my drawing size to give me room for lots of layers to play with. Then I used sets of between 9 and 20 combinations of dots and dashes to rotate through in order, starting again every time I drew a black shape. You can see me drawing one of these in the video below. The closed captions and transcript also describe some of the other steps added, including locating black shapes at random angles from the centre of the drawing, and cycling through pairs of colours.
Morse code, ink, and moons
From here my generative drawing went in two directions, which cross over sometimes. I started using Morse code as a set of rules for drawing, inspired by dot/dash drawings, detailed here. I’m using Morse code in a current project about everyday ableism called ‘The Little Things Add Up’ which you can read more about here.
I’ve also merged my generative drawing with my non-rule-based ink pattern drawing. Everything abstract I make at the moment seems to acquire a set of rules and become generative drawing, although to be fair; I’m not fighting it that hard!
And because my brain is quite the asshat, I failed to resist merging ink patterns, generative rules, pencil drawing, and Morse code drawing. The number of black markings between moons in the drawing below are based on randomly generated numbers, the size of the moons on randomly assigned diameters, and the black markings are overlaid with Morse code words about moons. There’s a translation here.
Below are some more images of recent generative drawing. After hijacking my abstract ink patterns, generative drawing came for my journaling next, which led to using grids like the ones below. At the moment I’m playing with a grid layout for patterns that use short sets of rules like 6-rule drawings, but don’t use dots and dashes - although the patterns have Morse code drawn over them after they’re made. Morse code has taken over the part of my brain allocated for dots and dashes I think. I’m not really sure where these drawing will go after this. I’d like to make some much larger drawings at a similar scale to my 1.5m sq cellular patterns for Connecting Narratives, but drawings that big use a lot of resources, so they aren’t something I’d normally do casually. Who knows. Watch this space to see what falls out of my brain next I guess…