10 Computer Art Projects To Kickstart Your Portfolio
10 Computer Art Projects To Kickstart Your Portfolio
Want to learn creative coding, generative art, computer art or digital art? Then these projects will help you level up, improve your understanding, ignite your passion and leave you with a killer piece for your portfolio.
- A Particle System
- Modeling, Texturing & Shading A Simple Object
- Your First Arduino Project
- Design Kinetic Typography
- Create An Amazing Fractal
- An Audio Visualiser
- Coding A Breathtaking Scene in One File
- Programming A Machine That Paints For You
- Encode Your Fave Book Into An Artwork
- Create a Halftone Image Processor
Are you a technical whizz who fancies turning your maths skills into stunning art? Maybe you’re an artist who is curious about the possibilities of using technology with art? Or maybe you’re a total newbie who’s intrigued by the world of generative art and creative coding?
Whatever your reason there has never been a better time to learn to make art with computers. The world of art and technology are merging more and more everyday and tutorials on computer art have never been more easily accessible!
The world of computer art is vast but sometimes pretty vague and difficult to understand - don’t worry though, you’re in good hands.
I’m a computer artist with 7+ years of industry experience - I’ve been involved in projects from film and games to fine art and interactive applications, all as a computer developer and visual designer.
I’m also a teacher and speaker on creative coding so I know what it’s like to be just starting out on your creative computer journey.
Whatever your background - I've got your back ;)
First let’s clarify some terms and fields - [feel free to skip this part if you are just looking for the best projects to start with]
The Difference Between Digital Art and Computer Art
Wait, there's a difference between digital art and computer art?
While technically you can define almost any artwork made with a computer digital art or computer art, these two terms often describe two very different fields. It is an important distinction to make as you start your journey.
Digital Art: Generally describes artworks created via existing software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Blender, Houdini and Unreal.
Though this is by no means an absolute rule and quite obviously you could even mix both existing software and custom made software to create artworks, in general there is a division.
This is mostly due to this distinction in how an artist uses software - with the writing of custom made software being a crucial expressive component in computer art.
With computer art the software itself is the artwork, not just the artifact created at the end, as is the case with digital art.
As well as this, digital art and the usage of artistic software as a means of production is widely used by the entertainment industry (film, games and commercials). And so if you were to google digital art you’d get far more results surrounding these types of entertainment and stories.
Whereascomputer art is more in the domain of fine art and design.
This is absolutely not to say you can’t have fine art made in Photoshop or you cannot use custom code in digital artwork - in fact most software used in the entertainment industry such as Houdini, Maya and Blender all have a massive programmable component to them. Very often the best digital artists who use these softwares are also very good programmers.
It makes sense - in the same way a traditional painter benefits from knowing what goes into paint pigment, a digital artist benefits from understanding the components of software.
These digital artists are also known as technical artists or technical directors.
The projects we will look at fall anywhere within these two disciplines, so don’t worry about rigidly falling into one or another and instead just go with whatever one seems to pique your interest or lights a fire in your imagination.
1: Creating A Particle System
Do you have a passion for physics or are enchanted by phenomena like flocks of birds and waterfalls? These and more are made using particle systems.
Particle systems are essentially a load of particles, points in space, that have properties like velocity, mass and acceleration and have minimal rules encoded into their behaviour which affect these properties.
It is a very basic (and incredibly fun) simulation.
This may sound super advanced - but the truth is that building your own particle system in a language like Processing is actually much easier than it first appears.
Making your first particle system entails you learning about variables, for loops and other basic programming structures. As well as this you will also learn about how to ‘simulate’ things and linear algebra and physics - the bread and butter of simulations and computer graphics.
It is a fantastic project to start with and is a real test of the basic skills you will constantly use as a computer artist.
2: Modeling, Texturing And Shading a Simple Object
If you love the idea of creating anything you want out of any material using just a laptop then this project is for you.
This kind of project will get you familiar with a typical 3d engine like Blender or Maya, which are commonly used in industries like films and games.
You will learn the full 3d pipeline which is a vital part of learning 3d digital art and teaches you a tonne about creating graphics with computers.
3: Your First Arduino Project
Are you the kind of person that’s always thinking of ways to improve your house? Are you into DIY and novel solutions to everyday problems? Then this might be the project for you.
Arduino is a beginner-friendly way into the world of embedded computers - basically any machine you use that isn’t a computer, TV or device. Things like your microwave, a tv remote, a thermostat and alarm clocks are all examples of embedded devices.
It’s basically a very small, simple and focused computer system that only does one thing.
Arduino is a beginner friendly way to enter into this world. Though not strictly an embedded device, it can be used in much the same way that embedded devices are.
What’s even better is that it is a great combination of hands on wiring and electrics as well as programming. All with the advantage of having a tonne of documentation and tutorials to try out.
Some example projects include
- Creating a numeric display that does basic addition.
- A Fan that turns on when a person is in front of it.
- A beautiful array of animated LED’s.
- A device that measures temperature and moisture of soil.
- And many, many more.
These are usually aimed at kids but don’t worry if you’re an adult - you’d be surprised at just how many popular devices and products today started life out as a simple arduino project.
You’ll end up creating a remote controller for your heating system, an automatic plant waterer and even clap on lights for your home in no time.
The possibilities with Arduino are endless and it’s so much fun to try out with friends and family as well.
4: Design Kinetic Typography
Do you see yourself as more of a graphic artist? Are you passionate about the beauty of font and typefaces?
Well what if I told you that you can explore this passion through code?!
Kinetic design and typography is quickly growing both in popularity and in real-world application.
As signage turns away from printed and physical media to screens there is a massive need for design and content that is interactive and animated. Design that takes advantage of technology.
The wonderful thing about creating kinetic typography through languages such as Processing and threeJS is that it augments your existing skills and vocations.
You can leverage your talents in design and hand drawing with a little bit of code to create projects that will make you stand out in the crowded design-space.
5: Creating an Amazing Fractal
Are you enchanted by the beauty of mathematics? Does the phrase ‘god’s thumbprint’ spark your imagination?
Well then let me introduce you to fractals.
Fractals are digitally generated imagery that truly could not be made without the mathematical power of computers.
The underlying principle in fractals are that they are visualisations of mathematical equations that result in a never-ending-pattern.
They are infinitely complex, meaning you can zoom into them to constantly find more detail. And they are also self-similar, meaning that when you zoom in the detail looks the same as the previous scale.
It is bonkers and truly takes a bit of time to understand them.
But don’t worry, mathematicians and programmers alike are still to this day fascinated by their innate beauty and uncanny properties.
The great thing is that you don’t have to be a maths wizard to get started creating them (and in fact creating them actually helps in understanding them).
You can make fractal art in just about any way as they are fundamentally just an algorithm and there are thousands of amazing visualisations that put their own spin on them.
6: An Audio Visualiser
Are you passionate about music? Do you find yourself focusing on the light performance at gigs just as much as the actual music?
Then audio visualisation is for you.
Perhaps one of the simplest and most satisfying projects here, making your own audio-visualiser combines both visual design with a little bit of maths and knowledge. It overlays nicely with data-visualisation and can start you on a rich and fulfilling career path.
Audio-visual performances and data-visualisation are in massive demand as entertainment and education seek higher retention and spectacle in our screen-centric world.
Making your own audio-visualiser can be as basic or as deep as you’d like - with the result being an engrossing piece of animated or even interactive artwork.
7: Coding A Breathtaking 3d Scene in One File
What if I told you you can create this artwork using only 3 files and a couple hundred lines of code? No, this isn’t magic, this is shader writing.
Shaders are essentially small computer programs your graphics processing unit (GPU) runs.
They ‘shade’ objects in 3d scenes, giving them their material, their shadows and bounced light properties - without them, whenever you play a game you’d be looking at boring grey objects all the time.
However Shader writing on sites such as Shadertoy uses these shaders in a different kind of way. Instead of using shaders to shade objects they create a square, as big as the computer screen and use just one shader one that.
Sounds a bit crazy no? How can a full 3d scene that’s animated be created without actual geometry?
Well that’s because of an algorithm called ray marching, one of the most amazing algorithms out there.
Ray marching is an incredibly complex idea and so I will direct you to this tutorial that does a great job at explaining it.
Once you’ve (kind of) understood that, take this tutorial to start creating your own abstract or realistic looking 3d scene in just one file!
8: Programming A Machine That Paints For You
Are you a traditional art lover who wants to augment their practice with programming? Or are you the kind of person that just loves the tangibility of real, physical work? Then this project is for you.
Digital artwork doesn’t need to be a thing that is just displayed virtually. Instead of simply printing your work onto paper - what if you could use real paint, actually painted onto a canvas?
Through axi-plotters this is now a reality. Axi-plotters are machines that artists can program with their own set of behaviors to paint on materials with media like pens, pencils and charcoal all the way to watercolour and even oils.
9: Encode Your Favourite Book Into An Artwork
Are you a lover of literature as much as a lover of art? Does making a beautiful abstract poster of your favourite story sound intriguing? Then this is how you make that a reality.
Similar to the audio-visual project, this project is mainly about data-visualisation.
However data-visualisation is not as dry as it might sound. It is a rich field with a tonne of creativity that is still in its early days. If you’ve got a talent for design and communication then look no further than data-vis.
Okay, okay that’s amazing but how do I make a book into an artwork?
Well books are essentially long lists of words ( or ‘strings’ as they are known in programming). Every character in every word of a book can be encoded into a number. By converting their letters into the corresponding ASCII code, books can become a long list of numbers. In other words data - material you can make art with!
How you then read that data and then translate it into a visual is then up to you. The sky's the limit!
10: A Halftone Image Processor
Are you excited about photography or film? Do you want to enhance your skills with a camera with code? Then making an image processor is for you.
An image processor is, well, it processes images…
It takes a starting image frame and translates it into something else. This could be anything from a long list of numbers to a sound, to another image based off of the one you gave it.
It can be used for single images or image sequences such as film or even from your webcam.
Halftoning is a method used by printers to print an image while also saving on ink. It’s mainly used on bank-notes and other official papers and was invented over a hundred years ago.
These days it has evolved into its own aesthetic style - and with the help of modern technology, a very great beginner level image-processing project.
If you want to work with image files this project is perfect as you’ll learn all about image file formats, colours and the intricacies of processing them.
These days there are so many great ways to get into computer art and the possibilities are still being discovered.
And of course you can even mix and match these projects to create your own unique vision of computer art.
Whatever your interests are, learning to code has something to offer you. In our world the importance of computers is irrefutable and our education and application of them can serve to better equip us for future challenges and enable more fulfilling lives.
As well as possibly kickstart your career or even just provide you with a fun weekend hobby, I hope you’ve learnt a little bit more about the creative possibilities of computers.
Please consider sharing this with a friend, subscribing to the email list and even grabbing your own computer art from my shop - all of these help me continue making quality content around art & technology like this :)
What have you gotten up to following this post?
Have you got any great advice for beginner projects I may have overlooked?
Please comment and email me at contact@sfbatchelor to update me with your progress and with any questions you may have.
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