5 Ways To Improve Your Generative Art
5 Ways to Improve Your Generative Art
Is your computer art feeling stale? Are you struggling to make professional looking digital art? Are you looking for solid, actionable techniques to level up your procedural graphics?
Then this article is for you.
While this will by no means instantly elevate your work into the global limelight, these tips will help you stand out from the crowd, help you see your work critically and hopefully give you the skills to get your work to that professional level.
Most of these are super easy to implement and just require you applying your mind to more design related problems, rather than the algorithmic and programmatic ones we’re very used to as developers.
In fact I’d say they are actually easier to learn than learning to code itself!
The problem mainly lies in the fact that when you’re coding you pay so much attention to the implementation and semantics of the code that you essentially settle for the first thing that pops up into your framebuffer.
And if you don’t settle, your time is spent adding more features, rather than sculpting and designing what you already have…
With these few bits of advice you should get more out of your work for less effort.
These aren’t massive secrets, they’re just not covered in any generative art tutorial or creative coding article - most of those go through the practical side and leave the aesthetics and design up to you, the artist.
But if you’re like me then you also need help in the design department when you’re starting out creative coding.
So without further ado here are 5 ways to instantly level up your generative artworks.
1: Use Another Background Colour Other Than BLACK! (or whatever your software default is)
We’ve all done it. Almost all software comes with the default black background and this is the reason why 80% of generative artwork out there has a black background.
We just don’t think anything of it - and changing it means delving into the scary world of colour theory!
Now I have certainly done my fair share of work on black backgrounds but it is without a doubt that my most appreciated and sold work is work that is done without it.
I’m sure you’re like me and love the contrast black backgrounds have - it’s just so punchy and instantly says ‘hey this is a digital artwork’.
But it’s not the only way to achieve contrast or have work look great!
Instead start off with an off-white, primary or mid-tone desaturated colour. All of these are great, neutral bases to start your journey into the world of colour.
After your first few attempts, learn some basic colour theory.
This will probably be the single most important investment you can make as an artist. If you’re just beginning your art journey then take a lesson or two on basic theory before it becomes a thing you avoid or have no awareness of.
2: Don’t Use Random Colours!
So often I see generative artworks that have very obviously just used vec3 col = random() or some smaller range of this.
If this is you then stop right now! This will be the last time you ever use that.
Instead try one of these suggestions:
Make a series with a purposeful restriction: use a limited palette. By using a limited palette, 3-4 colours and only those, in your generative art works you’ll instantly find your work becoming richer. Instead of having tonal contrast, experiment with temperature contrast.
Take a piece from your favourite artist or a photograph you love and use only the colours in the image. Blurred out photographs are a great way to source colours if you haven't got experience with them yet and also teach you a tonne about how light works and what your heroes’ processes are.
Always analyse the work of others - especially those that stand out to you. Colour is a massive part of that, not just the algorithms and form!
3: Vary Your Shapes.
Most generative artwork out there will start with a function, say sin() or noise(), and will somehow visualise this in an interesting way. This will generally only involve one scale or one implementation of the expression - resulting in a singular generative form.
This is good - and if you’re going for a bare-bones statement about the visualisation of maths then it is a brilliant idea. This certainly has its place.
But there is so much more out there.
The instant you add another element, say at half or a quarter the scale, and have that form be generated from different variables then all of a sudden there is a dynamic, the larger form is complemented by the smaller one.
Vary the amount of forms, vary the size of them, vary the hardness and softness of them.
Every piece has a balance and making different elements work results in more complex and intricate work.
It’s all about CONTRAST - similar to the other examples, it’s really a basic of visual design.
Contrast is the thing that leads our eyes across a piece.
Contrast is difference across space.
Experiment, experiment, experiment.
And find out how YOU express through contrast.
4: Frame Your Work Properly
This is probably the simplest item to execute.
The detail and finish of your piece speaks volumes to the level of professionalism and thought you put into the piece. And even though we work digitally it doesn’t mean we don’t have to frame our work.
Put a border around your work.
Tweak the colours to make it richer.
Edit it for social media.
All of this contributes to one badass portfolio.
5: Take Advantage of Batch Design
This is probably the most exciting thing about generative design and one of the properties that working programmatically holds over working manually.
Because every time we press execute we end up with a different design we can use that to our advantage. Working like this, we can produce hundreds of different works that are all similar but not exact copies.
We create not artworks, but art domains. We set the limits of what our systems can generate.
Use this not as a tool for laziness but as a tool for empowerment.
For every parameter, generate several variations, changing them one at a time, curating the best - each time honing in on the exact limits of your art domain.
From these hundreds, pick only 3.
This is the real power of generative art - the curation of the final work.
Acting on this advice will instantly give your work the richness and life that is so often missed in digital artworks.
While most of these tips are general design principles we really do forget the creative side all too often with generative designs so it bears repeating.
Don’t get caught up in code and implementation, devote at least as much time to the visual design and balance of the work as you do with the code.
When in doubt, don't look to other generative art, look to art from different fields and synthesize their lessons through the lens of algorithms and code.
At the same time, remember that we aren’t like those other artforms.
Take advantage of the technology and the ability to write your own software - automate, batch design and explore, but don’t get complacent or lazy in the process.
Instead, use this as an opportunity to go further than you would working in analoge mediums.
Take the best of both worlds and your work will progress in leaps and bounds.
Did you find any of this helpful?
Do you have your own great piece of advice that helped your artwork?
Do you disagree with anything I’ve written?
Let me know in the comments below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org