Pointila explores what happens when you combine the meticulous dots reminiscent of Pointillistic painting techniques with the channelled randomness of generative art, whilst also examining how subtle changes in parameters can paint similar forms in different styles.
Pointila is designed for display and interaction. Clicking on a live mint will trigger an animation loop between the primary and secondary palettes, click again to pause. Press 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4 on your keyboard to change glitch state.
Pointillism emerged from a collision of art and science in late 19th century French painting. Developed by Georges Seurat, his appeal to science, rigour and order built upon the broken brushstrokes of the Impressionists, as painting began to reckon with the emergence of the new technology of photography. Unbeknownst to Seurat, this response to one technology would foreshadow another – that of digital displays and pixels.
Rigour and order was manifest in the distinct dots of colour that give Pointillism its name. From a distance, the eye mixes these dots into vibrant, luminous scenes. This optical mixing bears a striking similarity to the way pixels work to display images on screen for us today.
“It’s done mechanically?” was a question posed at an 1894 Neo-Impressionist exhibition. The answer then was no. Pointila is both more and less mechanical than the Pointillist work that provoked the question. More, in that the hand of the artist has been replaced by the work of the computer – an extension of Seurat's efforts to remove the free hand of the artist. Yet less, with the ultimate position of each of the millions of dots decided randomly, unknown to the hand of the coder.
The Pointila algorithm first divides the canvas into columns. It then traverses the canvas dropping dots along those columns. From just a handful of layers, landscapes emerge. They take on a variety of forms: from rolling plains and steep canyons to jagged peaks and dreamy moors. Some are sharp and tense, others hazy and ethereal. They are coloured with handpicked palettes and animated with bold glitches – a nod to the shared optics of Pointillism and pixels.
Subtle changes in initial parameters give rise to similar landscapes painted in different styles. Faint echos, perhaps, of the different styles we see from Seurat in the numerous studies related to his masterpiece Un dimanche à la Grande Jatte.
Pointillism relies on the way in which the viewers visual system will, at the right distance, blend discrete dots of colour into fuller scenes and tones. It forces the viewer to step back in order to perceive the full scene. Zooming in to an image shows how this works. First, Seurat's ink study of Parade de cirque. Second, a monotone Pointila. Third, a multicoloured Pointila.
One of the most fascinating aspects of generative art is how subtle changes to parameters can produce dramatically different outputs. There is often an emergent nature to these changes – it is difficult to say in advance exactly what impact they will have. Through a cycle of changes and observations it is however possible to channel the algorithm towards a range of contrasting styles.
The underlying structure of the Pointila algorithm came from simple code sketches layering columns of dots over one other. With some fine tuning of the magnitude and starting points of each layer, these sketches began to take on the appearance of mountain ridges.
From there, we looked to extend the algorithm in two dimensions: exploring different landscape compositions and different styles with which to paint those landscapes. We experimented with changing a range of different parameters to produce different styles. These changes coalesced around a handful of parameters: distortion, density and displacement of the dots in a column in both the x and y directions. From these, we crafted five distinct styles: Grainy, Flowing, Dense, Hazy and Sparse.
By way of illustrating how these subtle changes lead to contrasting styles we can compare Hazy and Dense. At a code level, the difference between them is primarily one of density. Dense has a much lower xDensity, roughly 10% that of Hazy, which results in fewer, wider columns being drawn. This reduced xDensity is offset by significantly greater yDensity – the number of dots per column in Dense is roughly 25x that in Hazy. Additionally, the yDistortion for Dense is an eighth that of Hazy. Changing these three parameters gives you moody Hazy landscapes contrasting with bold Dense landscapes, as you can see below.
Sparse has lower xDensity as compared to Hazy, although the more important change is in the xDistortion parameter. By halving this, we see vertical banding with clear gaps between the columns of dots – relying, even more so, on the viewer's visual system to fill in the gaps and complete the scene.
Compared to Hazy, Grainy and Flowing both have greater xDistortion. However, the key difference is in xDisplacement. In Grainy and Flowing the dots making up foreground layers are displaced in the x direction according to different sine functions. For Grainy, the sine waves are truncated, giving a sketchy feel to the landscapes. In Flowing, the sine waves are allowed to flow right off the canvas.
You can see the impact these different styles have on structurally similar landscapes below. The first five images show one particular landscape type, the second five show another.
For as long as humans have been engrossed by natural scenery we have also looked skyward – gazing upon celestial bodies with awe, seeking to understand them and capture them in our artworks. Luminaries, natural light-giving bodies, have inspired our prior artworks and provide a focal point for many Pointilas: from sun to moon, in various phases, sizes and positions.
Generative art is alive. That it is living, dynamic code capable of evolving is something we always try to celebrate in our work. A range of influences combined for the dynamic aspect of Pointila.
Pointillism – small, distinct dots of colour that our eyes blend into images – is surely a precursor to the pixels that make up the display you are reading this on. We experimented with a range of pixellation styles and sizes before settling on large, blocky pixels which change the underlying colour of the landscape. In transition between colour states, this has a glitchy feel – and what is evolution if not a series of glitches that are selected for over time?
In recent months, IRL exhibitions and events dedicated to generative art have sprung up all over the world. In doing so, they present the opportunity to showcase the dynamic, interactive nature of generative art as a performance. From DJ backdrops at NFT NYC to interactive exhibitions at Proof of People these showcases are not just compelling but educational – helping to articulate, through experience, what generative art is and why it is such an exciting medium.
To that end, each and every Pointila is interactive. Clicking on screen will cause a mint to evolve between primary and secondary palettes. The animation loop glitches through a series of blocky pixels. This animation is hinted at in the initial render for each Pointila, which uses the same blocky pixels. These glitches shine through in the initial state for some mints too.
Additionally, it is possible to use numeric keys to move between different glitch states. In live view, simply press 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4 on your keyboard to move to a progressively more glitched state.
Artists using Pointillistic techniques placed great importance on colour and its intensity. Painting with small, ordered dots was an effort to capture the illusion of coloured light and produce more vibrant, luminous works. To that end we have crafted a wide range of 30 palettes which explore light, colour and mixing from a variety of angles. Some palettes are influenced by Pointillist works, others push beyond to embrace the range of colour available today.
The monotone palettes offer a minimalist look that show off the depth that can be achieved through layering dots and varying opacity. Duotone palettes are a striking collision of colour whilst the multicoloured palettes explore contrast and complementarity. The palette names are inspired by various pieces of Seurat's work.
In addition to the different palettes, there are different colour modes for a mint. The first colour mode, Point, is fittingly the most Pointillist – with the colour of each dot selected randomly from the palette to provide a striking depth of colour. The Layer colour mode is even stricter than Seurat, restricting all the dots in a layer to a single colour from the palette. The Gradient colour modes embrace a range of colours the Pointillists could only dream of, with dot colours transitioning from one colour to another across the canvas.