Sunday, December 23, 2007

Burning down/out ?

The fall semester is over, hooray. I started this term with the idea that I would try to incorporate some fractals into the things I was doing at school, and did, in some small ways, succeed at this. But somehow I'm still unhappy about the whole question of fractals, and I still haven't quite put my finger on why.

They do always have a certain sameness, and that's part of my dissatisfaction. But I think the real difficulty is larger and wider-ranging and also more nebulous than the simple fact of fractals being computer-generated and therefore predictable. There's the question of what they mean. Are they abstract? Well, not exactly. They're a completely accurate picture of a very complicated and tedious bit of math. Even if I were to post-process the original image, all the filters are still algorithmic in nature, so the end product is a sort of insanely complicated and glorified graph. These I find pleasing (sometimes), but they're tough to explain to an audience of math-phobic or math-bored artists, or to the general public.

Then there's the larger question of whether art even has to mean something. I don't have a good answer for that one. Not even a definite personal philosophy, really. I could argue it either way.

A lot of the fractals I make are pretty, too. Hell, a lot of the non-fractal art I make is pretty. One of my final critiques this semester was that the installation I'd made looked like it could be a Christmas decoration. Pretty still seems to be a bad word in the current art scene. Or maybe it's just at my school. In any case, it leaves me at a certain disadvantage. I'm not much interested in the sentimental kinds of prettiness associated with, say, Disney or Hallmark, but I definitely prefer harmonious color combinations to harsh jarring ones. I like subtlety. I'd rather be calmed or inspired by art than confronted with hostility. And all of that stuff shows up in the things I make. I hope for strength in my work, but not brute force.

Now that I think about it, maybe it's the brute force aspect of fractals I do dislike. All those calculations are right there in your face, reminding you that you're not a computer or rendering engine, but just another human being trying to make sense of the world.

For the Solstice, I made a cake shaped like a Yule log. Tonight, I've made a fractal that looks like the burnt remains.


I'm almost tempted to call my semester's experiment a failure, and decide that I'm just done with fractals. Let them go, let them be simply a part of my past. But maybe there's something more I need to try. I will have to consider the possibilities, before the new semester starts.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mechanical people parts, for reasons of my own

Just a more-or-less abstract, to give my brain a break. School has two weeks to go, and I'm pretty much completely burned out by now.

The Robot's Spine

Five layers, very much in my usual style, trying no experiments, breaking no new ground. And hopefully, not needing to brace myself for any critiques.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Back off, peppermint-breath

Ahh, Thanksgiving is over, and now we're into the downhill slide of the year, when the world fills up with horrible plastic things that light up, or inflate, or blink, or play canned music at you incessantly, all with the intention of forcing you to experience some kind of artificial cheer. It's as though the year was some sort of elderly and formerly dignified relative, who upon reaching a certain advanced age, begins to wear hideous red-and-green plaid pants and maybe a revolving bow tie, and who tends to burst into loud embarrassing song at inappropriate moments.

It's disappointing, when the season itself has so much potential, so many evergreen symbols of rebirth and hope and new light in this dark time. Winter seems like a good time for rest and quiet contemplation, and I hate to see it get all clogged up with manic enforced jolliness.

Ah well.

Another Year Down the Christmas-Hole

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Golden rectangles, in blue

Not exactly fractal, but I've been working on a series of etchings that's definitely mathematical. Seven square plates, sized by Fibonacci numbers, etched with lines tangent to a curve. Printed all together, they make a rectangle 13" x 21", and the effect can change depending on how they're oriented.

untitled (blue prints I & II)

Blue PrintBlue Print, inside out

I also quite liked the initial proof I did of the plates before they'd had anything etched onto them at all. It made a print of squares embossed into the surface of the paper. Very minimalist.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I took my previous snow image, and pushed it over some kind of edge. It's well on its way to being another one of those pictures I want to hide in a deep file on my computer and never acknowledge again. I'm not really sure why that is, except that it has that too-slick, cartoonish quality that computer-generated graphics nearly always seem to have. Ultra Fractal has ways of adding noise and grit and texture to the base fractal, and I've used some of them a bit, but adding very much of that kind of texture mostly just makes the thing look like it's had a few too many Photoshop filters applied.

It may partly be a question of there not being enough variation in color, and that the variation there is is too regular and predictable. I've spent the last couple of months looking at mixed inks and paper in the real world, and have gotten used to the roughness and irregularity that comes with a physical presence.

Still, in terms of technical assembly and lighting effects, this one is getting close to done.


An awful lot of layers, starting with a couple of 3-D quaternions as slightly surreal landscape elements. Heavy use of orbit traps for shading and highlighting and general effects, and more masking and transformations than I really want to think about at the moment.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Imaginary weather

The time change happened today, and now I'm going to be all out of whack for a week until I adjust. I'm sad that it gets dark so early, but maybe there will be enough light in the morning that I will stop sleeping through my alarm.

I always start to think about snow around now. I'm living in a place that doesn't get any, most years, but I grew up with snowy winters and so I still somehow expect it. But I will sit in the cool rain, and make fractal snow instead.


A Julia set. Nothing too complicated. The snowflakes are faulty, of course, because they're all the same.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More prints

Than you can shake a stick at. We had our midterm critique today, and it seemed to go very well. I had made all my printing plates and blocks the same size, 9" x 7", so they could be stacked up the same way I'd normally stack layers digitally. There were an awful lot of possible combinations. I've ended up with more than a dozen variations, three of which I put up in class today. Here they are:

Insomnia: Unresolved Conflict

Woodcut on black paper

This one looks the most traditionally "fractal," with iteration banding and a black background. It's a two-stage reductive woodcut on Canson Mi-Teintes paper.

Insomnia: Fever Ache

Insomnia: Fever Ache

The second stage of the woodcut, printed on top of a photo-etch plate, printed on top of a larger monoprint.

Insomnia: Lucid Dream

Insomnia: Lucid Dream

Two fractal plates, one photo-etch and one hardground, plus a floating element from a third (aquatint) plate, done using a clever sort of not-exactly-collage technique which our teacher showed us. It's all printed on a single surface of paper. I have all sorts of plans for more things I want to do with this method, layering bits on top of other bits.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I've finished the next stage of carving on my wood block. I'm now in the early stages of printing experiments, and it's looking like there are many possibilities for good effects. Before I started inking the block again, I did a couple of tests of embossing, with lots of pressure on the press. I like the textures where the carving marks show.

Insomnia: White Night

Emboss filter, without the filter

Fabriano paper, 9" x 7".

The subtle monochrome is soothing and pleasant, but my first tests of color suggest that it's going to get very eye-jarring, very fast. It will depend a lot on what color combinations I use, and how much contrast there is. I've got one in the drying rack at school that's probably a candidate for the Cosmic Zowie Award.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hung out to dry

I did a dozen prints today, in a couple of different colors. I had planned to carve the wood block more at this stage, only now I think I want to do a few more color variations before I take anything away. It's always a bit of a dilemma; on the one hand, I'm impatient to hurry up and get to the next stage so I can see what these things are going to look like when they're done, but on the other hand, once you've cut, you can't go back. So it's good to do lots of copies before continuing.

I'd also like to try getting some different colors of paper, for even more color complications.

Prints half-done

Monday, October 8, 2007

Woodcut in progress

Last night I got it this far:

Woodcut in progress

Tonight I finished the carving for this stage of things:

Woodcut in progress

Tomorrow, if all goes well, I'll print. And then start carving some more.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Grid system

This one is more geometric and less organic than my usual. It's sort of along the same lines as the thing I just finished in my sculpture class.

Factory Floor

General Tent Julia, eight layers plus one mask.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

And I'm an idiot

The effect of art school (and too much internet-reading) on the fractalist.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I haven't learned to sleep

This is the same fractal that I've been using in my printmaking class, but with a bunch more layers of stuff piled onto it.

untitled (insomnia: counterpane)

Perforated Julia with some Pythagorean Triple and Thin Orbit Traps (which have already been used in copper plates), iteration banding (for later use in a woodcut, if all goes well), and, er, more thin orbits.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Grinding fish and scratching metal

Things are really pretty grim at school lately, but I'm trying to press on and get something done, and wait until later to worry about whether I like it or not. So I've been etching plates, and today I got as far as proofing two of them.

insomnia (2-plate proof)

Fractal etching (2-plate proof)

Hard-ground etching from two fractal layers (Perforated Julia, circle trap and pythagorean triple), 9" x 7".

I took some pictures of the plates, too, just because I like how they look.

Fractal printing plate

Sunday, September 23, 2007


I've been studying for my art history test, which means I'm looking at my expensive textbook for the first time since I bought it a year and a half ago, and I've found this very interesting picture:

God as architect of the world

This looks really impressively fractal to me. I'd heard about the Mandelbrot Monk a few years ago, and was entertained by it; I always like a well-done April Fools joke that's had some effort put into it. But this one's apparently from an illuminated Bible done in Paris around 1220 or 1230, so I guess it's legitimately medieval, even if it's not actually anything to do with fractals.

Of course it's not remotely related to the sections I'm supposed to be reading for the test tomorrow. So it goes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Extreme low resolution

This is an experimental thing I did this afternoon. It worked well enough that I think I will try to do a larger one, with a more interesting design, as part of my printmaking project for this semester.

untitled (not there yet)

Reductive woodcut printed with water-based inks in five colors, 4-1/2"x3". A simple Mandelbrot zoom with iteration banding.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shiny knobs

There's no particular reason for this one, I just liked the colors.

untitled (jeweled array)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting back up to speed

After a fair amount of conversation with various teachers and friends, I think I'm beginning to recover from last week's unpleasantness. In an attempt to encourage myself, I've dug up an old image of energy and breakthrough. It's related to the one I posted just after the wretched meeting, so it's probably not a coincidence that I was thinking about it now.

Particle Accelerator

Seven layers of, hmm, Crystal Globe Julia. That's a good formula; I should explore it some more if I have time later in the week.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Manifestos are for schmucks

What is your main message in 'Life, the Universe, and Everything'?

No message. If I'd wanted to write a message I'd have written a message. I wrote a book.
— Douglas Adams

A depressing meeting with the department chair today, about my independent study project. I wish I'd taken different things for him to look at, and I also wish I'd been able to explain to him that the short illustrated book which he dismissed as "whimsical" is also an observation about what it's like to have your life come apart in painful unexpected ways, and then to have your so-called friends refuse to acknowledge it.

In any case, I'm not convinced that whimsical is a bad thing.

The art world seems overly concerned with concept, and schools seem especially interested in how good you are at coming up with the concept ahead of time and then manufacturing some object or artwork to convey it to the public. Probably this is a good working system for some kinds of people, but in my experience it leads to stiff, forced, awkward pieces. I seem to be more successful if I encourage my brain to turn into warm mush while I'm actually making things, and worry about concept later. But it's no good trying to convince administrators that.

Revenge of the Tokyo Bubblegum Princess

This one is bubbly, giddy, cartoonish, and cute. But it's from a time in my life when I was very angry at someone who thought he didn't need to take me seriously as a human being, and so it's intended to have some undertones of radioactive menace, such that if you patronize it with baby-talk, it will smash your city.

Monday, September 10, 2007

And so it begins

Arrgh, I have two stressful project proposals to give tomorrow. I do not feel in any way prepared for either of them.

This soothing placid image I made a couple of days ago is not likely to be any help.

untitled (nacreous)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Orbiting thingummies

This one is for the Professor, and also for the new curtains.


A z3 mandelbrot, seven layers.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Run through the mangle

I wish these calculations had been performed by steam.
— Charles Babbage

I'm back to my ongoing theme of gears and machinery. And I'm also back to my ongoing theme of refraction spectra. Appropriately enough, I spent most of today being processed through bureaucratic machinery (grind grind crank crank arrgh), but ended up with a more-or-less positive result. Sometimes I feel that my imagery is altogether too simple and obvious.

Calculation by Steam

Frame-Robert formula. Nine layers, two of them masked.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Stumble the light

It seems as though the new department chair has some interest in digital printmaking, and the teacher of my printmaking class perhaps also. It may therefore be easier than I had thought, this business of doing fractals and school at the same time. Can I be brave enough to do it?

In the meantime, I'm experimenting with a newly-published coloring method with an entertaining name: Trap the Light Fantastic. I'm finding it frustrating, though. It seems potentially capable of making some interesting shapes, but there are vastly too many options, and no way of telling which of them will do anything worthwhile. So far I've spent an awful lot of hours just turning things into hideous static, passing through one or two almost-good effects on the way, and finally giving up without even saving the parameters.

I think I'm just somebody who likes to have really tight control over my tools all the time, and I don't enjoy the blindly-blundering-into-things approach. Perhaps I should try to lighten up, instead of always wanting to know exactly what is going to happen when I push the button. Or maybe it's just too big and unwieldy a coloring after all.

Anyway, here's one of the few things I did save.

City in a Bubble

Julia, with four layers of Trap the Light Fantastic.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Blue-green space

Back to school tomorrow, where everybody talks about societal significance and political awareness, diversity this and cultural that and environmental the-other-thing, post-post-modernism stuffed down your throat and in your ears and crammed into every possible orifice until it makes your eyes bleed.

Going back to school always makes me tense.

A fractal, before I disappear into the trackless wasteland of homework and projects and critiques. I don't know how much time I'll have to frivol away on pixels once things get started. The light in this one reminds me of the chilly filtered sunlight that happens in the downtown library, where the outside is glass, so it should be bright, only the ultraviolet is bad for the books, so the glass has some kind of coating that makes it all dim and strange and unpleasant. A library should be warm, and sepia-colored, and smell like the ink and dust of old books. This one is grey-green, and vast, and unwelcoming. I hear it has won awards.

Sustainable Architecture

Ploom formula, five layers of recycled pixels in the rain.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

In-flight entertainment

I'm back home after a brief trip to pick up the cat, now that we're moved into the new apartment. Twelve hours of traveling with a cat is a tiring ordeal, but she stayed remarkably calm and quiet during the whole thing.

I didn't bother getting a set of headphones on the plane, because the movie looked really lame, but after it was over there was some kind of brief documentary-looking thing about Tiffany glass. Even though I wasn't listening to the sound, the pictures were quite interesting. Some of those vases use the fluidity of glass in really lovely etherial ways.

I feel all out of practice again with the fractals. Here's one with glass in mind.


Generalized Celtic Julia formula, six layers.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sidetracked by the mechanical

I spent all day among printing presses again, and have no new fractals, so here's another old-ish image from the series I did with the gears.

The Machine Stops

Frame-Robert formula, eleven layers.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A self-portrait of sorts

After this, I think I'd like to go back to more abstract things for a while, and stop trying to make the fractals look so much like something specific.

Where Does All the Wasted Time Go?

This is a Mandelbrot image, of course. But it's six layers, instead of just a single-layer zoom, so it's slow enough that rendering it took about three days.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I'm actually pretty happy with how this one turned out. The colors worked well, for a single-layer image.

Blue Diamonds

Magnification 1.8161869x1035. It took a stupid amount of deep-zooming to get the diamonds to be even slightly the right shape, and thus the render was probably the slowest of the whole bunch.

I made some Purple Horseshoes, but they looked only slightly like horseshoes, and a lot more like the cross-section of some mutant purple celery, so I probably won't post them.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I fear my luck is running out

I'm not even to the end of the week, and already I'm really sick of this series. This one is better than the hearts, at least.

Green Clovers

Magnification 5.463162x1017. I had to crank the maximum iterations way up on this one, which made it render excruciatingly slowly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

100% pure cheese

Continuing my series of single-layer mandelbrot zooms: a minimalist sort of image, with stylized rays and the sun in the middle.

Yellow Moons

Magnification 2.6467484x1015. A nice quick render.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Don't thank them yet

Second in the series of single-layer Mandelbrot zooms.

Orange Stars

Magnification 4.8710492x1025. The spirally stuff in between them is meant to be suggestive of nebulas or space dust or some such.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Serial molecules

One of the well-known properties of the Mandelbrot set is that it's full of smaller, distorted copies of itself. I've just found out that Mandelbrot himself refers to these as "molecules," which I think is a wonderful name for them.

Over the last week or so, I've been doing a lot of systematic exploring of the Mandelbrot, trying to get a better feel for the patterns around the molecules, and how those patterns are affected when you zoom into different sub-regions of them. It's fascinating; they distort in all sorts of ways, and I'm getting better at predicting and working with the distortion to find the shapes I want.

I must confess, though, that so far the results have been embarrassingly silly. This week I plan to post a series of single-layer Mandelbrot zooms, the reaction to which will probably be the same hollow groan that follows a really bad pun. To begin with, the image that started me on this exploring binge in the first place.

Pink Hearts

The magnification is 2.3422469x1020. I've surrounded them with thorns, because it seemed suitably poetic, or symbolic, or something.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Plants enjoy rain

Bah, what a worthless day this has been. I can't make my brain work properly at all.

Persistent Vegetative

Compounding Tweaked Julia, eight layers, with some Hoops & Tubes and some epicycloids.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ragweeds, calm yourselves!

It's that time of year again. Achoo.

Allergy Season

Compounding Tweaked Julia, nine layers, lots of Gnarly Orbit Traps. Some of my own parametric curves as well. Ragweed pollen looks like some kind of miniature spiky medieval weaponry, and I hate it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hypocycloid with chromatic aberration

This one is from March or so, in answer to a question which wasn't actually directed at me.

Because They Don't Understand

It's a Mandelbrot, it's at least five layers, and that's all I can remember right now. I'll have to dig out the parameter file at some point, to see if there's anything particularly noteworthy about it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I'm not sure if this one's finished, exactly, but it has definitely reached a point where I need to stop poking at it. In my mind, it makes a sort of squelchy noise in protest.


A fairly simple eight-layer Julia, of the sort sometimes referred to as a "lovingly-layered spiral."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I spent a lot of time today looking at beautiful old printing presses, many different kinds. The next step is figuring out how and where to have some proper workshop space, so I'll have a place to put such a thing.

Man, I'm a big sucker for gears. Here is an old-ish, vaguely mechanical fractal.

Sepia Machinery

IFS-Barnsley, ten layers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A radiant swallowtail, perhaps

I've been thinking about the color gamut of a computer monitor, which doesn't do blue-green very well; it either goes all muddy and icky, or it lurches into too-saturated cyan and primary green or blue. I like blue-green, when it's out in the real world where there are materials that can do it justice, and I was wondering if it would be possible to use it in a digital image that was less harsh and computery-looking.

I've also just been re-reading Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, by Tom Robbins, in which the main character complains of things being too vivid. It was the combination of influences, I think, that resulted in this fractal.

Iridescent Wings

Rational Newton Julia, five layers. Actually a re-working of a very old image that never got anywhere when I was first messing with it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Vulgar (?) excess (?)

I think the thing I like best about fractals is how they take something as bare and simple as a mathematical equation, and turn it into something ridiculously complicated. It's like going from sterile Swedish minimalism to overblown Baroque. It reminds me that the whole world is in fact full of complicated wiggly business.


More neptwona, more parametric curves. Eight layers. Not influenced by restraint, taste, or Swedish minimalism.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dust or maybe dewdrops

Ah yes, the weekend, when I get nothing done. Or sometimes less than that.


Seven layers of neptwona. The lissajous coloring I've been working on still doesn't do all the things I would like it to do, but it's getting there. Parametric curves are bastards.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New Growth

I am telling myself to be less grim about the whole question of art, and to just get on with things. I did two small press runs this afternoon, and my postcards are nearly done. I'm pleased about that. Then I made a batch of guacamole, and the Professor and I ate most of it along with dinner, so we're both fed and reasonably contented with life.

Here's a fractal from a week or so ago.

New Growth

A formula called sn00z (what do the names mean?!) with three layers of inside coloring and three layers of outside. I quite like the sky effect on this one.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Aesthetic demons

Today I am once again unhappy about spending so much time messing with fractals, when I know perfectly well that the world mostly has no use for them and no interest in them. It's not just the fractals, I guess, it's all art in general. The present culture fundamentally disapproves of anything that cannot be made to generate vast piles of cash. Art doesn't count until you can sell it to somebody.

I don't know what it would take to interest any major art buyers in fractals. The only time fractals seem to show up in a museum is when it's a science museum, putting together an exhibit to try to interest gradeschool children in math. Balls.

I also ask myself why I don't put my energy into a medium that's more readily accepted. Try paint, dumb-head, I say to myself, make some etchings, do some more woodcuts. (The big woodcuts have to wait until the school year starts again, and I have access to the big presses, but smaller cuts would work perfectly well using the spoon-burnishing technique.) But no, I keep coming back to fractals, because there's something about their complexity and precision that I still find pleasing. It is a hideous addiction.

In this spirit and frame of mind, it's probably not surprising that I've come up with an image that reminds me of some of the levels of Dante's Inferno.

Just Another Nightmare

Seven layers of a formula called deimos. I'm definitely getting a lot of mileage out of jock.ufm lately. The basic shapes are two layers of sine coloring, the rest is mostly texture.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Still contemplating wizardly things

The Professor keeps whistling the theme song from the Harry Potter movie, and wishing for a magical feast. Sadly, I cannot produce such a thing. All I can make is regular non-magical food, and pictures. So here is a picture.

I live in a magical house

Seven layers of the oddly-named ploom formula. Mostly orbit traps and lyapunov, with a custom star coloring I've been working on.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tom "Conveniently-Named" Marvolo Riddle

A silly illustration, in honor of the final Harry Potter book.


Plain old Julia set, with eight layers of background stuff, and another thirteen layers for the eyes. Relies heavily on orbit traps, as usual.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Black Magic

Here is a place for me to put some fractals. I'm hoping that I will actually keep up with some of my current images, if I give them a place to be, without the pressure of having to organize them into tidy gallery pages before I've even decided whether they're any good or not. This is, therefore, something in the nature of a sketchbook. It's for images that are new, unfinished, not-quite-titled, or otherwise possibly-still-in-progress.

I'm trying, by this exercise, to get back to producing images without worrying so much about what they're good for, or whether anyone will like them, or what. I think I've been missing the early days of when I was messing with fractal generators, before all the art-sniveling happened, when it was no more complicated than finding where the spirals were, and seeing what colors looked good. I'm happy about having gone back to art school, in some ways, but it really screws up your perceptions about just making stuff.

So, with that in mind, here's a spiral.

That Ol' Black Magic

Seven layers of a Jock Cooper formula called "ploom." Some thin orbit traps and S.F.B.M., among other things.