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2019 Year in Review

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

Youtube A Noise Reconstruction of Nighthawks
A movie still from A Noise Reconstruction of Nighthawks by Edward Hopper on Youtube at youtu.be/XlJzgvDP05U

2019 was a challenging year largely due to the pursuit of too many projects and interests. In a typical year, my time is divided between creative coding, digital art, photography, web work, developing and delivering presentations, attempting to keep up with developments in space exploration, managing Chicago Society for Space Studies, and work on other projects.

Web Work and Professional Programming

I spent a lot of hours doing web work and writing Python programs as a consultant contractor for the National Space Society. This role led to my acceptance of an offer in March to serve as the Director of Information Systems for the National Space Society. Then in September, I accepted the offer to also serve as the society’s Data Protection Officer (an EU GDPR thing).

I also took the opportunity to redesign the Chicago Society for Space Studies website – converting it from a mobile-friendly design I created using the Bootstrap framework to a mobile-friendly WordPress 5 (Gutenberg) website using a modified ElegantThemes Divi theme. Chicagospace.org is definitely the better for it and in hindsight, I am very glad that I did it.

Unfortunately, during 2019 I did barely any work at all on any of my personal websites. Looking back I was taken by surprise to see that my last blog post was last March.

Planet Earth as Art Book Project

Planet Earth as Art Book

I did make some progress on my book project Planet Earth as Art but fell far short of my objective of completing and publishing the book before mid-2019. In fact, I have spent very little time on the book over the last 6 months. I really do need to re-order my priorities so that I get this project done.

Space Haiku Book Project

space haiku word cloud
Space haiku word cloud

In 2019 I started work on a book of haiku whose theme is space exploration and space settlement. At this point I have written about 120 haiku and have created 20 odd illustrations for the book. Given that the focus of the book is on the written word, I have opted to go with all black and white illustrations, which substantially lowers the cost of the book – which means that its price will be affordable. The image above is a word cloud revealing the most frequently used words with font size keyed to how often the word appears in the haikus.

Creative Coding


Planet Earth as Art Book
Generative Art Experiment in Competing Painters

During 2019 I did next to nothing in the way of creative coding. The time that I would have normally spent creating generative art programs was replaced by time spent writing Python programs for data processing applications.

In December I did begin work on one new generative art program. The image above, titled Generative Art Experiment in Competing Painters is the first generative artwork produced by that program. The program works as a generative combinator with competing brush sets sampling multiple source images to create a single output image. The program needs much more development work to increase its versatility but I’m not sure when I’ll budget the time to make it happen.

Presentations

I did not give very many talks during 2019. However, I was credentialed as both a National Space Society Space Ambassador and as the NSS SA subject matter expert on space economics. This is in addition to my being a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, founder of the Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau, and doing my own art and web related presentations. Unfortunately, my Artsnova Art Lectures and Presentations page is not current and I’m not sure when I’ll get to updating it.

My best attended presentation for the year was for my talk about my Planet Earth as Art book given to the Northwest Suburban Astronomy Club at Schaumburg Library.

My most enjoyable talk of the year was a presentation I gave at the 2019 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). My presentation Robotic Space Settlement presented arguments for maximizing the use of robots for space industrialization in order to minimize economic costs and development time. This was something of a contrarian presentation as the focus of the ISDC is on human space settlement.

At ISDC I was also a panelist for the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) Resources and Standards Workshop, which was a part of the Moon Architecture and Engineering programming track. This was a rather large panel which included Dr. Philip Metzger (University of Central Florida) as moderator, and as panelists Dr. Paul Van Susante (Michigan Technological University), Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis (University of Southern California), Dr. Haym Benaroya (Rutgers University), Peter Kokh (Moon Society), John C. Mankins (Moon Village Association), Dr. Marc Cohen (Astrotecture Inc.), Dr. Pascal Lee (Mars
Institute), and Dr. Margaret Race (SETI Institute).

Personal Vacation

Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Great Smokey Mountains National Park

My wife Jennifer and I visited Great Smokey Mountains National Park in the spring with a focus on hiking the park’s many trails. We were fortunate that there had been rain and snow the week preceding our visit so water levels were higher than normal. During our hikes, my photographic focus was on water. Over the course of our visit I took at least 200 photographs of water with the wishful thinking objective of publishing a photo book on the subject. Of course that book must get in line behind my other book projects.

As beautiful as the rushing waters were, the panoramic views from various high points were not to be ignored. Quite a stunning contrast from the suburbs of Chicago.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park from Andrews Bald
The view to the south east from Andrews Bald along the Forney Ridge Trail south of the Clingmans Dome Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Goals for 2020

My top goal for 2020 is to consolidate artsnova.com and jimplaxco.com into a single website. I am also going to review consolidating content from a couple of my other websites. In short, I’d like to make my life easier by focusing my attentions on fewer websites.

And of course, I really do need to finish work on my Planet Earth as Art book.

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Edgar Allan Poe Portrait Using The Raven

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe Using The Raven Poem
Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe created using The Raven poem

Being a fan of Edgar Allan Poe and his poem The Raven, I decided to create a portrait of the author by using the text of his poem The Raven. The core idea was to create the portrait of Poe by modulating the brightness/darkness of the letters of the poem.

The first step in the creative process was to create a luminosity map of Poe’s face. I did this by first locating a photograph of Poe on Wikimedia Commons. For reference, the photograph I used was Photograph of Edgar Allan Poe Taken by Edwin H. Manchester on November 9th, 1848. I then created a digitally painted version of that photograph that would be used to control the light levels of the text. This part of the process was fairly straight forward.

Assembling the text was also straight forward. The text itself came from Wikipedia (The Raven on Wikipedia). I edited the text so that it became one very long sentence. This was necessary so that the length of any single line could be lengthened or shortened depending on where it was located relative to the luminosity mask.

The most challenging aspect of this art project was in setting the font size and character spacing and line spacing. Too large and Poe’s face wouldn’t be big enough to hold all the text. Too small and I’d run out of text before Poe’s face was complete. It certainly wouldn’t do to have a chinless Poe. Fortunately, some basic math in concert with eyeballing progress allowed me to get the text sizing for the portrait just right in fairly short order.

There were some other creative considerations for this portrait. A couple ideas I toyed with involved warping the text so that characters would take on a more flowing or wavy appearance that coincided with their location in the portrait’s luminosity mask. I also thought about giving the individual lines a wavy base so that the words would move up and down relative to one another. In the end I opted to not implement these features as they would make the text much more difficult to read. And I do want people to be able to read the poem.

One thing I did do, which I still have mixed feelings about, was to take the luminosity mask painting and apply it at a very low opacity as the base layer. Artistically I feel that it distracts from the purity of a solely text-only portrait. But it does seem to make the text slightly easier to read (again with the readability).

Illustration of Edgar Allan Poe Portrait at actual size. Top: With luminosity mask. Bottom: Without luminosity mask.
Illustration of Edgar Allan Poe Portrait simulating actual print size on a 96dpi screen.
Top: With luminosity mask as published. Bottom: Without luminosity mask.

The finished portrait of Edgar Allan Poe is 21 by 21 inches square printed at 300 pixels per inch. I’ve made this artwork available on a variety of products on Redbubble. While the text of The Raven is very easy to read when printed full size (see the illustration above), you are not going to be able to read the poem if you order it as, for example, a case for your smartphone or on a coffee mug. Sure, Poe’s face will be easily recognizable but the individual letters of the words will be just too small to read. People will just have to take you at your word when you tell them that Poe’s portrait is composed of the full text of the poem The Raven.

So you can support me and show your love of Poe by clicking the button below and taking a look at some of the products to which this artwork has been applied.

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe Using the Poem The Raven on Redbubble

Jim Plaxco’s Art Portfolio on Redbubble

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Bryce Canyon National Park Antique Landscape Digital Art

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Bryce Canyon National Park Antique Landscape Digital Art
Bryce Canyon National Park Antique Landscape Digital Art, 40 by 24 inches

Yesterday I took some time away from my Earth as Art book project to do some experimenting with image processing and converting a digital photo into digital art.
Specifically I took one of my photographs of Bryce Canyon and by using a somewhat convoluted workflow produced what I will call a digitally painted image.

I use the term digitally painted here in a different vein than I normally do. As a rule, when I describe one of my artworks as having been digitally painted it is because the image was created by my using either a mouse or Wacom Intuos tablet stylus or a combination of the two to directly apply color to a digital canvas. Quite frequently this painting involves the use of one of the generative brush engines I created so that the effects of my brush strokes are amplified.
However, in this case I’ve decided to use the phrase digitally painted to apply a label to a photograph that has been manipulated (post-processed) by a series of global image processing actions to create an image that is non-photographic.

The Image Processing Software Used

In producing Bryce Canyon National Park Antique Landscape I used three different graphics programs:

  • Rawtherapee
  • G’MIC
  • Adobe Photoshop CS4

While I am a relative newcomer to RawTherapee I hold it in high regard because of its capabilities. Rawtherapee is a wonderful and powerful alternative to Adobe Camera Raw, Adobe Lightroom, and Darktable as a processor of camera raw data. In addition to being open source, Rawtherapee is also available for those of us running Linux systems.

G’MIC (GREYC’s Magic for Image Computing) is an open source image processing framework that is available as either a command line toolset, as a GIMP plugin, as a Krita plugin, or as an online image processing package. For those who prefer not doing command line work, I recommend using the G’MIC GIMP plugin. Like Rawtherapee, G’MIC is also available for Linux. (For the curious, I am running Ubuntu 17.10, aka Artful Aardvark.)

Lastly, Adobe Photoshop CS4 is my general workhorse in terms of performing global adjustments, layering, adding watermarks, sizing for the web, and adding text to images. In fact Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator have a lot to do with why I still use Windows 7 as an OS. While my version of Photoshop is quite out of date, it contains all the tools I need and none of the distracting elements that Adobe has added to Photoshop in order to turn it into a one-size-fits-all solution.

About Bryce Canyon National Park Antique Landscape

This work started as a photograph that I took while visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The effect I wanted to achieve was somewhere between that of an old colored etching and a color pencil drawing. I wanted the image to be bright with a low color saturation and evidence of pencil lines.

To achieve this effect I first opened the raw image in Rawtherapee and made a variety of adjustments there. These adjustments including enhancing contrast, increasing color saturation, and sharpening details. I next ran the Rawtherapee output through G’MIC a number of times, each time producing a different output file. I then combined all the files together in Photoshop and used a variety of adjustment layers and layer blends to create the final image.

If you are a person who works with digital photography and enjoys using a fair amount of post-processing work to substantially alter your original photograph, I would like to offer the following advice. If you ever want to reproduce an effect, be sure to thoroughly document every step of your workflow. Personally I fail at documenting what I do and consequently can not easily, if at all, reproduce the style of any particular workflow I previously employed.

Bryce Canyon on Redbubble

Bryce Canyon National Park products on Redbubble

I’ve made Bryce Canyon National Park Antique Landscape available on a variety of products at Redbubble.com. You can see the products, which includes wall art prints, by either clicking on the product image above or the button below.

Bryce Canyon National Park Antique Landscape artwork on Redbubble

Availability of Original Canvas Print

Open edition prints of Bryce Canyon are available as wall art on Redbubble. The largest size canvas or photographic print available from Redbubble is 30 by 18 inches. However, until a print is sold on Redbubble I can offer an original 40 by 24 inch gallery wrap canvas print or a 36 by 24 gallery wrap canvas print in a float frame which will come with a certificate of authenticity. Once someone buys the original print, all wall art options will be pulled from Redbubble and no other print copies will be produced – insuring that the purchaser has the one and only canvas print. This is a limited time offer because once a print sells on Redbubble, the offer of an original print will be rescinded. To clarify, there will be either a single original print or multiple open edition prints in a variety of sizes.

To learn more about purchasing an original canvas print, please contact me

 

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Ambient Recursion Algorithmic Art

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Ambient Recursion Algorithmic Art
Ambient Recursion Algorithmic Art cropped version.
Click the image to see the uncropped version.
The original artwork is 30 by 30 inches printed at 300ppi.

What could be the first in a series of algorithmic artworks, Ambient Recursion was created using a programming technique known as recursion. Note that the image above has been cropped to fit the screen. To see the complete artwork, click on the cropped image above. A new window will open revealing the complete artwork. Note that a full size excerpt from the center of the artwork is displayed at the bottom of this post. Once you’ve viewed the uncropped image, it will be clear that while the artwork is strongly symmetrical, it is not perfectly symmetrical. I find that by avoiding perfect symmetry, the image becomes more interesting and aesthetically pleasing.

The programming language I used for this work was the Processing programming language. The most challenging part of writing this Processing program was in getting the recursion to perform as I wanted it to – especially with respect to screen boundary conditions.

Because I used a random factor to determine which sub-functions would be called, which in turn influenced the depth of recursion, I found that much of the drawing was being done off-screen – or so I guessed when viewing the program’s output. To get a handle on just where the drawing was happening, I replaced the drawing commands with print commands that dumped out the x,y coordinates and other supporting parameters for every shape being drawn.

This problem solving tactic proved to be most useful as it led me to reevaluate the entire drawing process. If I could dump the coordinates and associated parameters of every shape to a print file, why not write them to a Java arrayList and then draw using the data stored in the list. While the principal benefit of this approach was in insuring that every rectangle would appear within the canvas, it also provided me with the opportunity and ability to manipulate the relationships between the shapes. This was a true case of serendipity.

The second most challenging aspect was in coming up with a title. Given the nature of the image and the fact that I was listening to a collection of ambient music by Brian Eno while developing and writing the program used to create this artwork, the title Ambient Recursion was a natural choice.

While I have not yet added Ambient Recursion to my gallery of artworks here on Artsnova, I have made it available on Redbubble.

Ambient Recursion Algorithmic Art on Redbubble

Ambient Recursion Samsung Galaxy Smartphone Case

 

Ambient Recursion full size excerpt Case
A full size excerpt from the center of the artwork.

 

What is Recursion?

Using the definition from Geeks for Geeks, recursion is:

The process in which a function calls itself directly or indirectly is called recursion and the corresponding function is called as recursive function. Using recursive algorithm, certain problems can be solved quite easily. Examples of such problems are Towers of Hanoi (TOH), Inorder/Preorder/Postorder Tree Traversals, DFS of Graph, etc.

For more about recursion, see the Wikipedia definition for Recursion (computer science)

And remember…

To iterate is human, to recurse divine.
L. Peter Deutsch

 

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Ad Blockers and My Art Title Generator

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

Automatic Art Title Generator

A few days ago I added an Art Title Generator to my web site. I did so as a consequence of having writer’s block on coming up with a title for a generative artwork I had created at the beginning of the week. I wrote the Python program for the generator using word dictionaries I had created for a Haiku generator I had written using Java. I added it to my web site and promoted it via some of my social media accounts.

I was surprised when I heard from a couple of people who said that it was not working. Surprised because this is a Python program running on the server and delivering to the user a complete web page with the generated artwork title clearly visible. I couldn’t imagine why these folks were not seeing the title – but were seeing the rest of the generated page.

Impossible.

I went to my son’s computer and used his browser (Chrome) to view the page. And what I saw was no title. It just wasn’t there – which was impossible. I did a view source to take a look at the code that was received by his browser – and the title was there – right where it was supposed to be. So why wasn’t it visible?

And why did the art title display in my Chrome browser but not my son’s? Then it occurred to me. I asked my son if he was using an ad blocker. He said yes. Looking at my CSS, I had used a CSS class that I had named "contentad" and used it to display quotations about art at the bottom of quite a few of my web pages. The only explanation for the invisibility of the generated art titles was that an ad blocker was looking at the name of the CSS class and saying to itself "oh, this is an advertisement so I’ll hide it from the viewer."

To test my theory, I renamed the CSS class and then updated the 102 html files on my site that used it – as well as the Python program. I went back to my son’s browser and voila – there was the art title in full view – no longer hidden by the ad blocker plugin.

To read more about my art title generator and generate a title for yourself, you can proceed to the introductory page Automatic Art Title Generator. Or if you are the impatient sort and want to see an art title right now, load the Art Title Generator.

Here’s hoping that you enjoy the algorithmically generated artwork titles.

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Generative Artworks: Hades to Oblivion

Friday, March 24th, 2017

A Cool Day in Hell Generative Art Landscape
A Cool Day in Hell Generative Art Landscape

One of the negatives with respect to digital art is that the concept of an original does not apply as it does with traditional art. With traditional art the original is the physical media to which physical paint has been applied and there will be only one. With digital art the concept of a physical original does not apply because of the nature of digital files, which are basically infinitely reproducible. What has long been viewed as a shortcoming does offer digital artists at least one unique capability.

Because the original artwork is a digital file that can be duplicated, it is possible to use that digital canvas as the foundation for the creation of other derivative artworks. One piece I recently completed is A Cool Day in Hell which had as its original working title Dante’s Inferno.

In creating this artwork, I used one of the generative painting programs I’d designed. The program could be characterized as the Adobe Photoshop Paintbrush Engine on steroids. With one set of parameters, I can entrust the program to do the entire painting by itself. This would be similar to the filter features of Adobe Photoshop or the auto-paint feature of Corel Painter. With another set of parameters, the program functions very much like the paintbrushes in Photoshop and Painter when placed under the artist’s control. The most interesting set of parameters are those that blend program autonomy with some degree of artist interaction. It was this third option that I used to create this particular artwork.

It was only after adding this art to my portfolio on Redbubble that I decided to take that artwork and use it as the starting point for another artwork. I decided to use the same generative painting program that I had used for the original piece. This derivative artwork, titled Passage to Oblivion, does bear a resemblance to the original on which it is based.

Passage to Oblivion Generative Landscape Painting
Passage to Oblivion Generative Landscape Painting

While similar, the two have different color temperatures, textural feel, tone and contrast. Compositionally, the large, open, somewhat mountainous subterranean landscape of A Cool Day in Hell is transformed into a claustrophobic feeling of being inside an eerie underground cave.

To see either of these two artworks on Redbubble, simply click the appropriate image above and the Redbubble page will open in a new tab on your browser. It’s particularly interesting to see how these two artworks look when applied to apparel.

Passage to Oblivion on Redbubble Apparel

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