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Generative Art and Chance for Visual Production

Sol LeWitt wrote that “the serial artist does not attempt to produce a beautiful or mysterious object but functions merely as a clerk cataloguing the results of his premise.”


Generative art refers to art that in whole or in part has been created with the use of an autonomous system. An autonomous system in this context is generally one that is non-human and can independently determine features of an artwork that would otherwise require decisions made directly by the artist. (Thanks Wikipedia)

Generative systems can manifest themselves in generally two ways.

The system can be an extension of an artists intent, and original idea, and the work should reflect these intentions. In this situation the artist still possesses some control and works with elements which are generated by chance. In the following piece by Ellsworth Kelley he used several small compositions which were based upon cutting up multiple sheets of paper and matching them together by tossing them into the air, cutting the edges square, and then placing the smaller compositions into a larger grid. In this piece Kelley obviously determined the colors which were to be used however he let the compositions make themselves by chance. One should also note, that this piece worked out quite well, and that is probably why it is better known than other experiments that never saw the light of day.


In a following piece Kelley was noted to have said that he wished to work with more color after seeing an Ad Rheinhart exhibition. His pilgrimage into color was marked by the creation of a series of collages called the Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I to VIII. In this piece he created a grid, and then randomly assigned each square in the grid a color by mixing up a bunch of numbers in a hat and pulling them out randomly. Of course, there were still limits in place such as how many numbers can be used and restrictions.

Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I to VIII

William Burroughs talks about using a similar technique to generate poetry. Created by the Dadaists, popularized by Burroughs. The technique still lives on and has also been used by Thom Yorke (he’s in this band called Radiohead) and Kurt Cobain.


Divination techniques of the I Ching were used by John Cage to create paintings. Read more about them here.


He also used them to make musical compositions which Jorge could undoubtedly tell you more about.

Generative works can also be made from code, and therefore some argue that these sorts of works that the artist steps back even further and the system itself should take on the role of the creator.

“works where an unpredictable progressive virus operates on a degradation/transformation of an image. Using a C++ framework, Joseph Nechvatal and his programmer/collaborator Stephane Sikora have brought Nechvatal’s early computer virus project into the realm of artificial life (A-Life) (i.e. into a synthetic system that exhibits behaviors characteristic of natural living systems). With Computer Virus Project 2.0, elements of artificial life have been introduced in that viruses are modeled to be autonomous agents living in/off the image. The project simulates a population of active viruses functioning as an analogy of a viral biological system. Here the host of the virus are the digital files on which the computer-robotic assisted paintings in this show are based. Among the different techniques used here are models that result from embodied artificial intelligence and the paradigm of genetic programming.”

So what’s in common with all of these pieces? For starters each element was chosen by a human, and it would be difficult to argue that all generative art is not a byproduct of human decision. Kelley chose colors, Burroughs cut up newspapers, and Cage assigned notes on a piano (ok ok. and colors too…He was pretty good!..anyway). But the point is that all of these had a starting point and that was working with a specific medium and process. And many times it is important to note that they fit what many would assume is a chaotic process of generated components of their work and put it into a certain framework. Such as a grid, or a series (yep. That’s why Sol Lewitt is also called a Serial Artist). If you think your stuff looks like crap then put it in a square.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 12.20.12 PM

You were all told to bring two mediums to class, one traditional, and one which is digital. You will be creating a system of making art which is based upon some chance operation to combine your two media. That means the final piece should exhibit both the qualities of the traditional media as well as the digital media. If you are stuck on how to create chance operations then first think about what are the components inherit in both of your mediums and how you can assign these components into a generative system. Paint has color, thickness, wetness, darkness, speed, application, texture, forms. Jpegs are made of code, colors, darknesses, computer screens, projected light, or turkeys.

How have people done chance operations? Roll some dice. Point to a word in a book at random. Throw stuff at the wall. Break stuff. roll some dice which determines which rock you should throw at a glass full of words and then make 10 images based off of the first ten words you pick up and then pour wax all over the images. Remember you can also do loads of chance operations using the internet or your computer. Use google to generate random words based upon random searches. Use Youtube to generate random screen grabs etc. Create some artificial intelligence which not only creates digital work but also spams leading art galleries emails with the images. But remember your final piece should combine a traditional medium with your digital medium.


“Hey what are some traditional mediums!”

Cement, Glass, Metal, Stone, Brick, Wood, Chalk, Charcoal, Crayon, Graphite, Marker, Pastel, Pen and ink, Pencil, Sand, Watercolour, Oils, Acylics, Inks, Dyes, Glues, film, wooden instruments,

“Ok cool. So what are some new mediums?”

Well, digital media is generally referred to as stuff that needs electricity to work. Like Graphic art software for illustration and animation, 3D computer graphics for sculpture and 3D animation, Digital photography and digital video for the capturing of photographs and footagecontrolling devices (touch screens or midi keyboards and kinnects) to bridge the gap between traditional techniques and digital painting, projections, screens, and programming.

“Well some of those are old too”

I know, but this conversation could go on for hours…. So stop proscratinating and start making art!


Some challenges to consider.

Try to create the most conceptually potent work, with the least amount of effort. It is important to remember that there is no longer a division between how “good” something is, and the amount of labor required to make it. Duchamp signaled this when he created his fountain.

There is a difference between art and craft (or technique).

Postmodern art is not something you “get”. Ever. It isn’t a puzzle to solve. It’s an investigation that may not have any answers, or may not care about answers.

Artwork generally today is not about illustrating anything, and it is less insistent that the viewer come to work with any sort of predefined knowledge.

Painting Intensive Part 1

Hello and welcome to the Summer Painting Intensive at Prague College!

Morning: 9:00 – 12:15

Today will start with an introduction to the course and the aims which we wish to achieve.


This course introduces students to a wide range of materials, techniques, and concepts
involving traditional painting. Materials to be explored include Watercolor, Acrylic, and Oils. The three different mediums will be used in relation to the first, second, and third weeks of the course. There will be a heavy emphasis on color theory and traditional paint application techniques as well as composition and design. In addition to teaching a variety of materials and techniques each lesson will also introduce the work of one painter whose work will be examined at both a technical, as well as a conceptual level. Students will learn how to work from a sketch to a finished piece in each of the aforementioned media. It should be noted that this is not a class in how to “paint flowers” ( although we do look at nice paintings of flowers )  or which is focused on one specific technique, since we are limited in the amount of time we have the class is designed to give a foundational background in both how to use 3 different media, as well as give the student some solid theory which can be continually practiced during the week, and in the future.
The class will focus on achieving the following Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes:
L01: Demonstrate the ability to understand and apply the basic principles of design and color as well as the strengths inherent in a variety of painting media.
L02: Demonstrate the ability to use a variety of painting techniques and media to achieve specific aesthetic intents.
L03: Evaluate the use of ones own as well as others painting materials and techniques.
L04: A functional knowledge of the evolution of painting traditions, techniques, and conventions.
L05: Demonstrate the ability to apply the skills needed to take a work from concept to finished work.
L06: Demonstrate the ability to synthesize drawing and painting.


Once we’ve covered the overview of what we will be focusing on for the coming weeks we’ll go straight into the basics of color theory. Since we are starting with watercolors lets look at one of the most important aspects as it concerns good watercolor paintings, and that is contrast.

This part’s featured artist is Andrew Wyeth

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Andrew Newell Wyeth was a visual artist, primarily a realist painter, working predominantly in a regionalist style. He was one of the best-known U.S. artists of the middle 20th century.


Contrast in Painting

There are many different ways we can depict Contrast in Painting, and because of this, this lesson will need to be split into different parts so we can go into each different type of contrast in depth. But first let’s get into exactly what contrast means.

The dictionary definition is as follows:

Contrast: The state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in
juxtaposition or close association.
Synonyms:  opposition - antithesis - opposite - contradistinction

So I think we all have a pretty good feel of what something is when it is in contrast with an opposing element. But how does this relate to painting and color? In what different ways can we show contrast simply by using different colors?


You may be asking “why is contrast so important?” and the answer is simple. Our eyes love contrast and it is how we make sense of the world. If you want to highlight a certain area of a painting then this is the area which should have the highest amount of contrast. Our eyes are naturally drawn to these areas, and it is easy information for our brains to process. When making a two dimensional representation of the three dimensional world we need to take advantage of how we see, in order to translate this to a believable painting.

Let’s start with Contrast of Hue and what exactly this means.

Contrast of Hue:

This is the simplest of the different types of contrast that painters often use. You should remember that the term Hue just means a color which has not been diluted in any way. It is color in its “purest” form. When we put multiple different colors up against each other we will see a very strong contrast between them. For starters lets look at this painting by Ellsworth Kelley which is a simple illustration of the strength of contrast of hue. He uses the three primary colors in their purest form and paints each individually.

All three of these primary colors are in strict opposition to each other. So much so that there doesn’t seem to be any relation to them at all. Each color stands alone as if it were its own entity altogether. This is what I mean by contrast of hue. So how can we take this out of the square minimalistic boxes and start applying it to more complex compositions? I believe the next painting by Mondrian takes a step in that direction and we can see that not only can we work with these elements as if they stood on their own, but we can also integrate them into a larger composition.

And now let’s take this idea a step further and apply to a composition which has some figural elements as well. In the following painting by Matisse we can see that he used only contrasts in hues, and black and white to create an entire composition that includes both a figure in an environment, but also a small landscape in the window. There are a few other types of contrast occurring in this painting but we’ll get to those later.

contrast matisse

When dealing with only Contrast of Hue we can see that many of the paintings take on a youthful or even joyous feeling to them. Which is one reason why many of the Fauvists decided to use these colors to enhance the meaning of their exuberant paintings. But these types of examples of Contrast of Hue aren’t only from the 20th century. Painters have used this rule of painting for hundreds of years to create an atmosphere of intensity. One can look at Raphael’s Adoration of the Magi for an older example of how Contrast of Hue was utilized hundreds of years ago.

adoration magi raphael painting



Contrast of Value:

This is another rule of color theory which is fairly easy to grasp but which is often ignored. When speaking of the contrast of value we are talking about the lightness vs the darkness of certain colors. The easiest way to illustrate this is to first deal with only black and white as it is the easiest way to see a difference in value. In the video below by EmptyEasel we see a very clear representation of how we can use simple dark and light contrasts to create certain effects which create a more believable depiction of the 3d world on a 2d surface.

In the following drawing by Seurat we can see how a contrast in value achieves similar effects as the video outlined above. Notice how each edge has a sharp contrast in value against the other edges. This pushes certain elements back in space and allows for other elements to come to the forefront. It should be noted however, as stated in the video above, that it isn’t bad to sometimes have your values “bleed” into each other as this causes a composition to have linkages which give it an overall feeling of unity.

Now lets look at another example but this time working with color and the different values that colors have as well. In the following painting by Rembrandt look at how he effectively uses Contrast of Value to bring our eye right to the most important feature of the painting.

Assignment 1 : First start out by mixing a 5 step value scale using only black. You will be controlling the darkness of your color by the amount of water you add to it, thereby making the color lighter as you add more water. Obviously you can do the same with all of your colors and therefore make a value scale with any color which you have. Don’t fuss about making perfect squares of color, just play around on some scrap paper with the different types of values which can be created. If you get too much water mixed with your color take some toilet paper and daub it out until it is more pure again.

Now that you’ve created some value scales with one color, we will move onto making value scales with two colors. Pick two two colors (three if you wish to include white) and practice making some 5 toned value scales. For instance you could go from green to yellow, deep red to orange to yellow, or violet to blue to light blue (by adding white).  Once you’ve found a value scale which can be easily replicated and is pleasurable to the eye it’s time to move on to assignment 2!

Assignment 2: Now that you’ve played around with some basic vale scales it’s time to jump into the first assignment which is to create a watercolor portrait of a person ( I know, we move fast dont we?) Before we get into this assignment it is important to remember that we do not have time to make finished pieces, so we just need to jump into each assignment and move forward. For this assignment you need to learn how to see value shapes and paint them.  For more tutorials and exercises in drawing feel free to check out the drawing section of my other site Painting-Course.Com.

First lets start with what value shapes are. Simply put, values (the darkness or lightness of how the shadows fall on an object) determine the way we see the everything. With painting we want to be able to copy (or sometimes exaggerate for our own desires) value shapes which can be read by a viewer.

Commonly we see different value scales quite frequenlty in vector graphic imagery such as the image below.


For this assignment you will be working from one of the following images which can all be found here.


And I want you to try and copy the photograph as closely as possible using the same colors you created in your monochromatic value scale.  If you can’t see the value scales clearly then squint as much as you can and you’ll begin to see that the world breaks down into simple shapes quite quickly.  If you don’t get it, or want to recap this method then check out this video.

Nice, now you can see the value shapes better. Now it’s time to jump into your watercolor portrait.

Here’s some more inspiration to check out.




If you have time try some of these exercises out during the week, and further investigate different types of contrast in painting.


Cold Warm Contrast:

In this type of contrast we are looking at the perceived temperature of a color. These should be pretty straightforward to everyone. In class when I ask about which colors are warm and which colors are cool I’ll generally get the following responses.

Red- Hot

Orange- Warm

Yellow- Warm

Green – Cool

Blue – Cold

Violet – Cool

So how can we use these differences in perceived temperature to our advantage? Well, the easiest way to begin to depict the differences in Cool/Warm Contrast can be seen in many landscape paintings. When one looks at a landscape we will notice that things in the far distance take on more of a cool bluish tone (this was first observed by Da Vinci who named this phenomena Atmospheric Perspective). So it is fair to say that cooler colors tend to recede into the distance, while warmer colors want to push to the front in space. In this painting by Corot we can see this in action. Notice how the cool colors near the horizon recede into the distance while the warm orange tones of the ground naturally seem closer to us. The same can also be seen in the Van Gogh painting as well.

But once again, this rule not only can apply to landscape paintings to achieve a sense of depth. It can also be used in figurative works much in the same way as Contrast of Value to direct the viewers eye to certain places. In the image below by Odd Nerdrum we can see how Contrast of Warm and Cool colors makes the figures stand out against their background, but also if we look really closely at the flesh we can also see a lot of warm vs cold happening in shadows vs light areas of value as well.

Assignment: Mix up six different colors both of which are examining the ideas of cold and warm colors. For instance Orange, Red, and Yellow for warm, and Green, Blue, and Violet for Cool. Then create an inverted city landscape where the cool colors are in the foreground, and the warm colors are in the background. This will create an immediate sense of tension (something we convered in Gestalt Principles of Design) and create an interesting dynamic. If this sounds too hard for you to grasp you can take a look at how a third grader interpreted this assignment. If a third grader can do it, so can you.


Complimentary Contrast:

In this case we are looking at how complimentary colors (colors opposite one another on the color wheel) activate elements in a composition and create a contrast. If you recall during the Color Wheel for Painting lesson we extensively went into exactly what complimentary colors are and how they work. Complimentary contrast is often also used to create a sense of contrast and highlight certain objects. It is also many times used to give a painting an overall feeling of harmony as our eyes naturally see the compliment to every color which we perceive (see Properties of Color for further reference).

In the painting below by Monet we see how complimentary contrast can bring life to a painting and can be used effectively to convey harmony across the entire composition.

Notice the interplay between all the complimentary colors in this painting. The blues happily reside right next to the oranges, and the shadows are filled with both violets as well as yellows. But it is important to note that there are numerous shades of each color, and that much experimentation had to be done to get the colors to harmonize. When working with complimentary contrast it is important to understand that one must also manipulate the value of a color when laid beside another in order for the painting to be read correctly. Simply put, this means that the painting should still work as a drawing if a black and white photo were taken of it.

Assignment:Using some source material (either a photo or a sketch) make a portrait painting of a person in which the subject is the complimentary color to the background. Remember as always, the places you want to highlight the most should have the most intense complimentary contrast in the whole composition. You can take a look at this self portrait (after he cut off his ear) by Van Gogh for inspiration.


Simultaneous Contrast:

Now things start to get a bit trickier as we delve into types of contrast which aren’t as clearly defined as the previous ones. Simultaneous contrast identified by Michel Eugène Chevreul refers to the manner in which the colors of two different objects affect each other. The effect is more noticeable when shared between objects of complementary color.

In the image here, the two inner rectangles are exactly the same shade of grey, but the upper one appears to be a lighter grey than the lower one due to the background provided by the outer rectangles.

Simultaneous Contrast

This is a different concept from contrast, which by itself refers to one object’s difference in color and luminance compared to its surroundings or background. Basically it is important to always remember that whatever color surrounds the color you wish to depict will change how we perceive that color. For this reason you’ll see that many artist palettes are grey which gives the least amount of interference with the color which is being mixed.

Assignment: Using Simultaneous Contrast create an abstract composition where the same color is used in different places throughout the composition but appears to be a different color when viewed overall. This can be achieived by first working on a large “background” of your painting first, and then painting in small sections of the same color in different selected small sections of the work. You can look at the painting below and examine how the same color has vastly different qualities based upon the colors surrounding it.


Contrast of Saturation:

This refers to the contrast present when more than one instance of a saturated color are present. We previously covered saturation and intensity, and by using Contrast by Saturation we can achieve an effect which gives us contrast based solely on the saturation (brightness) of a color. In the image below we can see how different colors change when their saturation is changed. Generally this can be easily achieved by adding more white, black, or a colors compliment to the color which is being mixed.

In the following painting by Matisse we can see how he used different saturations of the same color to achieve contrast. The pipe is the most saturated color in the painting, and also the place where our eye goes first. By doing so he has led our eye in the right direction by using a more intense/saturated color up against less saturated colors.

Assignment: Start with a very saturated color and make it less saturated by adding black in successive amounts, then do the same with white and make five different variations of tints. Then mix it with it’s compliment and make five different variations of the color. Using this single color as a base make a painting based upon a sketch or photo while thinking about which area should be the most important (saturated) and which areas should be the least.


Contrast by Extension:

Think of this as seeing the overall color theme for an entire work first. Looking at the painting by Breugel below we can see that the painting has an overall feeling of being very blue and cold. While the animals as well as the people are contrasted against the larger environment. Essentially you are contrasting a large amount of canvas against a very small portion. In order to achieve this effect you must also use other types of contrast which we have already covered such as Warm/Cool Contrast , Or Complimentary Contrast. The idea being that large areas will effect smaller areas, and if these smaller areas are in high contrast against the larger whole a balance can be achieved and the smaller subjects can be seen as more important.

Assignment: For this assignment you will first create a landscape which has an overall color theme to it (cool colors work best such as green and blue) and then you will create a figure to put into this environment which is out of tune with the larger color theme. You will notice immediately that the figure stands out in a very extreme fashion to the point where it may not seem like it should fit. If this is the case you can lower the intensity of the figure by lowering the saturation of the color.

Painting Intensive: Part 2

After Lunch we will be continuing with the second part of today’s lesson.

1:00 – 5:00

This part’s featured artist is:

Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)

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Edward Hopper was a prominent American realist painter and printmaker. While he was most popularly known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching.

Still Life Value Studies

This section will now move towards creating multiple sketches and a finished watercolor painting of a still life which will be set up in front of you.

The history of still lives goes back thousands of years and was a stark contrast to the religious imagery which commonly dominated painting. The benefits of still lives were many. For one, the subjects didn’t move so they could be carefully studied. By having small objects which could be easily moved around also gave the artist the ability to play around with composition. So as we proceed through this lesson we will first be looking at how composition plays a role in the creation of painting.

The most important thing to remember is that when we are painting we are painting within a certain shape (generally a rectangle) which has limits and boundaries. Somewhere usually in our teenage years it becomes common to ignore the edges of a painting and still lives take up the center of the page/canvas, since we generally believe that since this is the subject, it should therefore be placed in the center. However, as we look over the rules of composition we can see that there are a multitude of ways to draw attention to certain areas of a composition. We can take a look at this PDF for a quick guide to how we can think about composition.


Glass bowl of fruit and vases. Romanwall painting in Pompeii (around 70 AD)

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625),Bouquet (1599), Kunsthistorisches MuseumVienna. Some of the earliest examples of still life were paintings of flowers by Northern Renaissance, Dutch, and Flemish painters.

First we will start off with pencil and paper and begin working on what are called reductive drawings. It is best to use a softer ( 2b) pencil for this task. The same exercise can be done with toned (grey) paper and both white and black charcoal pencils, however the goal remains the same, and that is to create a study/sketch of how are values are working on our objects in preparation for the next stage which will be to paint these values utilizing the same values we used in the last assignment.

A value sketch can be something as simple as what you see below. There’s no need for too much detail, here we are focusing on compositional elements, value, and form. An example of what a quick sketch of a still life subject should look like can be seen below in the drawing of the shoe.

Watercolor painting of a shoe


Painting Intensive: Part 5

This Part’s artist is Josef Albers

Josef Albers was a German-born American artist and educator whose work, both in Europe and in the United States, formed the basis of some of the most influential and far-reaching art education programs of the 20th century.

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Today we will start exploring acrylic paint. Acrylic paint is a creation of the 20th century (1934) and after it was seen to be very durable as a artist material it was extended for use in homes and industrial products (mainly as latex paint) by the 1950s.

For this exercise each of you will be assigned an artist. But you are not going to be copying the artist’s works, but instead the colors they use. As we have already established a wide variety of colors can be created just from red, yellow, blue, and white. To the best of your ability you will be “color matching” the tones used in famous paintings in small squares on your canvas (done in a style similar to Josef Albers if you wish, or some other abstract/non representational painting). I’ll be helping you individually and see exactly what colors you should be mixing. This can be a very difficult task and frustrating as all colors will yield slightly differing results (using Pthalo Blue as opposed to Ultramarine Blue for instance) but the goal is to get these colors matched as closely as possible.