Fractals: A New Medium

Made in InkBlot Kaos

I think I’ve found a better way to explain what makes fractal art so different than other art forms.  The differences are there simply because fractals themselves are a different medium to work with.  Fractals are different than paint and canvas or chisel and stone.

In fact, fractals are probably the strangest kind of artistic medium of all.  Consider, for example, the two very dissimilar and but equally well established mediums of painting and sculpture.  The differences between them are actually much smaller than those which exist between them and fractals.  For starters, both painters and sculptors can touch and alter their work with their own hands.  Fractal artists can only interact with their work via the parameter settings of the fractal program.

I would imagine that many people would consider fractals to be very similar to any other kind of visual art medium because the final products look that way.  Fractal artists produce prints just as photographers do.  Fractals are two dimensional images just as any painting is a flat, two dimensional image.  Fractals can even be three dimensional making them appear to be just another way to make sculpture.

But that’s looking at fractal art backwards!  It’s more appropriate to look at how fractal art is made rather than how it appears in its final state.  It’s more enlightening to consider the context the artist works in than the form the finished product takes.  The differences are huge when one regards how the artist makes their so-called “paintings” and “sculptures”.

When one only looks at the end result, they don’t see the deeper differences between fractals and other forms of visual art that are not observable in the gallery.  The differences come from the process by which fractals are made; this is where fractals diverge enormously from other art forms.  The strengths and weaknesses of fractals as an art form are different than other visual mediums because when an artist, even a great artist, works with fractals, they are working in a substantially different artistic medium.  A medium that works differently.

Being a painter matters little in fractal art because a fractal program doesn’t allow for any painting.  One can digitally paint with a fractal image in Photoshop but that’s processing a fractal image, not generating one from a formula and rendering method.  Digital painting has more in common with traditional painting than it does with fractal art, despite their common digital context.

The irrelevance of painting skills is actually a liberating aspect of fractals for those who find painting or drawing to be a frustrating thing.  Those people are not limited by their lack of traditional art skills because the fractal program does the drawing and painting for them.

When a fractal artist goes to work what is most significant about their medium is not what they can do in it but what they can’t.  Like I mentioned earlier, the fractal artist can’t alter the image with their hands like a painter can.  Painters of course generally use brushes to do this but the brush is just an extension of their hand and is controlled by the artist’s gestures.  Fractal parameters don’t understand or compute “gestures”.  Another difference in the medium.

So the fractal artist works remotely, through the parameter options of the fractal program rather than directly on the image like a painter or sculptor.  This makes working with fractals quite a bit different, doesn’t it?  You can’t move a spiral around or make the mandlebrot man look slimmer and less like a snowman.  Sometimes parameter options will allow things like this, or possibly variations that approximate things like that, but those are options the formula and rendering methods make available not something the artist can always control like you can a paintbrush on a canvas.

This lack of control which limits what fractal artists can do is also what gives fractals their greatest strength.  Fractal formulas will run off and generate a huge panorama of imagery that few people (artistic or not) would never have imagined, much less realized, on their own.

The artist doesn’t have to tell the mandelbrot set what to do or where to do it.  Because of this the famous deep zoom animations are possible because the artist doesn’t have to draw all the (vertigo inducing) imagery required.  Not even the most talented cartoon animator could produce one of those hypnotic ten-minute zoom videos.  Or rather, the cartoonist’s zoom wouldn’t look the same and have the same awe inspiring effect.  Just as one can’t paint with a fractal program, a painter can’t “fractal” with a paintbrush!

You see now what I’m getting at, you horde of idiots?

The fractal medium is characterized by geometric beauty and not intellectual expression.  Fractal art is wonderful to look at but unavoidably stupid and empty-headed.  It’s because of the way fractals are made and not because of the people who make them.  It’s the medium!

Now granted, there are a lot of stupid people in the fractal world but (fortunately) that never enters into the equation because, like I said, there are no variables for human gesture or other human-ly things in a fractal formula.

So what can people do to make good fractal art?  What are the artist-controlled variables (if any) in fractal art?  Are we just frustrated painters in digital straight-jackets?

Well, like I said, there really aren’t any directly artist-controlled aspects in fractal art apart from changing the parameter settings.  So this is what fractal artists should focus on and concentrate their creative energies on.  It’s actually the only thing they can work with and if other artists get different results it’s because they’ve manipulated the parameters differently.

Now, strictly speaking layering and masking is processing although programs like Ultra Fractal incorporate these Photoshop functions right into the fractal program.  I’m all for it because I’m all for more (and more) processing of fractal imagery.

But you have to understand that these are not fractal and when you work with these kind of tools you’ve (silently) passed over into a different medium that doesn’t behave like fractal algorithms do because you’re not working with fractal algorithms anymore.  But that’s why people do layering and masking; they’re trying to get their hands on the canvas, so to speak, and paint on the fractal imagery.  It allows them direct control over the final image  and to do things they can’t do with fractal formulas.

Zooming and cropping is one aspect of making fractals that lies to some degree under the artist’s control.  (It’s a bit like photography but only if you’ll overlook the fact that fractals are the only thing you can “photograph”.)  Some creative selections of fractal images are unrecognizable to other artists who haven’t found that special place in the formula’s output.

Color is something generally overlooked in the creation of fractals.  Sometimes it’s hard to work with because, like all aspects of fractal imagery, it’s determined by things you can only slightly alter.  But if you find it’s possible to generate random palettes (like in Xaos) or to cycle or edit the coloring then it’s worth the effort because good color can make anything look appealing.

And don’t forget plain old experimentation.  Experimentation is doing what hasn’t been done and it’s also the most enjoyable thing about fractals, just playing with parameters to see what will happen.  I believe the main reason people get interested in fractals is they’re fun to play with or “highly interactive” as a psychologist would say.  There’s no money in fractals; most artists are here for the graphical pleasure.

But no matter what you do with your fractal parameters you’re not going to produce anything that lies outside the visual domain best described with words like: “design” “ornamental” “decorative art” and, the perennial, “beauty”.  The intellectually expressive, reflective and works that make social commentary are things that require a degree of interaction and artistic control that the fractal medium just doesn’t support and can’t provide.

But if you’re willing to accept such a limitation in a visual art form, then you’ll find fractals to be the greatest of all visual mediums for the easy creation and exploration of graphic design works, rivaling the ornamental and decorative genius of any human artist.

Those are the strengths and weaknesses of the fractal medium.

A Fistful of Fractals

~Click on images to view full size on original site~

Closer by Jesse (

Mayan Trickster by reallybigname was a great piece of design but this one here by Jesse Dierks is what I would call a great landscape –a fractalscape.

It’s a classic sci-fi vista complete with a rich, city of the gods in the distance.  Buildings that look like statues surrounded by a lush expanse of rich agricultural land around it.  And what’s with that weird temple like thing at the cross roads?

On the other hand it has a passing resemblance to the fire bombed cities of WW2 Japan.  A strange place indeed.  This is not the usual geometric scene made from Jesse’s own program, Mandelbulb 3D.  I guess all fractal programmers are artists at heart.

Julia Island 2 by Alexis Monnerot-Dumaine (2007)

This one I found on the Wikipedia.  An interesting example of post-processing.  The author give its story like this:

Julia set rendered as a landscape with Terragen. Fractal previously created with Ultrafactal (coordinates around 0.28 + 0i) and saved as a terrain with Terraformer. Boat added and level adjustments made with Photopshop.

The realistic context (all computer generated) is quite intriguing.  Someday UF may have a rendering option that does this with one click?

The Flood by Taurus66 (

Oops.   The Mandelbulber v 1.08 by Krzysztof (buddhi) Marczak already has it, or at least a lake effect feature.  It’s an old effect, but it still looks neat when used carefully.  This fractal thing, although somewhat fantasy-like, steps into reality with the water effect.  At the very least it dips its toes…  But now it’s become an island fit to illustrate a new voyage of Sindbad.

Secure Beneath My Watchful Eye by Madman (

The eye thing looked so natural I first thought it was just a reflection.  Madman is living up to his name here by turning this happy fractal scene into a laboratory nightmare.  But again, the eyeball addition fits nicely reminding me of the fine mixed media images I previously reviewed by Brutal Toad et al.

The Scapegoats Udder by Kraftwerk (aka Mandelwerk)

This is quite recent as well as being fresh and innovative.  Am I the only one that senses a Dali-like style to this?  What are they and what do they mean?  There’s something quite compelling about this image.

From the gallery page:

Description: Inspired by the painting by William Holman Hunt.
Having a fever… is good for creativity…

Higher quality:

Mandelbulb 3D
Photos of clouds in background and reflections + birds my own stock, added in photoshop.

Photoshop.  Why does that seem to be popping up so much?  Johan Andersson has really done a great job on this.  It’s stylish and most important: not overdone.  He’s added touches that only accentuate the image.  Such restraint and tastefulness is uncommon in the fractal art world.  But then, Johan’s not your average fractal artist.

Well, time to roll the movie credits.  Like all bank robbers, I wish I could grab bigger handfuls.  I might just return, For a Few Fractals More




Reallybigname = Reallygreatstuff

The only place  I ever go on a regular basis to see fractal art is  I don’t pay much attention to the names only the artwork.  So when a name like reallybigname becomes familiar to me it can only be because he’s been consistently uploading interesting work.

~Click on images to view full size on original site~

Mayan Trickster #4 by reallybigname

It was the colors that caught my eye, but on viewing the larger image I was genuinely shocked to see the incredible detail and stunning 3D depth to the image.  This was apparently made with Jesse Dierks’ Mandelbulb 3D but I’ve never seen anything like it from that program or any other.

As the title suggests, this is one of a series of images uploaded to and here’s an even more recent one:

Mayan Trickster #6 - Shambhalaya by reallybigname

Everything is just great; the color, the lighting.  And like the first one the incredible detail is …incredible!  Really crisp, high-quality rendering too.  This is a new benchmark for Jesse’s program and the 3D fractal category probably too.

Reallybigname must just have a flair for fractal “piloting” because he’s been making these sorts of highly detailed, geometric images for a few months now.  This one from May, 2011:

Illuminaughty by reallybigname

Reminds me of the crisp, detailed and very stylish images by “blob” I reviewed in a post a year ago.  This is the geometric engines of fractal art working in high gear; who could ever make artwork like this by hand?  And could they do it better?  The best any hand made artist could do to approach this sort of thing would be to copy something like this.

Wooden Ruins by reallybigname

The first genuine all wood 3D fractal image.  Wooden fractals?  Doesn’t it look like wood to you?

This reallybigname guy has too much talent.  Who is he?

I did some link clicking and quickly discovered his real name is Forest Walz, hailing from San Jose, California (or Costa Rica?).  He has a website, REALLYBIGNAME.COM where it tells me that he’s… well, a screenshot is easier:

Now you know who reallybigname is

I knew this guy was talented.  I’ll bet he has a YouTube channel.  Could it be called “reallybigname”?  Let’s try that and see:

He wrote the music, too.  Notice the nice, clean rendering and the… oh no…the temptation to embed YouTube videos has me in it’s power… can’t… stop… it…

Slideshows seem a little tame compared to 3D flythoughs, but this serves as a nice portfolio of reallybigname’s work and suggests, I believe, that discovery is a big part of making interesting fractal work.   There’s a wide range of imagery here but his recent Mayan Trickster series are the best.

In fact, I think the Mayan Trickster images are a good example of the graphical designs strengths of fractals that I talked about in my Rebooting Fractal Art series of blog posts.  Reallybigname’s Mayan images may not be Picassos or Rembrants, but they are very good at what they do.  And what they do is excel at complex graphical design; something Picasso or Rembrant in fact could not do as well as reallybigname here has done.

We need to start thinking of fractal art as the domain of geometric design and rich graphical wonders like these.  Baseball players don’t make good swimmers, but when they stick to playing baseball they really shine.

Reallybigname has just hit a homer with his Mayan series.  There’s nothing speculative or subjective about that; anyone can see how fractal algorithms excel at this kind of artwork.  Fractal art is in a class of its own and this is some of the best of it.

The Fractal Art Manifesto Revisited

While it may not be as well known today as it has been in the past, The Fractal Art Manifesto, written back in 1999 by Kerry Mitchell, is one of the very few attempts to formally define fractal art.  If you visit the Wikipedia page for Fractal Art, you’ll see that quotations from The Fractal Art Manifesto make up half of the introductory section of the article.  The point of view expressed in The Fractal Art Manifesto is something that needs to be addressed by anyone challenging the current state of Fractal Art since that current state today reflects much of the thinking in that singular document.

In a nutshell, my disagreement with the Fractal Art Manifesto (FAM) is that it over exaggerates the role of the “artist” and minimizes the role of the computer program in the creation of fractal art.  Furthermore, it grossly generalizes what art is and subsequently blurs the boundary between simpler kinds of graphical work like design and ornamentation with that of the more complex, expressive works that engage the viewer on higher, more thought provoking levels.  It’s just this kind of view of fractal art that leads so many fractal artists today to view fractals as just another artistic medium and themselves as just another kind of artist capable of producing work of similar status once they “master” their fractal art tools in the way other artists of the past whose own mastered their medium and tools to make their great art.

From the FAM:

Fractal Art is not:

Computer(ized) Art, in the sense that the computer does all the work. The work is executed on a computer, but only at the direction of the artist. Turn a computer on and leave it alone for an hour. When you come back, no art will have been generated.

“Executed…at the direction of the artist…leave it alone…no art”  Well, that “direction” the artist gives is what?  Choosing a formula, a rendering method, zooming in or out; it’s more like “placing an order”, like choosing menu options than directing the actions of a digitized paintbrush.  The balance is off; the computer does more of the work, much more, not less of it.  The fractal program draws the entire image, we just choose the options and chose only from the options.  “Direction” is an overstatement.  “Initiate”, “select” or “adjust” is more appropriate.

The fractal program is the major contributor while the operator’s role is trivial.  Adjusting parameters is not a terribly difficult or demanding thing.  The fact that the process can’t be automated and left for the computer to do on its own doesn’t mean it’s a difficult one.  Parking lots have attendants and supermarket checkouts have cashiers to scan bar codes and take payments.  Both of these functions need human supervision, but neither of them are hard to perform.  Adjusting fractal parameters is actually a fun thing to do and all one has to do is pay attention to what works and save the results.  I’m not sure such “work” qualifies one for the label (and role) of “artist”.  The role of the fractal artist is minimal because the work the fractal artist does is minimal.

In keeping with the theme of The Artist, rather than the more humble computer term, “user”, the FAM goes on to speak of Mastery, that great and glorious status in the fractal art world that says, “You’ve Arrived”.  It’s a common theme (and myth) in today’s fractal art world to talk about “prestigious” fractal artists.  The concept was found in the FAM too.

(Fractal Art is not:)

Random, in the sense of unpredictable. Fractal Art, like any new pursuit, will have aspects unknown to the novice, but familiar to the master. Through experience and education, the techniques of FA can be learned. As in painting or chess, the essentials are quickly grasped, although they can take a lifetime to fully understand and control. Over time, the joy of serendipitous discovery is replaced by the joy of self-determined creation.

Techniques of fractal art?  “As in painting or chess…”   That’s a pretty lofty comparison, which again reinforces my opinion that what’s wrong here is not so much whether the term “artist” is appropriate or not, but that the contribution of the artist (or whatever) in fractal art has been exaggerated and that this overblown role once accepted leads onwards, logically, to the assumption that fractal artists can be classed into novices and masters because what they do is so complicated and challenging.  And note the extension of the comparison between the two classes of novice and master into “serendipitous discovery” and “self-determined creation”.  Novices, like prospectors go wandering around looking for gold, while The Masters make themselves it by transmuting lead using their advanced skills.

There’s more…

(Fractal Art is not:)

Something that anyone with a computer can do well. Anyone can pick up a camera and take a snapshot. However, not just anyone can be an Ansel Adams or an Annie Liebovitz. Anyone can take brush in hand and paint. However, not just anyone can be a Georgia O’Keeffe or a Pablo Picasso. Indeed, anyone with a computer can create fractal images, but not just anyone will excel at creating Fractal Art.

The FAM makes another reference to photography but again it simply takes everything too far.  After all: just how much is fractal art like photography?

Fractal Art is a subclass of two dimensional visual art, and is in many respects similar to photography—another art form which was greeted by skepticism upon its arrival. Fractal images typically are manifested as prints, bringing Fractal Artists into the company of painters, photographers, and printmakers. Fractals exist natively as electronic images. This is a format that traditional visual artists are quickly embracing, bringing them into FA’s digital realm.

“Sub-class of two dimensional art…”  Meaning what?  It’s flat and you can look at it.  There’s some very subtle reasoning going on here, Mitchell is trying to connect fractals to all of visual art.  The categories are described in very general terms so that they will be broad enough to qualify fractals for membership.  But what exactly do fractals and photographs have in common?  Better still, what does fractal art and photographic art have in common?

This the core issue in understanding fractal art’s position in the larger art world.  Fractals are a medium and that medium has limitations that mediums like photography don’t have.  Yes, fractals are like photography in the sense that we “capture” imagery rather than create it by hand, but a camera is not much like a fractal program window.  Photography deals with realistic imagery; people, objects, human drama; while fractal programs are limited to geometric constructions.  Only in a broad, academic sense do fractals and photography have any connection.  And fractal artists are only brought “into the company” of painters and printmakers because they all make prints if they happen to use the same printing store on the same day.  I guess that would also bring them “into the company” of people getting passport photos and picking up baby and wedding photo enlargements too.  “Mom! Dad! I stood in line with Da Vinci today!”

Anyhow, it goes on with the misconceived idea that fractals are just another visual art medium and thereby suitable for the same artistic endeavors (when fully mastered) that artists in any other medium attempt.  I’ve bolded in red further examples of this from the rest of the FAM below to illustrate this:

Fractal Art is:

Expressive. Through a painter’s colors, a photographer’s use of light and shadow, or a dancer’s movements, artists learn to express and evoke all manner of ideas and emotions. Fractal Artists are no less capable of using their medium as a similarly expressive language, as they are equipped with all the essential tools of the traditional visual artist.
Creative. The final fractal image must be created, just as the photograph or the painting. It can be created as a representational work, and abstraction of the basic fractal form, or as a nonrepresentational piece. The Fractal Artist begins with a blank “canvas”, and creates an image, bringing together the same basic elements of color, composition, balance, etc., used by the traditional visual artist.
Requiring of input, effort, and intelligence. The Fractal Artist must direct the assembly of the calculation formulas, mappings, coloring schemes, palettes, and their requisite parameters. Each and every element can and will be tweaked, adjusted, aligned, and re-tweaked in the effort to find the right combination. The freedom to manipulate all these facets of a fractal image brings with it the obligation to understand their use and their effects. This understanding requires intelligence and thoughtfulness from the Artist.

(emphasis mine)

The last paragraph, “Requiring of input…”, makes the act of creating fractal art out to be a process that is as much under the control of the artist as it is with a painter in his medium.  If that were actually the case then fractal art would contain much more variety and personal style that it does because each artist would be literally sculpting the image remotely through the program’s controls with almost unlimited outcomes.

By “every element” I would assume Mitchell is referring to the list of items that goes into the “assembly” of the image in the previous sentence.  But such elements are merely the parameters of a fractal image that we’re all familiar with and they don’t give anyone anything like what I would describe as the “freedom to manipulate”.  What the artist can control in fractal art is limited and this is why so much of fractal art has the same style and appearance.  In fact it is easier to spot the program a piece of fractal art was made with than it is to guess who made it.  It’s the “style” of the program that characterizes fractal art, not the style of the artist.  This is in huge contrast to what the FAM portrays as fractal artists working with in their medium like high tech painters.  Whatever “thoughts” the artist might have in all this are largely irrelevant because there’s little opportunity to work them into the equation like there is when a painter imagines something and then takes up a brush to paint.

Most of all, Fractal Art is simply that which is created by Fractal Artists: ART.

Therein ends the majestic document called The Fractal Art Manifesto.  Notice the emphasis given the word art at the ending –all caps.  Why such an in-your-face kind of emphasis?  Manifestos, especially art ones, tend to be emphatic proclamations, but I think it’s important to recognize another, perhaps historical reason for why Mitchell (typographically) shouts the last word of his manifesto.  And that is the theme of defending the integrity of fractals as a bone fide art form before disapproving (and technophobic) art critics.

From the third paragraph of the FAM:

…similar to photography—another art form which was greeted by skepticism upon its arrival. (emphasis mine)

I don’t know what the situation is today, but ten years ago when the FAM was written, it was at least perceived by Mitchell and others that fractal art was being shrugged off by some artsy folks (curators, critics…) as not being art at all and trivialized by such statements as “that’s just Photoshop” or “anyone can do that”.  Damien Jones, on a web page entitled, Of Fractals and Art, hosted alongside the FAM makes similar allusions to the weak reception fractal art has received by some in the art world:

Probably as long as there has been art, there have been people asking whether this or that qualifies as art. Fractal artists often catch a lot of flak concerning their art. We sometimes have difficulty being included in art shows or in selling our work; we’re not always taken seriously, so to speak. We are treated as dabblers, pretenders, rather than as artists expressing ourselves through a new (relatively unexplored) medium. Since I consider myself a fractal artist, I’m not exactly an unbiased party, but I do at least have reasons for why I consider fractal art a valid art form.

Our art is best received by those who know nothing about it. They simply look at what we create, and their reaction is one of surprise, awe, delight… a range of positive emotions. They don’t ask whether it’s art or not; we present it as art, they accept it as such. No, our problems often seem to come from those who know a little bit about how we do what we do.

(emphasis mine)

“Those who know a little…”  They’re the problem people.  Or is it those who take the time to find out –a little more?  And think about fractal art –a little more?  That’s my problem; I started thinking about fractal art for myself.  But this is another topic for some other time…  If you’re interested, Jones goes on to say in his micro-festo much the same sort of things as Mitchell does in the FAM.

It’s a perennial topic in the fractal art world: we don’t get no respect.  I don’t know if it’s such a big deal anymore because maybe fractal artists don’t care so much what “the world” thinks about them because online it matters much less.  You only hear from people who like your work or want to buy prints.  You don’t get to see the sneering and snickering of art critics and other members of the intelligentsia.  You have to go offline perhaps for those delightful experiences (or start a blog…).

But I don’t think that fully explains Mitchell’s extreme reverential view of the fractal art medium and fractal art.  I think that’s really the way he sees it.  The extreme view of the mocking art critics is matched and countered by his own extreme view that seeks to defend fractals as being everything the sneering critics say it isn’t.  My own view is something in between.  I would describe fractal programs as more than tools and the users of them as something less than artists.  The resulting medium is something categorically new, consisting of powerful tools for creating decorative patterns and designs but having a “creative ceiling” that can only be overcome if one enlarges their toolset and thereby multiplies the graphical options.  Such advanced processing would then result in the sort of freedom to manipulate and tweak every element that Mitchell associates with traditional visual art.


[update 2011/08/26 7:30pm]

It seems Mitchell has sent out a call to all the Ultra Fractal Mailing List to come on over to Orbit Trap and defend the FAM:

Ultra Fractal Mailing List item, 2011/08/26

Rebooting Fractal Art: Part 5

The future of fractal art

Well, bluntly stated, there is no future in fractal art.  At least not in the kind of fractal art that most artists are making today.  That’s the stuff I called Parameter Art in my last posting, Part 4.  What we’ve all seen is what we’re all going to see.

Of course there will still be a lot of activity and plenty of people making parameter art –it will still be as popular as it is;  but that’s not what I’d call progress or development –a future.  Progress is better art, innovative art –new things.  All that popularity is simply people enjoying the interaction and exploration of fractals: fractalism.  They’re the audience, not the artists.

I see an art form that reached it’s apex about the turn of the millennium when full color rendering had become common and fractal programs reached their current level of sophistication in rendering.  It just wasn’t so obvious back then that fractal art had climbed as high as it could.  In fact, I think most artists thought it was all just getting going.  Even today, many people say fractal art is just beginning.

Great new software and techniques haven’t moved fractal art off the plateau it’s on either.  What is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Mandelbulb/Mandelbox event this past few years is how quickly it has become just another formula despite adding another physical dimension.  I was really excited about the 3D fractal thing and thought here, after so long, was something categorically different.

But now I see it as just an extension of the 2D fractal art scene with the same problem: no style, no depth; just a technical development.  There’s been a steady stream of technical developments and even new software produced, but it’s become more a thrill of exploring new parameters and formulas (interactive) whose output is only technically different.

It’s become like bird watching: you have to be taxonomically obsessed to enjoy it.  It’s an insider’s art form, if in fact it is an art form at all and not just a programming game.

What’s wrong with the BMFAC is what’s wrong with fractal art

Today’s fractal art world is an inbred place because the fractal artists that stick around like that sort of cliquish environment where who you know is what it’s all about.  Some defend their little enclave on the grounds that it’s their preference to make art with one eye closed and one hand tied behind their back.  The sad thing is that some really do believe that Ultra Fractal is an art form all itself, the ultimate fractal tool and the ultimate fractal art; “ultra-fractal art.”

Today’s fractal artist hungers for attention and status from their friends.  Contests are the apex of their art form.  It’s not about the art, it’s about who’s looking at it and what they’re saying.  I know, because the moment I criticize any winning piece from a BMFAC the author immediately rushes in to defend not their art work, but the validity of their little prize and the reputations of the people who gave it.  No one seems to think a lack of good enteries is a problem for an art exhibit.

Fractal artists like the technical restraints of their genre because it creates the illusion that fractal art is hard to make and therefore a worthy accomplishment.  (There’s actually courses offered in how to use Ultra Fractal.)  Open it up to processing and all of a sudden their ten-hour renders have to stand beside my ten-second “clickies”.  What if one of those filter things actually looks appealing?

Don’t worry, it will never happen if of course one demands “real” fractal art to be scalable, high-resolution works which only a parameter file can generate; then I’m left eating UF’s dust.  And that’s exactly what the BMFAC’s organizer, Damien Jones has done.  He concocted the rules to give the appearance of allowing anything to be entered but then cut everything out except for parameter works by requiring image sizes that no preexisting image or even digital photograph could meet.  He did this to keep digital art from actually entering and competing with UF art.  And the UF artists call it a quality requirement.  Good art is big art, right?  That’s how dumb things are in the fractal art world.

A recent commenter pointed this out by saying that even if a fractal sculpture was submitted as a photograph, the artist would have to use a 48 megapixel camera to meet the image size requirements.  It sounds ridiculous but not when you realize how vulnerable today’s fractal art is to outside competition, that is, to competition with unrestricted processing.  Restrictions like this aren’t meant to keep fractal artists in, they’re meant to keep unauthorized artists out.  Everyone’s free to leave. The average fractal artist sees this as “defining” fractal art and maintaining its mathematical purity, as if any image with fifty layers in it has any possibility of being a pure anything and hasn’t already entered into the artificial realm of photoshop constructions.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the fractal art world doesn’t interest the innovative and creative type of person.  It’s not an innovative or creative thing anymore.  It’s all been done before.  Compare any of the BMFAC “winners” with artwork that was made ten years ago.  There’s no place to go anymore.  Ironically, the BMFAC came along after fractal art had already peaked.  But they could have started their own renaissance if they’d allowed creative fractal art to be entered.  But like I said, they weren’t interested in enlarging the fractal art world; they wanted to draw the limits around fractal art in such a way that they would be left standing in the center of it.  In economics this is called protectionism.  It props up the weak and inflates their wealth.  And maintains the status quo a little longer.

…do fractals really need a special category?

I never seriously considered this before, but since writing this series I’ve begun to question the relevance of separating fractals from other types of computer art.  I’m not sure that fractal algorithms produce art work that is sufficiently more exotic than any other form of algorithm or computer generated graphics.  This is really the big question facing fractal art today, and the responses you get to it, more than anything else, tell you where that person’s interests lie and from what perspective they view fractal art.

From a science perspective the category makes perfect sense which probably explains why fractal art is such a well fenced off area today because so many involved emphasize the science and not the art aspects.  In fact Benoit Mandelbrot is often described as the father of fractal art although he has never been described by anyone (particularly himself) as an artist.  He’s the father of fractal geometry and a real genius, too, but fractal artists seem to think he’s the founder of something he only dabbled in way back when.  Of course, having expired credentials is no barrier to becoming a judge of fractal art.  At the BMFAC it seems to be something sought after.  How many of them have given up making fractal art?  Doesn’t that say something when “the most prestigious fractal artists” aren’t interested in fractal art any more?

But really, what fractal programs produce is just another kind of photoshop filter anyhow.  In fact, there are some fairly nice photoshop filters that create algorithmic imagery exclusively.  Fractals belong in the larger category of computer art.  It’s a natural thing in the photoshop world.

I don’t mean alongside digital photography and it’s derivatives.  I mean along with other kinds of imagery that is generated exclusively with computer programs.  (Am I getting restrictive and exclusive now too?)  All computer art forms are close enough to each other in terms of what they produce regardless of how they work.  Shouldn’t such “fractal cousins” be exhibited together instead of apart?  But good luck trying to convince the fractal “experts” that their glorious art form ought to mix and mingle with the rest of the computer art village folk.  It’s ironic since the trend in fractal art is to make imagery that doesn’t look fractal and utilizes the layering and masking techniques that used to be the hallmark of graphical processing and the antithesis of fractal (i.e. generated) art.

Graphical experimentation is the frontier for all computer art

I’ve dubbed it “Digital Expressionism” after the Abstract Expressionism of the hand made art world.  Interestingly, interactive installations, like what I suggested fractals were best at, are a common type of digital or electronic art form.  They like to play up and expose the strange, electronic nature of their art form.  Only the fractal art world seems bent on moving backwards into the offline world of picture frames and canvases to produce an unplugged electronic art form.

Maybe what’s needed is just a whole new generation of artists who don’t have the old attitudes and baggage of today’s fractal artists, artists who seem to want the status and image of traditional artists and are attempting to get it by promoting fractal art as the Picassos of our time and them even as the pioneers of it.

People love fractals!

Fractals have a strong scientific allure but that wears off fast once you see how orderly and homogenized they are at a closer inspection.  Many fractal folks have stated how enthusiastic the average guy at the flea market is when he sees fractal art for the first time.  Or when students discover fractals in a multimedia classroom.  They click immediately and the artistic connection is electric!

Fractals, like most algorithms produce patterns or what could be described as highly organized imagery.  Like I said before, it’s the achilles heel of fractal art but it’s also what wows people when they (first) see it.  Complex patterns are a gold mine of decorative and design type imagery but that repetitive, iterative process doesn’t do the Picasso thing very well.  In fact, I believe that the popularity of UF’s layering and masking features are because fractal artists have felt frustrated with fractals creatively and need layering to shuffle the deck, so to speak.

Today’s fractal artist considers fractal art to be the greatest things that a fractal program can make.  When instead they out to be pursuing the greatest things that can be made with fractals.  This program-centric mentality is what keeps fractal art so boring.  Imagine if music was only whatever could be played on a piano?  Or even just a violin?  What would those soloists say when they heard an orchestra?  They’d probably say it sounds nice but it’s not music.  Too many sounds competing with each other and confusing the music.

Which reminds me of an interesting story…

I had an opportunity to talk with a modern music composer back in 2005.  Somehow fractals came up and he told me of his experience discussing fractal music with a few younger composers who were excited about the creative possibilities of fractal music.  After giving him a rather long and involved explanation of the wonderful way these mathematical formulas could be used to write music, he responded with the blunt question, “Yes, but is it any good?”

Despite having a distinct fondness for criticism, the old guy was reminding the fractal music composers of a simple but practical observation that regardless of whatever method they use, their music will be judged by whether it sounds any good or not and not by the fascinating science story that from their perspective makes the music new and different.

If the old composer was a visual artist I think he’d respond to a similar introduction to making art with fractals by asking, “Yes, but is it any good?”  In the final analysis that’s what fractal art, or any art form, is all about: making good art.

But, woe to anyone who offers an opinion on good or even “better” art.  The mere fact you have an opinion in the fractal art world makes you suspect.  Someone trying to ruin things.  Etc…

In a nutshell

Fractal programs are a fun and interactive form of digital art made possible through the discovery of fractal geometry and realized by the processing power of computers.  Much of what we see on the internet are the snapshot souvenirs and test renders of a group best described as “fractalists” or fractal enthusiasts.  Those who deliberately pursue the aesthetic qualities of fractals will ultimately discover that fractals make good designs and amazingly decorative, ornamental kinds of works.  Fine art however, like the stuff in art books, is just beyond the scope of fractals or any other kind of algorithmic art source.  It’s like trying to reach the moon in an airplane; it looks pretty straightforward until you actually attempt it.

But if you want your fractal art to go beyond the ornamental (or just maximize the fun) then working with it in pixel-form in a graphics program will both greatly extend your creative reach and at the same time give your fractal art real style and individuality because processing options are so much more diverse and unpredictable.  There’s no personal style in the kind of images that can be stored as a parameter file and modified entirely within a fractal program.  Those kinds of images are more a product of the program and its programming because the users who make them are limited to just those options.  It’s this that has resulted in artwork and an art form that is limited because it’s defined and composed of limits.

The future of your fractal art is up to you.

Rebooting Fractal Art: Part 4

Pixel Art vs. Parameter Art

In my preceding three parts I have dealt with what I see are the limitations of fractals for making artwork.  To put it simply, the geometric imagery called “fractals” has a natural bent towards the decorative and design type of art work.  Artists who attempt to create more serious kinds of artwork with fractals have an overly optimistic view of their artistic potential and a view that at this late stage in the development of the genre is no longer justified.  Fractals are objects of sometimes intense graphical beauty, but frustrate even the greatest efforts at intellectual expression.  They are a source of simple graphical imagery whose “message” is never anything more than a strange new beauty born of mathematics and computer science.  Trying to present them as anything more refined and articulate is just pretentious.

At the core of all this is the way fractal art is made.  Fractals are made from geometric formulas and other graphical algorithms that give them their visual appearance.  These algorithmic origins are both the strength and the weakness of fractal art.

Strength:  Fractal algorithms quickly generate wild and incredible panoramas whose size and scope is literally on a galactic scale.

Weakness:  Algorithms are rigidly deterministic and we interact with them only in those aspects of which the parameters are adjustable.

What I want to talk about now is two different approaches to making fractal art.  One is what I call Parameter Art and the other is what I call Pixel Art.  Parameter Art is made entirely within a fractal program while Pixel Art only begins with the imagery a fractal program makes and extends the creative process by transforming it in a graphics program like Photoshop.  The two methods of making fractal art have been around for quite some time although Parameter art is by far the most common type today, while Pixel art, referred to as “post-processed” art in the past, has almost disappeared from the fractal world.

Different File Types

Images made entirely from parameters are similar to vector images which can be drawn at any size because the “image files” are not really images at all, they’re the stored blueprints, the instructions for drawing the image.  Common image file types like jpg, gif or png are bitmaps and simply store the pixel pattern that you see on your computer screen.  They’re no different than a screenshot or photograph of a fractal and contain no fractal formula or any other kind of rendering information.  A bitmap is derived from a fractal formula, it’s no longer connected to it –the end product.

Parameter files are used to generate fractal images in a fractal program while pixel files are just a bunch of colored dots (pixels) stored as a map just like a huge digital mosaic.  There’s a fundamental difference between these two types of files when it comes to working with them.  With parameter files you can alter the elements of the image and change it’s structure and other things.  With parameter files you work with the underlying algorithms that draw the image but with pixel files all you can do is alter the little pixel tiles in that big digital mosaic called a bitmap. By way of illustration, pixel files become a group portrait of a crowd of people while parameter files contain the actual people.

Parameter files can be more complex and incorporate other algorithms.  With the latest version of Ultra Fractal, one of the most popular programs, a great many more algorithmic things than ever before can be combined and tweaked like a graphical orchestra of algorithmic instruments.  But jpgs and other pixel files are one time deals that can only be adjusted and worked on in pixel based graphics program like Photoshop and many others.  You can only work on the pixels because that’s all that pixel files contain.

Parameter files = algorithms = fractal programs
Pixel files = pixel dots = graphics program

Obi wan Kenobi and the Post-processing Jedi Knights

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away… fractal artists used to argue about something called “post-processing”.  That was the processing of fractal generated pixel files in graphics programs after (post) making them in a fractal program.  It caused considerable controversy back then (c 2000), but today one hears little of this sort of thing in fractal circles.

The controversy was never resolved; what happened is that over the years fewer and fewer fractal artists post-processed their work (apart from minor enhancements like sharpening or anti-aliasing, which don’t really count) and so the post-processing debate just faded away.  Today almost all fractal artists create fractal art by adjusting and transforming the parameters of algorithms in fractal programs and not by transforming the pixel patterns with graphical effects in a graphics program.  Today’s fractal art is a parameter-based art form, not a pixel-based art form.  The final image is produced by a parameter file in a fractal program and not by processing in a graphics program.  The creative work is all done in a fractal program.

The great benefit of working entirely within a fractal program with parameters is that you can regenerate the exact same image at huge pixel sizes for printing out in high quality and you can rework those algorithm collections with new additions and collaborate with others in the ever popular, online “tweak-fests”.  It’s an aspect of fractal art that makes it unique –a sophisticated, programmable drawing machine.  This sort of technical power of high resolution rendering helps to give parameter art a more professional reputation among some.

But working solely with parameters is also an aspect of fractal art that limits it’s creativity and homogenizes its style.  Parameter art is algorithmic art and algorithmic art is limited only to those aspects of the image for which options are available.  No big deal, right?  Think of all the different things that can be altered in a multi-layered, complex fractal formula made in Ultra Fractal.  Plenty of room for creativity there, you’d probably say.  And many will agree.

Yes, but what one fractal artist can do to change a parameter, almost (almost) any other fractal artist can also do.  And the huge number of options available doesn’t mean much because unless one drastically changes the coloring and other rendering options, as opposed to simply the formula options, everything comes out looking like a variation on a theme because it’s all rendered in the same style.  You can get 50 different fractal images but they’re all made of the same stuff and rendered the same way.

I once stumbled on an online gallery made by someone who used the same fractal program I did.  They had a few images that looked very much like ones I had made and for which I had posted online along with the parameter files.  At first I was certain they’d “tweaked” my parameters and produced a “new” image by zooming in on some other part of the image created by my parameters.  But as I studied the image I began to see aspects of the coloring and general rendering that weren’t quite the same.  Finally, despite the general appearance of the image I decided that it was quite possible that they’d stumbled on a very similar rendering mixture all on their own.  They probably had never even seen my images or played with the parameters.  Why not?  Engineers often accidentally stumble on previously discovered and patented processes all on their own.  It ought to happen even more in the world of fractal software.

Yeah, I know.  “Think of all the variables involved and all the different ways layers can be merged or masked in Ultra Fractal.”  If you think all those parameters are an infinite creative playground for fractal artists then why does so much fractal art –and I’m talking about the better examples of it–look so much the same?  Or better yet:  Why do fractal artists not have identifiable styles?  I’ll tell you why: because fractal artists don’t work with the pixels.  It’s because they don’t post-process their work and avail themselves of the thousands of weird and not so weird graphical effects and filters that transform images much differently than the standard ways fractal programs do.

Parameter art tends to converge on a few successful looking rendering combinations (like my online rival did) while pixel art tends to diverge from those few styles because graphics processing provides many more options and they can have such a radical effects on the image.

Essential differences

The essential difference between parameter and pixel art is the difference between making fractal art entirely within a fractal program and instead using the fractal program as the beginning of a process that ends in a graphics program.  The output of a fractal program, although, strictly speaking, a pixel-based, bitmapped image, can be stored as a parameter file and that’s it’s defining quality: fractal program art–parameter file art.  The output of a graphics program although it can also be a multi-layered file format, is essentially a pixel thing, a bitmap.  In fractal programs one works with parameters and in graphics programs one works with pixels.

Despite the fact that both processes are “art with fractals” the characteristics of the two processes are quite different and diverge from each other in terms of final results.  Parameter art is restrictive and standardized, while pixel art is almost unlimited and produces more individualized results.  Pixel art therefore has greater creative potential and subsequently is the path that creative fractal artists ought to pursue.  Parameter art, with it’s deterministic, predominantly rule based methods of generating imagery appeals to people who enjoy the technical challenge of working with formulas and algorithms more than making weird and novel kinds of imagery.  Their perspective on fractal art I suspect is different from the post-processors.

A natural development for fractal art

Pixel art is a natural extension of fractal art for the graphically creative, while parameter art is satisfying only to those who are technically creative.  They see the confines of algorithms as a creative challenge of its own kind in the same way that designing better machinery is a creative puzzle that requires one to work within the limitations of the materials, laws of physics, and functional goals of the desired machine.  Or like the rules and boundaries of a sports game which one must master and respect if they want to play the game successfully.  Parameter art is an engineer’s kind of art form.

It’s not like one is art and the other isn’t; or one is better and the other isn’t.  It’s the results that one should evaluate and not the methods.  But I’ve observed that parameter fractal artists consistently produce the kind of work that would be expected from such confined methods while the post-processors produce work that is more individualistic and varied –as would be expected from a more divergent and wide ranging set of graphical options.

The Sciences and the Arts are both valued aspects of civilization.  Progress in the Sciences is measured in making discoveries, while in the Arts progress comes from creating new things.  Both are highly challenging fields but one is the challenge of discovering what is there but not previously known while with the other the challenge is to make things that never existed before.  I see connection between parameter art and scientific discovery and a different connection that joins graphical creativity to pixel art.  Most of the people engaged in fractal art today are of the science group and they make the sort of artwork that impresses their colleagues.  I’ve never been able to understand why more fractal folks don’t experiment with graphical filters.  But now I do:  To them that’s something completely different.

Formula in; Formula out

Fractal art is primarily parameter art today and that has given fractal art it’s distinctive look: formulaic and standardized.  Working solely within a fractal program with parameters is not going to allow artists to distinguish themselves or produce stylish, individualized artwork.  The parameter art method is homogenizing fractal art.  But it’s a natural outcome for fractals and not the fault of the artists, unless of course one can blame them for working entirely within a single program “dedicated” to fractal art.

Dedicated, yes; but not to artistic creativity.  A fractal program’s dedication is to generating fractal imagery.  It only becomes a limitation when one choses to make it the limit to fractal art.  It will greatly expand the creative horizon of fractal art to step beyond the boundaries of fractal algorithms and the simple in-house processing that fractal programs allow.  Furthermore, it begs the question, “Why is processing a fractal image, even to the point of distorting its shape and degrading its details, considered to be a different kind of fractal art when the multi-layering and masking abilities of Ultra Fractal produce similarly altered images?”

The answer is that UF processing is done entirely within a fractal program (i.e. working with parameters).  If you find that answer to be lacking in substance, then I think you’re beginning to see things more along my lines and are putting graphical creativity ahead of fractal algorith-mity (high five).

But in defense of the parameter artists, working entirely within a fractal program like UF (for example) allows you to produce artwork that can easily be rendered large enough for good sized, quality prints.  Actually, for any sized quality prints.  This in turn allows one to produce clean, smooth fractal structures in the same slick way that vector artwork looks sharp and crisp.  Once you start working with pixels you’re restricted to the current image size in your graphics program.  Unless you repeat everything over again starting with the same fractal image generated at a larger size.  But that sort of thing is hard to reproduce.  That’s why pixel art is so unique: often the artist can’t remember everything they did (or is it just me?).

But you can’t really say that Photoshop lacks the ability to produce large size, print quality images?  I process almost everything I make from fractal programs and I work at a resolution that is, at the most, slightly smaller than my monitor’s screen resolution.  But that’s just because it’s easier and I’m not interested in producing prints.  My favorite size is 600×600 pixels and it looks just great on a computer screen.  But that’s not where it’s at these days.

Pixel artists can produce big work, they just have to plan it out ahead of time.  In fact, there are some processing “syndromes” I’ve discovered that actually look better when you scale up the final image.  That goes against everything we’ve known about fractal art; scaling down (anti-aliasing) is what makes images look better.  Perhaps this is an example of how the creative options can be much larger and more unpredictable in the pixel world.

Your fractal art is missing something

I’ve often exalted the creative powers of purely algorithmic, “machine-made” art.  Algorithms create things that no human mind would ever make or conceive of.  But I’ve come to realize that because processing had become second nature to me, I was unaware that I was always talking about processed algorithmic art.  Fractal programs often produce neat looking things and they don’t need any help in doing it …but I’ve always gotten “better” neat looking things from adding the second machine, the graphics program.  On a technical basis one can easily call this something different than fractal art, but from an artistic perspective the results are simply enhanced and perfected rather than distorted and degraded.  Fractal artists I believe have for too long made the assumption that fractal art is art made with a fractal program.  Such a belief is not only the creative castration of fractals as art, it’s a purely arbitrary convention.

Graphical, non-fractal, processing takes place in all fractal programs at the very beginning of image creation.  There is no such thing as a pure fractal rendering as fractal formulas do not produce visible images (visibility is important in art).  All they produce are big, very detailed sets of data points.  Think of a gigantic bulletin board with pins stuck into it according to the direction of a formula.  How you choose to decorate that thing is what is called “rendering”.  Rendering options are the choice and provision of the program author and the selection of the user.  For instance, there is no standard or “natural” image for the famous mandelbrot set.  In almost every program the image you see is different in terms of colors and particularly in terms of the style in which it’s colored.  It’s a purely arbitrary choice: compare various programs, there’s no such thing as a “natural” fractal rendering.  (I’m a non-technical person and even I’ve figured this out.)

So you see, all fractal images are to some degree processed or arbitrarily enhanced.  I say “degree” because the sort of rendering that goes on in fractal programs usually serves to expose and make visible the details of the fractal formula rather than to color over or do something transformative with it.  Although layering (depending on how complex and heavy it is) is something quite different, that is, it’s results are not algorithmic unless merging the results of two fractal formulas can be seen as “mathematical” creation.

Fractals that aren’t fractal

What then does fractal art “lose” when someone transforms it in a graphics program?  It can certainly lose some of it’s details and fractal structure, but doesn’t that happen when one layers and masks in UF (and layers ten or twenty times?) and produces the sorts of images I wrote about in a previous posting, Sheets in the Wind and Rings of Gold?

I guess it’s not fractal art if you can’t recognize any fractal structures in it?  Like if you really process it into something unrelated to what you started with?  But like I said about Sheets in the Wind and Rings of Gold, images like that are already by-products of fractal formulas, features contributed by the non-fractal rendering methods, and have diverged as far from fractal art as anything created purely in Photoshop.  Whatever fractals can lose in being processed, images like those never possessed in the first place.  Even a chopped-up or lens distorted fractal image is more fractal than they are.  It appears that UF is fully capable of producing plain old digital art as well as fractal art.  For reasons like that, we ought to have a looser, more inclusive definition for fractal art.  In fact, a strict definition is not really possible if the varied rendering styles (and layering features) of fractal programs are considered.  Processing has been programmed into fractal art from the beginning.

Pixel processing doesn’t follow the cow paths of fractal algorithms and gives stale old fractal imagery some fresh options.  The label, “fractal art” might not even necessarily apply anymore.  But then many of the layering and other fancy features of Ultra Fractal create imagery that defies a simple definition of fractal art.  But Ultra Fractal is a very simple and scaled down post-processor, probably because it was designed to incorporate only the subtle, enhancing types of post processing.  Much more powerful post-processing can be done in freeware graphics programs, especially those that utilize Photoshop compatible plugins and filters.  Most fractal artists probably don’t see Ultra Fractal’s graphical features as post-processing because they’ve come to accept them as a natural part of making “fractal” art.

Real artists get itchy

So if the old, post-processing thing is such a quantum leap in creativity, then why don’t more artists do it?  It’s simple, really:  Because they’re not artists.  Artists don’t conform to standards or keep working on the same old things like the old craftsmen in the fractal art world do.  Artists crave novelty and are inherently drawn to create; and “to create” means to make new things, not polish the old stuff up or tweak to perfection imagery that lacked style in the first place and only possesses technical merit.  Fractal programs are the comfy home of the technical “artist”.

(Like I said in my comparison of science and the arts: one pursues discovery while the other pursues creativity itself.  Some fractal artists deny the label artists altogether and describe themselves entirely in technical terms like programmer, mathematician; and describe their innovative work as “test renders”.  There are two different mindsets at work in fractal art and the results they end up with are categorically different.

I’ve given a number of reasons in my last posting, Part 3, why fractal artists don’t deserve to be called artists and how their belief in a “serious” fractal art form is nothing more than a collective fantasy perpetuated by their own isolation and the avoidance of criticism and external standards.  But now I say that the biggest reason that fractal artists fail as artists and their art form fails to evolve into anything other than decoration or neat designs, is because they’re more comfortable doing what they see others do than doing what they don’t see others doing.    They’re more comfortable doing what has been done rather than doing what hasn’t been done.  They’re a small clique of imitators when they ought to be a more loosely knit group of experimenters and innovators; repelling as much as attracting each other.  Artists are the classic iconoclasts, radicals, eccentrics and non-conformists in any society.  But in the fractal art world, the artists are lapdogs and sheep.  Maybe art was never part of their equation?

Fractal artists who stick to just fractal software are not really artists but rather just fractal buffs.  They have, perhaps unintentionally, defined their domain so rigidly as to make it a closet with respect to creativity.  Fractal programs alone do not have enough graphical options to satisfy creative people.  Fractal software exclusivity is why the “fractal” art genre is advancing only on the technical front and producing new work only of technical merit, while artistically the genre stagnates.  If fractal art is defined only as imagery made with fractal software then it will only be composed of work that has technical interest.  It will continue to be a craft rather than an art form, possessing artistic potential but never realizing it.


Fractal algorithms, that is parameter art, is a cul-de-sac; it’s a nice quiet place to settle down, but a dead end for anyone trying to go anywhere.  Fractals have been called abstract art but that’s not really the best description.  Abstract art, the hand made kind, is much more creative and open to a wide range of imagery.  Fractals, and all algorithms, as I’ve been saying, aren’t like that.  Although they aren’t realistic, obviously, they’re not abstract either, they’re better described as geometric.  But this means they lack both the attributes of realistic as well as abstract imagery.  Geometric imagery can be wonderfully ornate and, like all algorithmic art, easily made, but each new algorithm just forms another short cul-de-sac in a neighborhood of similar, pretty but dead-end streets.  Fractals look like fractals: real mathematical constructions, which are neither realistic or abstract.  That’s another reason why fractal art isn’t just another artistic medium but is instead something that requires more a careful consideration and a second look.  Fractal art is something new and unique in the graphical realm.

I believe the reason why fractal art has failed to attract any serious artists or art talent is because any reasonably skilled artist can see how rigidly deterministic the process of creating fractal art is.  Fractal programs are not the sort of thing that a serious artist looking to make innovate work and establish a distinctive graphical style would chose as a tool.  Similarly fractal artists will only begin to break out of the creative cul-de-sac they’re in when they extend their tool set to include graphics programs and not just fractal programs.  Even if that fractal program is the great Ultra Fractal, deluxe, feature rich and all that.

Venture beyond the walls

Fractal artists need to start looking at fractals as the start of the creative process and not the final result.  What comes out of a fractal program is too raw and immature as far as computer art goes.  At the very least one needs to experiment with color!  Good color is the one ingredient that always makes me take a second look at a fractal image.  Color is almost a language and art form all its own.  But fractal programs just paint the algorithmic structures, they need to work on the whole pixel canvas.  At any rate, experimentation is what is needed and what ultimately leads to more creative results.  There’s more to color than just changing the palette.

Bad art is a self-limiting disease.  If any of what I’m saying is true, then fractal art as it is today will not develop any sort of audience beyond it’s own practitioners and the occasional curious onlooker because it only indulges their own narrow interests and narrow set of rules.  We might like fractal art because it’s fractals, but why should anyone else?  We need to make artwork that engages an audience not just our friends.  The fact that it was “made with fractals” might make it an interesting conversation piece, but it doesn’t mean much in a wider, artistic context if the images are boring.  Fractal art will never be much more than synthetic nature photography without broader graphical experimentation.  Fractal art needs to incorporate graphical as well as algorithmic experimentation.

And if the results aren’t truly fractal? and can’t quite be called “fractal” art?  Well, I’d say worry about that later and first try to make more appealing artwork with more of a sense of style and individuality.  Frankly, much of what has been exhibited at the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Exhibitions blurs the boundary of what is fractal art and what is just computer art.  The fact that most of those images were made in Ultra Fractal doesn’t mean that what they’re displaying is the product of a fractal algorithm.  And yet they all lack artistic style.  They embrace the acceptable processing of UF but block the full featured processing of pixel art with arbitrary requirements for huge, scalable (i.e. parameter) images.

Joining the Digital Art world

There are more things you can do with pixels than with fractal algorithms.  I remember reading a comment made online by Garth Thornton, the author of XenoDream when responding to a thread that was trying to come up with a definition of what fractal art is.  His response was that fractal art ought to be trying to move into the larger realm of digital art as a whole and not trying to limit itself to some self-prescribed box.  At the time I thought he was conveniently dodging that perennial, “what is fractal art?” question, but now I see the wisdom in what he was saying.  Moving more into digital art means graphical –pixel– processing, not more refined algorithms and fractal parameters.

Pixel art is an easy and uncontrolled kind of graphical creativity.  Combining and recombining a series of effects and developing new “syndromes”.  It allows one to take apart the process and rebuild it by applying effects in different orders and with different starting points.  Fractal algorithms easily produce a high quality raw material for such graphical processing especially as they can create non-compressed, cleam bmp format imagery.  Applying graphical effects to heavily compressed jpgs often serves only to accentuate the compression gradients.  (In fact, jpg compression is something of a graphical effect of its own.)

Well, I still have one more part in this series planned.  It’s all about the road ahead, what’s next for fractal art.  I intend to talk about what I think all this stuff I’ve said in these first four parts means for the future of fractal art.  I think I’ve gotten a better grasp of what fractal art is, and isn’t, and the art form is more exciting now.  I think it’s more exciting because the pretense and expectation of making fine art has been done away with.  Fractals are free to just be the simple but strange things that have been since the beginning.

Rebooting Fractal Art: Part 3

What fractals fail to do

You can’t make art with them.  And we all need our heads examined for thinking we could in the first place.

I should be a bit more specific when I say, “art”.  I mean the thinking man’s stuff.  The kind of image that provokes your mind to complex, intense thought and feeling.  I don’t mean “beauty” and that sort of nice to look at thing, but rather images that portray ideas and a fresh perspective on the world around us.  One of the best examples I can think of to illustrate what art is (no pun intended) is a photograph by Ansel Adams.  It’s particularly appropriate with respect to fractal art because fractal art, to some degree, is like photography in that we “capture” imagery rather than form it ourselves.

Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico by Ansel Adams (1941)

Art is like a new kind of food.  The best way to describe it is to taste it.  I can’t believe those clouds weren’t painted by Salvadore Dali.  It’s just a photograph.  But what a photograph.  This is what I mean by art.  You can’t make stuff like this with fractals.  In this photo we see everything from the momentary (the little village) to the eternal (the moon).  I think that’s how this image works in our minds but I’m guessing.  There’s a story here, a poem, written in the oldest of visual languages: landscape.

Fractals don’t tell stories because they don’t speak any of the visual languages, that being: the human form and gesture, or; landscape.  Fractals, as many have pointed out, are mostly abstract imagery or in some cases, as with 3D fractals like the Mandelbox, geometric or organic-looking objects and scenes.  None of these are capable of containing real world symbolism because they’re neither real nor capable of being altered and transformed into realistic things.  It’s hard enough to be expressive with abstract painting, it’s much more difficult when one is also limited to using just geometric/organic structures and elements.

Fractals are just too fractal.  And with respect to art, they lie in the category of “decorative arts” or what is more currently called design and applied arts.  But as decorative/design works, fractals work quite well because they often create interesting shapes with repeating elements that are easily rendered in multiple and selective ways.  Fractals have an inherent tendency to create symmetrical, highly structured and in particular: organized imagery.  It won’t ever compete with Picasso, but fractals do complement the fields of design and decorative arts.  Fractal “art” is really just fractal “design” but these days the word “art” is applied in a broad way to any kind of visual imagery regardless of its status or merit.

To say that fractals are limited to creating design work rather than art -work is not as insulting as it may sound.  Bauhaus, Art Nouveau and Art-Deco, to name just a few 20th century examples of design and decoration all share the same category and have considerable popularity and respect within the art world.

It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to compare the “fractal arts” with those of the famous design art movements of the 20th century.  Bauhaus had a lot to do with beautiful kitchenware and innovative architectural styles, something that today’s high brow fractal artist may not want to be associated with, but that’s where I think “fractal design” fits.  It’s an applied art form, a type of mathematical design: decorative, ornate and beautifying; but not really capable of depicting the kind of mentally stimulating content that has sometimes been created exclusively within the domain of the traditional art mediums (painting, drawing, sculpture..).

The Peacock Skirt by Aubrey Beardsley (1892)

Here’s another good example of what fractal art, ironically, can and can’t do.  Can you imagine a fractal art image like this?  Well, the shapes and designs in the image look very fractal like indeed, so in that respect I guess I’d have to say I’m wrong about all this.  But the picture is all about the “skirt”.  Fractals don’t make “skirts”, they make abstract/organic shapes.  And the skirt forms an extension of the woman’s form contrasted with another woman’s form which together are depicting some very meaningful scene from Oscar Wilde’s play Salome (according to the Wikipedia where I got this).

Once again we bump into that persistent language rich in symbol and story, that being the human form.  How can you create such an artwork in the abstract?  And not just the abstract, although that’s hard enough, how about with fractal –exclusively geometric– imagery?  You see what I mean?  Fractal imagery just doesn’t do the sort of things that the traditional art mediums do.  It can’t.  But it can produce rich, in fact, even richer designs and ornate imagery than the human mind can.


Art Nouveau doorway c 1905, Photo by Siren-Com (2009-Wikipedia)

Again, this Art Nouveau example is more like what fractal art looks like than the Mona Lisa or a Salvadore Dali painting.   Fractals belong in the design arts category and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s not second-rate art, it’s just a simpler, more basic form of graphical works.  Anyway, it doesn’t really matter what I think, it’s the truth.  Fractals are design works; decorative works.  Pawning them off as a rich, expressive medium is just delusion.  And when the practitioners of fractal design pawn themselves off as artists it’s self-delusion.  Accept yourself as you are and just concentrate on creating good work; work worth looking at.  The pompous “fractals as art” posture is just a distraction and presents fractals in a context in which they fail to impress.  It’s pretentious.

An example from Tierazon, processed a little...

I made this as an example of the design potential and decorative characteristics of fractals.  There is nothing terribly expressive or thought provoking about this image; it’s just a nice collection of shapes, textures and coloring and it was so quick and easy to make because it’s the kind of thing fractals are good at doing.  It comes natural to fractals.  This is what fractal art is and this is all fractal art is ever going to be because fractal imagery just doesn’t possess the realistic or symbolic elements that traditional art mediums can.  Even competing with abstract art is a bit of a stretch for fractals.  But when we present fractals as just plain fractals, they results are much more pleasing and natural..

There’s a few other aspects of fractal art that keep it out of the “serious art” category: such as they’re way too easy to make.  This is much more insidious than you might think.  After all, what’s wrong with an art form that isn’t hard?  Wouldn’t it mean there’s much more of it and it will soon become a rich and thriving genre?  But what it means for fractals is that any new innovation in rendering or formulas soon becomes common place and cheap –everybody’s making it.

The result is that there’s a thousand examples of everything.  This has got to have some impression on outsiders who may at first marvel at the rich detail and slick forms in fractal art until they see how normal and simply average they are.  In fractal art everything soon becomes cliche.

Unless of course one can get creative with it.  But here again fractals have a limitation that traditional, hand-made mediums don’t: fractals are made by remote control; hands-off rather than hands-on.  Of course, photography is like that too, but photography has the richly expressive world of real life to draw on and that makes all the difference.  With fractals, it’s just fractals.

I really like the Indra Pearls series by Ultra Fractal artist Jos Leys.  They have real style even though they appear to be rigidly mathematical and simply rendered.  The simple rendering and bright colors enhance the appealing mathematical design and don’t distract from it; each complements the other.  But I seriously wonder how much they’d be admired if they were as common as today’s mandelboxes, which were just as impressive when they first appeared.  Jos’ work stands out because it stands alone.

Action Painting, is a type of abstract expressionism that was based on quick execution.  It often met with a similar quick execution from its audience.  One of the main reasons was because it was, apparently, so quickly and easily made.  Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings met with similar criticism.  But unlike fractals, these artworks were deliberate constructions and expressions of the artist’s mind and the Action Painter could render almost anything a regular painter could and wasn’t constrained to the shapes and forms drawn by a fractal algorithm.

Fractals are not products of the human mind and so they lack such human expression.  It is, however, possible to manipulate (by hand) fractal imagery via layering or other graphical techniques; Ultra Fractal is well known for these kind of enhancing features.  But you can’t draw with fractals, just enhance them.  The creative scope gained from such features doesn’t make up for the limitations that fractal imagery already imposes.  Confined to using a “palette of fractals” or “toolbox of fractals”, any artist is limited to producing works of design and decoration; the kind of imagery that is composed entirely from shapes, colors and patterns –fractal-like things.

Only an idiot would ever expect to make art of this magnitude with Ultra Fractal: The Fate of the Animals, by Franz Marc, 1913

A word about “abstract photography”: fractal art could be described as fractal photography, but photography captures realistic imagery which has greater symbolic expression and subsequently greater creative options when it comes to making thought provoking imagery, the kind of imagery which I’m saying fractal art can’t produce.  Abstract photography (although there really is no such thing, strictly speaking) would theoretically be common ground between the fractal genre and those serious art categories like photography because capturing abstract imagery is what fractal art really is.  I  mention this because it appears to be such a great loop hole for the apotheosis of fractal art, it’s entrance to the higher worlds of Picasso, Dali, da Vinci, etc…

But it’s really just a type of regular photography where simple shapes and weird close-ups are the preferred subjects.  It’s stuff that features the simple, almost geometric beauty of things like frost crystals and satellite photos.

Ice Patterns by Jessica Rosenkrantz, 2010

We can make some pretty wonderful things with fractals.  A lot of the newer software like Ultra Fractal allows for greater complexity of fractal compositions beyond the simple, single-layer screen-saves.  But none of that has done anything to change the perennial problem in fractal art which is that fractals have such limited expressive potential that they are unable to create works that rise any higher than that of the decorative art and graphical design categories.  Using fractal software to create the more serious types of art work, the kind of works that have defined the apex of art –portraying challenging ideas and big time intellectual things like zeitgeist– is simply impossible and out of reach for fractal artists no matter how high they try to leap and jump.  You just can’t make serious art with fractals.

(Next week’s episode:  Part 4: Pixels vs. Parameters)

Rebooting Fractal Art: Part 2

What fractals are good for, or, the creative use of fractal algorithms.

Fractal art needs a reboot, a re-thinking of what it’s all about.  The optimistic forecasts from the early days of fractal art, the coming fame and pubic recognition, needs to be corrected and downgraded in light of what has actually come about in the years since then –actual conditions.  Today’s fractal artists believe fractals are just another artistic medium like paint, clay or photography and therefore possessing similar artistic potential .  They would probably say that the creative potential of fractal art is limited only by the creative ability of fractal artists.

What I intend to do in this second part of my series is talk about what fractals do best and how that relates to using them creatively –artistically.  The down side, what fractals fail at will come in the next part, Part 3.  Fractal artists are defensive of their art form because in their minds they’ve elevated fractals to the level of fine art and subsequently made them into something that continually falls short of it’s goal.  We need to accept fractals for the simple and fun things that they are and quit hyping them as some new art form with super powers –digital da Vincis.

Once upon a time…
I remember the old days.  It was only about ten years ago, 2002.  I’d been playing around for about two years with my graphics program, the GIMP, making seamless tiles for web pages.  Take any kind of image, apply the “Make Seamless” filter and then load it into a test web page.  It was a kind of graphical jackpot machine; you never what the result was going to look like.  I did just about anything you could to an image and then, “Make Seamless”.  Sometimes the most interesting results were just cutting out a little square and using it as a tile without making it seamless.  There were so many creative options.

I did feel at first that this new background tile thing could be a new and exciting 21st century art form.  I was a bit of an art fan and had studied art in high school and read a few books, so I was always expecting somewhere to arise a new “art form”and the start of a new “revolution in art”.  But after a year or two I came to see it as a decorative, design sort of thing and lost interest when the styles in web pages turned from being heavily textured, 3D everything to today’s more simpler, subdued styles.  Today those background tiles and “left borders” look pretty retro, along with flaming text, turning java-cubes, embedded MIDI files…

I got interested in fractals, somehow, and settled down to playing a similar graphical game with Sterlingware, a classic fractal program by Stephen Ferguson.  Once again, the creative options seemed endless and, if I do say so myself, I think stretched the creative boundaries of Sterlingware as far as they could go.  Also, like seamless tiles, making fractals was pure joy and something that was so engrossing you often had to tear yourself away from before doing anything else.  There was always some new parameter adjustment to experiment with and who could say what strange new world would grow up from that.

I saved a lot of images back then.  I deleted a lot too.  Over the years I came to save less.  I came to make the images larger and larger and fewer and fewer.  I became more discerning and overcame my “beginner’s excitement”that made me think everything was a great discovery.  The images became a bit repetitive as I reached the limits of my experimenting and I tried out other fractal programs.  They’re all different in some way but they were all similar in some ways too.  One of the ways they were all similar is that the images often looked more interesting when I was making them than they did later on.  Especially when I would review an entire (large) folder of them.  I used to think this was because I’d lost a bit of my objectivity when playing around in the fractal program and just thought everything looked good.

Now I think differently .  I think it’s because fractals are a more interesting and more creative experience when you can interact with them.  There’s a dynamic with fractals that is lost when they’re presented in “static” form as an image separated from the flowing world of parameter changes.  Fractal programs themselves are an art form, a generative art form.  Saved images can show you what you might see in the program, a sample, but they can’t capture the interactive world experience that makes fractal programs such an engrossing experience.

The number one creative use of fractal algorithms is the creation of interactive programming.  That’s the creation of fractal programs to experiment with fractal algorithms and rendering methods.  I’m sure an audience would rather play with your parameter file than look at the image you made with it.  It’s the difference between seeing an exotic tropical fish swimming in an aquarium and looking at one preserved and mounted on a board.  Live fish are a much deeper and more complex kind of object than dead ones.  I think of static fractal art images now as “Dead Fish Fractals”.  Souvenirs rather than the real thing.

The real beauty of Stephen Ferguson’s fractal programs, like Sterlingware, or Tierazon is in the using of them.  Most people wouldn’t see that as a fractal art form, but I do.  Fractals are best presented in interactive form –a fractal program.  Personally, I think Sterlingware is the best example.  I’ve never seen any program that rivaled its interactive art powers.  You can do almost everything from a mouse click.

Unfortunately, today the most common use of fractals creatively is saved images.  They never compare to the rich, interactive form and I think the reason so many people make them is because traditionally that’s the form “real art” comes in: a still, captured image that can be printed out and framed just like a portrait can be “painted-out” and framed.

It probably sounds ridiculous to say such things in the fractal world today, but to experience the highest and most creative form of fractal art one needs to go no further than a fractal program.  Fractals are first and foremost an interactive medium, and not a source of wall art.  But one wouldn’t expect that because traditionally art is a “wall and frame” thing.  This is what I mean when I say that most fractal artists don’t really understand fractals and what their most creative application is.  Fractal programs are the real fractal art and fractal programmers the real artists in all this.  Sterlingware is such a thrill because Stephen Ferguson understood fractals and how to make them look good as well as how to make it easy and fun for someone to experiment with and explore them.  It’s an interactive canvas and the program is the frame.

But we all know this don’t we?  We’ve just overlooked our own experience and thought that what our viewers will want most to see are saved images and not have the fractal “art experience” for themselves.  We’ve been showing the world our snapshots when we should have been showing them how to go and see the real thing for themselves. (Or maybe fractal art audiences have been doing just that; sneaking past the art exhibits and exploring the software instead.  That might explain why the number of fractal artists is growing while the size of the audience never changes.)

One could say that there are actually no fractal artists at all because the art is interactive and the viewers are really the so-called artists themselves who operate the programs.  We photograph statues and call ourselves sculptors.  The real fractal art exhibits are in the programs not in the portfolios.

Terry Gintz, a contemporary and colleague of Stephen Ferguson made a program that even further shows how the real creativity in the programming and “live” presentation of fractal imagery.  The program, (Fractal Vizion, I think) generated random parameters and served up the image for you.  I don’t think you could even tell it what formula to use.  One of the several types of random images it would make was a fractal “landscape”.  It drew it for you and colored it too.  Each one was a different landscape and it was fun just to watch the program perform.  That’s the sort of thing that exploits the creativity of fractal algorithms.

Fractal Explorer has a Strange Attractor feature that creates one random strange attractor shape after another.  They’re all a little different and none of them looks like anything you’d ever make with your own hands.  I went nuts over this thing and saved hundreds of them.  But again, as with fractals, I came to realize that the context they were created in was more creative than any static collection I could come up with myself.

Also by Stephen Ferguson is the “Plum08” java applet that uses the Gumowski-Mira formula.  It runs all by itself, initiating when the web page loads, and draws before you an endless series of subtly colored algorithmic sand dollars, african shields and plankton.  The artist is the applet.  Or maybe Steve, the author, is the artist?  (An interesting note is that the applet has no save feature or even a pause button so you can take a screenshot, the applet is entirely something to watch although it’s the most impressive implementation of the Gumowski-Mira formula I’ve seen.)

What fractal algorithms can do before your eyes is more impressive than the record of what they’ve done before someone else’s.  And the saved images are in a sense, merely a recording of a live performance, and much less than the real experience of being there.  The interest in these programs has waned over the years because fractal enthusiasts have focused their attention on making “fractal art” rather than playing with it.  Fractals have become intellectualized and their mechanical programming origins downplayed because they trivialize the work of “artists” by showing how easy and fun the creative process is.

The Grand Canyon is greater than all our snapshots of it.  But the nature photographers want you to look at their photos and buy them and talk about how great they are instead of looking at the canyon for yourself because then you’ll be the same as they are.  Ultra Fractal artists even go so far as to copyright their parameter files because they think they actually own the fractal landscape themselves because “they made it” by they punching in numbers that no else had ever (thought) to do, and like Captain Kirk in Star Trek, boldly went where no man has gone before.  Fractal artists love to deny their humble origins and claim for themselves what are really the results of publicly owned, mathematical formulas.

Anyhow, I’m getting ahead of myself.  That sort of stuff is for Part 2, where I intend to talk about the things that fractals fail to do.  It’s kinda dark and gloomy because this pretense of “art” has put a shadow over the happy land of fractals.  But you can still visit that land just by sparking up almost any fractal program and playing around with those creative marvels called fractal formulas.  See for yourself what the best part of fractal art is all about.  You don’t need a guide and you don’t need to be an “artist”.

You may already be an artist!

Rebooting Fractal Art: Part 1

What is Fractal Art Missing?

I look at da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and I see something.  I look at just about any piece of fractal art and I don’t see that thing.  What’s fractal art missing?  Why does it always seem to be missing something that other art forms seem to have?

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (c 1503)

I use the Mona Lisa as an example because it’s well known.  I’m not really a fan of it, in fact my favorite part of this famous painting isn’t the woman’s smile, it’s the landscape in the background; that curvy snake-like road.  But even the background of the Mona Lisa has that “art” thing that fractal art seems to be missing.  It holds the viewer’s eye and just seems to do –that something.

I know what art is: it’s the life of the image.  It’s easy to tell the difference between living and non-living things.  That’s why I’m confident in saying that fractal art is missing something that the Mona Lisa has.

And yet fractals are fun and exciting and I think that’s what keeps us connected to them.  But I’ve been “connected” for almost ten years now and I think that’s long enough to ask: Why can’t fractal artists do what other artists can do?  I mean, why can’t they make art?

I visited the Prado once.  It’s a very large and famous art gallery in Madrid, Spain.  If you like art, any kind of art, you’ll enjoy having a day or two just to wander around the Prado.  I can’t imagine any piece of fractal art ever hanging in the Prado.  It just doesn’t fit with those things.  But why?

That’s the big question and I think I can answer it.  That is, now that I’ve been looking at fractal art of every kind for a decade now.  It’s the reflection that’s important, not the length of time.  But reflection takes time and after ten years worth I’ve arrived at some conclusions.

I think most fractal artists are hopelessly deluded.  But I’m jumping too far ahead.  I’ve divided all this into a series of five blog postings; parts 1-5.  This first one is to simply introduce what I think is the perennial question that pops into my mind whenever I start to wonder where fractal art is going or if it’s possible it will ever take any sort of place in the art world, meaning, will it ever be considered art by anyone other than those who make it and their devoted friends who cheer them on?

Why can’t fractal artists produce anything with the same artistic merit as artists in other mediums like painting, drawing, sculpting and photography?  What is fractal art missing that those other mediums are able to provide?

Maybe some of you don’t think it’s missing anything and that artwork with a similar merit has already been made?  Sure, I’d expect that.  After all, I didn’t say fractal artists were hopelessly deluded for nothing.  I know they are.  I once shared those juvenile notions about fractals until I began to wonder why it all looks the same and there’s never anything significant ever made.  I mean, anything worth hanging in an art gallery.

I don’t believe the hype anymore.  Rather, I’ve burst fractal art’s bubble and now see it as it truly is and how, ironically, I saw it in the very beginning.  Fractals are fun, exciting and sometimes marvelously mysterious and a special world of their own.  But I firmly believe that no one has, or ever will, create a real piece of art just by using a fractal program.  Fractal algorithms just don’t have what it takes to produce anything other than mere decoration or design.  As good as that can be, it’s lifeless when compared to real art.  Not dead; just missing something.

So close your gaping mouth and sit down.  You’ll get over it.  You can still call yourself an artist on Deviant Art.  Nobody will care.  (Or even know.)

Next: Part 2. What Fractals are Good For (upbeat, happy, rah-rah-rah kind of stuff)

Give it up for CO99A5!

Single Spies by CO99A5 ( Click to view large on

I just think it’s great.  It’s a strange, surreal place, nice composition, not oversaturated with detail and has nice, subdued but engaging color.  Check out the artist’s little story about the image:

Description: This is a result of an intentional hybrid from the 3D navigator anomaly of combining two different works. At first I thought it hadn’t created anything but a bunch of close black lines. Then decided to follow the lines back to the source where a faint light emanated.;sa=view;id=7990

A serendipitous find while experimenting with, I’m not sure what, in Jesse Dierks’ Mandelbulb 3D.  An “anomaly”?  What strange and wondrous things fractal programs can be.  We are living in the legends of the future.

I have no idea who “CO99A5” is, but he or she has only been uploading images to (the place to be) since July 7th of this year, a mere three weeks ago.  No other website links.

The color palette is so good.  Few 3D fractals have really nice, tasteful coloring.  Maybe it’s just too hard to work with or the 3D folks don’t care to adjust things in a graphics program.  Many of the 3D folks at are serious tech people and I get the feeling they’re doing all this for scientific research purposes.

Leafless trees, snow on the ground, dim sky –night is falling.  Or perhaps it’s already night, a winter night, and the snow is bright and glowing because of a full moon.  There’s a distinct shadow because the full moon is behind us, shining through a clear patch of sky while the distant sky is thick with clouds that reflect the light off the snow.

I’ve seen it before.  But never in a fractal image like this.  Good work, CO99A5 –whoever you are.

Does the BMFAC get enough entries to be taken seriously?

Dave Makin tacked the word, “International” onto the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2011 in his announcement of this year’s contest at  And while the contest could be said to span the globe, the word “International” suggests a status for the contest that is something of an exaggeration, even more of an exaggeration as the calling of the annual American baseball championship, the “World” Series.  Sure, the World Series is the world’s biggest baseball championship and is probably world class in terms of athletic quality, but it presumes to take in the entire world and that (sorry fans) isn’t true.  (Apparently, in some parts of the world baseball isn’t even played.)

Then there’s Miss “Universe”.  Well, considering that the planet Earth has a monopoly on human life in the universe,  I guess the name could possibly be considered accurate.  But can any beauty pageant have “Universal” proportions?

Can a fractal art contest have “International” proportions –international status?

The BMFAC has grown somewhat from its first year in 2006, but the number of entries I think still makes it an art contest that is better labelled as City-Wide than anything else.  Fractal art just hasn’t developed beyond the realm of the amateur and the the hobbyist to be taken seriously beyond that of a city or school art competition.  There’s nothing world class yet to show people.  At least they haven’t had any entries of that caliber yet.

In fact, the use of Benoit Mandelbrot’s name is itself rather presumptuous and something of an exaggeration when one considers the enormity of what Benoit Mandelbrot himself has achieved in the field of mathematics.  Benoit Mandelbrot has made major contributions to science while fractal art, albeit derived from his discoveries, is practically unknown if not irrelevant in the world of art.  Trying to suggest that fractal art belongs up on Benoit Mandelbrot’s level of expertise and importance requires a rather inflated view of one’s artwork.

It reminds me of an incident that occurred in my city.  A local shopping mall, albeit the biggest, got together with a local newspaper (a free, weekly, advertising-rich “newspaper”) to commemorate celebrities by putting their names on shiny, gold floor tiles and calling it “The Walk of Fame”.

Controversy ensued when they –attempted– to honour a local guy who moved to the US and subsequently became a big Hollywood movie star.  It seems he –wasn’t interested– in the shopping mall’s “Fame” or coming home to be lauded in a great ceremony and praised in the pages of a weekly ad-wrapper.

The little weekly advertiser covered the controversy (outrage!) for a few months and then moved back to their usual coverage of drug busts, car accidents and Real Estate Special Editions.  When they finally announced their list of celebrities to be immortalized on the shopping mall’s floor, I had difficulty recognizing the names of almost all of their “famous” people who had, in contrast to the Hollywood movie star, eagerly agreed to attend the opening “gala” and be photographed with their personalized floor tile.  They just couldn’t attract serious people to their shopping mall/ad-wrapper “Walk of Fame”.

Will the Old-Timers at the BMFAC accept the new breed of 3D fractal artists?

Responses at Fractal to the recent announcement of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2011 suggest to me that a lot of things have changed in the fractal art world since the BMFAC was initiated back in… ¡Ay, caramba!  –2006!

~ Click on images to go to original site ~

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Fractal Ken hit the nail on the head.  Will the organizer’s, Damien Jones’s hand picked fractal art “experts” from the old days fully appreciate or even know much about the 3D fractal revolution? where these comments were posted is the place all those 3D discoveries and advancements were announced and discussed; it’s natural that folks there need some convincing that the BMFAC has any real relevance to what they see as the mainstream fractal art form today –3D fractals.

Here at Orbit Trap we’ve gained a reputation for criticizing the BMFAC primarily because of their choice of judges and how those judges (used to) give themselves winning positions in the contest by adding their work to the exhibition.  But now, the sneaky way the judges have been chosen (and stayed on for years) raises a new question, “Are the judges even competent to judge today’s 3D fractals?”

One of the most stunning developments in the 3D revolution was the sudden appearance of high quality fractal programs devoted to the new 3D fractal artform.  Ultra Fractal (whose author is a  judge) isn’t the program of choice for the new breed of 3D fractal artists.  What relevance do all those veteran UF artists and programmers have when it comes to being experts in judging artwork that wasn’t made with UF and which the judges themselves have no expertise in?  What exactly are they “experts” of anymore?  Old style (2D) fractal art made by people like themselves?

I suppose Damien could add a few folks like Jesse Dierks (Jesse) or Krzysztof (buddhi) Marczak the authors of Mandelbulb 3D and Mandelbulber.  Or how about Christian Kleinhuis the owner and host of (3D fractal central)?  He’s had his finger on the pulse of 3D fractals as long as anyone.  There’s a bunch of others too, like Tom Lowe (recent “Nobel” prizewinner) and others who are all equally qualified to judge the quality and importance of 3D fractals because that’s their chosen area of expertise in fractal art.

Of course, that’s the typical BMFAC way of doing things.  What would be even better is to approach some ART people who might be better qualified to judge ARTwork.  But as Terry so eloquently said, “Mathematicians are the celebrities of fractal art”.  And I guess Math Conferences are the Paris cafes of fractal art.  Hey, maybe Jeremie Brunet?  Aka “bib”.  He’s from Paris, or close to it.  One French artist is as good as 10 math Phds.  Maybe 1000?  He’s had his own public exhibitions (in Paris, too) and been on TV.  (I wonder how he did that without any help from Benoit Mandelbrot’s name or any sponsors?)  How many of the so-called “expert” judges of the BMFAC have done any of that?

Perhaps good fractal art doesn’t need a contest (or a celebrity name) to promote it?

More Computer Art for the Old Folks…

Gero Wortmann, hailing from Munich, Germany may not be as old as me but some of the stuff he makes I really like.

~ Click images to view full size on original website ~

Group photo of Gero Wortmann's Form and Deconstruction set (Flickr)

They look fractal, but what does that really mean?  His work really focuses on the basic shape and form of the image.  Generated in POV-Ray somehow.  Script?  Too complicated for me.

Screenshot from Gero Wortmann's Flickr site

Fractal Origami is how I’d describe it.  Here’s another lazy blogger screenshot of something very recent.  It’s a red/blue 3D glasses image.  If you’re old you’ll have a pair within reach like I do.  Even without the glasses it’s still nice.

Gero Wortmann, Click to visit full size on his Flickr site...

“Fractalism”  That’s a label Gero has for another (apparently identical) set of images…

From Gero Wortmann's Flickr site

I knew they had fractal origins.   I’ve learned a few things over the years.  I guess POV-Ray can generate this sort of fractal thing or else some other program can which can then import its results into POv-rAy for rendering.  I made a donut once in poV-RAy.  It’s easier writing blog postings.  They called it a “torus”.

Time for some thoughtful commentary…

Although these “fractals” are simplified in their rendering, I find they have more style and aesthetic stuff to them.  Often fractals have too much detail and coloring to them and the beauty of their shape and pattern is lost in a crowd of competing details.

Original Tron (1982) when wireframe was cool and looked advanced

Wireframe view has been utilized by graphics programs as a way to handle complex images but it’s another example of the primitive graphical style of stone age computing that I like.  The movie Tron tries to capture that style which in some ways fits with the old, DOS computing age of text only, console mode computing.  Tron jazzes it up a bit but the minimalistic style still remains.

Minimalism.  That’s something worth experimenting with.  It’s an old trick really.  Sometimes less is more.  Or at least it’s more effective.

bug from Wikipedia

This insect has strong design appeal because it balances shape and detail.  Fractal rendering could benefit from that sort of thing.  One way to do it is to render plain images and then fry them in photoshop filters –the ultimate bug machine.


Computer Art for Old People

I’ve been trying to reconcile two conflicting things:  Firstly, that there’s something exciting about fractal programs, and secondly, that there’s something quite disappointing about fractal art today.

I don’t need to explain why I’m enthused about fractal programs, I hope.  But I probably do need to do a lot of explaining to convince people that today’s fractal art is disappointing.  That’s because I don’t think most fractal art “enthusiasts” today are at all disappointed with the sort of thing that’s being posted online by the current crop of fractal artists.

But I am.  And I think I’ve found the reason why.  Although it might not really be a matter of age, just a matter of artistic preference, I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that my initial introduction to computer things was at a time when computers were largely primitive machines.

Today’s computer graphics are rich, full-color and very sophisticated.  I don’t really think of that as being computer-ish, or my idea of computer-ish.  In fact, I think of such kinds of imagery as being more natural and photographic.

Photo realism is the exact opposite of what I associate and enjoy about computer made graphics.  That sort of thing lacks the mechanical qualities that I associate with computers.  What I think of as the computer style is primitive, crude and inhuman.

It’s that non-human, machine-world look that I like and which I suspect few are trying to obtain or really care for these days in the fractal art realm.  In keeping with that style is imagery that mimics the characteristics of (poorly) printed images and its associated mechanical style and roughness.  Again, that’s an offshoot of old technology, specifically the (primitive) printing press.

The more natural, organic and (wince) life-like that fractal art gets, the more disinterested and apathetic I get about it.  To me what makes computer art (digital art) interesting is its alien, other-world and unnatural style.  The more it resembles what people can make with paint brushes or photographic equipment the more it just looks to me like painting and photography.

I’m all wrong about this, of course.  That is, my idea of computer art is not where it’s at these days and maybe never will be.  On the other hand I’ve never felt that the popular attitudes and tastes in fractal art have ever really reflected an artistic sensibility but rather merely an unthinking, reflexive response to imitate the slick commercial style most commonly seen in advertising –the cathedrals of our time.  The fractal “art” world reflects an adoration of commercial art which has normally in art circles been the source material for satire, ridicule and hostility.  To see an art form bowing the knee to crass commercialism (that is, without making any money at it) suggests to me that art is not what they’re after or what they’re about.

Most fractal artists do this, I believe, unwittingly.  It’s the instinctive approach of a beginner to making art.  It’s the fool’s gold of art: copying and imitation instead of the real thing which is found in creativity and scratching one’s unique artistic itch.  Everyone starts off that way.

I remember well a comment (not exactly verbatim) from Roy Lichtenstein, the guy who made big paintings that looked like panels from comic books back in the 60s.  He said  he began experimenting with comic book “paintings” because everything else he saw being done at that time in the art world was  boring.

I think that’s the most exciting aspect of the fractal art world today.

Reality Changes Things

Something happens to fractals when they start to resemble real things.  It’s sad, in a way, but I think fractal art is limited in its appeal to a wider audience simply because it’s “fractal.”

Fractals have shape, color and pattern, but often those purely abstract, non-representational qualities relegate fractal imagery to the domain of the decorative or just cryptic –because they don’t look like anything.

The great Salvador Dali produced something in the 1950s which today I would consider to be nothing more than a cheap digital effect:

~Click on images to view full-size on their original site~

Galatea of the Spheres by Salvador Dali (1952)

But Dali, like most painters, adds some touches here and there that cause the image to diverge from a what a glass ball photoshop filter would quickly produce.  Dali adds realism to what would otherwise be a handmade attempt at geometric art and the image becomes much more engaging.

If Dali were alive today he’d be frustrated with fractals.  He’d want to paint stuff on them.  It’s the realistic connection that makes surrealist art interesting.  If it were totally unreal and (like fractals) didn’t look like anything, it would be abstract art which inevitably, despite the best efforts of art critics and other educators, is received and labelled, “decorative/weird.”

Here’s some fractal art that is transformed by presenting the appearance of real things:


The Death of Id by BrutalToad

Nice and Dali-esque, too.  BrutalToad says, “I don’t know why I gave it such a title.  It was just the first thing that came to mind.”

I think it was just a stroke of brilliance.  Mysterious and contemplative suits the image.


Container World by redbeltboxer

It looks like the complicated inner architecture of a Persian/Indian medieval castle.  Like from the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time video game.  Video games are real, right?

The background is more abstract, undefined, but the 3D fractals seem to have it easier when it comes to taking on realistic allusions.  3D imagery is inherently more realistic or has more potential to be.  Perhaps it’s just easier to relate to things that have the extra third dimension of depth?

Iterated Appliances by Madman

This one is too real and, like the title suggests so well, it’s a kitchen being endlessly extruded from some magical machine.  I see ice dispensers and bandsaws in the same “appliances.”  Melaminia: the world of endless smooth white cupboards and counters.

Starship Docking by Power 8

As you can see, the twilight zone of realistic fractal imagery is quite a broad one.  There’s nothing here really that is realistic except when all the pieces are put together and then the effect is quite good.  This reminds me of the Magritte painting where you’d see a simple natural background and then front and center something wildly imaginative.  Nothing suggests “spaceship” except the presence of that mysterious shape in space overtop of what resembles a man made landscape of moon farms.

It has a “kubrick-ian” style to it suggesting a scene out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Alright, now that we’ve taken a few steps away from reality, let’s take a look at some purely fractal, or at least, purely algorithmic art for which there is no possible realistic or “representational” allusions.

20110402-dssp20 by Samuel Monnier (click for deep zoom)

Sam’s been using a new algorithm that I don’t really understand, but the results look similar to fractal things.  This one really shows how the simple graphical qualities of shape, pattern and color can work together to produce something appealing even when there’s no reality or realistic appeal involved or attempted.

20110401-dssp17 by Samuel Monnier

Where realistic allusion is not possible in fractal/algorithmic art, the colors, shapes and patterns become much more important and have to possess a greater degree of creativity in order to interest the viewer.  It’s harder to make good fractal art that doesn’t look like anything other than “fractals.”

On the other hand, it’s possible to make such artwork and have it stand on its own two legs without some “fascinating” explanation for how it was made.  I have no idea how Sam made these; I’m sure it was brilliant and unique, but if he’d simply made photographs from microscope slides, or cranked them out with a child’s drawing toy, they wouldn’t be any less interesting.

Lookin’ Sharp

Just when I was beginning to think the 3D fractal scene was plateauing and running out of interesting themes to explore… along comes something sharp.

~Click on any image to view full-size on original site~

The Center of It All by lenord, 2011 (on

You have to look closely at the little doorways and windows in the rings near the bottom left and right corners.  Sharp.  Very sharp.

Here’s another one from, the hub of the 3D fractal universe:

Futurism by kr0mat1k (on

A jet turbine of knife like blades.  Note the smooth, clean details on each blade.  Seriously sharp.

DBL by RCPage (

That one is Uber-Sharp!  And shiny too.  Everything is high-res carved and meticulously engraved.  I’m not sure why this very sharp, high-quality rendering impresses me so much.  Maybe it’s really how well it displays the underlying mandelbox structure of the imagery.  It looks like a new category of 3D imagery and that’s why I thought readers might not want to miss it.

Inception by kr0mat1k

This one by kr0mat1k perhaps explains what makes these ultra sharp images so interesting.  If you look at the fullsize version you’ll see that the edges resemble hand drawn outlines.  This rendering style is different than the usual mandelbox type and presents a traditional –hand made– appearance rather than the more common computer renderings I’m used to seeing.  Inception could easily trick non fractal viewers into thinking the image was a pen and ink or pencil and watercolor image.   Except, of course, for the fabulously intricate and wildly creative imagery that it contains.  What artist has ever made up something like this themself?  Not even Escher drew images this complex and organically composed.

My browser runneth over.  Here’s another one:

Limbo City 1 by MarkJayBee (

MarkJayBee takes this sharp, detailed style and manages to give it a dusty, realistic look while maintaining the “sharpness.”  He’s got a whole series of these Limbo City images on his Deviant Art site.

I’ll bet printed versions of these images are even more impressive since the intense detail would be much more visible in the high-res world of prints.  On the other hand, I suspect the rendering times for images like this might be higher than the other, less detailed mandelbox images.

Hangar 57 by lenord

This one’s a nice combination of iron girders and the more traditional organic fractal shapes that us old folks are used to seeing.  Arranged like wall partitions sporting decorative artwork the series of slabs in the middle creates a nice futuristic (and yet also cave like) hotel lobby or ritzy parking garage (without floors).

Lenord comments that this image of his here is a tweak on RCPage’s GPS Required image:

GPS Required by RCPage

I’m sure you can “feel” the inspiration in this one too.   This one is so sharp I want to put on gloves.

Just like kr0mat1k’s Inception, the rendering in this one goes beyond what I’m used to seeing in mandelboxes and enters into a whole new graphical style and that’s what I suspect is inspiring the other mandelboxers on

Keep an eye out on this page on if you want to see where this sharp new style goes in the future: Last Pictures Uploaded.  Wear some gloves, just in case.

Velocipede Rides Again

From time to time I revisit places and I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mr. Velocipede, a long time fractal artist, has reinvented herself and started an new blog with new enthusiasm entitled, “Oh no, not again.”

Nothing interests me more than seeing someone do something new and different with fractal art and Velocipede has put her letterpress printing skills to work and printed out some 21st century art with technology that Benjamin Franklin would have been comfortable with.  And with style too, as usual.

~Click to view images full-size on original site~


Untitled print by Mr. Velocipede

A simple and straightforward fractal-ish image but rendered (by hand) in a whole new way.  I’ve always liked the look of printed imagery like this.  It’s got a rendering style all it’s own.

Untitled print by Mr. Velocipede

I like this one even more than the first which has more color in it, but lacks the rich variations in shading and “texture” that this julia shape has.  Printing is special kind of paint brush and even though it was originally designed for mass production, or at least with smaller hand presses, for higher volume production, the imagery has a creative touch to it.  It’s no wonder that print making hasn’t lost its appeal: nothing can duplicate it, no pun intended.

Note the "fractal" printing assemblies in the background. Photo by Mr. Velocipede.

As you can see it’s a hands-on art form and not the sort of pushing buttons and turning dials things that computer artists are used to.  At the same time there’s a certain charm to these old-style methods and machines that computers have yet to catch up with.

The belly of the beast. Photo by Mr. Velocipede

Although its much heavier than a computer, I wonder if in fact it might be easier to operate than Ultra Fractal?  Of course, the artistry is in the assembly of the type and the skill in putting all the media –type, ink, paper– together.  And what exactly is she setting up to print?

Space Invaders letterpress print by Mr. Velocipede

Pretty cool eh?  I think Mr. Velocipede is quite enjoying her printing press art form.  A nice combination of computer “pixel art” and old-fashioned printing methods.  And the result is not simply an image file displayed on a monitor but something you can actually touch with your hands.  On the other hand you can’t send them by email.

I suppose with some careful tinkering one might be able to produce something similar with a bubble-jet or color laser printer and card stock, but I imagine you’d be “hard-pressed” to reproduce the embossed effect of the type, and the tone of the ink.

I think they’re quite tasteful and stylish especially considering that the age range of people who grew up with space invaders (mid-forties) are now entering that phase of life where they don’t think twice about paying for something unique and nostalgia-inducing.  Perhaps something like this, especially the fractal themes, could have some commercial appeal?

Anyhow, there’s more on Velocipede’s new shiny blog, nice fractals too.

Wikipedia-ism by Mr. Velocipede

She’s got a real sense of humor, too.

Eta Carinae, Phoenix Double Nova image by Mr. Velocipede

A Phoenix Double Nova fractal, after the manner of Dan Wills, whose densely complex images I admire very much.

-from Velocipede’s blog

Click to visit Mr. Velocipede's blog and find out what she's done with her custom made Spirographs

Take a look for yourself or even subscribe.  I’m sure there’s even better stuff to come in the days ahead.  And you won’t find things like this anywhere else.

Are fractals better categorized as Generative Art?

Generative Art is simply a machine whose output has artistic qualities.

The Wikipedia page defines Generative Art as:

Generative art is a system oriented art practice where the common denominator is the use of systems as a production method. To meet the definition of generative art, an artwork must be self-contained and operate with some degree of autonomy. The workings of systems in generative art might resemble, or rely on, various scientific theories such as Complexity science and Information theory. The systems of generative artworks have many similarities with systems found in various areas of science. Such systems may exhibit order and/or disorder, as well as a varying degree of complexity, making behavioral prediction difficult.

It’s a contraption that makes neat-looking stuff, I’d say.  The important characteristic is that the artwork is generated from the mechanical algorithm, or machine design, and untouched by human hands.  The human component comes into play only in the design of the algorithm / choice of the algorithm / set-up of the machine / but the final result is displayed as-is, without alteration.

Graphically creative Java applets without any controls that initialize when the web page loads are the quintessential examples of Generative Art.  You can’t get any more autonomous than that.  Of course, a good Generative Art machine involves a huge amount of very clever design in order for it to achieve its intended purpose of producing far-out imagery.  You could say that Generative Art is all about making beautiful clocks.  A little winding and out comes a river of art, pouring forth in endless generations from a single, well-crafted piece of DNA.

The art is what the machine does.  You could photograph Generative Art and then tweak it graphically and display it, but then it’s less generative; derived from a generative art process.  Many Generative Artworks are dynamic and produce animated results.  The art is the flow of imagery and not just the best looking, and constantly changing images.  Generative art is like a sports game: what engages the audience is the play, the way the game changes, develops and ends.  Photos from a sports game are really not the same thing, but again, –produced from; –derived.

What I’m suggesting then, is that fractal programs are just like a sports game and what we normally think of as the finished product of fractal art –the saved image– is a derivation of what is actually the most artistic aspect of fractals: exploring parameter combinations within the program itself.

To a considerable degree, much like nature photography itself, saved fractal images are like fishes out of water, removed from their natural environment where they literally (had) a life of their own.

I’ve often wondered why I see so many “dead fish fractals” all over the internet.  The reason is they’re the trophies of great fishing expeditions; fractal hunts; odysseys of adventure; rocks from the top of Mt. Everest.  What’s missing is the art, but that’s in the process which can’t be captured and displayed; the memories; the experience itself.  And that’s the heart of what Generative Art is: a beautiful process.

Naturally, one can also “make” fractal art and process and layer it, but what I’m suggesting is that that sort of thing is the lesser of two fractal art forms.

It’s the more common one, isn’t it? Or is it?  How many more fractal “artists” are there out there who mostly play with the programs and spend hours sometimes just surfing the fractal waves of some nice set of parameters they’ve discovered.  That sort of Generative Art lives in the machine and requires the machine to experience it.  The saved and displayed images may just be the tip of the fractal art iceberg, whose greater bulk is submerged and unseen.

Generative Fractal Art (I just invented the term) requires special programming.  The ideal program requires minimal user input and quickly renders graphically interesting imagery.  In this context, Steven Ferguson’s programs are the best.  I don’t know if Steve intended them to be used this way, but their design makes them very Generative Art friendly.  You can make some pretty nice still images with them too, but starting up one of Steve’s fractal programs is like sailing off on a sunny day with no goal but to see what’s over the horizon.  If you sail far enough you’ll find the more exotic fish, but even just keeping to the harbor where the sailing students take their lessons is a glorious experience.  And I’d add it’s an artistic experience.

Tiera-zon, Sterling-ware, Inkblot Kaos, each one is like an old pirates treasure map or the 8th, 9th and 10th voyage of Sindbad.

Fractal Explorer, like the name suggests, is another good Generative Art fractal program.  You don’t have to go to a naval academy to sail this one.

Ultra Fractal?  Well, Dan Wills has used it quite a bit and brought back some impressive still images.  I called Dan “Fractal Columbus” because I thought he was enjoying the generative qualities of fractals with UF, exploring vast landscapes and saving cool snapshots.  But I think you’ll need a little training to get going with UF, unlike Steve’s programs which are much better suited for Generative Fractal Art purposes relying on a program’s operational autonomy and built-in creative design.

Terry Gintz has some good Generative Fractal Art programs too.  His fractal landscape renderer is practically a Generative Art genre all it’s own.  It’s found in Fractal ViZion and several other programs of his.  Gintz’s programs also feature the ultimate Generative item: random parameters.  Come to think of it, maybe Gintz’s programs are actually simpler to use than Ferguson’s.  But Steve’s are my favorites because experimentation is quick and easy and good coloring is not hard to achieve .

In conclusion then, I think Fractal Art’s greatest artistic strength is realized when it’s seen as a type of Generative Art –a picture machine.  I also think there’s many more people enjoying fractal art in this way but that they’ve just been thinking of it as playing around with fractals.  It’s more than that, fractal programs are really complex Generative Artworks; some programs more than others.  Used simply as tools with which to create still images, the results are often, but not exclusively, the kind of “dead fish fractals” we see having been taken out of the Generative Art context from which they came.  In general, I think fractals are best categorized and appreciated firstly as Generative Art and only secondly as still images.  The depth of the impression fractals make is greatly reduced when separated from the rich electronic environment that generated them.

presenting… The Information Hallway!

Still so sure it’s a better place to introduce people to fractal art than the (now old-fashioned) information highway –the internet?

The recently released photos of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibition really underline what I’ve been saying for years:  no offline anything can compare with the internet for introducing people to fractal art and showcasing the best examples.

BMFAC exhibition, Hyderabad, India, 2010, (photo published by Esin Turkakin)

And the photos also emphasise something I’ve been saying: offline exhibitions are always tied to the personal agendas of the organizers and sponsors and the artwork (and the audience) suffers for it.  At least they suffer until they go home and start searching the information highway.

The Information Hallway, on the other hand, as expensive and complicated as it is to bring about , is so ineffective in every way.  It’s limited in what it shows: 25 works chosen not from all that the fractal art world has to offer but from what those who cared to enter the contest thought would impress the eclectic (dream team) of judges.  Right off the bat the exhibition is behind the eight ball because, by design, they must passively attend to only what the contestants give them.

And who’s walking down The Information Hallway anyhow?  Math professors and other greats of this highly esteemed and highly un-artistic group of professionals.  And as I mentioned once before, these people don’t have internet access or haven’t seen any fractal graphics before?  They’re hardly the type of people an advertising campaign would target to promote fractal art, or any other art genre.  Benoit Mandelbrot might have had a (passing) interest in the artistic application of fractal geometry, but that was years ago when fractals were fresh and revolutionary.  The world of mathematics professionals is not the place to sow the seeds of fractal art –the art world is!  Should that surprise you?

Jeremie Brunet (aka “bib”) recently had a (somewhat low-key) exhibition of his fractal artwork in a gallery in Paris and I think his approach was categorically better and about as effective as any offline fractal art event could be.

Jeremie displayed:

  • a whole bunch of his own work
  • to an artsy crowd
  • in an artsy venue
  • without distraction
  • got on television
  • shared photos and video online
  • and didn’t present himself as the best and the greatest (or wear a beret and speak with a French accent)

Compared the the great BMFAC with all it’s pomp, ceremony, famous selection committee and big sponsors, Jeremie Brunet’s low profile, one-man exhibition was a much smaller stone to drop in the ocean and yet it produced an much larger splash than the near-secret BMFAC did.   Why?  Because he presented artwork to an artwork loving crowd.  Mathematicians are boneheads when it comes to art.  That’s why they aren’t in an arsty profession, they’re mathematicians –academics and theorists.

A small television crew even came to interview Jeremie in the gallery with his work and he posted it on for all to see.  The BMFAC?  We had to beg the winners to show us some photos just to verify the exhibition actually happened (six months after).

Anyhow, the way other people are going to discover fractal art is probably the same way almost every fractal artist discovered it:  on the internet.  Go ahead and have offline exhibitions if the idea excites you.  But just remember that while you’re planning (and spending your money) for that offline event, more people are stumbling across fractal art for the first time on the internet than will ever attend your offline exhibition even if it was held for a year and advertised on billboards.

The Information Hallway, as we’ve seen from all the publicity surrounding the BMFAC 2010 exhibition (that’s sarcasm) is a good place to hide fractal art and an excellent choice of an audience if what you want is exuberant secrecy.  Meanwhile, the good old information highway keeps on rolling, 24/7, 365 days of the year.  Fractal artists ought to think about that venue.

2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fractal Art Blogging

I’m sorry, but I can’t give out too many details about the actual recipient because the prize winning  journalist has been keeping  a very low profile in order to avoid “the haters” of the fractal art world which he’s observed over the years to have plagued and besieged Orbit Trap, the blog that inspires him.  I think he’d prefer we not link to him or use his name.  We’d sure like to so he could reach a bigger audience and inspire others out in the same way he says he’s been inspired by Orbit Trap.   Naturally, if he’d like formal recognition, we’d be happy to give it to him.

The award was an easy decision to make because there’s really only two fractal art blogs on the internet and we couldn’t give ourselves an award;  it’s not like we’re a fractal art calendar or contest.

Here’s a few choice excerpts from the prize winning journalist’s recent work in the area of fractal art criticism and editorial commentary that caught Orbit Trap’s eye and earned him the very first Pulitzer Prize for Fractal Art Blogging.

On the Fractal Universe Calendar

I hope this post doesn’t bring any negativity or haters. I’ve seen this happen when the subject was so delicate (to some people) like this. But here we go.

I had read in another blog – which I won’t mention here which one  it is just because of these fights and haters, but it has been mentioned here a couple times and I do share many of their thoughts about how and where the fractal art is going – about how the Fractal Calendar was becoming sort of a… how to put it lightly… commercial product supposedly open to the fractal artists community to participate, but a project where just a few people had the chance to participate.

Today, when I was going to the Fractal Forums website to get the latest Mandelbulb version for my other computer, I typed a wrong address that took me apparently to the official site for the Fractal Calendar. And they had 3 galleries for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 editions with the images. And now I could see with my own eyes that this was very much true, the images are indeed boring and repetitive. They aren’t ugly, though. But 12 images of common spirals and Doodads? I can do that too. Sometimes better. Many others can do that as well.

I think that the last time I had checked for the images in that calendar was around 2003, when I even submitted some images (silly me…). The same group of people seemed to dominate the choices of approved images back then, but the images were much more better and diverse. Now, they’re just as I’ve said, common spirals and Doodads. Sad, really.

…the images are far from being fresh, creative and daunting or even “updated”, they are just something that seem to have been done to fit a certain commitment, “we must do the calendar, you are the chosen artists, just send me anything in time and that’s fine”.

…it’s sad to see that they have chosen just common spirals done in Ultra Fractal. No Apophysis, no old-school Fractint images, no new styles like the Mandelbulbs. And just spirals. While the time in the calendar goes on for all of us, the quality of its images seem to be going back in time. Or the clock seems to have stopped in 2002 for the people that are responsible to choose the images.

…and this wasn’t a personal attack on anyone (before any of these haters that like to keep starting flame wars in the aforementioned blog find an excuse in this post to start some more of these wars), this was just my personal opinion on the Fractal Calendar (to which you are entitled to disagree) and my comments are mostly made about the way it’s made and conceived and how its images are chosen, not about the talent or the quality of any of these fractal artists involved.

On Orbit Trap’s Influence

Many thanks to the guys at Orbit Trap to have quoted my opinions, to slightly discuss them and more, to understood them perfectly. I’m more than anything learning to be honest with my own feelings (artistically and in everything else) so whatever I’ve said here about my disappointments with fractal stuff in general that was repercuted by Orbit Trap is absolutely true. Whenever I say I am hating Apophysis for example, I really do. But I’m hating the Deviant kind of Apophysis – the mass-produced, randomized thing.

And I think I could only understand what was going on when I read these posts at Orbit trap pointing me to some obvious things that most people (comfortably) refuse to see, better still have your comment box filled with friends pats on the back than making something you’re enjoying.

On the Random Batch Apophysis Gallery

Pretty isn’t it? But guess what was my involvement in all this? A few clicks. To be precise, just 3. One to open Apophysis, other in the menu to select “Scripts”, and the last one to select a script. (OK,  there was another one, to run the script, it’s 4 clicks actually, sorry!). There were a few more clicks required to render the images, but these aren’t related to the actual creation of the images. And these images look quite similar not only to each other but to most of these so-popular “amazing-whatever” batches of fractal “art” spread all over the internet. So sad.

I decided to do this after reading so many of these “this is my fractal wallpaper for today” posts (and all these links to “amazing” galleries with 100 images as well) and being disappointed with most of the images I see there…


When you say “for today” I think it implies you’re doing one of these images every day. After some time, even if you used to have any involvement and care while publishing one single image a day (you always did, didn’t you?), it gets lost eventually, because even if you don’t have any motivation to make a good image that day for whatever reason, you must publish one, to keep the commitment to have the “fractal of the day” posted in time. Then or you’ll make something sub-par to keep it going…

[…]…My problem is with these other, sub-par, common images, that are still labeled as “amazing” and that are being delivered daily like rabbits or mice. Images that have a lot of self-similarity – within themselves and with every other low-quality fractal art available, the 3-click batches. A very good example of self-similarity (a basic characteristic of a fractal), but in an opposite way.

[…]…Instead it’s mostly people just running some batch script just to not be forgotten, if they don’t post their “fractal of the day” at that specific hour they will be ignored and people will start paying attention to other “artists”.

I could have kept my site going and with daily updates like that forever, and probably by now I would have around 10,000 images… If you don’t have anything meaningful to say, shut up, it’s simple as that. If it’s not working and you can’t make images that YOU think are worth showing to anyone, don’t do it. For today.

PS. I hope nobody thinks that this “special” gallery was really meant to be called “amazing”. It was done just to illustrate the content of this post. The only amazing thing there was the amount of time spent to render them. If you can’t understand irony and/or sarcasm, I’m really sorry.

Irony, social commentary and inspirational sources; that’s Pulitzer Prize winning material.  And now we’ve got our own Pulitzer Prize winner in the area of Fractal Art Blogging.  Well, maybe not your Pulitzer Prize winner, but, to quote the recent 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fractal Art Blogging, “If you can’t understand irony and/or sarcasm, I’m really sorry.”

The Art of the Strange Place

~ Click on any image to view full-size on original site ~

Spiny Newton Julia Disc by Erisian

Although it’s probably been a perennial theme in fractal art from the beginning, the recent 3D fractal explosion has greatly increased the number of images whose main impression is that of The Strange Place.  Because of this, I think it’s only appropriate to examine more closely this reinvigorated sub-genre of fractal art.

Fractal art? Actually, Strange Places often feature what could be called foreign objects and elements, producing what in traditional art circles is vaguely referred to as Mixed Media.  Erisian’s image above, which the author says was made with Bryce and Tiera-Zon is a good example of this.

Bryce is a well established 3D graphics program that gave birth to the computer graphics “artform” of fairy tale landscapes encased in shiny glass balls, floating on beautiful oceans at sunset.  Erisian’s parched landscape and departure from “glass-ball-ism” is a refreshing thing to see associated with Bryce.  The use of Tiera-Zon, a classic 2D fractal program by Stephen Ferguson, on the other hand, was a genuine surprise to me.  I thought it had to be something made in one of the Mandelbox programs.  But no, Tierazon has entered the 3D universe (via Bryce, I assume).

MandelForest 1 by MarkJayBee

This one here by MarkJayBee (on is pretty old by mandelbox standards, dated at  May 4, 2010 (seems like a decade ago).  Mark specializes in sci-fi mandelbox panoramas so it’s not surprising he’s captured what I would call a Strange Place.  What could be a better use of Strange Places than sci-fi environments?  It looks just like a scene out of the movie, Avatar, with its floating pinacles and dangling vines.  What makes for a Strange Place is such an alien panorama as this: realistic, and yet unreal.  You feel like you’ve been someplace.  A Strange Place.

Sierpinsk Temple detail by MakinMagic (Dave Makin)

Did I say MarkJayBee’s mandelbox was old?  This Sierpinski Temple by Dave Makin actually predates the 3D Mandelbulb/Mandelbox arrival.  Of course, you can see that in Dave’s conveniently located watermark in the bottom left corner.  Someday, perhaps, the only digital artists that will ever be remembered are those who wrote their names on their work.

This is a real sci-fi city Dave has created.  Richly detailed, majestically lit, it’s a city of Empire State buildings, each one half statue and half office building.  Actually, they’re nicer than the Empire State building.  And here we are, perched like eagles, looking into these crowded canyons of sacred architecture.  That counts as a Strange Place.

Museum Secret Passageway by janetino

Janetino (Deviant Art ID) creates some of the most vivid mandelbox renderings I’ve ever seen.  If this was a high resolution, professionally taken photograph of the real thing it wouldn’t look as good as this.  Most of the time perfect renderings like this look plastic-y and lifeless but not here.  These are heavily ornamented metal doors leading to some of the greatest rooms in the king’s palace.  Or are they the lavishly crafted doors of the king’s treasure vault?  This is as close as we’ll get, but we’ve been there.  We’ve been to this Strange Place.

Grotto by The Rev (

Here’s a slightly different one but nonetheless characterized by the quality of an alien view, The Strange Place.  The Rev really shows some style here in this one: nice composition, coloring and that special something that you just can’t describe but can see so well –style.  This looks very mandelbulbish; I see those round fuzzy things on the walls.  It’s always a minor triumph to make something this appealing from that old pollen spore, the mandelbulb.

We’re crouched in a cave and looking out onto the golden rockwalls of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt or maybe one of the many niches and cavities surrounding Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  Ancient and alive forever looking into the Sun.  Or is that just me?  I’m a million words rolled up on papyrus and a I don’t ever want to be found.  The world is not worthy of my secrets.  This is a fine Strange Place if there ever was one.  I’m going to hang out here for a while; you can head off to YouTube if you like.

The Lair of Ananta-Boga by Lenord (2011)

Are they hoops, tunnels, giant wicker honeycombs?  There’s a Victorian, Steampunk look to it; wrought iron or Eiffel Tower-esque?  And I keep thinking what a cool racecourse this would be for the video game, MX Unleashed or Off-Road Fury because there’s something in this that says roadway.  How’s that for a Strange Place?  Driving is believing.

Lenord likes symmetry and I’d say this is his best symmetrical work, yet.  Strong design and rich depth and detail to the imagery.  Dream-like and surreal.  Made with the Mandelbulb 3D.  Hey, he’s included the parameter file along with it on the gallery page at Fractalforums…

Strange Place is type of artwork that expresses wonder and mystery via a language of physical environment –scenery.  You could say it’s the computer version of landscape art, but that’s putting it mildly.  There’s commonly a surreal tone to Strange Places because computer algorithms, like fractal formulas, don’t create wall calendar nature scenes, they make freaky stuff.  In fact, the parameters that render a Strange Place image might just as easily render something entirely different with a few minor adjustments.  That’s the magic of fractal algorithms: you don’t know what’s around the corner until you go there.

Strange Places are vacation snapshots of digital places.  They’re as real as any other place you can take of photograph of, and now with the current 3D fractal developments including actual stereo video rendering (3D glasses), they’re almost as real as it gets without actually being in the picture.  Rathinagiri’s cross-eyed stereograms that I posted about before, show how vivid the digital world can be.  The digital world is the Strange Place I’m talking about, I guess.

fractal20110127 by Rathinagiri

3D stereo fractal imagery just might be the ultimate level to the art of the Strange Place.  When I look at Rathinagiri’s image in cross-eyed mode, it’s like these swirly clay shapes are right in front of me and I could reach out and touch them.  I’m practically in the picture, the illusion is so strong. Rathinagiri hasn’t just given us an image of something to look at, he’s given us the real object itself. You just can’t touch it; no different than being in real world museum or art gallery. I’ll bet it’s that intense reality that motivates him to keep creating stereograms.

Anyhow, that’s the art of the Strange Place and I think it’s a sub-genre that will only grow and develop the way things seem to be going in fractal art these days.  So if you find there’s something powerful and compelling about a fractal image but you just can’t fit it into the regular categories of visual art or find the words to explain what’s so good about it, it’s probably this Strange Place thing I’ve been talking about here.  A fresh wind of surrealism.  For the true eye-ball enthusiast.

Parameter File Sharing For Dummies

Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

The most recent “discussion” about parameter file sharing on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List has reminded me how deep the wheel ruts are when it comes to fractal artists talking about copyright and ownership.  Most fractal artists subscribe to notions about copyright that are the law only in their own private, mental kingdoms.  Answers to almost all their questions about copyright are available –from official government sources– on the internet, but oddly, very few fractal artists seem to be interested in actually resolving these questions.  Why consult the US Copyright Office when you know more about their copyright legislation than they do?

Copyright is neither a moral or ethical issue: it’s a legal one.  Consult the law, not your personal feelings or that of your online buddies.

Putting copyright issues aside, for the moment, what is the best way to share fractal parameter files?

Firstly, do you really want to help others build on your fractal discoveries? or do you just want to fish for applause with your parameter file?  Unless you really want to pool your knowledge with other fractalists, you shouldn’t be giving out your parameter files to start with.  You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment  because you can’t take back what you’ve given out on the internet.  It works that way with posting embarrassing party photos, and so it does with anything else uploaded to the… World Wide Web.

The best solution I can think of for most artists that will enable artistic collaboration and minimize feelings of regret, is to:

  • share parameters only with other artists who approach you personally.

Posting parameters to the Ultra Fractal Mailing List is effectively giving them out to a huge, anonymous crowd.  You have no rapport with an anonymous crowd and they have none with you; any restrictions you place on the use of your parameters are about as meaningless as your name that goes with them.  It doesn’t matter what your legal rights are, you won’t even be able to enforce copyright restrictions over something which is only the source code of a fractal image unless those “infringers” help you out by posting their parameter file for you to compare.  (Or unless they only minimally alter your parameters and post an image which is almost identical to yours.)

Think about it:  sharing parameters only on a personal level is a good policy because it also allows the recipients to give back to you and builds up professional connections that could easily become a source for mentoring or other kinds of professional development.

Furthermore, fractal art is such a small genre that once you exclude everyone except the dedicated enthusiasts, you could share your parameters for the latest hybrid mandelbox with five other artists like yourself and have reached 80% of everyone who’s making regular, meaningful contributions to that area of fractal art.

Besides, there’s an enormous amount of imitation in fractal art today; widespread parameter file sharing probably makes that worse.  When artists should be experimenting with new things and discovering new types of imagery having other artists (good artists) give them a short cut probably doesn’t help them much in the long run.  The only good use of parameter file sharing is to spur further innovation, not easy imitation.  Share your innovations with other innovators.

Most people love to share their skills and knowledge with others who share their interests.  Not all; some artists are different, competitive and that sort of thing, but I believe most will find these professional exchanges quite inspiring as well as equally satisfying.

Throwing their pearls before swine, on the other hand, has been a regretful thing for artists, intellectuals and just about everyone else, ever since biblical times.

Ultra Poetry

Westdale Coffee Shops / Thursday Night - My Dog Joe (photo by Kenneth Moyle)

Well, the Ultra Fractal Mailing List is at it again. Last time it was opera, but this time it’s bongos, coffee houses and poetry readings.

I’ve reformatted the original excerpts to give them that “je ne sais quoi” (bongo roll!) of true poetry lingo.  A little extra push to bring this baby out into the world of sunshine and stanza-i-zation (another bongo roll!). Well, I guess it’s satire, too, but I just dig this cat’s passion and choice of words.  Hey man, I just thought it needed a little Robert De-Frost-ing and a few turns on the old charcoal language grill to make this the perfect Allen Gins-burger of our time.

Zooreka, speak thy words, daddy-o!

[ultrafractal] ENOUGH IS ENOUGH—

Thats the final straw..
ANYONE here who is currently
a friend of mine
on Facebook
is invited to view
the entire problem…
if that is you
are unable
or unwilling
to read!

I will not consort
or share anything
a den of Art thieves
or those of you
who obviously support them

What part of the following statement have you all got a problem with,

Full copyright for this piece
Made available for educative purrposes
and Examination
exclusively to
February 2011

It’s plain and simple,,,
were tweaks
or even suggested!

Not only did
aka Art Thief…
against my express wishes
but also took it
and published my work
under his
(or her)

What is wrong with you people?

Wait til it happens
to you
and I’m sure
you’ll all know about it!

HOW DARE people
for example
attack me for defending
my work…
maybe you see
as a joke
and its okay
to steal!

Anyone here
as previously mentioned…
on my friends list
that shares the point
of view of anyone supporting
this is asked
to immediately remove themselves as such.
I have nothing
to say to
and believe me
it will get

I am thankful that this is only one piece….
and I will not obviously
be pursuing the matter
due to costs…
but believe me
if I had the money I
wouldn’t think
twice about it…
as a matter of principle.

Who’s talking war here?
No different to the themes
of the last week
as far as I can see…
Lots of posts
about stolen parameters
attributed to
who some of you
yet again
suggested wrongly
that she might be the art thief.
Then publishing work
without express

There is absolutely No freaking difference here!

Only takes one facebook
here to stop by my
account confirm the findings
and post
back here!
The misuse of parameters
is plainly evident
from yesterdays list!

Choose to ignore
it if you wish but I
will not tolerate
either the
theft of my work
the insults that followed….
I have refrained from replying
in kind thus far!

It is rare at all
I post here anymore
and when I do
it is often
to be helpful to others,
examine technique
and sometimes tweak…

Thats how it has always been
since I joined here.
Instead I find rubbish
and often off-topic
Like.. another fine day, isn’t it?

I find announcements of uploaded
work to other sites,,,
I’m sure
I could clog
the list
with that

and of little substance
or relevance to the list.
Thats the plain and simple
truth of it!
Hardly surprises me at all anymore
that a lot of faces
and some of the better
I got to
learning this program
have vanished totally from the list,,,
I believe I can now see


[ultrafractal] correction to my last post enough is enough

Fractal Computing

Back in 2006, Juan Luis Martinez ( wrote a post explaining why despite the growing popularity (and growing hip-ness) of the Macintosh computing platform we shouldn’t expect a similar proliferation of fractal programs to follow the way they have on the Windows platform. He doesn’t speculate as to why it isn’t going to happen or what it is that’s all messed up with fractals on the Mac platform, he simply asked the question (I’m paraphrasing) “Why is a graphic design-rich environment like the Mac so fractal program poor?”

Of course it’s not quite so bad now as it was back in 2006; Duncan Champney has produced a fine fractal program, Fractal Works, whose style has created it’s own niche in the fractal art world and not simply played catch-up with Windows programming. I think if Juan Luis was writing today he’d concede that Macs now have a respectable fractal program in Fractal Works.

I know nothing about Macs, and Apple in general, except that they make very elegant computing devices and they run the entire user/developer environment like a minimum security prison. Ironically, the computing company that has the hippest public image is also the one with the most repressive and authoritarian practices. (Totally un-cool.) Bill Gates, the former head of Microsoft might have been a hard playing businessman who used his company’s monopoly to run competing software developers off the road, but Steve Jobs of Apple is running both software and hardware competitors off the road.

I got a new computer this past week. My previous one was a used, off-lease desktop made in 2002. It ran Ubuntu Linux and drove down its own road, far away from the commercialism of the worlds of Microsoft and Apple.

My new computer came with a disk for Xp and a disk for Windows 7 but instead I dropped a disk for Ubuntu 10.10 into the optical drive and installed this popular version of Linux in about 20 minutes. Everything worked on my HP Elitebook 8440p including wireless card and special touch sensitive volume buttons. In fact, the installation of this Free Open Source Software (FOSS) operating system was actually easier than Windows 7. Ubuntu downloaded and installed the drivers, flash plugin, document viewers, multi-media codecs and a full suite of applications in one, simple step.

But I decided to go with Windows 7 instead.

Why? Linux is the land of the free, isn’t it? No more Evil Bill or Sinister Steve? Don’t do it man! Stay in Shangri-la!

The answer to why is right from Juan Luis’s posting from way back in 2006: the world of the Windows operating system has more creative options for its users. Ironically, those creative applications were built by and for its users and have nothing to do with the square-headed corporate creators who make and administer (and license) the operating system. Windows might not be a perfect world, and Linux has much less restrictions and a groovy, futuristic vision, but Windows is more a world of its users’ making than it is of the heartless corporation that created it. Weird, but it’s grown into more of a creative place than Linux has despite lacking the strong un-restrictive, wide-open everything foundation that the Linux world is securely rooted in, and was carefully designed to forever be.

But… I could never find very many programs that would knock me out of my gourd in Shangri-la. I just couldn’t dig that, man.

An Internet Fractal Gallery

The Mona Lisa is the most popular artwork in the Louvre, the most famous art collection in the world.  It measures 77 x 53 cm (30 x 21 in).  That’s the size of a high-end computer monitor, today.

The world has the Louvre, and the the Louvre has the Mona Lisa, but Orbit Trap has something better than all that.  It’s called the internet.

Here at Orbit Trap we’ve created the world’s first art gallery with absolutely no artwork in it.  And it’s huge!

Well, enough of the hype.  It’s a list of hyperlinks to fractal art that’s currently posted at various places on the internet.  For each artwork, we’ve posted a thumbnail sized image along with the title and the name of the artist.  Click the thumbnail, and see the artwork full-size on the artist’s own website.  We just supply the navigation; how to get there.

That’s the beauty of the internet: we’re all part of one big computer.  It’s all here, already.  Everything’s as close as your monitor, if you can just find it.  On the internet, a good art gallery need only to be a page of links.  The artwork stays in the hands of the artists and they control it.

You’re probably wondering how we chose the artwork?  Is it the Best Fractal Art Ever Made?  Is this Orbit Trap’s pale imitation of the great Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibiton?  A new center to the Fractal Universe?

We asked two questions:

  1. What is fractal art?
  2. What can fractal art be?

The Fractal Art Collection is the answer to these two questions –a visual answer– in pictures, not words.  It’s not a permanent exhibit.  Links go dead and we also intend to change them as new examples come along and in order to keep it fresh and engaging.

The fractal art world is big; mammoth in fact, and we wanted to help any curious people out there checking out fractal art on the internet a simple way to get started.  A Google image search just doesn’t work for that sort of thing.

It’s not an art contest with winners (and losers) or an Olympic event with gold, silver and bronze medals.  It’s good examples of fractal art; some common and some not so common.  It’s informative, not competitive.  It’s art.

It’s also a work in progress.  We’re not really sure where this will go or what shape it may take a year, or even a few months from now.  We do think, however, that it will be of great benefit to the curious, first time visitor who just wants a summary view of fractal art.

The link is at the top of the page under the Orbit Trap title.

Behold! Haltenny is here…

~ Click on any image to view full-size on the original site ~

Point Of Origin by haltenny ( ID)

High Voltage by haltenny ( ID)

He has a Deviant Art Gallery too with more examples of “steampunk” mandelboxes.  On DA he goes by Hal Tenny which sounds like a real name.

He shares, he cares, he posts parameter files!

Screenshot of Hal Tenny's recent DA journal entry

What a wonderful fractal artist and human being he is.  Let’s hope fractal fame doesn’t perturb him or divide him by zero.

I take it he uses Jesse Dierks’ Mandelbulb 3D, a freeware Windows 3D fractal program available for download here on  He thanks the well known 3D fractal artist lenord for sharing the parameters from his recent image Spudsville posted on

Spudsville by lenord ( ID)

You can see the similarities; the shapes, patterns, patina of metallic corrosion on the big, central “tuber.” But you can also see that lenord’s image is different than haltenny’s in the rendering of it and the some of the parts of the shapes and choice of imagery.  Also, if you follow lenord’s regular uploads to like I do, you’ll notice that haltenny’s image doesn’t share lenord’s characteristic style of symmetery; something that I find gives a strong design aspect to most of lenord’s work.

What this all leads to is the observation I’m sure we’re all making here that there’s a great deal of creative potential to these 3D mandelbox programs that comes from each individual artist’s choice and experimentation with whatever can be experimented with and that sharing parameter settings can lead to even more discoveries and not just soulless imitation.  I’ve not seen anything quite like haltenny’s steampunk mandelboxes and they’re a real example of how powerfully creative these 3D fractal algorithms can be when it comes to making graphically complex and photo-realistic works.  It’s almost like a graphical version of a piano on which almost any type of tune can be played with seemingly never ending possibilities for song writers.

I wonder if there’s any other haltenny’s out there amongst the great, looming shadows of Deviant Art?  It’s easy to get lost in the shadows.

BMFAC: Sorry, you’re looking for something that isn’t here

Here’s a riddle:  when is the host of an art exhibition not the host of an art exhibition?

Search results for "fractal art" from the official ICM website

Interesting search results for “fractal art”.  Maybe they don’t call it “art?”  Well, alright.  Some people might not see fractals as real art but how about just “fractals”?  That’s got to come up with something about the exhibit.  As they say on Google, “I feel lucky!”

Search results for "fractal" from the ICM 2010 official website

No way!  Stop me if I’m wrong, but isn’t fractal geometry something that even high school math students study?  And yet there doesn’t even seem to be anything about fractal math at the ICM 2010.  I thought at least some of these folks were fractal math gurus and something, somewhere fractal related would come up.  But apparently this ICM has no connection with fractal math much less fractal art.

Search results from ICM 2010 site

Okay, maybe I’ve got to look at this ICM conference not from my own perspective but from the point of view of a ICM attendee, an esteemed mathematician, university scholar who’s traveled thousands of miles just to be part of the International Congress of Mathematicians:

Search results from ICM 2010 site

But seriously, I’m getting the idea that the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest exhibition was a one-time thing.  The very first year, 2006, it was sponsored by the ICM because that year they were giving a special award to Benoit Mandelbrot, whom as we all know is considered the father of fractal geometry.  They had a fractal art exhibition to complement the special award being given out at that time.  The ICMs are held every four years and the next one wouldn’t have been until 2010.  The 2007 BMFAC naturally was not associated with the ICM because there wasn’t one that year.  It was sponsored by Vodafone but held in the same city, Madrid, Spain, as the first (ICM sponsored) exhibition.

There was no BMFAC in 2008 (no reason given) but they did hold a contest in 2009 which was intended to form the exhibition at the next ICM exhibition, that being 2010 in Hyderabad, India.  The contest seemed to be held much farther in advance of the ICM than the contest for the last ICM in 2006 was; the contest judging was over and the results announced in late 2009, almost a year ahead of the ICM.

But then it was discovered (yes, no mention of this by the BMFAC organizers) that there were three “extra” public exhibitions held before the ICM exhibition in Aug. 2010, suggesting that the early contest date had been planned well in advance, that is, intentionally,  to accommodate these threeunannounced– exhibitions.

All of these things characterized the organizers of the BMFACs as a very closed and secretive group:

  • no mention of what was going on in 2008;
  • 2009 held almost a year in advance of the exhibition;
  • the Hyderabad exhibition starts appearing on the other side of the world in Argentina as well as in Spain without any explanation as to why or how;
  • there is no mention of the Hyderabad exhibit on the hosts’ own official website before, during or after the (alleged) exhibit took place;
  • also, there was another “phantom” exhibit in Spain back in 2007/08 also “discovered” not announced which puzzled even the winners at that time

The organizers know all these questions are out there, but they choose to say nothing about it.  Why?  Why all the silence among people who say they’re trying to publicize and promote fractal art?  Is it just their little project and what happens is nobody else’s business?

My theory is that the organizers of the ICM 2010 in Hyderabad never wanted a fractal art exhibition and refused to include it with the other cultural events that they’d planned for the congress.  That’s why you won’t find any mention of it on the official website:  “Sorry, you’re looking for something –we don’t want here.”

Screenshot of the ICM 2010 home page, Jan 2011, still no fractal art exhibit...

I doubt we’re ever going to know what went wrong with the BMFAC 2010 exhibition because I know from past years that the organizers feel they’re above reproach and can do whatever they like.  They’ve always been that way.  From the very beginning this contest was all about the organizers and the judges and not about “presenting fractal art to a world that largely doesn’t know it”.  That was a facade to hide the promotion of their own works and reputations.  They needed the fractal art community’s participation to make it look like a legitimate art contest to the sponsors and anyone else with a critical eye.  Then they stuck their own artwork into the exhibition, bypassing all of the selection committee and presented it alongside the contest winners as if it had the same juried and “chosen” status.  They did it for the first two exhibitions.  They didn’t do it for this one.

Is that why they weren’t so concerned about promoting “fractal art” this time?

The BMFAC 2010: An Audience of Winners!

A small revelation took place in the comments section of Terry’s recent posting, Diaries 2.  Terry had suggested, reasonably enough I think, that since there appeared to be no information or reaction anywhere on the internet about the recent Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest’s exhibition in Hyderabad, India held this past August, 2010, that perhaps the exhibition didn’t actually take place at all.  Previous exhibitions had been reported and commented on extensively.  What happened to this one?

Two winners, whose artwork was in the BMFAC’s exhibition came forward and posted to the comment section that they were well aware that the exhibition had taken place and wondered why we didn’t contact the organizers if we wanted to find out for ourselves (i.e. if the rumors were true).  The winners received a “catalog” of the exhibition and one even received some photos taken by an admiring conference attendee.

I think their idea was to once and for all clear up the mystery surrounding the exhibition which grew from the absence of any mention of it anywhere on the internet.  Not even the official website of the International Congress of Mathematicians 2010 (ICM) who were hosting the event (allegedly) had any mention of it.  The two winners who rapidly left comments (one of whom commented before I’d even read the blog posting) probably thought they were rescuing the BMFAC from Orbit Trap’s yellow journalistic clutches –once again.

Unfortunately for the BMFAC they merely showed how far this contest has fallen from being the biggest event in the fractal art world to becoming the biggest secret in the fractal art world.

A secret of course, but only on the internet.  But if you can’t find out about something on the internet, then what does that say about it’s success in trying to be promotional? Ironically, the contest’s rules declare: “We are choosing art that represents our art form to a world that largely does not know it…”

That the world still doesn’t know it!

Except for the winners, of course.  They know all about their own fractal art exhibition now.  The BMFAC’s audience this time was it’s own winners.

Perhaps that’s been a good thing since a former BMFAC judge commented that some of the winning entries this time weren’t actual “fractal” art at all.  Perhaps some of the winners needed to be exposed to fractal art?  (Some of the judges too?)

But what about the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) that met in Hyderabad, India from August 19-27, 2010.  Were they a winning audience too?  Do you suppose any of them have no idea what fractals are? or have never seen fractal art?  Do they form part of that “world that largely does not know it”?

The previous BMFAC exhibits were publicly accessible and not restricted events like this last one which was limited to just the ICM attendees –serious math folks.  This I think makes the entire exhibition something of a waste of time as far as promoting awareness of fractal art goes.  But I guess from the perspective of the winners it wasn’t.  They got a chance to put their work in front of the world’s most elite mathematicians (the proverbial “big break”).  Is there any group in this world more capable of recognizing artistic merit and spreading the word better than mathematicians?  For sure, they’re the ones you want on board to spearhead a fractal art publicity campaign.

Not those ordinary members of the public (certainly not bloggers, either).  They’re nowhere near as close to the center of the universe.  Just to think that one of those great mathematicians has looked at your work and you have entered into the orbit of their life for just a little while is like having your whole being and very existence confirmed, exalted and glorified for ever and ever.

Seriously.  Just read this:

The fact that my art was seen by some of the most prominent mathematicians in the world, seems to pale in comparison to a secondary link being posted on a web. You’d be the first person I have come across to feel that wasn’t enough for people.


I actually meant that given what I was, it would be rude to demand more. I am happy with what I have received. You wouldn’t be, and that is sad.

If you want to be privy to the events at the congress, earn it. Get a math degree and earn it. Don’t sit her whining because you aren’t privy to the information. Until then, you are, as you put it, one of the “common people”.

I don’t expect to be invited to these without earning it. You shouldn’t either. That’s life.

-from here and here

But that’s just Chris Oldfield, one of the winners speaking.  Perhaps the rest weren’t so thrilled with being part of what might be seen as second-rate exposure for their work compared to the exhibitions of previous years.

If the central point of the initial post was that David Makin was wrong and that organizers aren’t doing a great job getting fractal art out to the public, I agree, he’s wrong, the works did not reach too wide an audience to merit such phrase, even though it did reach a wider audience than it would if it stayed on the web.

-from here

“…on the web.”  Yes, the web is no place to publicize anything these days.  On the other hand, if any of those fractal art works in the exhibition should pique the curiosity of one of those math monarchs, where are they going to go to see more?  Maybe the internet?  For some people, that’s the first place they go; conferences come after.

Esin Turkakin also includes the comment, “I’m merely voicing my opinion just like you are, and am in no way affiliated with whatever high court you’re imagining.”  What I think she’s getting at is just because she was a winner in the contest that doesn’t mean she can’t comment objectively on the BMFAC’s exhibition.  That’s true of course and Chris Oldfield as well makes a number of comments about the BMFAC that probably reflect the thoughts of fractal artists who weren’t part the contest.

It may not say much but I think it says something that the only comments made to the recent posting about the contest came from artists whose work was in the exhibit, i.e. “winners.”  And why was that?  Maybe it’s because the self-imposed radio silence by the contest organizers has reduced the audience of the Hyderabad exhibition to just the winners?

Is that the only “world” anyone would have thought the ICM exhibition was going to be presenting fractal art to?

Tis the season for a movie, or two…

Yes, the fractal art world has its Christmas movie offerings just like Hollywood does.  Well, actually, most of these were posted long before the holiday season started, but I just haven’t gotten around to (re)posting them here.  If you follow then you’ve probably seen all of these fine, cutting-edge, fractal videos.  Maybe I should just call it “Best of 2010 fractal videos.”

All of these videos had something (I thought at the time) was significant and worth looking at.  So what I’m offering here is a compilation of fractal videos.  Near the end of my video embed collecting binge I refined my tagging skills by listing key words that would enable me to remember the video and what was noteworthy about it.

(How do you frame a fractal video? )

I forget exactly who made all these but By The Power of YouTube I don’t have to remember because it’s all in the little flash applets they allow everyone to embed wherever they like.  They are in no particular order, but that is generally the order of all things.  If you know of another video that ought to impress readers just as much as any of these, feel free to post a link to it in the comments and tell us what’s so great about it … for many are linked but few are chosen.

Floating Temple

Singular Box

Mandelbox DNA

Amazing Mengerbox

Trip through a hybrid box

Minicube zoom (Mandelbox)

3rd dimension cut 3D Mandelbrot set zoom

Bulbcube zoom (Mandelbox)


man in mandelbox :

SuperCubes – FractalMan from Jonathan Wolfe on Vimeo.

fractal thing by bib

abandoned sky circus by Don Whittaker

Here’s a public service announcement; call it intermission.  Find out about fair use before fair use finds out about you.  Or, in the words of Danny Devito from War of the Roses, “When a guy who makes $400 an hour wants to tell you something, you should listen.”

Fair Use interview

Paper page mandelbox flythrough

fractal station symmetric zoom fly around nice color

Red frames temple crawl through

Fractalfoundation’s favorite mandelbox exploration; slow; floating bits;

Alien Mandelbox from Jonathan Wolfe on Vimeo.

undersea cavern exploration mandelbox recommended by Tglad

Fast turning nice color prince of persia castle graphics short

Wierd Planet by bib

UltraMeta: Snapshots from a fractal walkabout

Sometimes fractal art is just an afterthought.  It’s the snapshots we take not because we want to impress an audience but because we want to remember what we saw.  Snapshots, like the button in any fractal program says, is “saving.”

Saving is recording but before Recording comes finding and before Finding comes just wandering around.

There’s a lot of far-out stuff in Dan Wills’ ultraMeta Picasa gallery.  It’s a reminder that fractal art can be just as much about exploring a fractal world as it is about that strange, fickle and formal thing called “art.”

~Click on any image to view full-size on its original website~

jovaNuliaTwo...moonset_probe_pancake_openclose by Dan Wills

All of Dan’s images here were made with Ultra Fractal which surprised me.  Of course, UF is a widely used fractal program but these are not widely seen fractal images.  But then, I think Dan’s approach to fractals is different; he’s looking to what the formula can make, not we he can make with the formula; the artist as scavenger and collector.  Maybe that’s why his images have a more “natural” look to them; they’re not tweaked all over, they’re found all over.

alanTIsVeryHelpful...tennar_quont_slimap_arge_other by Dan Wills

Glass panes and frost-like invaders.  Note the wild variation in the structures.  This is not the usual sort of fractal with self-similarity.  It’s more like the way frost grows on a window pane or how crystals take shape in natural rock formations.  This formula is very creative –algorithmically creative.  Where would you zoom into next?

alanTIsVeryHelpful...tennar_quont_slimap_smimap_kroma by Dan Wills

“Kroma,” the last word in the (long) working title or rather, simply the filename.  I hesitate to say that this is the best one of all but it sure shows the magnificent unpredictability in these fractals.  One could spend a good deal of time investigating all the places on this “map.”

alanTIsVeryHelpful...tennar_quont_slimap_arge_illness_larque by Dan Wills

What a change from the spectrum-ness of that last one.  But here the monotone environment seems to accentuate the details as much as the various colors of the previous one made them stand out in uniqueness.  In some fractal places you just can’t lose when you’re looking for something that will amaze you.

jovaNuliaTwo...out_tone_blum by Dan Wills

Subtle coloring, like the very first image, but rather than being dull it serves to shine just enough light on the fractal structures to show their natural wonder.  Less is more and here’s a good example.  Why should such a well known fractal structure be this interesting?  Maybe because we never really knew it.

alanTIsVeryHelpful...terminal_deposition_ununique by Dan Wills

From the fiery spirals to caves of ice.  It’s a good thing Dan took all these snapshots, otherwise who would have believed such things existed and how would anyone describe them?  The best way to tell people about fractal art is, as we all know, to show them some.  You’d sound crazy if you had to describe fractals with just words.  Again, notice the intriguing lack of similarity.  That’s algorithmic creativity.

alanTIsVeryHelpful...stonk_let_tennar_quont by Dan Wills

The only one that bears a strong resemblance to any other image, this one looks to me like a bright, starry night sky; frozen, broken, and then put back together creatively.  Look at the very top right corner; doesn’t that look like a puzzle piece from something completely different?  Even fractal formulas make mistakes.

alanTIsVeryHelpful...tennar_quont_slimap_arge_illness by Dan Wills

If you find these images astonishing, then you should view the entire sequence of them in Dan’s ultraMeta Picasa gallery as well as some of this other Voyages of Sindbad galleries.  You may find some of them even better than the one’s I’ve included here, but you will certainly get a better grasp of Dan’s “exploring style.”  Like a series of vacation snapshots or the sequence of photos depicting a volcanic eruption, you feel a story unfolding of which you are only looking at a few selected points along the way.

alanTIsVeryHelpful...tennar_quont_slimap_smimap_pients by Dan Wills

Can you believe this comes from the same group of images?  It’s not just a great image because of the color and apparent sunlight effect; the red structures have wrinkles and veins like real leaves do.  And they recurse into their own little triangular neighborhoods and window frames like they were grown, cell by cell, into this massive sailing ship of a tree.  I’m guessing, but I’d say this image comes from zooming into that “map” (Kroma) we saw in the third image.

If you’re looking to make a New Years resolution how about taking a little time from your busy fractal art routine and just go on a fractal walkabout.  You’ll see fractals and fractal art differently; maybe even for the first time.

Color: The Fourth Dimension

From time to time while browsing fractal art on the internet I’ve seen images that greatly impressed me and yet when subjecting them to a second, more critical evaluation, found myself unable to defend them as anything more significant than just eye-candy.  What all of these images had in common was exceptionally good color.

Upon reflection, over numerous years, I’ve come to the conclusion that color is an element of visual imagery that is best described as a fourth dimension because I think the role that color plays in the “architecture” of an image can be just as great as all the other fundamental parameters that, taken together, constitute the “length, width and depth” of an image.

There are artists who consistently make images that draw heavily on the subtle but effective properties of color.  Artists who concentrate on color are what I would describe as “visual musicians”.  I call them that because I don’t know how to relate what they do to what other artists do and like a great tune, it’s an undeniably pleasant thing.  It’s a wonderful thing, even if I don’t understand it.  Call it beauty, but I think  the term, beauty, is often just a word for when we run out of words.

In the digital realm color can easily seen as an independent aspect of an image because we can easily change it independently of everything else in the image.  Color is a global property and those are the kinds of properties that are most easily manipulated in computer graphics programs.  The little, detailed kinds of things you still have to work with by hand.  But you can change the entire color gradient or palette of a fractal or rotate it’s hue with just a few clicks in a graphics program.  It’s no wonder then that some artists chose to put the emphasis on color: digital tools give them “color-powers”.

Anyhow, nothing talks about color better than color itself; here’s a few images to illustrate the point:

~Click images to view full-size on original site~

Super Color from FractalWorks

Indescribable by Schimkent (Flickr)

What better example could there be of the effect of color in fractal art than a super-rich color spiral like this.  Made by Schimkent (Flickr screen name for Kent Schimke) using Duncan Champney’s Mac program, FractalWorks.  The turning of the spiral places colors that would otherwise be farther apart in the gradient/palette right beside each other.

How is this spiral different from the many Fractal Universe calendar spirals which I think I once said reminded me of patterns on disposable party plates?  Well, that’s the challenge of evaluating works “of the fourth dimension;” you just have to look at the image and see for yourself what the difference is.

3D view of Apr02wma1b by Schimkent

It’s all about that Blue in the top left corner.  The colored loops come close to it and challenge it, even holding Blue in their center.  The outcome is harmonious yet that subtle gray window screen texture shows that there’s more to Blue than they realize.

What I’ve chosen here are images whose color properties contribute enormously to the overall impression of the image; they’re examples of the effect of color.  They’re not just “nicely colored,” the coloring has a powerful effect on the rest of the image and magnifies the  it.

Subdued and Sophisticated Color

20090716-1 by Samuel Monnier

It’s not all about saturated color.  This one here by Samuel Monnier from his website, Algorithmic Worlds, shows how a less saturated, more subdued color can be just as expressive.  Of course there’s more to this image than just it’s subtle coloring, but the coloring compliments the quiet, ancient and weathered patterns in the ground and sky.  Every time I look at this I think of ancient Egypt and the Pyramids.  The wind carries away the sand, filling the sky with yellow dust and leaving bare the ancient workings underground.

20090715-1 by Samuel Monnier

Such colored details.  Details are the hallmark of Samuel Monnier’s images which is why almost all of them are presented in zoomable fashion via a flash applet on his Algorithmic Worlds site, as we’ll see in the next one.

20100924-1 by Samuel Monnier

See the top left “planet?”.  In the image below I zoom into there and take a screenshot of the resulting detail.  This is a fabulous example of color as well as algorithmic color (he didn’t paint this by hand).  Every planet is different and even in the deepest zooms there’s still more planets below.  It’s a bit like real astronomy: the more closely you look at one thing, the more things you notice around it.

20100924-1 (detail) by Samuel Monnier

The colors are not so subdued in this detail as they are in the other images.  Compare this detail view with Kent Schimke’s spiral image shown at the very beginning.  They are quite different and yet each one thrives on color.  Monnier’s is a very detailed color while Schimke’s is broader, thicker, smoother color.  Of course, they’re made differently: Monnier’s uses his trademark “pattern-piling” while Schimke is using, I assume, a fractal formula rendered in FractalWorks with it’s exceptional, and very smooth, 3D rendering features.

Spherical Feedback by Syntopia (Flickr)

Another fine example of subdued coloring.  The structures in the image are quite plain and as the title suggests, are repetitive like feedback.  It’s color that takes the lead role in this image turning what would otherwise be a mere technical example of the features of the program Structure Synth into something much more creative and noteworthy.

Kleinian Kolors

indra611a by Jos Leys

If you’re at all interested in color you could not possibly have missed the Kleinian images by Jos Leys, some of which are almost seven years old now.  It’s hard to imagine these things rendered in grayscale.  The above one is a special example, although typical of the way Jos uses color to compliment the Kleinian structures: it’s been designed in Ultra Fractal and then rendered in POV-Ray, a very sophisticated ray-tracing program.  The result looks like a photo of a real sculpture but is in fact just a very sophisticated digital rendering.

indra277 by Jos Leys

Here’s a perfect example of Jos Leys’ exquisite, jewellery-like, Indra’s Pearls images.  The color seems so natural and inseparable from the underlying mathematical “architecture.”  Could you adequately describe this image in words only without referring to the color?

Color World

The Junkyard, by primitive mind (Deviant Art)

Keeping with my theme of the power of color, here’s something similar and yet quite different, too.  This image, I’m going to make a guess, was created by some very careful layering of a number of 3D mandelbulb/mandelbox images.  The result is not just a blending of the 3D structures but also a blending of the colors.  With the possible exception of Samuel Monnier’s “planet” image, these images by primitive mind (Deviant Art screen name) have what I’d say is the most sophisticated range of colors both in hue and saturation.  Look at the bottom of the one above and you’ll see in that little patch of “sunlight” in the bottom left saturated color while in the rest of the image it’s mostly more subdued colors and a very wide range of them.

Under the sea by primitive mind (Deviant Art)

Images like these could not be saved as 256 color indexed pngs without changing them enormously or using complex dithering.  They simply have too many colors to do that very well.  They almost look like paintings, really.  And from a technical perspective, I’ve never seen mandelbulb/mandelbox images with such creative color.  Like all the others, if you click these you’ll see the larger size image on the site where I found it.

Seriously, just color?

Is color a serious thing?  I guess it depends on what you think is serious.  Some think the life and death world of social and political issues is serious subject matter while others might find that a painful distraction from their study of water lilies. The work of some famous artists seems to revolve around careful choices of color.  Andy Warhol, in his famous silk-screen images experimented with unique color combinations.  Silk screening allows for this kind of experimentation just like computer graphics programs do; you can quickly see what different inks look like by switching them and making a new print.

Marilyn, by Andy Warhol, who for many years could not walk without the aid of Color Crutches

Is there an art form that is nothing more than a language of shape and color?  Should we call it “Lego-land” or “Visual Philosophy?”  The graphically simple things like shape and color I believe can sometimes leave a very sophisticated impression in our mind.  Stephen Ferguson, the well-known fractal programmer, once made a profound statement –about a sphere– that it had infinite points of reflection.  The ultimate mirror.  Something to think about next time you look at “a shiny ball.”  Seriously.

One-eyed, vs Cross-eyed, Fractal Art

He's angry because he can't cross his eyes like we can and he feels left out

3D-art freaks (circa 1860) groovin' to the third dimension. Detail from a painting by Jacob Spoel (1820-1868)

How old is 3D imagery?

In case you’re wondering, and you’re also stupid, 3D imagery has been around as long as humans have had two eyes.  It’s pretty common actually and goes under the generic title: see-ing.

In fact, if you think about it, the usual flat, 2D kind of imagery seen in most artwork, like the two above, is actually something of an abstraction and employs all sorts of technical tricks to give the impression of natural depth in an unnaturally flat medium; 3D imagery is natural imagery.

Natural?  Yes, that’s what I’d say is the impression I get when I look at 3D stereograms and other 3D imagery: I feel like a doorway to a little world has opened up on my computer screen.  3D is more than just a cool trick, it’s virtual sculpture and a visual reality –it’s as real as real can look.

I mention this because you may have noticed that people who make this sort of artwork often become obsessed with it.  I think it’s that “little world” effect that fascinates them.  Even apparently mediocre images still contain that exciting substance that transforms anything flat into an eternally effervescing wonder.

My first encounter with artificial 3D imagery was the View-Master.  Peering into it’s tiny worlds, no matter how dumb or childish the subject matter, was intoxicating.  I remember that not everyone was like that when it came to the View-Master and so I suspect not everyone experiences the same thrill intensity when it comes to 3D stereo fractal art.

Rathinagiri Rules!

There’s a number of people making 3D stereo fractal images but the most prolific one I know of goes by the name Rathinagiri on  According to his Flickr page, his full name is Subbiah Rathinagiri and he lives in southern India.  I first came across his work on (FFs) the place where true enthusiasts gather these days.

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

fractal20100701 by Subbiah Rathinagiri

fractal20101020 by Subbiah Rathinagiri


Duncan Champney, author of the free Mac fractal program, FractalWorks, gives these instructions for viewing “cross-eyed” 3D images on a site displaying several examples:

To view it, sit at a comfortable distance from your monitor and look at the dividing line between the images. Then hold your finger about halfway between your eyes and the screen so it appears just at the bottom of the image. Then look at your finger and slowly move it closer to your nose. This will cause you to cross your eyes. As your finger gets closer to your eyes, the left and right images will cross over and at some point you should see a stereoscopic view in your field of vision between the two images on the screen. It takes a little practice. Once you are able to see the stereo image, you should be able to hold your eyes in position and remove your finger.

Here’s an excellent image by Duncan using his own program, FractalWorks:

Mandelscape cross-eyed stereogram by Duncan Champney

Note how natural the 3D effect is:  once you’ve got the image focused properly, cross-eyed, you can look all around in the image and the 3D effect never falters or is diminished.  Duncan says he prefers to make the red/cyan”anaglyph” type images as the cross-eyed ones tend to give him a headache.  But you need the special red/cyan 3D movie glasses to view those.  FractalWorks makes both and as you can see, it does it well.

If, however, you do have a set of red/cyan glasses, here’s a great one by Don Whitaker:

4657682138_d4c1a8a605 by Don Whitaker

In case you can’t view it properly, it looks like glowing mandelbulb planet floating in sinister light in hole on your computer screen in a vintage 50s sci-fi style (where everything was glowing and sinister).  You know, if you’re really serious about fractal art these days you should have a set of 3D glasses beside your computer at all times. sells them for a couple bucks.  “Tools of the trade” as they say in bankruptcy court.

How is it made?  Aircraft cameras create “stereo-pairs” by taking a picture of the ground below them with a single camera.  They then take a second picture just a few hundred feet afterwards.  The two images taken with a single camera from slightly different positions imitates the offsetting of your two eyes and the two aircraft positions become the left and right eyes you see with (Godzilla-vision).  The use of stereo glasses just makes it easier for each of your eyes to look exclusively at the single photo directly in front of them instead of doing the natural thing your eyes do, which is to intersect on a single point ahead of them and just look at one photo together.  Cross-eyed images are the same thing, just with a different name.  (Stereoscopy on the Wikipedia.)

Designed for a Stereoscope but works as a Cross-eye image: Boston Common (date uncertain) by John P. Soule (1827-1904)

More of Rathinagiri’s work

fractal20101023 by Subbiah Rathinagiri

He’s got so many of these stereo images, and not just fractal ones, either, that I’m just showing a few that cover the range of imagery he has.  This one is a great example of a soft metallic texture.  It’s so much more impressive as a stereo image than a “one-eyed” one.  It looks as if the program (Jesse Dierk’s Mandelbulb 3D, I think) has actually made something real  and tangible.

fractal20101019 by Subbiah Rathinagiri

Carved plaster or stone is what I see in this one.  If there was a fractal temple, this is how it would look.  Watch out that you don’t poke your eye on the needle-like thing in the middle.

fractal20101017 by Subbiah Rathinagiri

I like this one even as just a 2D image; the color, symmetry and design elements.  But of course, as a stereo image we can do more than just look at it, we can go there.  I find the mandelbox takes on a whole new dimension, no pun intended, when viewed in stereo vision.  Things that simply merged into the background are now floating and quite distinct.  I think we perceive the image differently when it’s a stereo pair.  Perhaps the effect is somewhat distracting and we want to go, “Wow!” at everything.  It’s certainly a whole new way of looking at fractal art, or any kind of art.  The stereo pair of Boston Common, above, has a life to it that it’s “one-eyed” version alone doesn’t have, although obviously good photography doesn’t have to be 3D.

fractal20100923 by Subbiah Rathinagiri

Every wonder what it would look like to go visit these “egg” covered mandelbox places?  Now you can.  Leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back.

One last one…

fractal20100919 by Subbiah Rathinagiri

This one’s another cool image even in just 2D.  In it is displayed the great range of imagery produced by the mandelbox.  This really reminds me of the old ViewMaster panoramas where you could come back again and again to walk your eyes around in a little world.  3D stereo imagery can be a powerful medium when the subject matter is as interesting as it is here.

More (much more) of Rathinagiri’s 3D stereo work can be seen here on his Flickr page.

Just one more:

fractal20101015 by Subbiah Rathinagiri

And a video!  A cross-eyed video.  You can do it.  Get cross-eyed first and then hit play.  [update: you might have to alter the “3D” settings that YouTube displays with to get “side by side” instead of “colored glasses” and a few other things…]

Illusion is the final frontier and nothing does it better than 3D stereo imagery.  My head is a spaceship and I go places.  At least that’s how it feels when viewing 3D stereo fractal art.  Sometimes it feels that way just walking around with two eyes.

3D stereo fractals are a natural extension of the new 3D fractal software.  I’ve just presented here some of the best examples that I’ve been able to find by Subbiah Rathinagiri, Duncan Champney and Don Whitaker.  I’m sure this is just the beginning, because as Rathinagiri’s work has showed, the results magnify and multiply the effect of the mandelbox imagery by allowing us to perceive it, literally, in a deeper and more profound way.

2011: The Year of the Fractal Desktop?

Fractal Art (Jean Marais) becomes famous in the film Orpheus (1950) by Jean Cocteau

In addition to the fractal art world, I also try to follow events in the Linux desktop world.  I’ve noticed some similarities, particularly with respect to the perennial question asked by both fractalists and Linux-ists:  When will the rest of the world discover what we’ve discovered?

You all know something about Linux; probably as much about Linux as the “rest of the world” knows about fractals.  I am not about to start ranting about why you should “switch to Linux” because you don’t care what operating system you use and I don’t either.

But the Linux zealots care and they feel (strongly) that if only the “restoftheworld” could just find out how great Linux is and how easy it is to use, then Linux adoption would take off and this year… would be… The Year of the Linux Desktop!

Lately, for the last year or so, there have been rumblings (minor blog posts) suggesting that maybe there will never be a Year of the Linux Desktop.  The reasons are simple: Windows works just fine now (it has ever since Xp arrived); and “therestoftheworld” doesn’t care about the things that Linux people care about.

The fractal art world is much smaller than the Linux world; it also lacks the social activism upon which Linux (Gnu project) was founded.  For those reasons there are much fewer rumblings in the fractal world because there are much fewer commentators and bloggers in it.

There isn’t going to be a “Great Fractal Awakening” in the “restoftheworld”.  Neither 2011 nor any other year will be the year of the Linux or “fractal desktop”.  This is it.  It’s just us and the little trickle of newcomers who wander into town every now and then.

Why will there be no year of the fractal desktop?  As it is with the Linux desktop, the reasons are simple: While most people may go, “Wow!” when they first see a fractal, it doesn’t resonate in the very core of their being like it does with fractal enthusiasts.  It’s not the sort of thing “therestoftheworld” goes for.

There’s nothing wrong with fractal art or how it’s being “presented to the world”.  The restoftheworld is a bunch of losers and fractal art just isn’t for them.

Consider how much the restoftheworld is a “bunchoflosers”:

  • The Mona Lisa is the most popular art item in the Louvre
  • Jean Cocteau is not a household name

Is it any wonder that those kind of people aren’t as excited about fractal art as we are?

Or is it because they just haven’t been “exposed” to it like we have?  Or they haven’t been “exposed” to it in a real art gallery in some other mainstream (i.e. loser) venue?

How about fractals on footballs?  At the Olympics?

I don’t think we need any more contests, exhibitions, press coverage or celebrity endorsements to get the fractal message out there to the masses.  The masses really do know what they like and it’s not fractal art.  (And it’s not a whole lot of other really cool things, too.)

The internet gives more exposure to fractal art than any offline medium could ever hope to.  Presenting fractal art offline is a great way to hide it from the restoftheworld.

Fractal Art (Jean Marais) is caught in a computer monitor: Orpheus (1950) by Jean Cocteau

My advice is, and I actually have heard rumblings of this in the fractal world:  make artwork that genuinely appeals to you and declare your audience to be people who like what you like.  When scoring your work, people who don’t like it don’t count (unless you’re one of them).

Do that and 2011 will be: The Year We Stop Expecting Mass Insanity.

Readme: Attention True Enthusiasts of Fractal Art…

Add the following two links to your bookmarks/favorites and visit them every day and you will stay up to date with 80% of all that’s interesting in the fractal art world today.  Recent Uploads to the gallery and Recent Posts to the forum at

Recent uploads

Recent Posts

One of my favorite posting themes here on Orbit Trap is directing the attention of readers to what I think is the more interesting and more significant fractal art works out there on the internet  –a fractal art “digest”.

Contests don’t “work”

My main criticism of fractal art contests is that they seem to do very little in the way of presenting what is really the best of fractal art.  Contests are:

  1. too small
  2. too infrequent
  3. too narrow in scope
  4. disappointing
  5. all of the above plus poorly judged

What the fractal art world needs, or what every other area of interest in the world needs for that matter, are a few critical venues unconstrained by the characteristics of contests that I’ve just mentioned and which in my mind condemns them to be trivial, over-hyped events .

Blogs are a good way to do this, but since early 2010 most of what I consider to be the more interesting fractal artwork has been gleaned from just following those two links on  It’s gotten to the point that I sometimes feel readers would be better off just keeping an eye on those two pages of updates to Fractalforums; that’s all I’ve been doing lately.  The more interesting stuff is easier to find now and that’s all due to the crystallizing effect that has had in this new area of 3D fractals.

Just stay tuned to

I mention all this because I’ve found that this year, unlike all of the previous years I’ve been observing fractal art online (since 2002), there is just too much good artwork around to deal with.  I have about 200 links to good stuff that I’m just never going to get around to posting about along with keeping up with the daily increasing output resulting from more practitioners moving into the realm of 3D mandelbulb/mandelbox fractals.  When I see something really interesting I just have this natural urge to talk about it and generally share it with a few other like-minded true enthusiasts but there’s just too much of it.

But you can find most of it via those two links.  Not only that, but both those pages have rss/atom feeds which practically makes them websites or blogs on their own.

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~


hd_2010_013 by zzzzra (on Deviant Art)

Zongo is his FFs screen name.  His real name, according to his Deviant Art page is Alexandre Lehmann (France).  He makes this comment about the image:

You HAVE to see this in full definition ! ;)

He’s right; in full definition it’s even more vivid and the lighting is much more impressive, too.  Nicely rendered; I’ll bet it took some time to produce something this large and smoothly finished.

This is not just another amazing mandelbox, although technically it may be; I’ve never seen these sorts of shapes and polished silver rendering before.


The Castle of Erignea by Madman (on

Lately there’s been something called a “hybrid” mandelbox which seems to incorporate new formulaic structures and producing images, like this one, that have so much variety in their details that it’s hard to believe anything as mechanical as a fractal formula created them.

The  title immediately made me think of Montezuma’s Castle, a cliff dwelling in Arizona:

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona, USA

Interestingly, Madman himself started a very thought-provoking thread on Fractalforums entitled, “Is there a limit in exploring 3D fractals? “.  In it he asks the question:

Do you think that there will be a time when every new picture will look like one that has been rendered previously or at least has the same “feel” as something rendered previously?

To avoid the possibility of misquoting him…

Rereading my post, I guess you could interpret it as a (rather pathetic ;-)) call for help, but that’s not what I intended. So let me try to rephrase and see if I can synchronise my writing with my thinking grin. I guess that from a mathematical point of view, there’s no end to the variety you can achieve by zooming more into either mandelbrots, -bulbs or -boxes, but if you look from a more artistical view I tend to find that at a certain point you get to a level where “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Am I making sense here?

Let me put it another way: If you google “fractal art”, you ‘ll find that 95% of the hits show spirally thingies. Some of them are quite beautiful and have probably taken hours to render, but you know that with a little work, you can make something close to it yourself or at least something with the same “feel”.

So let me rephrase my question: Do you think that there will be a time when every new picture will look like one that has been rendered previously or at least has the same “feel” as something rendered previously? Something that you will immediately recognise as, say, a scale -1.34 Mandelbox, rotated x,y and z degrees, scaled and then sphere folded? Something that can no longer surprise you?

Hmmn… Isn’t that the ultimate question in fractal art?  I would reword it as, “Don’t fractals eventually become just fractals?” and, “How do you produce new and interesting work from a medium that has ceased to be new and interesting?  Madman’s responders naturally assume he’s run out of technical options and provide him with many more and also with the observation that there are even more than that yet to be discovered as folks explore all the remaining combinations and permutations of 3D fractal formulas and rendering methods.

But what I think Madman is getting at is that he feels close to running out of creative options, of which more formulas and rendering methods will only delay the inevitable creative collapse and infinite entropy “when every new picture will look like one that has been rendered previously or at least has the same ‘feel’ “

How to stay creative?

Here’s one of my many links I thought I’d never get a chance to post.  I think it fits in very well with the question of pursuing creativity within a well-trodden and heavily picked-over medium.

Dragonfly by The Rev (on Fractalforums)

What could be a more uninspiring subject than a Newton fractal?  (I think that’s what it is.)  And yet, I have never seen a Newton like this.  This looks like a hand-drawn image from one of those very classy full color graphic novels, those thinking-man’s comic books.

The Rev is clearly thinking outside the box, that is, the creative box.  Technically, he’s working with what would be considered ancient artifacts in the fractal world.  But I think the Rev has grasped the fact that fractal art is more than just fractals –it’s art.  And art is what you see, meaning, an image.  There are technical parameters to be be explored in fractal art and there are artistic parameters to be explored.  Fractal art is the combination of these two visual forces.

Sierpinski's Planet by Buddhi (on

Sierpinski pyramids made of bricks?  What could be more technically uninteresting than a Sierpinski-anything?  And yet, I’ve come back to this one so many times just to:

  1. Look at
  2. Look through
  3. See the shadows
  4. At the top of a swaying Sierpinski pine

I think the advent of 3D fractals has marked the beginning of a new era in fractal art and is the place where it all started –and continues to start.  It’s the place to watch and read for the true enthusiast.

Deviant Art is just an image hosting service now and  I have no idea what happened to that Rendercity place.  The contests come out once a year to look at their shadow…  Most of the traffic on the web rings is just members checking their stats cause they thought they heard someone at the door this morning… the Googlebot is the only thing that drives down the road these days… Spirally thingies turn in the wind… looks like weather’s on the way… winter’s comin’…

Fractal Universe Calendar Update –and bonus Shopping Guide!

We recently received an inquiry here at Orbit Trap; an email requesting where the Fractal Universe calendar featuring the work of Cornelia Yoder could be bought.

I was flabbergasted…

But I Googled the title, found it on and sent off a reply anyway.  Strange, I thought, but many people find hunting for things on the internet to be a challenge, and add to that the Christmas shopping season, and many of us are busy, so I just shrugged it off.

…And decided to take a second look at fractal calendars.

There’s more than one calendar out there using the title “Fractal Universe” so here’s the one made by Cornelia Yoder:

  • Printed by Avalanche;
  • Owned by Perfect Timing;
  • Listed on Amazon;
  • Sold by GrandmasGiftware.

~Click images to view on original site~

Fractal Universe calendar by Cornelia Yoder on

Backside of Fractal Universe calendar by Cornelia Yoder from

You can see clearly on the back the Avalanche logo and on the front “by Cornelia Yoder”.  Cornelia previously referred to Perfect Timing Inc. as the company behind this calendar and that’s probably because Perfect Timing owns Avalanche Publishing now.  She also mentioned she had a two-year deal with them to produce the artwork for the calendar.

I’d say Cornelia has done an excellent job maintaining that Fractal Universe style we’ve all come to know.  This could in fact be considered a “Tribute” album for the old Fractal Universe days.  Let’s change the subject…

Fractal Universe Calendar 2009 –a runaway cult classic!!!!

Well, what would you say if back issues of your wall calendar were selling for almost $1,500.00.  And that’s used copies!

I have a screenshot in case you think I’m making this up:

From (Canadian site) Click to see if it's still there

No way?  Yes way!

(Notice that you still have to pay $6.49 for shipping)

Vintage fractal art calendars are becoming hot collectible items.  Alice Kelly’s Fractal Cosmos back issues are skyrocketing too!

Search results from for Fractal Calendars

I am not a Lawyer and I am not an Investment Counselor, but if the tingling sensation in my funny bone means anything I’d say we all ought to go out there and buy up every copy of the 2011 Fractal Universe calendar we can because next year, or the next, they might be worth hundreds, if not thousands of dollars!

But which one?

The stock on the left is worth more, but you'll be able to buy twice as many shares if you buy the cheaper one on the right

Even you diehard supporters of the Fractal Universe calendar (either one) will have to agree that when a calendar can’t even come up with a new name that it’s not surprising it can’t come up with new artwork either.  But then, diehard supporters of these two calendars probably think the artwork is new.

But now how about this one by Orange Circle, which apparently is where the original Avalanche Fractal Universe editors (not the “editors”) went and started up their own version of the Fractal Universe style of calendar.

Infinite Creations, a fractal wall calendar by Orange Circle

Backside of Infinite Creations, a fractal calendar by Orange Circle

Note how well Infinite Creations has mastered the original (classic?) Fractal Universe style of kitchen (not kitsch) fractal art.  And what’s that?  Zoomin’ Mandelbrots!  Used copies are already selling for almost 3x their original public offering price!  $34.17 –Used!

How come no one told me about this one?

By any chance did you catch the odd thing my search results screen from brought up when searching for Fractal Calendars?  I’m referring to the “Fractal Spirit Wall Calendar” whose title doesn’t mention “fractal” at all and instead says, “Our Lady of Guadalupe”.

Fractal Spirit Wall Calendar as seen on; Click to view listing

Here’s a few images that might help you spot the apparent fractal connection:




An interesting use of fractals: religious ornamentation.  What’s even more interesting is that there has been no attempt on the packaging (i.e. front cover) to market it as fractal or even as a special kind of graphical calendar; it’s just several ornamented versions of the Mexican madonna.  The front cover art doesn’t appear to have any fractal ornamentation at all.

Oh.  I just looked at the back cover again and saw the name “Fractal Spirit”.  I guess that’s the company that produced the artwork.  Here’s a slightly larger version of the front cover.

More Googling… I found this gallery of Our Lady of Guadalupe images which appear to be the ones from the calendar.  That would make “Fractal Spirit” Timothy Helgeson from northern California, USA.

Step into the Cosmic

There’s still one of the “pro-calendars” left to talk about and that’s the venerable (since 2000!) Fractal Cosmos published by Amber Lotus and featuring the art of Alice Kelley (not to be confused with Linda Allison).

Fractal Cosmos 2011 by Alice Kelley, Published by Amber Lotus

I’m sorry to say this, but there’s absolutely nothing weird or scandalous about Alice’s Fractal Cosmos calendar, although you will see in the search screen up the page that a 2009 edition is selling for $158.34 in that Bermuda Triangle of used calendars (maybe Alice autographed that one?).

There’s a wider range of imagery in Fractal Cosmos and even more than one piece of software was used.  I think I saw an Incendia image in there.  For those who hold that commercial, wall calendar fractal art has to follow the Fractal Universe kitchen-ware style, Fractal Cosmos is a real challenge to explain.  Or perhaps it isn’t?  Amber Lotus, if you take a look around their site, is clearly not the same sort of outfit as Avalanche publishing is.  I found this on their About Us page:

Amber Lotus Publishing was founded in 1988 by students of a Tibetan Lama living in exile in Berkeley California.

For those of you who prefer to make your own gifts, I would like to remind you that although the titles Fractal Universe and Fractal Cosmos have been taken, Fractal Galaxy is still up for grabs.  In fact, Fractal Galaxy is feeling lonely and ignored, having been passed over by Avalanche Team A and Avalanche Team B and the unofficial Avalanche Team C who have set their sights much lower and decided to simply become “A fractal world” albeit one of “Infinite” creativity.

But since there’s already two Fractal Universes out there (parallel universes?) maybe we can all use that title, too.  Or at least a few more times.  Just don’t copy the dixie-cup style.  Fractal wall calendars can be creative and still be commercially successful.  A handful of harmonious humans in Oregon have been proving that since the year 2000.