On Style 2

Send Out the Probes by Linda Allison

Send Out the Probes by Linda Allison

No one to date has had a more profound effect on fractal art style than Linda Allison. Her fractals became the template de rigor for the Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) — the long-running staple of fractal art mass marketing.  Her work made with early iterations of Ultra Fractal established a touchstone in the public mind for what a fractal was supposed to  be — swirly and decorative ornamentation filled with light.  Subsequently, the production of fractal art took on guild qualities, as Tim laid out earlier in a series of posts on Orbit Trap, and imitators swelled Fractalbook to churn out self-similar kudzu while social networking.

I’ve been hard on the FUC and its rigid notions of fractal imagery, so some readers might think I am being snarky here.  I am not.  To have had such a profound effect on any artistic discipline is a considerable achievement.

Not that Allison necessarily ripped her style from whole cloth.  More likely, it was indirectly appropriated.  Early on, Ultra Fractal built its commercial software to take advantage of Fractint’s open source graciousness.  By annexing Fractint formulae, Allison was able to build on established pattern recognition and use the additional graphic firepower of UF to launch her own vogue.

Sp035 by O 

Sp035 by O

The image above by prodigious Fractint artist O shows the foundation for what would become the early-UF Allison-influenced style. The spiral image is crisp and clear; its composition unfolds in dark tones with hard, defined lines.  Although O’s gender is unknown (to me, anyway), and stereotypes aside, a differentiation between masculine and feminine styles might be in order here.  From A Little Design:

Typically in design the stereotype for “masculine” follows with angularity, straight lines, phallic forms, squares, roughness, etc. And for the “feminine” the standard is: curvy, rounded, smooth, organic, soft, floral, flourishes, motherly, nurturing… etc. But one doesn’t have to look far in our modern world to find nurturing men, who care for their children and aggressive women who climb mountains.

Allison took Fractint forms and ran them through her own UF filter — more curves, more saturation, more light.  Softer, natural shapes replaced harder-edged geometric forms and angles.

Morning Magic by Linda Allison 

Morning Magic by Linda Allison

Her images are elegant flourishes of light — highly decorative.  At their best, they transcend a beauty-is-all aesthetics and reach to be about something — to express ideas or suggest connections to the natural world.

The Avalanche by Linda Allison 

The Avalanche by Linda Allison

Over time, Allison’s style, coupled with the popularity of UF, became the dictionary photograph for the word fractal.  Before long, the compliment engines of Fractalbook were mass-producing such images on a scale dwarfing greeting cards.  This "UF Look" became the status quo — became the gateway style to "success" in the Fractal Universe Calendar and settled into the prevailing (but not exclusive) aesthetic of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC). 

Ironically, such imagery somehow enjoyed a kind of anointed status as being more purely fractal — even though such works were significantly processed within UF and eventually became precursors for the masked and layered pictorials generated by artists using more recent versions of the software.

Garden Clippers by Linda Allison 

Garden Clippers by Linda Allison

But any artistic movement — especially one awash in decoration — once safely boxed into the foundation of the status quo will be stifling to some — some who envision a new wave.  In short, Allison’s style gave the fractal underground something to rebel against, to "kick against the pricks" in the medieval sense.  More than a few fractal artists actively worked against the grain of the prevailing aesthetic for years, and, more recently, Guido Cavalcante sounded a clarion call on Orbit Trap:

I believe that algorithmic art must now engage in activities that have been "not appropriate" for the medium until now, during those times when it was still trying to find its own aesthetic. But now algorithmic art is finally ready to serve "non-artistic" purposes. It’s not a problem, of course, if some prefer to continue on creating purely aesthetic and visually intriguing objects. There is nothing wrong in doing that, although doing so does not constitute the same "heroic" accomplishment that it once did when algorithmic artists were struggling to break away, and give birth to a new medium. That was the challenge of the last 20 years. But now those early steps belong to history.

For those of us who prefer our fractal art with more cultural-social-political bite, it’s tempting to think the cosmetics of the fractal craft guild are historical memories buried neck-deep in nostalgia.  But old habits hang on and on.  Just two weeks ago, look who made the cut on Renderosity’s Fractal Windows Weekly:


Banana…Bush??? by Linda Allison

Don’t topple those weathered statues yet.  The status quo is indeed the revolution that’s not only televised but still mass produced online in Fractabook.  Over on deviantART, a Fractalbook realm pigged out with imitators, open the fractal splash page at any given moment, and you’ll find an assortment of today’s daily deviation of Allison wannabes.  And are you one who thinks the next wave of 3D fractal renders will wipe away the old, stale aesthetics?  Not if practitioners using programs like Mandelbulb3D continue to simulate the Allison style and believe ornamentation best fulfills fractal art expression:

Getting Loopy by Dsynegrafix 

Getting Loopy by Dsynegrafix

I guess the status quo style can still eat its young — even some of those armed with new tools.  The lengthy threads of gushing Fractalbook virtual hugs and kisses under the last two images above show how much the Allison style aims to (still) please.  I guess an open slot (or grave?) remains in calendars and contests for 3D fractal renders that are properly tweaked with acceptable embellishment.  I guess, too, the first clue of establishment leanings was when, completely without irony, Dsynegrafix thanked an artist for use of his parameters.  That artist calls himself McImages.


Next in the series: A look at Jock Cooper’s "Mechanicals." One sentence revised for clarity.

On Style 1

He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.
Walt Whitman

Style is a fraud.  I always felt the Greeks were hiding behind their columns.
Willem de Kooning

Style is not something applied. It is something that permeates. It is of the nature of that in which it is found, whether the poem, the manner of a god, the bearing of a man. It is not a dress.
Wallace Stevens

I’ve wanted to try tackling the subject of style in fractal art since Orbit Trap began.  But style is such a slippery topic — like attempting to capture a jellyfish with a spoon.  Still, I’m going to forge ahead — even while admitting up front that I’ll likely leave more questions than answers in my wake.  I’m feeling my way through the dark here in the hope that knocking a few holes in the walls will let in light.

There’s the chicken-or-egg question that needs to be addressed right off.  Who or what is responsible for the production of style in fractal and digital art: the program(mer) or the artist?  I feel a migraine coming on just wandering into this hall of mirrors.

But that is the Ur-question of style in our discipline (and all of digital art).  Work produced in one fractal program definitely has a distinct and recognizable look than work produced in another.  So, does the software, or perhaps its author(s), determine fractal art style, and do Phase One fractal artists, limited by the boundaries of a program’s capabilities, merely pump out variations on a pre-determined look.  In other words, does the tool itself have panache — or is stylistic elegance sourced in how individual artists use a given tool?

I bet I know what most of us would like to answer.  But let’s a take a little pop quiz first.

Match the fractal software with the images from the artists below.  Do not immediately click on the images (to see larger versions on the artists’ sites) before guessing for that constitutes cheating.  In a case where you "know" the artist and are familiar with her/his software preferences, you must, in all fairness, recuse yourself.  Begin:

1. Xenodream _____
2. Ultra Fractal _____
3. Apophysis_____
4. Quasz_____
5. Sterling-ware_____
6. Fractal Explorer_____
7. Chaos Pro_____
8. FractalWorks_____
9. Incendia_____
10. Mandelbulber3D_____


Big Bang by Kerry Mitchell

Big Bang by Kerry Mitchell

Box 005 by Stefan Vitanov

Box (005) by Stefan Vitanov

Quaternion 1 by Thomas Scheiblauer

Quaternion 1 by Thomas Scheiblauer

A Tree You Wouldn't Climb by Joseph Presley

A Tree You Wouldn’t Climb by Joseph Presley

Incendia University by AureliusCat

Incendia University by AureliusCat

[Note: If you miss this one, you’re just not giving this quiz a good college try.]

Arcane Encystement by Peter Ludwig Wegener

Arcane Encystement by Peter Ludwig Wegener

Seraphina by Lilyas

Seraphina by Lilyas

Watery Grave by dlr4553

Watery Grave by dlr4553

Golden Mandelbrot Landscape by Duncan C

Golden Mandelbrot Landscape by Duncan C

Cream in My Coffee by Karmen

Cream in My Coffee by Karmen

Was this a snap or a head-scratcher? Were the images I included a fair representation? Some might argue that — thanks to hacks and public coloring algorithms — programs like Apophysis and Ultra Fractal are capable of a wider diversity of "styles" than most other fractal-rendering software.  Had I included a UF image made utilizing Dave Makin’s (fairly) new 3D formula, would that have been more challenging?  And didn’t one of the images include photo-manipulation?  Was that "cheating"?  These are all legitimate qualifiers.

Of course, the same general line of inquiry could be leveled at digital art in general.  No two graphics programs "look" exactly alike either.  The filters in Photoshop and those in Photo-Paint are quite different.  I imagine the same visual distinctions would hold true for 3D graphic renderers — like Cinema 4D or 3DSmax.  It does not necessarily follow, though, that each program inherently leaves an indelible stamp on style.

Or, at least, I’m guessing most of us would like to hope not.  After all, Van Gogh‘s "style" was shaped more by his talent and vision than by his choice of thick brushes.  Wasn’t it?

Wasn’t it?


In future posts in this series, I’ll look at the styles of select fractal artists.

Oh. I almost forgot. Do you need an answer grid to the quiz? Or was the exam easy — and, if so, what does that suggest?

More Phase Two Sightings

sbioelements by Tatiana Plokhova

sbioelements (from Undersea) by Tatiana Plokhova

I figured it might be time to return again to examining work that falls into the category of Phase Two fractal art.  Tim laid down the foundation for Phase Two thinking in an earlier OT post where he notes that

Phase Two fractal art focuses on the image and not how it was made. Perhaps in Phase Two fractal art the word “fractal” is no longer relevant because the word fractal only has meaning if the artwork exhibits a fractal appearance.

I followed up with several OT posts — including here and here — showing examples of Phase Two fractal-influenced art.  These works were not made using software but rather inhabited the nooks and corners of the more conventional art world.

Today’s cases are not as far removed from computer processing as examples mentioned before in sculpture and woodworking but nonetheless were not created using fractal-rendering programs.

The digital art of Russian artist Tatiana Plokhova often displays fractal traits and is indeed digitally designed.  However, it appears to be a made-by-hand crazy quilt comprised of multiple techniques — including illustration, drawing, photography, graphic design, and digital imaging.  The fish in the image above likely began their swim in a digital photo.

white by Tatiana Plokhova 

white (from Floral Concepts) by Tatiana Plokhova

An image like "white" looks like it could have originated in Ultra Fractal or Fractal Explorer.  But it did not, as the editors of Sublimotion point out:

[Plokhova’s] style resembles fractal art, but, amazingly enough, hers is a hundred percent handmade creation. One instinctively feels that the complexity of her lines and dots does not lead to a dead end, but to an inner universe aligning with our consciousness. Tatiana subdues what’s mechanical in favour of the manual, what’s scientific remakes into organic, what’s alien and distant she represents personally.

Is the implication here that conventional fractal art is the aforementioned "dead end"?  Perhaps.  In an interview on the same site, Plokhova outlines her process:

My technique is quite simple, it’s just lines and dots. All the images are “handmade” vectors, it’s not a result of processing or fractals. I like mathematical art, but when it’s made by a machine, it almost never looks alive.

That last remark may be a gut punch to some of OT’s readers.  It would be interesting to better understand what Plokhova means by "alive."  Her work, like fractal art in general, is heavily non-representational, although she does incorporate biological designs, microscopic structures, floral patterns, and even cartography.  Perhaps the reference is to a claim of a prevailing coldness embodied in algorithmic art, as the editors suggest here in a conversation with the artist:

At first sight, your artwork indeed brings fractal art to mind, but immediately one can feel that there is much more to it. It is extremely complex, yet living, organic.

Do you agree?

Northern Circle 12 by Tatiana Plokhova 

Northern Circle 12 (from Chaos and Structures) by Tatiana Plokhova

For images some find "organic" by arguing they were created by hand rather than mouse-clicked by math, I find Plokhova’s work filled (ironically) with absence.  She might even agree:

I think that the way of making pictures with lines and dots somehow reflects philosophical ideas of emptiness.

Somehow, I think the "cold equations," in Tom Godwin’s phrase, are just as capable of revealing what is not there.

By the way, Plokhova has also compiled some striking videos of her work.  Case in point:


Can spatters reveal the visible remains of chaotic systems?  Claims have been made that Jackson Pollock’s action paintings reveal fractal structures.  Perhaps blood spatters jog beyond ballistics and "run cold" into the neighborhood of recursion.  Even the "ornithological dejecta" that occasionally splays on your windshield might congeal into shapes similar to strange attractors.  If so, I submit this photograph by Kate Peters for your Phase Two consideration:

Fire by Kate Peters 

Fire by Kate Peters

Have we been barking up the wrong aesthetic?  It appears there’s no longer any need to ask mathematicians or artists to explain the infinite intricacies of fractal art.  Just put in a call in to your local CSI criminologists for a definitive take on the subject:

Fractal art is my dark passenger. 

Dexter and his "fractal art" series entitled Dark Passengers.  "My work always follows the code."

[Photograph seen on This and That and More of the Same.]

"Graphic" cable television suddenly makes perfect sense to me.

Diaries 2

Now, surely, there is world peace and all fractalists live in harmony.

Joseph Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle.  Photograph seen on 1000 Stemmer.


Daylight licked me into shape
I must have been asleep for days

–The Cure, "Just Like Heaven"

Dear Diary,

I must have dozed off.  Before I knew it, months had passed.  But, surely, in the wake of the late holiday season, world peace has broken out all over and every practicing fractalist now lives in a state of harmonious bliss.  Thankfully, Orbit Trap is still around to serve as an informal documentation of the historical record.  Let’s see what I missed.

Back in June, Tim rooted out this question by Madman posed on a Fractal Forum thread:

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?

You can read the broader context of the question, as well as Tim’s suggestions for avoiding imaginative stagnation, on the post, but I wondered if Madman was expressing concerns beyond the mass replication of fractal imagery.  It’s not just the images that can become stale — or that (what Marilyn Manson once called) "the new shit" (here aka as 3D fractal exploration) becomes old.  Rather, what happens when the initial excitement of the whole new scene itself begins to wane — or even starts to become hackneyed or fractious?  Here is a short survivor’s guide to keeping yourself above the fray when your fractal scene starts to chafe.  You should probably start worrying when…

…when it dawns on you that all those swooning threads that sing the praises of your art work just might be a) insincere and/or b) come with attached strings.  Yes, you reap what you sow in social networking circles.  Remember the Fractalbook Golden Rule: The praise you take is equal to the praise you make.*  Such a Fractalbook double-bind is surely a devil’s bargain.  While it’s true all artists have to take some initiative to market themselves, I question whether daily smoozing and exchanging virtual hugs and critical kisses counts in this regard.  How many more (and innovative) art works could you have composed in the time you spent stroking the work of others in the hope that you’d be stroked in return?  And do you think such a environment of virtual Snuggies is helping to make you a better artist?  Or does it instead help perpetuate the very kind of artistic sameness and stagnation that concerns Madman?

…when the Reformation takes you by surprise.  No matter how blissful your current scene might be, some kind of Great Schism will likely occur sooner or later.  Let’s face it.  Artists are human and susceptible to flaws like being extremely competitive and having bombastic egos (could those pernicious "you’re a genius" Fractalbook threads be to blame?).  Eventually, sad to say, a parting of the ways will likely take place.  Leader-types will emerge — be they programmers, content providers, or just outspoken theorists — and factions will be established.  Your once harmonious safe house will no longer be big enough.  One group will move out to seek their own FAME and fortune on their own terms.  As we know, a house divided against itself cannot stand.**  Rather, it usually leads to new schools in the suburbs.  Prepare yourself.  You may eventually have to face a decision of whether to choose sides or try to remain neutral as best as you can.

…when the NEW IMPROVED new shit abruptly appears and renders your scene suddenly old school.  This social iteration could be programmatic — like a new and innovative program.  Or it could be theoretical — like discovering 4D fractal exploration.  You’ve seen it happen before.  Fractint begets Ultra Fractal.  Quats beget flames.  2D begets 3D.  What’s new eventually wears out — especially when overplayed or mass-marketed to a saturation point.  Look at the film industry.  3D is the new shit.  Or is it — when it’s patched on by default as a marketing tool?  Did 3D "save" the critically shellacked The Last Airbender?  My wife and I paid $7.00 more last weekend for the privilege of seeing Tron: Legacy in 3D.  We both felt the experience would have gone down just as well and more cheaply in 2D.  Remember.  Fractalbook is the vehicle for the saturation marketing of fractal art, and 3D fractal renders now appear in these venues with increasing frequency.  How long before the glut of "spirally thingies" that Madman laments in the FF post becomes a Google search that leads to a 95% engorgement of 3D thingies?

…when you fail to do your homework and rely instead on others for your artistic opinions, techniques, and aesthetics.  You know, those in the know in your fractal scene might in fact know next to nothing.  About things like copyrightFair Use.  Protecting your intellectual propertyMaking printsMaking art.  Don’t blindly trust the word of anyone (including OT).  Find out for yourself.  Get a cross-section of opinions on a subject like whether fractal "tweaking games" are a good practice for serious artists.  Weigh carefully the views of your virtual friends against that of an experienced artist like Jos Leys when he says in an OT comment thread that

I’ve always felt that posting a UPR to the [Ultra Fractal Mailing] list is as good as declaring it in the public domain, copyright notice or not. If you want to ‘own’ something, then do not post it.

and then decide for yourself whether posting your parameter files or tutorials of composing secrets on the Web for the world is a sound artistic practice.  I once urged OT’s readers to "make the art that pleases you," and not the art that pleases anyone or anything else.  That way, if your scene folds up or freaks out, you’re still covered.

Your Penpal


Dear Diary,

In the same Fractal Forum thread, I was bemused to find this observation by Dave Makin:

Certainly at the moment I do not believe that the best fractal art gets the credit it deserves as far as the "art world" or "general public" are concerned but over time this is bound to change, especially given the sterling work of many such as those who organised the exhibitions in conjunction with the Mathematicians Congress…

Makin is referring, of course, to the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC) — a competition in which he is the only three-time winner.  Should this particular venue become a success, it is debatable whether the "best" fractal art would make inroads to either the conventional art world or the general public.  I do think it’s safe to say that such a development would be what is personally best for Dave Makin.

But in order for either of these scenarios to come to fruition it would first have to be shown that the BMFAC exhibition last August in India at the International Congress of Mathematicians actually occurred.  Nothing has changed since I posted earlier on OT that there’s not a shred of proof on the Web that the exhibition ever took place. Nothing on the BMFAC site.  Nothing on the 2010 ICM site (search it yourself and see).  Google the competition and you’ll (eventually) find info about the two exhibitions in Spain and one in Argentina, but absolutely nothing about the main hoopla-heavy exhibition in India.  Sandra Reid, a BMFAC winner, did post this information, which she presumably received from the contest organizers:

Unless the local media in India provide any coverage of the exhibition it is unlikely that there will be any photographs or live footage of the exhibition as there is a complete ban on any electronic equipment in the venue.

Yet, oddly enough, there is a separate page for photos from the conference on the ICM site.  Therefore, in the public interest, and since I got no answer the first time, I’ll repeat once more what I said several months ago:

And, reportedly, everything electronic is banned? No cameras? No laptops? No cell phones? No pictures at all — even of the exhibition set-up before the conference started? That’s a serious lockdown. So serious, in fact, it keeps the exhibit’s administrators from even now using a computer to write about the show [emphasis mine].

Now, why might the BMFAC administrators — who twice previously finagled the means to display their work and that of their contest judges beside the work of contest winners — deliberately not want a smidgen of publicity about their previously ballyhooed exhibit?

So, in deference to Makin’s point, I feel that BMFAC can only nudge fractal art to broader cultural acceptance if its organizers take the pains to somehow make clear that the exhibition was — well, you know — exhibited.

I suppose, as we wait (and wait) for definitive BMFAC documentation, we can keep hope alive*** that c.kleinhuis is correct when he claims in a recent OT comment:

in 2011 fractal art will evolve like a phoenix out of the ashes, and it will receive vastly more public attention, and it will become a “real” art-form, because i know many people on the forums are preparing real-exhibitions with tremendous fine art printings…

I imagine the folks behind the late (rather than the re-phoenixed) Fractal Universe Calendar [link appears down] once felt the same way.  Or was that before their scarf out of spirally thingies sucked up 95% of Google fractal art image searches?

Your Penpal


* with apologies to the Beatles. ** with apologies to Abraham Lincoln.  ***with apologies to the Obama campaign.

What’s in a Name?

Back in the Halcyon group-hug salad days of Orbit Trap, I put up a post about titling.  I used my own images (and several others) to investigate whether titles unfairly nudge viewers to the artist’s interpretation or favorably provide additional meaning-making material.  I’d like to re-visit the question using some images I recently saw on Fractalbook.

Since fractal images overwhelmingly tend to be non-representational, this question of the perceptual influence of titles has more than a passing importance for fractal artists.


Just as kind of context refresher course, here’s what I said three years ago:

Names don’t have to be overly prescriptive. Viewers will still see whatever they prefer. Or, of course, they can categorically resist and deep six any title you’ve labored for hours to concoct.

But names can be like those mannequin torsos found in style shops. They at least provide a working semblance to hang up some preliminary but pricy rags of meanings that viewers might eventually buy.

Names also hint at an image’s "personality" — possibly providing a snapshot of its heuristic psyche.

And that’s where crucial artistic decisions come into play. These critical first impression snapshots often set the ground rules for an image’s tone and mood. Without such delicate pre-viewing preparation, a viewer’s response to your labor of love could be nothing more than a mumbled Huh?

Here we go.  Ten images.  Forty answer options.  Score yourself via the grading grid provided at the end of the post.  You can, of course, find the correct title by clicking on each image to view its source page.  But, as the administrator of this quiz, let me point out that doing so would be cheating.  So.  Do not open your instruction booklets images until instructed to do so.  Begin.


? by gateman45 

? by gateman45.  Seen on Renderosity.

(a)_____The Hand of Orloc
(b)_____Hello, It’s Me
(c)_____Terminator Leftover
(d)_____Rake Roomba

? by Lenord 

? by Lenord.  Seen on Renderosity.

(a)_____Journey to the Center of the Inner Ear
(b)_____Sunrise on Tatooine
(c)_____The Land of the Sandkings
(d)_____Clean-Up on Aisle #9

? by claude19 

? by claude19.  Seen on Renderosity.

(a)_____Death of Blue Beetle
(b)_____Truck with a Hemi Buyer’s Remorse
(c)_____The DRAMA…on the Other Side!!!
(d)_____Postmodern de Kooning Woman

? by Jennyfnf 

? by Jennyfnf.  Seen on Renderosity.

(a)_____Faery Ring
(b)_____Early Morning Poppies
(c)_____Manta Ray Formation
(d)_____Root Rot Begins

? by stereo cyclop 

? by stereo cyclop.  Seen on Renderosity.

(a)_____Go Towards the Light
(b)_____Elf Maid’s Pets
(d)_____Don’t Cry Over Boiled Milk

? by Cov1ous 

? by Cov1ous.  Seen on deviantART.

(a)_____Sea Anemones
(b)_____Silly String Accident
(c)_____Northern Lights in HD
(d)_____Rampant Energy

? by daigian 

? by dagian.  Seen on deviantART.

(b)_____Jack That Meat
(c)_____The Outsider
(d)_____Recursive Doorbell

? by kayandjay100 

? by kayandjay100.  Seen on deviantART.

(a)_____Sunrise on Cassiopeia
(b)_____Cockroach Chorus Line
(c)_____Gone Viral
(d)_____Xtreme Manicure

? by russianlad 

? by russianlad.  Seen on deviantART.


? by eReSaW 

? by eReSaW.  Seen on deviantArt.

(a)_____The Butterfly Effect
(b)_____Mr. Bombastic
(c)_____Bad Dancer
(d)_____Streaming The Fly


This examination is self-graded.  Score yourself according to the following scale:

10 out of 10 — Precog Emeritus
8 out of 10 — Genius Grant Material
6 out of 10 — Lucky Ducky
4 out of 10 — Good Guesser
2 out of 10 — Try Working with the Drugs
0 out of 10 — Stick to Numerical Titles Only



Just want to remind readers again that Orbit Trap does sometimes publish guest posts on fractal art topics.  If you’d like to write something for us, please contact the contributors with a query to orbittrap(AT)ambaka.com.

Although Orbit Trap has no links page, there are some good fractal blogs tucked away on the Internet tubes.  Here are two I enjoy.  Both bloggers are learned about both fractals and art:

Algorithmic Worlds.  Samuel Monnier’s blog.  Technically in the know and on the edge.  Consistently thoughtful and informative.  Great eye for composition and use of design elements.

FractalMix.  Guido Cavalcante’s blog.  Politically savvy — the artist as a witness to history.  Consistently articulate and experimental.  Few in our field know as much about art history and aesthetics.

Benoit Mandelbrot Passes Away…

Drawing of Benoit Mandelbrot

"Think of color, pitch, loudness, heaviness, and hotness. Each is the topic of a branch of physics."

Drawing seen on foreignpolicy.com.

…into history.

From pcmag.com:

Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, has died at the age of 85, the AFP reports. The French-American mathematician discovered mathematical shapes called "fractals," and developed a geometry that was used to analyze naturally occurring shapes that were previously thought unmeasurable.


Mandelbrot was born in Poland in 1924. He and his family immigrated to France in 1936 to escape the Nazi regime. According to the Times obituary, he had more than 15 honorary doctorates and was on the board of a multitude of scientific journals. In 1987, he began teaching at Yale, where he was a Sterling Professor Emeritus. In 1993 he won the Wolf Prize for Physics and in 2003 he was awarded the Japan Prize for Science and Technology, the AFP reported.

 Benoit Mandelbrot and Family

"For much of my life there was no place where the things I wanted to investigate were of interest to anyone."

Photograph seen on nowscape.com.

Benoit Mandelbrot at the Blackboard 

"The existence of these patterns [fractals] challenges us to study forms that Euclid leaves aside as being formless, to investigate the morphology of the amorphous. Mathematicians have disdained this challenge, however, and have increasingly chosen to flee from nature by devising theories unrelated to anything we can see or feel."

Photograph seen on missioncollege.org.

Caricature of Benoit Mandelbrot 

"Why is geometry often described as ‘cold’ and ‘dry?’ One reason lies in its inability to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, or a tree. Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line… Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity."

Drawing seen on Caricatures of Computer Graphics Researchers.

Benoit Mandelbrot at MIT in 2006. 

"…science is cumulative and art is not."

Photograph seen on Blacklog.

Thanks for the memories — and for all the fractals — both those that are — and those that are to come.


The Fractal as Disposable Commodity Universe Calendar


Fractal images seen on galleries at the Fractal Universe Calendar page.   I’d mention the artists’ names, but, of course, since the product was meant to be thrown away, like a soon-withered bouquet, no artists are mentioned on the site’s main splash page — well, other than the New Master of the Fractal Universe

The finest quality materials did not go into the creation of this free parody calendar because this particular disposable product was designed with planned obsolescence in mind.  And, yes, I tend to think the same could also be said of the source.  

FUC: The Unholy Trinity — or, Are Our Ears Burning Again?

You know, when you post on an online forum, I can hear you...

If you’re a critic on the Internet, everyone can hear you scream.
–Cameron Woodhead, The Sydney Morning Herald

Image seen on blog.hr.

It should go without saying that when folks speak out about OT in online public forums, I can hear them.  Sometimes, I like to return the favor of pleasant conversation   I guess this tendency to further discussion is my variation of what the yakkers on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List call "tweaking."

OT’s last several posts apparently rattled a few cages and disturbed the dust under some bridge beams.

Let’s go right to the footage.


Keith Mackay, former Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) editor, cares little for the "2011 Fractal Universe Calendar" published by Moseley Road.   His assessment:

In my humble opinion, that calendar has the ugliest fractal art in it that anyone could have ever assembled into a calendar. A four year old could have created those images.

But, as Tim recently showed, thanks to the efforts of Mackay and the other FUCsters, fractal art is now just bulk manufacturing and as easily procurable as a jaunt to the florist.

Or, perhaps, a spin through the doughnut shop drive thru?  Just grab a dozen to go.  Crash aesthetically when the spirally sugar rush wears off.  Hope each sweet fractal treat doesn’t become stale before a given month expires.

In my humble opinion, Mackay’s remarks are somewhat hypocritical, since, as a previous FUC editor, he was an enabler who fostered the very commoditization and disposability of fractal art promoted by a longstanding string of soon-to-be-chucked-out FUC product. The Moseley Road 2011 variant is just the latest iteration of the Frankenstein that MacKay and the other FUC editors and artists brought into being.  Now, Mackay finds his offspring ugly as it slouches towards Amazon (along with other FUC wannabes) and returns prodigally home like a nomadic, abandoned family of artistic reapers.

Mackay, however, only dislikes selective FUC clones.  He reports that Cornelia Yoder, the New Master of the Fractal Universe, wrote him with the happy news that

[T]he original Fractal Universe Calendar, the one published by Avalanche Publishing that I edited for a couple of years, is still alive.

to which Mackay’s response is


See?  It’s all good.  And how does Mackay explain FUC’s rise from the remainder bin with Yoder as the lone flower arranger? Because

It makes sense that they would only have one artist. To survive, businesses are all about cutting costs and it probably costs more to deal with one contract than it does to deal with several.

Yes, that makes sense — unless you are sentient.  If the markets are cutthroat and publishers are tightening their belts, why are there now three FUC clones instead of only one?  And if it costs more to write the one contract for Yoder, then why would publishers abandon the previous multi-artist format if it was cheaper?

Sadly, what’s really been cheapened are both fractal art and fractal artists.  Just toss twelve long-stemmed fractals in the blender and spin.  And, in the end, nobody remembers the name of the flower arranger.


For those keeping score at home, there is now an unholy trinity of FUC-influenced calendars:

1) The Infinite Creations Calendar from Orange Circle Studio. This one was solicited/edited by former FUC editor Panny Brawley. Presumably, other ex-FUCers are included/involved.  The blurb says that

renowned fractal artists push their art to extremes and guide you on a journey through their infinite creations.

In fact, the artists are so renowned that no names are mentioned anywhere in the promotion — probably because the publishers have learned that fractal art is a disposable commodity — like plastic silverware and Styrofoam cups.

2) The "2011 Fractal Universe Calendar" from Moseley Road Publishing. Although the fractals here are described as "visually arresting," most appear to be default random batch renders, so no artistic skill was required for their creation (although, given the choice, I’d rather look at these than at saccharine spirals).  Again, no artists are named in the promotion — probably because the publishers now believe that fractal art is a throwaway trade good — like the plastic Wal-Mart sack you use to scoop out your cat’s litter box.

3) The Cornelia Yoder solo project, presumably also to be called the "2011 Fractal Universe Calendar," from Perfect Timing (who bought FUC’s original publisher, Avalanche Publishing).  Although this calendar, at present, has yet to be printed, this did not stop Yoder from making the modest announcement on the UF List that

All of the images in the calendar are mine this year.

which conveys a tone not unlike

Just smash it all into the sack. 

And here we see calendar publishers lining up to collect their lucrative bag-o-fractals.

Image seen on ghettoManga.

Yoder also took issue with my last post about her dumbstricken ascension to the FUC mountaintop by noting

I never pay any attention to that particular source of misinformation [Orbit Trap], but I see they are confused as usual. The "2011 Fractal Universe" calendar they are showing in that blog has absolutely nothing to do with the one I’m involved with…

but, of course, there was no confusion.  What I said was

It seems doubtful that Yoder will actually get to use the Fractal Universe moniker for her solo project because it appears Avalanche has sold the franchise — or, at any rate, turned a blind eye to its appropriation, as evidenced by this "Fractal Universe Calendar" printed by Moseley Road Publishers.

so I understood there were actually three separate calendars, even if two appear to have identical titles — a situation which Keith Mackay described as "messed up" — proving that he and I can finally agree on something. 

I await with typing fingers the release of Yoder’s calendar and hope it, too, will be "visually arresting" as it nestles prettily arranged in its own calendrical vase.  After all, Yoder says:

I hope that I have provided images in the same style as many of our community have in the past.

I think it’s safe to say that I will be — what’s the word — "flabbergasted" if such is not the case.


Yoder’s poke at OT brought a few other get-off-my-lawn grumblers on the UF List out from under their shaded porches.  Here’s Dave Makin:

As to a certain blog [Guess Who?], the authors are so obviously biased against any commercial fractal software that I now ignore their opinions completely.

Should I repay the favor and ignore Makin’s opinion — especially since I use commercial software in my own work all the time?  Could Makin be projecting instead about how he imagines I feel about a certain commercial software for which he currently serves as chief apologist?

Makin further states that

I have to disagree with much of their [That Would Be Us Again] statements regarding the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art contests primarily because I simply consider those on how close to my own choices of winners the panel’s decision was and they always did quite well IMHO…

No doubt the selection panel’s choices coincided with Makin’s own.  I can think of one person who has consistently done quite well in BMFAC.  Three-time contest winner Dave Makin. 

BMFAC judge Mark Townsend also dropped by to convey these words of wisdom:

[M]any artists and art appreciators (and therefore a major part of the "mainstream" art world) are not normal people. I’d say they are more progressive, and more open to new experiences than "normal" people. However they can be snobs, which is why fractal art works probably need to be isolated from the kitschiness of the Fractal Art scene before they can be recognized.

To which Paul N. Lee adroitely replied:

Something else that Orbit Trap has been saying for quite a long time now.

And, finally, Ken Childress, still awaiting his Nobel Prize in Rhetoric, and who has not updated his anti-OT blog since mid-January because "OT has been reasonably non-controversial" (we must be slipping), blew off the cobwebs and mustered the strength to fire this shot:

[W]hen they [You Guessed It That’s Us Again] talk about UF, calendars, the BMFAC, they are anything but objective. They have very negative attitudes and biases against these events and the people involved in them. So much so, that they often resort to making misleading comments and innuendos, and sometimes outright lies about the events and people.

Am I making "misleading comments" or biased against BMFAC’s administrators because I ask that they break their silence and provide some physical proof that their showcase exhibition in India actually took place? 

When engaging in discourse (and I use the term loosely) with Childress — for whom his every thought is instantly reified as consummate truth — one quickly discovers that things like "negative attitudes," "biases," and "outright lies" are nothing more than opinions with which Childress disagrees.  One thing actuates him: to squelch everything that rubs him the wrong way.

Meet the New Master of the Fractal Universe

Actually, many of us were pretty flabbergasted as well.

Cornelia Yoder: "I was pretty flabbergasted, but did as they asked."

It still isn’t safe to wander into your favorite mall gift shop or bookstore.  After seemingly undergoing a well deserved decapitation, the staple of fractal schlock, the Fractal Universe Calendar (aka FUC), has recently grown several new Hydra heads.

We’ve often been critical of Fractalbook’s foibles on OT, but one thing these cozy, socializing conclaves do well is encouraging one to trumpet his or her own horn.  For a topical case in point, here is Cornelia Yoder yesterday on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List:

Today in the mail I received my artist’s copies of the 2011 Fractal Universe Calendar, published by Avalanche Publishing (now owned by Perfect Timing, Inc).  It’s supposed to be available in stores soon.

All of the images in the calendar are mine this year.  I was approached by Perfect Timing a year ago to submit a set of images for them to choose from, for a “single artist” Fractal Universe Calendar for 2011.  I was pretty  flabbergasted, but did as they asked.

Then a couple months ago, they asked me to do it again for 2012.  I suggested they go back to soliciting images from the entire fractal art community and offered to be the editor since Panny no longer wanted to do it, but they refused that idea.  Apparently they had had too much trouble with so many contracts, images not on time, images not in the right format, etc.  So I guess I’ll also be doing the 2012 calendar.

I believe that Panny had gathered images for a different calendar to be published by a different company made up of some of the Avalanche people who did not go to Perfect Timing.  I’m not sure the status of that, nor what it will be called, but if it lasts, it may be a route for others to have calendar opportunities.  At least I hope so.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who is "flabbergasted" over this elevation of Yoder to the status of a fractal grandmaster — over becoming the Chosen One kicked upstairs to replace FUC’s previous parade of mainstream fractal stars — especially considering that Yoder sometimes enjoys putting out material like this:

Will someone at least send me a pressurized helmet? 

"Woof.  An overnight stay in a veterinarian’s cage sure beat being trapped perpetually in this bathetic fractal universe."

Puppy01 by Cornelia Yoder.  More here for those pre-dosed with reflux medication.

It seems, though, that multiple fractal calendars are sprouting through sidewalk cracks like pesticide-resistant weeds, and that Panny Brawley, a former FUC editor, takes issue with Yoder’s accusations that Avalanche Publishing "had too much trouble" with past calendar artists getting their act together handling contracts, missing deadlines, and failing to comprehend proper file formats.  Brawley says:

And here is the link to the Calendar I edited for 2011 for Orange Circle Studio — Called the Infinite Creations Calendar, published by Orange Circle Studio.

The head of Avalanche (who moved to Orange Circle) approached me with the offer to put together a fractal calendar for them, and the link below shows more of the content than that of Orange Circle.  As long as I edited the Fractal Universe Calendar,  I have no memory of any image not making it in on time, or in the right format.

You can zoom into each of the 2011 images here:

Whatever other problems the original FUC had, like running a competition that heavily favored past and present editors, the selection process seemed to run fairly smoothly, so I suspect Yoder is merely parroting the company line and hoping readers are naive enough not to do their homework.  I think there are far more direct reasons why Avalanche (and now Perfect Timing) nixed the idea of "soliciting images from the entire fractal art community" — like this and this and this and this and this and this.

It seems doubtful that Yoder will actually get to use the Fractal Universe moniker for her solo project because it appears Avalanche has sold the franchise — or, at any rate, turned a blind eye to its appropriation, as evidenced by this "Fractal Universe Calendar" printed by Moseley Road Publishers.

But let’s be honest and stop pretending here.  None of these fractal calendars matter from an artistic perspective.  There’s a reason why the artists’ names do not appear on promotions for either the Orange Circle or Moseley calendars.  These ventures are strictly about racking up sales — not disseminating art.  The aesthetic that drives these calendars is one of extreme ornamentation and more closely aligned to digital flower arrangement than to artistic production.  Just rearrange the spirals and ribbons and feathers into variations of the same gaudy bouquet, then repeat the template endlessly.  Anyone who’s in the market for this gooey eyecandy need go no further than to their corner florist to pick up what purports to be world class work.  What all of these publishers should really do is just give away blank calendars and let buyers make their own fractal art.  That way, purchasers will have better odds of receiving a top-notch product.  

BMFAC: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

***V*** Another Masterpiece!!!!

I find this work menacing/playful because of the way the optical suggestions of the purity of line makes resonant the larger carcass.

Review courtesy of the The Instant Art Critique Generator.

The 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Competition’s crowning exhibition at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Hyderabad, India, ended two weeks ago.  No doubt, like many fractal art enthusiasts, you’ve been excited by what you’ve seen from this event that embodies the lone international show devoted to fractal art.

What?  You say you’ve heard or read absolutely nothing about the ICM showing? 

Console yourself.  You’re not alone.  To date, there seems to be no web coverage whatsoever of the BMFAC show in India.

The main BMFAC site has been silent about this (or any) exhibition since announcing the contest’s winners over a year ago.  In fact, I suspect, without Orbit Trap, many of you would also know nothing about the earlier and previously unannounced BMFAC exhibitions held months ago in Spain.  The ICM site, which presumably just hosted the exhibition, still contains no information about the show at all — even if one searches the site for terms like "mandelbrot" and "fractal."

So, forgive me for asking, but did an exhibition take place?

I did find a source that noted the BMFAC show, after two Spanish stops, spent six days in Argentina before ostensibly shipping out for India.  According to Pagina/12, BMFAC opened last June at the 6th International Conference of Mathematics and Design.  The article nicely highlights Argentinean artist Silvia Dunayevich and offers a brief history of fractals.  It also provides a few tidbits about the exhibition itself — like noting that (co-director?) Javier Barrallo "curated the exhibition."  A more surprising revelation was this:

La Sociedad Científica Argentina (Santa Fe 1145) opens its doors today to a sample that includes twenty-five works by authors from eighteen countries, selected in the International Art Competition Benoît Mandelbrot Fractal, which is named after the discoverer of fractal geometry. From Manhattan, it was he who chose the works…

So, if Benoit Mandelbrot selected the winning entries — by himself — then don’t BMFAC’s selection panel members with a few conflicts of interest become something else — like more properly screeners — or, at any rate, doing screening beyond (co-curator?) Damien M. Jones’ initial sorting of contest entries?

Actually, I suspect this account of Mandelbrot single-handedly plucking BMFAC winners in the Big Apple is likely a case of misreporting or mistranslation.  But here’s the thing.  In the pervasive publicity vacuum that consistently surrounds all things BMFAC, how can one ever be sure?

The only web reference with any specifics I can find about the exhibit in India comes from BMFAC winner Sandra Reid’s blog.  Reid, who presumably was contacted by either (curator?) Barrallo or (web hoster?) Jones, reports that

The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Exhibition will run for the duration of the ICM but is only open to mathematicians attending the event.

Unless the local media in India provide any coverage of the exhibition it is unlikely that there will be any photographs or live footage of the exhibition as there is a complete ban on any electronic equipment in the venue.

I see. Or do I?  Only conference participants — that is, mathematicians — could view the exhibit? I hope there was plenty of informational printed material explaining the connection between the mathematics and the visual images.  Otherwise, might the mathematicians been more comfortable perusing the par files of images rather than the exhibited prints?

If you don’t find the audience limitations of BMFAC’s show just a bit strange, then please consider the inverse of the situation.  I propose a fractal art exhibition strictly limited to a viewing by visual artists — but instead of showing prints of fractal imagery, text printouts of the forumlas used to create the images will instead hang inside the frames.  Does this make any sense?  If not, then why is the opposite plausible?

And, reportedly, everything electronic is banned?  No cameras?  No laptops?  No cell phones?   No pictures at all — even of the exhibition set-up before the conference started?  That’s a serious lockdown.  So serious, in fact, it keeps the exhibit’s administrators from even now using a computer to write about the show.

Now, why might the BMFAC administrators — who twice previously finagled the means to display their work and that of their contest judges beside the work of contest winners — deliberately not want a smidgen of publicity about their previously ballyhooed exhibit?

And therein lies the problem when you run a contest that culminates in an international art exhibition about which the directors remain consistenly silent.  Interested parties are left stranded and forced to rely on their own devices — like speculation and reading between the lines.


Be Very Very Quiet

My blogging slows down in the summer when other projects get moved to the front burner. But I’m still lurking around.

The 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest exhibition begins in a little over a week in Hyderabad, India, at the 2010 International Congress of Mathematicians, although (so far) publicity for the event has been zilch.  On the main BMFAC site, there has been no information whatsoever about the exhibition at the ICM — or, for that matter, the two earlier shows in Spain.  The main ICM page also says nothing about the exhibition — even if one searches the site for terms like "fractal" and "Mandelbrot."

I hope the main BMFAC site will eventually put up some documentation about the 2009 show.  After all, why go to the trouble to stage an international fractal art exhibit, and then act like the whole thing is some kind of classified secret?

Unless, for some reason, something about the show does need to be kept under wraps.  


And this came across the transom of the Ultra Fractal Mailing List recently:

From: Frederik Slijkerman <info@ultrafractal.com>
Date: Sat, Aug 7, 2010 at 7:14 PM
Subject: [ultrafractal] IMPORTANT: Ultra Fractal mailing list has been moved
To: “ultrafractal@lists.fractalus.com” <ultrafractal@lists.fractalus.com>

Hi everyone,

The Ultra Fractal mailing list has been moved to the main ultrafractal.com server, so it also has a new address:



As you may know, until now this mailing list was running at fractalus.com, administered by Damien Jones. Damien has very generously offered server resources and his free time for more than ten years now, and I believe it is time for me to take over this task. Thank you, Damien, for everything you’ve done during all these years.

OT readers might recall that the main Ultra Fractal site moved off Fractalus earlier this year.  No explanation (other than what appears above) was given for moving the site and list off Jones’ server.  Last summer, after Fractalus went dark for a time, Jones offered this enigmatic statement on the UF List:

My role as a web site host is no longer required, and I cannot fulfill that role adequately in any case (especially not for those sites that have moved on).

Nothing stays the same forever. Nor should it.

Nor did it, apparently, although, like so many of Jones’ activities, the reasons for this UF hosting break remain strictly hush hush.

But I do see some progress.  At least Jones didn’t resort to his previous tactic of booting folks (who merely disagree with him) off Fractalus by ginning up phony charges of protecting his server from alleged "security threats."

FUC Redux

Your decorative eye candy can once more be filled...

I’ve been reiterated from the undead.

[Image seen on Amazon.com.]

The Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) returns with a makeover.

Previously put out by Avalanche Publishing, it is now under the aegis of Mosely Road Publishers which describes it as

full of the most visually arresting fractals.

Let’s see if you agree.  Here’s a sneak peak:


Fractal like it’s 1999.

[Image seen on calendars.com.]

Now, are you ready to hear a litany of complaints from me about the ethics of this venture.  Okay.  Here goes…

I don’t really have any.

That’s because my concerns about previous iterations of the FUC sprung from the manner in which it was administered.  The old FUC was clearly a competition, despite its organizers’ protests to the contrary, and one that too comfortably favored the work of present and former editors — sometimes to the tune of 40% of the selected material.  Editors were compensated by having their own work included — and then were allowed to send more of their own work on to the judges — who, oddly enough, were never identified.  In other words, the whole shebang was ethically suspect.

I have no idea how the new FUC is run, but I doubt it’s a contest.  There is absolutely no information on the web about any call for entries, rules, deadlines, and so forth.  In fact, other than a few retail-based references, the only other link to the new FUC I find is on silwanka’s deviantART page where she says she was "chosen" for this new calendar.  Therefore, I suspect the publisher directly contacted each of the included artists.

This is how the whole enterprise should have been run from the start.  As a commercial venture, calendar publishers want to sensibly make a profit and thus will likely select whatever work they believe will sell.  What they can’t do, ethically anyway, is run a thinly veiled contest that inordinately favors its own current and past administrators.

So I have no reason to question the ethics of new FUC.  But I do have a few observations.

* How can the new publishers use the same title for their calendar?  A quick glimpse at the old FUC page claims that the "Fractal Universe" name is a registered trademark.  Did Avalanche sell the rights to Mosely Road?  Or is there so little financially at stake here that Avalanche hasn’t bothered to challenge the trademark infringement?  Or is this a completely new venture — and no one apparently cares enough about the whole thing to be bothered by the appropriation?

* It’s nice to see a bit more variety in the selections — and to even find an Apophysis image on the cover.  Still, if you miss the eye candy laden aesthetic of the old FUC, you can always order the new Infinite Creations fractal calendar from Orange Circle Studio.  This is the old FUC in spirally spirit (if not name) and promises that

in this calendar, renowned fractal artists push their art to extremes and guide you on a journey through their infinite creations.

Who these "renowned fractal artists" are isn’t made clear from the promotional material.  Still, you can see thumbs of this more FUC than the new FUC calendar on my last FUC post.

* The fractal artists, renowned or otherwise, aren’t identified in promo stuff for the new FUC either.  But we are told that their work is "visually arresting."  And it is.  If you plunged into a fractal hot tub time machine and wormholed back about ten years.  To my eyes, these selections, with a few exceptions, look middlingly generic — and more likely to appear in a math textbook rather than a mass-marketed art artifact.

* It’s worth pinching yourself and explicitly noting that all of this work is in a calendar and not in a gallery.  Calendar.com tosses its fractal calendars into the "Fantasy Art" bin.  So, included "renowned artists," before your heads get too big, just remember that you’re rooming with unicorns, faeries, hobbits, dragons, wizards, elves, goddesses, shamans, muses, and pixies.  Does that elbow-rubbing ground you any?

* As for the question as to whether or not these commercial products — soon to be showcasing fractal art in bookstores and strip mall gift shops near you — is a fair, representative sampling of the artistic capabilities of our discipline is one I’ll leave for the blog’s readers to mull over.


Dear Diary,

I’ve been thinking recently about the creative explosion of Mandelbulbs and Mandelboxes.  Sometimes, I think they represent the latest new wave in fractal art.  Other times, I wonder if they are just the latest it iteration.  After a few thousand bulbs and boxes replete the gallery coffers of Fractalbook, will these once novel forms be yesterday’s quats and flames?

I do enjoy looking at them though.

Your Penpal


Dear Diary,

I’m not surprised that folks gave up trying to talk sense to Chris Oldfield (milleniumsentry) about his production of (I guess) pure fractals in their "native environment" of Ultra Fractal.  Oldfield, like those unknown sources in the Bush Administration, prefers to "create his own reality."  If Oldfield thinks something, that thought is immediately reified as truth.  If Oldfield believes that permission must be obtained to use one of his images, then it must be definitively so.  No amount of time spent pointing out that Fair Use exceptions in copyright law allow such reproduction for the purposes of reviews or satire will change his closed mind.  He’d rather have you believe that Tim and I are rude for displaying images while writing a blog of fractal art criticism.

Likewise, Oldfield has drunk the UF kool-aid from a Big Gulp cup.  UF’s greatest achievement, I think, was winning the propaganda war — that is, building graphic processing features into their software while simultaneously convincing UF users they are not really doing any graphics processing at all.  See, it’s that unique "native environment" that allows UF users to layer fractals like Pringles and import static media like a photograph but still churn out a bona fide "fractal" — even if, technically, the result is now a collage — an algorithmic mash-up. 

And I still occasionally see this proud disclaimer on Fractalbook: "Made with UF.  100(+) layers.  No post-processing."

Let’s see if I understand the dynamic here. Because Oldfield used the Photoshop-Lite features built into UF, his "fractal" is pure as the driven pixel?  But, if I use Photoshop, whose filters also run using algorithms, I’m creating a kind of bastardized, non-fractal, digital-like art?

Not even UF enthusiast Damien M. Jones believes that hype.  

Personally, I agree with Terry W. Gintz’s observation:

It is pointless to continue to argue that rendering layers of fractals is some kind of advanced or superior approach to fractal generation, or that one program is all you need to create great fractals. It is a great selling point for the benefit of fractal novices, and to eliminate the excess fractal programmer population, but it does nothing to advance the science of fractal imaging.

By the way, I wrote this part of my blog post directly in Dreamweaver.  389 words.  No post-processing.

Your Penpal


Dear Diary,

I’m a little dismayed that at least one of the Bulbers-Boxers reverted to some very old wave thinking in an OT comment.  Ker2x, responding to an image by Oldfield, notes:

Btw… it still look nice, but i have no interest in this kind of artwork.
i like the beauty we can (surprisingly) find in mathematic and chaos.

To paraphrase: My fractal is purer than yours — even if you’ve just spent considerable time arguing how pure yours is.  Mine is 100% algorithmic-mathematical-fractal.  Yours is a "derivative."  Mine is right and true and good.  Yours is "this kind of artwork."

I have little patience for such braggadocio elitism.  It sticks in my craw when the UF cultists pull this stunt.  It’s just as unbecoming when it surfaces in the Boxer-Bulber crowd.

You made an aesthetic choice, dude, revolving around the extent of your use of graphics processing.  That choice doesn’t make you somehow nobler than the rest of us who’ve consciously made a different choice than yours.

Your Penpal


Dear Diary,

What Oldfield probably doesn’t realize is that I’m actually on his side.  If he wants to produce fractal stratum, whether purely or impurely, I say go for it.  Supercollide your fractals to pulp, for all I care.  My thinking has always been to do whatever’s necessary to get the art you want.  My maxim:  More talk about art.  Less talk about purity.

I’ve already outlined my thoughts about the aesthetic choices one can make while navigating the sliding scale between algorithmic art and graphically processed art in this exchange with Tim.  No need to rehash here.

I have no beef with fractalists who want to mask and layer and process until the seahorses come home.  My gripe is with those who insist their tools are somehow special and thus elevate them to a higher plane where the air is more rarefied than the processed smog we derivative losers are forced to breathe.

Your Penpal


Dear Diary,

I’ve been thinking about this post (nearly two years ago now) by Tim where he worries that Ultra Fractal is increasingly becoming a program "for engineers only."  Tim observes that

A lot of work has gone into Ultra Fractal, and from the looks of Ultra Fractal 5, a lot of work is continuing to go into it. But what I question is whether that work is making Ultra Fractal a better tool for the average user to make fractal art or is simply making a better tool for the developers and beta testers to play with and “oooh” and “aaah” over. Ultra Fractal 5 strikes me as the fractal programmer’s fractal program.

I wonder how many of UF’s users lost their bearings in the move from v4 to v5?  How many of those users lack the programming mindset and instead make fractal art by an instinctive process using serendipity?  Are they now cast overboard — left to drown unless they quickly enroll in a Visual Arts Academy UF course in order to re-learn the basic operating procedures for their tools? 

This sounds like a deliberate marketing strategy to me.  Here’s betting that UF v6 will need the coursework for an advanced degree to decode its inner workings.

Or is there just no place for serendipity in fractal art anymore?  If not, then let’s see no more work by artists, please.  The work of the makers of brushes and paints and canvases will be satisfactory enough, thank you.

Your Penpal


Dear Diary,

I worry that Fractalbookers think I dislike them.  I don’t.  Mostly.  But I really dislike the environmental trappings of Fractalbook.

Fractalbook is fine for social interaction — for getting artistic tips and advice — for having your ego massaged daily — for self-declaring yourself a master.  But it’s lousy place to showcase your art.

Especially to outsiders.  As a virtual museum, Fractalbook is far too muddled — mostly extolling social networking accouterments and oodles of self-promotion.  Take deviantART (please!).  How’s your art look against that puce background and officious busyness exploding from every available pixel?  At least Renderosity has the good sense to use a black background.  Now, if only those vampy sorceresses and seductive Indian princesses in their underwear weren’t enticing visitors from the borders of nearly every frame.

I see good art on these places all the time, but I’m reluctant to send OT’s readers into these cluttered lairs of virtual ass-kissing and unfettered commercialism.  Is this really how you want people (and your virtual friends swooning over your every render don’t count) to see your work?  You do have a web site or a blog, right?  A safe and quiet haven where the public can reflect on your work without virtual saturation barrage fire, yes?

No?  Then I suggest you’re more interested in hanging out with your laudatory friends than having art lovers hang out with your work.

Your Penpal



Photoblog 1

I don’t dislike everything.  The OT faithful probably know from past posts that I often see fractal art works I find interesting.

When Tim and I were first forming Orbit Trap and discussing its possibilities, one idea we knocked around was to post an occasional fractal art photoblog — that is, allow the blog to function as a kind of virtual gallery by offering images without comment.  Any reaction to the art works would come from OT’s readers in the form of comments.  Today seems as good a day as any to start.

So, here are a few pieces that have have caught my eye lately.  Some are Phase One works, and others are Phase Two.

Disclaimer: I might have a bigger-tent sense of what fractal art constitutes than you do.

Like or dislike, and, if so moved, feel free to say so:

Deep Sea Monster by Maria K. Lemming

Deep Sea Monster by Maria K. Lemming.  Seen on her web site.

Tvivla by Robert Töreki

Tvivla by Robert Töreki.  Seen on the Ultrafractal site.

Toy Fracture by Bermarte.  Seen on Fractal Forums.

Digging You Up Again by 2BORNO2B

Digging You Up Again by 2BORNO2B.  Seen on deviantART.

Cries from the Wetlands by Gaiadeiel

Cries from the Wetlands by Gaiadriel.  Seen on Renderosity.

The Water Tree by Hector Garrido

The Water Tree by Hector Garrido.  Seen on Armonia Fractal.

Iguana Eyes by Michael Kern

Iguana Eyes by Michael Kern.  Seen on Fractal Enightenment.

Fractal Recursive Spiral Pottery Pattern by Quasimondo.  Seen on Flickr.

Julia Bead Tapestry.  Seen on In Bits Mosaics.

Vent #3 by Thomas Briggs.  Seen on his web site.


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FUC 2: The Sequel

I need a brain...brain!!

Did you miss me?

Shot of the 2011 Infinite Creations calendar.

[Image seen on BarnesandNoble.com.]

Just when you thought it was once again safe to enter your local chain bookstore…

The Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) gets a name change and a new coat of renders.  But kick those familiar, sappy, spiral tires — and it’s easy to see what’s under this tired trope of a hood.

Notice of the FUC reboot was seen (unsurprisingly) on Keith Mackay’s blog.  “Daniel,” whose linked name goes to Orange Circle Studio, a commercial calendar site, leaves the following message

Orange Circle Studio now owns the rights to the Fractals 2011 wall calendar.

and provides a link that notes that in this NEW IMPROVED calendar

renowned fractal artists push their art to extremes and guide you on a journey through their infinite creations.

so I guess the inevitable questions will have to again be asked before this impostor starts hanging around strip malls in the fall:

–Who are these “renowned fractal artists”?
–How are they selected to be a part of this project?
–How are they compensated for having their art included?
–What is meant by “owns the rights”?  Has OCS purchased rights to re-use similar or even previous FUC images?
–Will you please explain in some detail how you ascertained that the images above have been “pushed to extremes”?
–The fuzzy wuzzy FUC “aesthetic” wasn’t hard to clone, wuzzit?

And the most critical question:

–Aren’t OT readers gladdened to know that the images above will be mass-marketed with the suggestion that this is the “most renowned” artistic expression our discipline is capable of producing?

You know, it’s starting to feel like Old Home Week around the blog lately…


I’d be remiss if I’d didn’t make time to acknowledge OT admirer and troll-in-waiting Chris Oldfield (milleniumsentry on deviantART) for blowing us virtual kisses.  Since I know he wants to reach a larger audience, and understand how much he enjoys having his work shared with others, here is a blown artwork posted with a dedication that reads: “A little something for the Orbit Trap bloggers…”

Nothing sharpens sight like envy (--Thomas Fuller)

Green-Eyed Envy by milleniumsentry

Really.  He shouldn’t have…

Oldfield, singled out as one of the official DA “masters,” did not specifically tag this particular post as wanting constructive criticism — so I wouldn’t want to spoil the uniform tone of effusive, Fractalbook gushiness found in the comment thread located directly under the image.  If you haven’t yet had your daily recommended allotment of saccharine, you should drop by and drink deeply.


UPDATE: More mystery.  What could this be?

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The BMFAC Exhibition Begins? Who Knew?

How's My Exhibiting?  Call 1-800-FIND-BMFAC

I’m just like the Olympic torch.  I travel the world, and no one knows my route in advance.

[Promotional poster for the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibition.  Image seen on Sandra Reid’s blog.]

Apparently, the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest Exhibition has begun. Of course, you’d never know this from checking the main BMFAC site, which remains as silent and dead as the audience at a screening of MacGruber. I have to ask again: Why is BMFAC co-director Damien M. Jones so consistently secretive and publicity-averse?

It appears one has to actually be a contest winner to receive any dribble of detail about the exhibition.  It was only by hunting and gathering at a few of the 2009 BMFAC winners’ virtual hang-outs that I could ferret out any information all at about the whats and whens of the exhibition(s).

A good place to start seemed to be Dave Makin’s Facebook page.  Why?  Because Makin, a three-time BMFAC winner, is one to never shy away from gratuitous self-promotion (as seen by his recent horn-tooting on a Benoit Mandelbrot Facebook page.)  Makin’s page showcases three YouTube videos of Spanish television coverage of the BMFAC exhibit in Bilbao.  This exhibition, according to BMFAC winner Sandra Reid’s blog, took place at the Universidad de Pais Vasco (University of the Basque Country) and ran from May 11th to May 21st (sorry — you already missed it).  The videos feature BMFAC co-director Javier Barrallo discussing the exhibit.  Close-ups of the art are seen — as well as long shots of the exhibition, and an excerpt of an animated 3D Mandelbulb created by Krzysztof Marczak is also shown.

Here are the three videos pertaining to the exhibition:

But wait.  Moving on to BMFAC winner Nicholas Rougeux’s c82 blog, we learn that there was a previous BMFAC exhibition in San Sebastián that ostensibly ran from April 26th to May 4th (sorry — again — you really already missed it).  Here’s a photo from Rougeux’s blog:

We were just hanging around.  Where were you?

The BMFAC Exhibit in San Sebastián.

Rougeux also points out that the exhibit will travel to Buenos Aires this month and then move on (as advertised) to Hyderabad, India, for the 2010 International Congress of Mathematicians on August 19–27.

Even a few of the competition’s winners seem surprised to learn of some of these turns of events — like OT’s old friend and deviantART’s master of masters Fiery-Fire (Iwona Fido) who appeared taken aback on her redbubble page to receive an email containing the videos of the Bilbao exhibit — but quickly uploads them (again) to YouTube “in order to show-off ROFL !!!”

Stay classy and humble, Ms. Fire


So, let’s review the good news here:

–TV coverage.  Cool.
–Multiple venues.  Neat.
–BMFAC judges’ work still not included in the exhibition (so far).  Outstanding.

But I do have a few questions and concerns.  Like:

–How come so many people are going to have to hear about all of this from Orbit Trap?  Why isn’t the main BMFAC site all over this news?  Why has even the formerly official organ of all things BMFAC — that is, the Ultra Fractal Mailing List — not been discussing the now-suddenly-plural exhibition(s)?  Or, according to the contest co-directors,  is the majority of the fractal community seen as being on a strictly need-to-know basis?

–Who’s paying for all of this?  Like the different exhibition spaces?  Like the freight charges to ship the show around Spain, then to Latin America, then over to India?  Did the sponsors in India foot the printing costs, so the other venues could display the prints for free?  Who’s making the calls and paying the costs here?

–Is this why the 2009 BMFAC was held so far in advance of the announced August 2010 exhibition in India?  Because there were a number of earlier, additional exhibitions planned as well?  If so, why weren’t these other shows announced at the time of the competition?  And if the other exhibitions fell into place later, then why keep so tight-lipped about this development?

–Although, as seen in photos of the San Sebastián show on Rougeux’s site, some of the prints are fairly large, most are merely medium-sized — which comes as a puzzler given the contest rules that all entries needed to weigh in at an unwavering, gigantic 8000 pixels to be eligible for the contest. I’ve made larger prints than many I saw in the photos and videos at less than half that size.  This incongruity just further feeds my gut instinct that the file sizes are deliberately made monolithic to privilege one of the co-director’s pet programs — Ultra Fractal.  If you aren’t going to print everything big as a barn door, then why insist all entries must be massive?

–Why are all of the prints for the exhibit made on canvas?  Aren’t Giclée (ink-jet) paper prints, using archival inks and papers, the common standard for making fine arts prints from a digital source for a museum setting?  Even Wikipedia thinks so and flatly notes:

Artists generally use Giclée inkjet printing to make reproductions of their original two-dimensional artwork, photographs or computer-generated art.

–What’s with the poster boards and blue backgrounds at the Bilbao show?  Isn’t a white (or maybe black) background conventionally used for exhibitions to cut down on color clash?

–Why is there nothing about the India exhibition on the 2010 ICM web site?  A search of every variant of the phrase benoit mandelbrot fractal art contest turns up zip.

–It looks to me like the real winner of the 2009 BMFAC is — the animated Mandelbulb.  Isn’t that the image that got the most TV screen time?  And, to think, the poor thing wasn’t even entered.

And how about we end this post with two new OT contests of our own (and, hey, we won’t even impose any entry size restrictions):

First, guess where the BMFAC exhibit will unexpectedly turn up in July.  1st prize?  An honorable mention!!

Second, guess who will circumstantially be BMFAC’s newest surprise sponsor next week.  Hint: it rhymes with “Argentina”!!


A tip of the hat here to Tim.

Update: Corrected a misspelled name.

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Dance This Mess Around

Does this outfit make me look infinitely fat?

Dance first.  Think later. It’s the natural order.
Samuel Beckett

[Photograph seen on Janet Parke’s Sketchblog.]

In a post to the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, Janet Parke describes a recent project mashing fractal art with ballet.  She links to an entry in her Sketchblog where she outlines the genesis of the mixed-media performance as follows:

I had the idea to merge the two artistic passions of my life into one project — a ballet about the iterations and relationships of my life, costumed with my fractal art printed on fabric.

The Sketchblog post traces the creative ideology behind the undertaking and includes the fractal image used as a model, design sketches, and photographs of the costumes.  A link to a video excerpt of the performance, entitled through you so i, is also included.

Parke asked the UF List for comments.  And, unsurprisingly, she got plenty.  Here’s a sampling:

–Blythe Hoyle

Amazing! Beautiful! Brilliant!!! What a perfect blend of arts.

Absolutely brilliant, Janet, and an inevitable fusion of your two talents. Gorgeous!
–Pam Blackstone

This looks Ultra(Fractal) Cool! Great idea, and beautiful show!
–Eveline Berkman

Amazing. The costumes look so gorgeous. Wouldn’t you ladies all love to have one of those dresses? I know I  would…
–Yvonne Mous

Thank you so much for sharing Janet. I love the costumes and the way you were able to transform your two passions into something new and special. Great!
–Thea Verkerk

wow !!
Do I recognize the art you showed in 2007 in San Sebastian (Spain) from the BMandelbrot-contest??
–Juliette Gribnau

And so on.  You get the idea.


Since comments were asked for, I have a few of my own.

First, about the responses.  Who’s surprised?  This is a case of maximum preaching to the choir.  The UF List, whatever its pretensions as an art-sharing resource, proves again to be just another Fractalbook social networking site dedicated to mutual ego-stroking and sycophantic flattery.  Frankly, I see little difference in form and tone between the responses above and those I discussed from the deviantART fractal-sucking “masters” from a few months back.  Even if the replies are sincere, they still reek of cloying mawkishness and illustrate the rote kudos assembly line that so commonly infects Fractalbook.  What a solipsistic, self-contained environment.  It’s no compliment to point out that they are indeed their own audience.

And why are so many of the UF Listers gushing over Parke’s decision to print fractals on fabric — as if this is some kind of novel approach?  I have digital artist friends who’ve embraced the fiber arts for years.  Besides, how many of these fawning jokers have their own CafePress or similar sites where they routinely hawk their fractal wares on t-shirts, tote bags, ball caps, and even thongs?

As for the ballet itself, you’d think I’d be inclined to like it.  After all, I’ve advocated in previous OT posts that fractal art should evolve into more Phase Two variations — that is, should move beyond software-bound expressions and more openly embrace facets of the fine arts.  But, in such cases, I generally assume that fractal mixed media has coherent and legitimate associations.  Other than slapping fractals on tutus, what exactly are the interdisciplinary connections here?  Parke seems a bit uncertain herself, and, in a response on the UF List to Ed, who “wondered why there were no ties with fractal motivs [sic],” says:

Perhaps you meant you didn’t see a direct connection between the choreography and the art that was used on the costumes. I didn’t really try to make a connection there. I just knew that the art had the palette I was looking for and the soft gradation of color and minimal fractal structure that would be effective on fabric for this type dress.

In fact, the only connector between the art and the dance specifically mentioned by Parke on her blog is the music that was used in the performance.  She notes that

The soft, painterly, oogey quality of the fractal’s coloring seemed a natural fit for the music I had chosen and the style of contemporary movement I would be using.

but, ironically, the performance video is scored with different music because of “performance rights agreements.”  Can we then assume the replacement music is also a “natural fit”?  If so, then can any of us just substitute any score of our choosing?  Since the costumes reminded me of tie-dye, I played the video with the sound off and put the Grateful Dead‘s “Dark Star” on my stereo.  The result?  A theatrical representation closer to “Stoned Lake” than “Swan Lake.”

You know, I’d also like to jump on this bandwagon and combine my two passions — fractals and burlesque.  I plan to print my art on skimpy lingerie.  I’ll replace tassels with spirals and strategically position a Mandel”box” right over the pubic area of the dancers’ panties.  Then I’ll stage my “performance” at a local “gentlemen’s club.”

Do you find my proposal lewd and absurd?  I’d agree.  But I’d also assert that my thought-problem/half-baked-public-performance idea has just as many (if not more) interdisciplinary cross-connections between fractals and dance as does Parke’s.

And, if it will help persuade any potential backers, I’ll even insist my dancers peel off their garments in a strictly non-Euclidean manner.


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Privately Owned Algorithms?

Mine -- down to the integer!!

It’s mine!!  All mine!!

[Image seen on nikadon.com.]

Can one patent abstract ideas?  Or claim equations as intellectual property?

The U.S. Supreme Court will likely make a decision in the near future concerning the constitutional scope of patents.  The decision could have profound implications pertaining to the legality of free software — and possibly have ramifications for fractal software, fractal programmers, and fractal artists.

David Bollier, writing in OntheCommons.org, lays out the dimensions of the court case:

At the heart of the case known as Bilski v. Kappos is a “business method patent” application that sought to obtain a patent for a method of managing the risk of bad weather through commodities trading. Bilski did not build any invention or device, as traditional patents have required; he came up with a method of doing business that orchestrates human knowledge and interactions, for which he believes he deserves a patent.

But this is the passage (and question) that caught my eye and caused me to reflect on possible ripple effects in the fractal art community:

But should the government be in the business of granting legally protecting monopolies on abstract ideas such as “business methods” and mathematical algorithms? The outcome of the case is being watched closely by the free software community because it could negatively affect the future of collaboratively developed code.

Can algorithms be privately owned?  Maybe — at least that is what some legal precedents seem to suggest.  Bollier clarifies:

Patents are given out so freely by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that companies have the legal rights to all sorts of abstract ideas, some of which may be embedded in software. “One-click shopping” was one of the earliest, most infamous business method patents granted. “If you’re selling online, at the most recent count there are 4,319 patents you could be violating,” said David E. Martin, chief executive of M-Cam Inc., an Arlington, Va.-based risk-management firm specializing in patents.

A key issue in the Bilski case is the appropriateness of granting patents for software and other sorts of collaboratively produced Internet works. It once made sense to grant patent monopolies over inventions developed by individuals or companies, but now that the Internet makes online collaboration so powerful and efficient, should anyone be allowed to privatize collectively generated knowledge and then charge premiums for it?

I predict a massive mess in Fractaldom if the court ruling codifies algorithms as deserving of patentability.  Imagine the chaos (no pun intended) if Ultra Fractal‘s poobah-programmers decided to patent their formulas, or even parts of them.  UF, which relies heavily on user-based formulas and openly encourages tweaking, not to mention its ability to combine lots of soon-to-be patentable private property into layers, might become nearly unusable since any image made with UF could be stuffed with patent violations.

In fact, in a worse case scenario, the creative forces behind Ultra Fractal, who did a bit of liberal borrowing when initially creating the program, might find themselves facing some retroactive monetary compensation to some of these folks:

One for all -- and none for us...

We gave freely of ourselves so that UF’s author and select courtesans could prosper.

[Image seen on AliceKelley.com.]

Currently, “pure knowledge” like algorithms is not patentable. However, if the high court rules in favor of more stringent patent restrictions, the result could be especially devastating for open source programming.  Would innovation still occur when some aggregated components suddenly become patented?

And, artists, what about all of “your” images made with free fractal software?  If the author of such software can soon own many of the formulas you used, will you have to pay a kind of licensing fee to display those images — or else be forced to remove them from any public sphere?

For whatever it’s worth, according to court reporters, the SCOTUS justices generally did not warm to the idea of broadening the scope of patents.  According to The Prior Art:

Across the board, the justices indicated a deep skepticism toward the invention described in the patent application at issue.


Some of the justices went even further — expressing both a fair amount of disdain for the idea of granting broad “method” patents and a concern that ruling in favor of the petitioners would lead to patent grants on fundamental ways of conducting business or organizing human behavior.

Still, even if the U.S. high court rules against such an amplified view of patents, courts elsewhere in the world might begin to weigh in on such matters.

I sense this case could have far-flung knottiness for most of us, but I admit my own shortcomings here.  I am not an attorney, nor am I well versed in legal matters.  Subsequently, I’d welcome hearing from any of OT’s readers who might be able to shed more light on what is and is not at stake here.


If you’re interested, you can view an admittedly subjective thirty-minute video discussing the origins of software patents and their detrimental effects.  It is entitled Patently Absurd: How Software Patents Broke the System.  It was made by filmmaker Luca Lucarini and financed by the Free Software Foundation.

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Return to Phase Two

Detail of Tuna by Chris Jordan

Detail of Tuna by Chris Jordan

I thought it might be fitting to once again examine pushing fractal art into its second phase.  Tim laid the initial groundwork for a Phase Two approach to our discipline, and I’ve presented several examples of what a Phase Two fractal art exhibition might look like. One facet of Phase Two reflectivity is to think outside the boundaries of software.  Instead, Phase Two manifests fractal art as a general movement expressed broadly in any fine art genre, rather than being shrunk down to the limited box of whatever UF or Apo images happen to be selected (by, say, the two respective program authors) for the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.

One artist who is clearly using fractal attributes in a wider fine art context is Chris Jordan — especially in his series entitled Running the Numbers  II.  Jordan notes that the series “looks at mass phenomena on a global scale” and observes that each image “portrays a specific quantity of something” — like the estimated number of tigers still in existence or (as in the image detail above) the average  number of tuna fished from oceans every fifteen minutes.  Jordan’s series uses self-similarity to striking effect.  In Tuna, the staggering number of fish netted is demonstrated by many replicated shadow forms.  In Tiger, the 3200 remaining tigers form a border at the edges, but the bulk of the piece is blank and black.  The superb use of absence represents what has been lost, since the middle space would hold 40,000 more tigers — the global population of the animal in 1970.

But Jordan’s most fascinating use of fractal characteristics is found in Gyre.  OT’s readers were first exposed to the Gyre, or Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in a guest post last October by Guido CavalcanteRTSea Blog describes the GPGP as

an area in the mid-Pacific where the clockwise circulation of currents slowly works discarded plastics into a central area (about twice the size of Texas!).

Here is Jordan’s depiction of the phenomenon:

Gyre by Chris Jordan

Gyre by Chris Jordan

Riffing on Katsushika Hokusai‘s The Great Wave (aka The Breaking Wave Off Kanagawa), probably Japan’s most famous woodblock print, Jordan’s re-contextualization shifts the menace away from the original suggestion of a tsunami.  The danger comes not from the power of the wave itself — but rather from the millions of plastic particles contained within it.

Jordan, in describing how he made the artwork, says that Gyre

depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world’s oceans every hour. All of the plastic in this image was collected from the Pacific Ocean.

From a distance, the millions of self-similar plastic bits and debris are impressionistically arranged to mirror Hokusai’s iconic wave.  But the most striking fractal dimension of Jordan’s Gyre is the ability to zoom into it.  First, look at Jordan’s image above and focus on the snow-capped mountain in the background.  Now — Zoom!

Detail of Gyre

More detail of Gyre

Even more detail of Gyre

And still more detail of Gyre

And even still more detail of Gyre

Increasing detail of Gyre by Chris Jordan

In a recent interview with Benoit Mandelbrot on Big Think, the mathematician makes a passing reference to “fractal nightclubs,” which he says he “hasn’t been there” but can “guess what it was.”  Here is a portion of the interview.  Mandelbrot addresses chaos theory and the origin of the word fractal, but the reference to fractal nightclubs occurs at about the 6:00 point:

Mandelbrot is referring to the use of carefully choreographed fractal art slideshows for raves and similar venues.  I am of two minds about this development.  A well-orchestrated rave can be a highly moving, even artistic experience.  I see tangible benefits if fractal art can contribute to the overall enjoyment of such events, as well as becoming a more recognizable art form to a general public.  Then again, I’d like to see fractal art progress beyond the Grateful Dead backdrops of more than forty years past.  If fractals are nothing more than trippy effluvia, the jump from Ecstasy-enhanced flitting eyecandy to bona fide fine art form is not likely to be forthcoming.

That’s why Jordan’s Phase Two, fractal (based) art is so encouraging.  It’s socially relevant and politically tinged — not designed to be just another decorative projection on a scrim.  Jordan understands, as I’ve argued before, that fractal art must be more than beautiful to be viable.


Sheep's Eyes by Rose Rushbrooke

Sheep’s Eyes (2001) by Rose Rushbrooke

And speaking of Phase Two, let’s not forget expressions made in the fiber arts.  I’ve long admired the fractal art quilts designed and created by Rose Rushbrooke.  I would love to see one in person, for they must be amazingly tactile.  Moreover, the process, as Rushbrooke describes here, sounds painstaking.  Still, the end result is obviously very gratifying and highly thought-provoking.  Rushbrooke notes that

Sometimes there is a barrier of diffidence when approaching a piece of art. We are not always sure what we are looking at. Fractal art quilts go a long way to breaking down that first moment of uncertainty. The strange, complex images combined with the sensuous substance of a quilt are very compelling. The urge to touch draws us into the work, creating an immediate connection between the artist and ourselves.

River Fish by Rose Rushbrooke

River Fish (2001) by Rose Rushbrooke

Rushbrooke’s work is unique and exquisite.  Please visit her web site to see additional art quilts, artist’s statements, photographs of exhibitions, tutorials, and other informational articles.


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Fractals That Suck Redux — Part Three

What are you saying beyond what you are saying?

Subtext by EssG

This is the conclusion of a series that began with a review of an article on deviantART entitled “People who’s [sic] Fractals SUCKED!!!”  The series focuses on responding to criticisms raised by some of the DA fractal art “masters” to my initial review and hones in on some poor rhetorical strategies of specific rebuttals.  For background, please refer to my original review, “Fractals That Suck,” as well on the two follow-up posts in the series, “Fractals That Suck Redux — Part One” that addressed the issue of the “fair use” clause in copyright law and its understanding that copyrighted images can be used in the context of a review or critique, and  “Fractals That Suck Redux — Part Two” that covered the various ad hominem reactions from some DA “masters” — reactions that failed to address nearly all the points I’d originally made.


Part Three: Text vs. Subtext

I’ve pretty much said what I have to say on this whole DA “masters” and their suck/rock fractals, especially on the many emotional responses kicked about, but there are a few loose ends to tie up before this topic is discarded like a worn out sneaker.

One aspect of this whole business that left me shaking my head was the extreme literalness of the commentary from some “masters” at DA, especially from Fiery-Fire (Iwona Fido) who authored the DA article I initially reviewed.  Ms. Fire, in a comment longer than my OT post, first went out of her way to explain the intent of her article and notes that

you [meaning me, “Mr. Animal”] misplaced the meaning of the News and also you lack of the inside knowledge of events preceding it’s publication.

and later, on DA, went on to inform me that

You also “trashed” the article, which was meant for the internal community on DA – and you assumed things from it, which are so far away from truth and it’s intention.

when, in fact, I  fully understood the article’s design.  On the surface, it showed the contrast in the level of skill between the early fractal work and more recent fractal work of 50+ DA members Ms. Fire labeled as “fractal art masters and wizards.”  That was the text.  But I saw more.  Under the surface, there was a subtext to the DA article — one that embodied  many of the fractal art community’s ills, as well as the prevailing mindset of Fractalbook itself.  I outlined this subtext in a post on the Fractal Forum:

What I objected to in my article is a prevailing aesthetic in our community that equates being technically proficient with fractal software to making exciting acts of creative self-expression.  Such cart-before-the-horse thinking is why so much of the work at art communities like deviantART all looks the same.  Everyone is copying off the same master palette, as it were, and then turning around and congratulating themselves for being artistic “masters.”  But all they have mastered is a certain level of technical accomplishment with their software, and, ironically, their earlier images often seem to make better use of artistic principles and design elements.  In short, their later work may be better crafted but could be becoming less engaging as art.

Why?  Because they’ve all embraced a cookie-cutter rubric of what constitutes good fractal art.  You see it everywhere — the BMFAC winners, the late Fractal Universe calendar, and in the latter-day images of DA’s self-proclaimed “masters.”  It’s an UF/Apo-based slick and baroque look that is busy in the extreme and highly ornamental but little else.  It’s my view that nearly all of these works may be regarded as adequately crafted eyecandy but very few engage viewers as compelling art.

The problem is that as long as this type of imagery is widely regarded as the “best fractal art possible”  — the art rewarded with prizes in contests and touted as the style any good “master” should strive to make — you will continue to see what I see at places like DA:  depressing conformity.  Replicating en masse buffed-to-a-sheen decorative craft over individualistic, engaging art seems backwards to me.  But, then again, I don’t make art to rack up back-slapping comment threads or to socialize with countless virtual friends who consider themselves “masters” of fractal art because they’ve been tinkering with fractal toys for a few years.

What’s the crux here?  I could see both the text and an additional subtext in Ms. Fire’s article.  But I wonder if she and other DA “masters” could see my text at all.

Ms. Fire then went on to give me a lesson in Fractal Rendering 101

In Apophysis Fractal Flame Generator (this is the accurate name for the program), when you open the application – the software loads a selected number of random flames, which contain completely random and accidental combinations of functions (called variations) chosen by the code. Most of the works which are in “before” section come from that batch, unfortunately this diminishes the artistic input from the author – as exciting or experimental as they may seem, they lack the intentional design, have poor quality output and even the coloring gradient is selected automatically at random.

even through I’ve helped beta-test ten different fractal programs.  Again, I understood the content of her article, but did she and others understand that I felt the article was an unflattering mirror that encapsulated what’s wrong with Fractalbook’s environment and crystallized the prevailing haughty attitudes of much of the fractal art scene?

I do know how both Apophysis and Ultra Fractal work.  What probably mystifies the many DA “masters” who overwhelmingly, almost exclusively, use these two programs is that I’ve deliberately made a choice not to use them.  And that brings me to…

Bonus: “Who Really Uses Shoddy Tools?”

Several DA “masters” responded to my initial post by attacking my art rather than by addressing my argument.  Mikahil Borodin, for example, observes my work is heavily processed in Photoshop and remarks that

It’s actually quite sad that some fractalists can’t tell the difference between fractals and photoshop.

and I think I understand why.  Much of what currently passes for fractal art is extensively graphically processed  — especially if it’s made using either Ultra Fractal or Apophysis, the software twins of choice for nearly all the DA “masters.”

I don’t want to rehash the whole post-processing argument (again) — seeing that I’ve already given my opinion on this topic and previously addressed the very bias Borodin exhibits when I explained that

Apparently, if you believe the poobahs, using your fractal generator, no matter how extensive its built-in manipulation functions, is cool. You are still and always will be a legit fractal artist. But export your fractal to another graphics program and begin flailing away, well, you’ve somehow cheated. Or, worse, you’re ignorant. You failed to read the rule book and follow the universally understood (even if arbitrary) limitations.

And how convenient is it that the most expensive fractal software also has the most post-processing capabilities? No wonder I used to see something like this tagged to posted images at on-line fractal communities: Made with UF. 100 layers. No post-processing. Who are you kidding? You bludgeoned that thing within an inch of its pixels! But you’ve manipulated nothing because you’ve miraculously remained within the (self-imposed) limitations and kept your extensive collaging activities strictly inside UF?

and even BMFAC director and UF advocate Damien M. Jones agrees that processing is processing, whether it takes place inside or outside of a fractal generator, and says

Terry is completely on the mark that all fractal images are “post-processed” in some fashion. We color them, or we layer them. Even if we choose “not” to color them, we are in fact making a choice (for black and white) because those reflect a property of the mathematics. Everything we do in creating fractal imagery is interpretation, a visualization of massive amounts of numbers, distilled into a form that we can make sense of quickly. So to say some algorithms for doing this are acceptable while others are not is rather pointless. To even suggest that some software can be used while other software cannot is also pointless; I can code almost anything in Ultra Fractal, so the choice not to use Photoshop is really just a personal preference and not one dictated by the art.

so here’s the deal.  If you’re doing layering and masking work in UF, or working with hacks and plugs in Apo, you’re engaging in unquestionable graphics processing not unlike that done in Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Painter, PhotoPaint, and so on.  So, please, spare me your holding-your-nose disdain about filters.  Since Photoshop filters also work using algorithms, there’s no discernible difference between using them and using Popcorn or other similar derivative formulas in UF.  And are you using UF5 to import photographs (bitmaps) or other static media into your “fractals”?  If so, you’re now working in mixed media — not fractal art.

Of course, nearly all fractal art today isn’t fractal art as folks like the Stone Soup Group understood it.  “Fractal art” is pretty much all graphics processing now — especially once you start pancaking multiple layers.  So when Chris “milleniumsentry” Oldfield chides me in a comment that

When you do start pushing that envelope, you will realize that some fractal software packages are indeed ‘toys’ and afford you very little artistic control beyond cropping and basic palette control.

You will never create a masterpiece with shoddy supplies, and broken tools. Anyone who takes art seriously can confirm this.

I sense he assumes I treat art as frivolity because his equipment is somehow superior to mine.  But, really, who is using the more limited tools?  If it’s all just graphics processing anyway, I’d rather have a Photoshop fully-stocked arsenal at my disposal rather than, say, UF’s watered-down Photoshop-lite bows and arrows.

And maybe that’s why I’ve complained that our community seems to consistently emphasize software over individual creative expression.  It’s back to the old tag line I still sometimes see on Fractalbook:  “Made in UF. 100 (200/300/400/500+) layers.  No post-processing.”  Translation: Look what I made UF make.

In such cases, the tools are clearly front-loaded at the expense of the artistic act.  Maybe that’s why so many entrants to the last BMFAC seemed unconcerned that both the UF and Apo authors actually served as two of the contest’s judges — in spite of having open-and-shut conflicts of interest.  Given the lopsided ratio of winners who just coincidentally used either UF or Apo, one might legitimately ask whether the competition was inherently set up all along to be more about software than about art.

So, I ask again, who’s really using shoddy tools?  Me?  When I finish a new work, I never say: Look what I made QuaSZ-Xenodream-Photoshop-Alien Skin-Flaming Pear-Power Retouche-Painter-PhotoPaint-PhotoImpact-Paint Shop Pro-GIMP-Bryce-etc. make.  I just think to myself: Look what I made.


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Fractals That Suck Redux — Part Two

You're a complete douche.  Have a nice night.

“I know you are but what am I?”

Photograph seen on SodaHead.

This is part of a continuing series that began with a review of an article on deviantART entitled “People who’s [sic] Fractals SUCKED!!!”  The series focuses on responding to criticisms raised by some of the DA fractal art “masters” to the review, and focuses on some specific rebuttals and the manner in which they were made.  For background, please refer to my original review, “Fractals That Suck,” as well on the first follow-up post in the series, “Fractals That Suck Redux — Part One” that addressed the issue of the “fair use” clause in copyright law and its understanding that copyrighted images can be used in the context of a review or critique.


Part Two: Kill the Messenger

Historically, delivering bad news has proved a risky business.  Omnipotent Wikipedia explains why:

In ancient times, messages were delivered in person by a human envoy. Sometimes, as in war, for example, the messenger was sent from the enemy camp. An easily-provoked combatant receiving such an overture could more easily vent anger (or otherwise retaliate) on the deliverer of the unpopular message than on its author, thus literally killing the messenger. In modern usage, the expression still refers to any kind of punishment meted out to the person bringing bad news, but has taken on an ironic dimension as well.

It brought me no joy to be the bearer of bad news about the fractal state of affairs at deviantART.  Still, in almost every case, DA members responded to my critique not by addressing the contentions I’d made, but by attacking me personally, and doing so from a number of fronts.

Front One: My art sucks, so where do I get off passing judgment on anybody else’s art.

Mikahil Borodin, for example, says

Before posting stuff like this, make sure your own art isn’t just a bunch of brushes, third-grade fractals and photoshop filters.

suggesting that because my own work more fittingly belongs in elementary school that I somehow forfeit my right to both have an opinion and to freely express it.

Borodin returns later in the same post to expand his critical assessment of my art

But then again, if I should do a critique of your works, i would say “Generic, eyesoring colours, low quality and messy” I would also add “Looks like something that has been HEAVILY filtered in photoshop.

that, to his credit, does elaborate a bit on the generalities suggested in his first critique. I’ll circle round to address his implied criticism of Photoshop filters later in this series.

Meanwhile, the act of reviewing the reviewer thrives over at DA and arguably marks a milestone: the appearance of actual negative criticism of fractals on FractalbookFiery-Fire, aka Iwona Fido, author of the sucking/rocking DA article(s), says

They [Tim and I?] not really, that perceptive as artists neither, if you have a look at their own gallery [meaning mine, I think, since Tim and I don’t share one] of ‘so called’ fractals – at first glance I felt pity …

but doesn’t supply concrete examples of pitifulness like Borodin does.  And there are other scattered potshots littered among the  DA comment threads.  So, given the barbs, how do I feel about these critiques of my work?  Well…

Well…I’ll have to suck it up, shrug my shoulders, and carry on.  If I can dish it out, I’d better be ready to take it.  Freedom of speech cuts both ways.

Now, do I enjoy having my work trashed?  Of course not.  Who among us truly prefers criticism to praise?  But I’m fairly comfortable in my own skin.  As I writer, I got used to receiving criticism early in life.  Rejection slips are unavoidable and toughened me up.  I just move on to the next image or poem or blog post or whatever.  I trust my instincts and hope my vision is true.  As for criticism, I’ll take it, if I feel it is valid.  If not, I try to let it drop away and not get in the way of creating new work.  As for praise, I’m grateful to receive it, pleased that people like what I did, but I’m sometimes wary of its motive and always aware of its appeal.  Compliments, nice as they can be, should not be allowed to get in the way of creative work either.  One should not need praise to feel a sense of accomplishment or as any kind of a motivator to begin work on a new/next piece.  And, frankly, I think a constant stream of compliments can be counterproductive — especially if praise become addictive, or should the number of compliments make it impossible to pick out friends from flatterers.

Besides, criticism has some benefits.  It can tone up your work.  When creative writing comes back rejected, that’s a good time to look it over, again, with new eyes.  Put it through a few more iterations to improve the concept or composition or other elements. In other words, revise.  Then send out again to the next editor.

The publishing process has the advantage of keeping earlier iterations of not-quite-polished creative writing in the hands of editors and not yet seen by the public.  This allows art to better season.  The disadvantage of Fractalbook is that everything falls instantly into the laps of clique members — who may feel in competition with you or have other ulterior motives.  Worse, there’s never any motivation to rethink or revise any given posted image.  Look at the length of that comment thread.  Listen to all those oohs and aahs and pats on the back.  Every piece arrives fully realized — perfect — just like all the others.  After all, not just anyone can be called a “master?”

Front Two: Name-Calling.

I once wrote an OT post about Fractalbook.  In it, I traced the origins of online art communities and observed:

Fractalbookers think Fractalbook has noble, even highbrow origins. Something like a quilting bee or a debating society. But even more cultured. Like maybe their own personal Louvre where each Fractalbooker can be both artist and patron. Master craftsman and astute critic. Philosopher-king and mountain mystic. Pablo Picasso and Robert Hughes.

But an Art Pantheon is not the blueprint for Fractalbook. It has roots in a much more familiar model.

High School.

But I may have set the social development bar too high. The level of discourse coming out from the DA “masters” is often more in the range of a third-grader (ironically, according to Borodin, the prime audience for appreciating my work).  Consequently, the rhetorical complexity of  most responses rarely rises above a third-grader’s well-known favorite counter-taunt: I know you are but what am I?

After all, if you can’t counter or refute someone’s contentions, just insult them or call them names.  Let’s go to the video tape:.

grinning as ever!, who later calls me a “thief,” says

Just a knit picking bore! I had loads of fun making fractals! So whats it to you..Mr lonely!

although, personally, I do not consider the pervasiveness of conformity at DA, seen in the replication of design and ornamentation of style in at least 70 DA “masters,” to be “knit-picking.”  I’d consider such a situation more like a viral outbreak of abidance.  And I’m sure you had fun making fractals.  I’m sure you enjoyed the praise each received, too.  I just suggested that one of those fractals might not necessarily rise to the level of being art.

And what’s one to make of the following paradox?  Borodin says I am “a complete douche” and then turns around and tells me to “have a nice night.”  I’m getting mixed messages here, so I figure it’s a toss up.  But there’s no mistaking how Georg Kiehne (Xyrus02) feels:

I’ve heard of your writings in the past but no article has disgusted me more than this. Why do you even read postings on deviantART if you hate it that much? Can it be that there is an attention-addict child on the other line craving for stuff it could rape by twisting others words like the medium-class spirals I see all over this place?

Maybe it’s good I can’t quite ferret out the meaning here.  Am I the “attention-addict child?” Or am I raping children?  Or just raping images?  Or maybe raping ideas?  At any rate, I hope this is all just a hyperbolic misfire.  If not, I find it offensive.

And the above is just what a few of the “masters” will say to your face in the home of your own blog.  Back in the lair of the “masters,” within the paper-thin cyber-walls of DA, here’s how IDeviant feels:

As for those wankstains trapped in their own pathetic little orbits, I wouldn’t give them the steam off my fucking piss, let alone the dignity of a reply to their lily-livered vitriol ;)

I want to point out, just for the record, that no one here at Orbit Trap was seeking that particular item in the first place. Even so, the remark does seem more than a little…uncongenial.  You’d think Ms. Fire, who initiated the post, would want to take steps to turn down the heat a bit.  But you’d be wrong.  She replies that

Few people from DA ‘reads’ their blog and they commonly known as obsessive ‘trolls’ or attention whores, who are well known for being nasty and mean.

That should definitely help to put out the torches and put down the pitchforks.  And, now that I’m cognizant of being an attention whore, let me call attention to how she concludes her remarks

Maybe it’s true, guys with ‘flashy-sporty cars’ do make-up for other things they don’t have :lmao: in the traps case is ‘talent’ :rofl:

because it brings me to the next category which is

Front Three: Call in the Shrink

If you can’t refute someone’s argument, but can’t bring yourself to stoop to name-calling, then just play armchair psychiatrist.  Since I disagree with you “masters,” I obviously must be insane, neurotic/psychotic, or somehow psychologically traumatized.  In Ms. Fire’s analogy above, it’s clear that the OT bloggers are mentally scarred by having noxious attributes and a truckload of personality defects.  We “drive” a hotshot blog because (down deep) we know we are hacks as artists.  In other words, we overcompensate for ever-so-obvious moral or physical shortcomings. Well, I think I can see what DA’s Junior Freudians are implying

Yeah :nod:.  Ha :rofl:.  And I bet “Mr. Animal” has a tiny dick, too :lmao: .  Ha Ha ;) :nod:.

which, I guess, is pretty funny — if you’re a third-grader.

Unless, of course, you prefer a much more infant-based, pre-verbal humor like that of grinning as ever! who, as a clinically-based comedian but unskilled typist, conjectures:

gdzsjkvirnsvjxnh kdfojvzx/locji z kiasdfuvhylsa,cjkhzkudrfhzdfvj ghskobx.n

But, make no mistake, there’s no shortage of possible psychiatric profiles.  Another favorite, and one long preferred by OT’s detractors, is the “sour grapes” diagnosis — in which OT’s bloggers are either bitter for not winning BMFAC, or in a rage for not placing in the Fractal Universe Calendar, or are too moody and socially stunted to fit into DA’s social scene and so lash out at their betters, or some other scenario I’d never consider ever wanting in the first place. Here’s a textbook example from rocamiadesign who says

OGM! I just read the blog, critiqueing your articles and then followed your link to the blogger’s “art”. Ewwwwwww! I think that he’s just spewing vitriol because he’s jealous of artists whose work actually sells.

meaning, for those of you keeping score at home, that I’m a loser — both as an artist and as an entrepreneur. Since I now assume rocamiadesign’s work, in contrast to mine, sells, why don’t we take a look at it:

Kitties rack up the buck.

Precious by rocamiadesigns

No!!! She outflanked me with the cute kitty maneuver. And public taste being what it is, and given the prevailing aesthetics of mass culture, I cannot recover.  I yield the field to a superior enterpriser.

Sometimes, two of the “masters,” highly trained headshrinkers, surely with advanced degrees in neuroscience, consult and come to a consensual assessment, as Dr. Borodin reports what he and his distinguished colleague have concluded:

Reading your articles (not that me or Iwona or anyone else wants revenge or anything like that….)we have concluded that you are not writing an review about the fractal community, you are boosting your own pitiful little ego of yours.

You know, Doc, calling me “a complete douche” is not exactly helping my self-esteem issues.  So, I think I’ll get a second opinion.

Other times, for the more gifted wannabe analysts, the psychological insights can rival those of Dr. Phil.  Like Dr.IDeviant, who, putting aside his urinary tract temperature for the moment, offers this extended prognosis without even the benefit of sitting in numerous talking cure sessions with me:

My ‘shrooms! And I just couldn’t resist a little tirade against the OT crew. I suspect a background in weak political activism or some such, the psychology is so obvious and repetitive, like precocious adolescents revelling in their new-found pseudo-intellectualism whilst simultaneously shit-stirring at the fringe of the community they just cannot join due to their own misanthropy. A serious critic would never adopt that tone without first having been personally humiliated at the hands of the target :disbelief:

So I’m a product of my environment, huh.  Too much social concern and education?  That’s my problem?  So I act out by conducting guerilla raids on DA because I’m too much of a misanthropic sourpuss to actually fit in with the other DA kewl kidz as they call each other an artistic “master” and stroke one another’s egos in the hopes of having theirs stroked in return?

I think all those other egos, each calling themselves “a master,” are probably crying out for help more loudly than mine.  And listen, Dr ID.  After you write me up a scrip for Zoloft to mellow out my tone problem, do you think you could help out that guy above who thinks I’m a rapist before he does decide he actually wants some of that revenge Dr. Iwona and Dr. Borodin say does not interest them?  Thanks.  Much appreciated. Now…about the bill…


So, gentle readers, keep obsessively clicking your mouse like a TV remote and join us for our next exciting OT episode of Fractals That Suck Redux entitled: “Text vs Subtext” — plus, for your further enjoyment, a special bonus short called “Who Really Uses Shoddy Tools?”  Until then…


P.S. To be fair, I should add that not every critical response to my post was pitched to a third-grade level.  Comments made by Esin Turkakin and chiaraLinde, for example, were civil, thoughtful, and welcomed — even if I did not always completely agree with all of their points.

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Fractals That Suck Redux — Part One

You bad ol' thwief!!

Bad ol’ weviewer! You fwighten me! You make my widdle heart quiver!

Image by James Cauty.  Seen on Uncertain Times.

Well, I certainly started a buzz with my last post.  I feel like I kicked a beehive after poking the queen bee in the eye with a white-hot branding iron.

I guess that’s what happens when the plastic bubble that encases Fractalbook is punctured and popped.  Here’s a recap.  I stumbled into an article on deviantART called “People who’s [sic] Fractals SUCKED!!!  The compiler, Fiery-Fire, who says she prefers I use her real name, Iwona Fido, and who is (anyone surprised?) a 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest winner, set out to show the difference in the skill level of images made early vs. recently in the “careers” of various DA members that she unironically dubbed fractal “masters or wizards.”  However, I reviewed what turned out to be only the first of three articles in a series (with a fourth surely in the works), and Ms. Fire, in a DA comment, was quick to point out how dull-witted OT was not to have noticed the article some months earlier

Well….it did take them [Orbit Trap] almost 8months to find the article :lmao: So they not the brightest bunch :D

as if Tim and I stay on constant DEFCON 1, 24/7, scouring for the appearance of every new, neuron-strangling back-slap or kiss-up taking place in DA’s Fractal Clique Central.  The discovery of two additional Suck vs. Rock compilations means that my initial count of 21 “masters” was far too modest.  There are actually, according to Ms. Fire, 70 (and counting) fractal art “masters” — which I think is more than the number of artistic masters, in all other disciplines combined, listed in Heinrich Wolfflin’s Principles of Art History.

What I saw in that first article was a microcosm of most of the contemporary fractal scene’s ills — like (and try reading the rest of this paragraph quickly…like a pitchman’s rapid-fire delivery of disclaimers at the end of a TV commercial) valuing becoming proficient with software while noting nearly every “master” favors generating slick, baroque graphics- processing-heavy works preferred by users of either Ultra Fractal or Apophysis that results in a mass conformity certified by the replication of a deluge of self-same variants of fractal works seemingly made more to rack up popularity points in lengthy praise-dense comment threads and to place prominently in the next BMFAC contest rather than engaging in the making of fine art through embracing the spirit of inventive, experimental, individualistic acts of creative self-expression.

To illustrate my premise, I showed a number of images by Ms. Fire’s “masters” that displayed nearly interchangeable spiral formations, although, after seeing the continued ossification of the other previously unseen 49 other “masters,” I now realize I could have just as easily constructed several additional posts displaying previously unused images caught in the act of reduplicating forms other than spirals.  I concluded by noting that the highly buffed, overly fussy later works that supposedly rocked may be well crafted, but it was actually the more minimalistic earlier works that supposedly sucked that might be considered more artistic and often made more salutary use of design elements.

The review caused considerable emotional reflux round the bend at Fractalbook.  Some of the self-proclaimed “masters,”  accustomed to having every post of their work kissed and stroked and wrapped in a warm Snuggie stitched out of flattery, suddenly experienced the cold-water-to-the-face shock of an actual critical review.  In fact, the whole notion of an objective critique appears to be an alien concept to the Fractal Masters of deviantART (FMDA, Inc.).  When they placed their work in a public, online art community, how could they have ever imagined that the public might actually show up to view what they themselves openly displayed?  The only prospect imaginably worse would be if some members of the public might further have the gall to reflect on and then review their public, “masterly” fractal art in a fashion that does not involve gushing out yet another faving rave punctuated with cutesy, animated smilies.

If you haven’t read the review in question, surf back to it first and drink it in — and be sure to slowly sip rather than gulp the comments from the rankled DA “masters.”  I made a point to put up all comments emanating from Fractalbook — even those that were spiteful or juvenile or completely incoherent — because I felt the remarks provided insights into the Fractalbook mindset and environment.

While it would be time-consuming, not to mention time-wasting, to respond to each and every accusation hurled by DA’s “masters,” there are a few charges that get repeated enough to deserve a rebuttal in a series of upcoming OT posts I like to call: Fractals That Suck Redux.


Part One: The Theft of Copyright

I think the subsequent source of DA masterly ire that surprised me most was the repeated charge that I had somehow illegally and unethically “stolen” the images I used for illustration in my review.  It soon became clear to me that quite a few people at DA Fractals-R-Us Headquarters have considerable misconceptions about what can and what cannot be done, especially in the context of a critical review, with images posted online to an open, public site like deviantART.  Let’s go to the videotape…

Here’s a few remarks made on OT to my review:

dlr4553 says:

I wonder if the artists that you have “featured” in this post are aware that you have used their work. I find it hard to imagine that they would condone the use of their work as examples of what you feel is wrong with fractal art or to assist in your agenda to show art sites like deviantArt as a hotbed for mediocre and non-professional fractal art.

and grinning as ever! exclaims:

Ask if you want to use anything of mine in future..thief!

But the less restrained remarks come from the cold core of ground zero — the dark, quasi-alchemical lair of the fractal “masters” themselves — deviantART.  You can usually tell because of the presence of their many familiars that usually take the form of kitschy smilies:

Here’s dlr4553 again, at home:

What is bothering me is the nagging suspicion that he [“Mr. Animal”] did not obtain the permission of the artists whose copyrighted works he chose to “feature” in his post. I find it hard to believe that these artist are aware that their artwork is being used outside of dA to show examples of what this so called critic thinks is wrong with fractal art.

I don’t know if you have let these artists know about this honor he bestowed upon them, but I certainly intend to send them a note to inform them. I know that I would want to be aware of any unauthorized usage of my artwork, especially when it is being cast in a negative light.

LoonyL has this thought:

I’ve read that post on the Orbit Trap blog. :| I should probably leave a comment there (at least for pointing out the unauthorized use of my work) but I’ve decided that I really don’t care.

To which silwenka replies:

I was thinking about it either.. but I am pretty sure this person [“Mr. Animal” again, I’d guess] doesn’t care.

In the end, though, and without a doubt, it is Ms. Fire (writing as Iwona Fido) who frets and struts the most over inappropriate appropriation of images.  Here she is on OT — adding a postscript in a comment post that is considerably longer than my initial review:

Universal rule and courtesy, I hope you obtained the Authors permission to post the thumbnails of their artwork in your article (most Artists on devart, do have copyright protection on their images and that includes blogging, without authorizing the thumbnail of the image, will be posted outside the desired site).

But she really gets her mojo working on this subject after she tracks me down “hiding” in plain sight on my formerly empty DA home page:

Finally – what should I tell my friends, who’s images you posted and names you used in your article – “that I gave you the permission or knew about it” …I don’t think so….

Please DON’T do this again !!!

None of us care for your blog and none us, wishes to be featured by you in any way at any point

When I respond that DA is a public forum, and art that is posted in such places can be critiqued, and that copyright law has clauses allowing for images to be used for review purposes, she rises from her throne, pounds her scepter on the virtual podium, and threatens me with banishment:

I had my images blogged outside without my written permission
and I did ask for them to be deleted – ALL of my artworks are
copyrighted by ME – and you have no say in where and when you
gonna display them.

Read under the deviations you ‘stole’:
©2010 *LoonyL
©2009-2010 `JoelFaber
Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
©2008-2010 ~grinagog
©2009-2010 *milleniumsentry
©2010 =Jimpan1973

Those are not public licenses – they bound by law.

I would not be surprised, if you get banned for it, when the devart moderators find out :nod: Happened before – since the same excuse was used by people copying and reposting images on ‘wallpaper’ site – DA is not a public domain.

Notice, if you will, that she has confused the distinction between a public web site (like deviantART) and the concept of public domain.

So, in response, I posted the following reply to her.  It’s worth including in its entirety here as an open rebuttal to everyone immediately above who thinks I’m engaging in some kind of despicable thievery:

Notice that the license says “some rights reserved” — not all rights. I am not denying the images are copyrighted, nor am I using them in any commercial manner. I’m not stealing them and claiming they are mine, as perhaps the wallpaper site you mention may have done. In fact, in my post, I clearly identify the artists and provide a link to each of their galleries, which, I suspect, likely brings more traffic to DA.

I did not lift all of your article, nor did I put up all of the images used in the article. Even the few images I used were not posted at full size.

Orbit Trap writes reviews of fractal art. I reviewed your article and reproduced selected works of art that appeared in the article. Such action is legal and explicitly spelled out under the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, which allows copyrighted material to be reproduced for the purposes of critiques and reviews.

This is no different than quoting an excerpt from a book when writing a book review. Have you ever watched a movie review program where a clip from a film being reviewed is played? The film is copyrighted, but “fair use” maintains the clip can be used because such use is in the context of a review. What I have done is similar and certainly a common practice among people who write art criticism.

It seems clear why the law makes an exception in cases involving “fair use.” Without the protection of the fair use clause, all artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers could keep anyone from ever reviewing their work — whether the critiques were good or bad. The law recognizes that such an arrangement is not in the public interest.

Of course, you could have looked all of this up yourself, Iwona, instead of immediately jumping to conclusions and accusing me of theft. If the DA mods want to talk with me calmly and rationally about “fair use” and how it pertains to external reviews of art posted on a public site like this one, I would be happy to speak with them.

By the way, for the record, Orbit Trap is the only independent blog currently dedicated to reviews of fractal art. I have, in the past, also favorably reviewed (and linked to) a number of images housed on both DA and Renderosity.


This concludes the first part of “Fractals That Suck Redux.”  But don’t change that blogging dial, gentle readers   I’ll be back quicker than you can say self-similarity with yet another fun-filled episode with limited commercial interruptions and once more starring that wacky family of dysfunctional fractal art “masters and wizards” from your favorite Fractalbook mini-series.

So program your DVR to record Part Two entitled: Kill the Messenger.  Now, to tide you over, here’s a scene from our next exciting episode — in which dizzy dlr4553 quips:

Okay, I read that Orbit “Crap” post and I am just seething :angered:, but not for the obvious reasons.

And to which zany Iwona retorts:

They didn’t notify anybody about anything nor they asked anybody about their image rights, that part upsets me as well :nod: They used ‘copy image location’ and decided DA is a public domain and they allowed to do this :nod:

That’s right, kids.  And it’s all only on (cue reverb-heavy circa Space Angel announcer) OOORRRbit Trappp…


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Fractals That Suck

This fractal artwork allegedly sucks.

We by silwenka

Happy Valentine’s Day.  By the way, as fractal art, this piece, allegedly, sucks.

There’s an oddly fascinating feature currently on display on deviantART called “People Who’s [sic] Fractals SUCKED!”  I’ll let the author, =Fiery-Fire, self-proclaimed “Fractal Gangsta’,” explain the general idea:

In fractal ‘world’ we have a lot of names which are well known, established, the images from those ‘masters’ or ‘wizards’ leave us in awe and amazement. But did you ever wonder, how did they do, when they first opened their fractal program …whatever it was apo or ultra fractal.

So, there’s the basic set-up.  Ms. Fire selects early and recent works by assorted DA fractalists she considers “masters” and posts samples for before/after comparisons.  What’s supposed to be self-evident, I guess, is that the early renderings are unquestionably amateurish, while the more recent postings are irreproachably masterpieces.

Ms. Fire says she wrote the article to “promote a lot of laughter and amusement,” and, indeed, it does, although perhaps not in the manner she intended.  The feature is worth examining because it serves as a vivid, concrete encapsulation for much of what Tim and I have been observing for years about the fractal art scene.

A helpful beginning might be to look at a few comparisons — even as we wonder if “suckiness” is in the eye of the beholder.

The sucky before:

This fractal artwork allegedly sucks.

Purplerain by =Jimpan1973

The masterpiece after:

This fractal artwork is allegedly a masterpiece.

Monster Julia by =Jimpan1973

What’s the main difference between the two images? Can’t see it yet?  Try again:

The sucky before:

This fractal artwork allegedly sucks.

Cosmosis by *milleniumsentry

The masterpiece after:

This fractal artwork is allegedly a masterpiece.

Smile by *milleniumsentry

Personally, I don’t much care for most of the featured art work Ms. Fire has chosen.  Nevertheless, there does seem to be qualitative differences between the early fractals that supposedly suck and later fractals that supposedly rock.  In nearly every instance, the later “masterpieces” are more slick, more busy, and much more decorative.  In fact, nearly every available space within each later frame is filled (padded?) with eye-popping ornamentation.  The earlier images, by contrast, are rawer, make better use of absence, and sometimes seem better composed — probably just because they are not crammed to the threshold of overspill with visual information.  Consequently, although the later images are better crafted and surely more technically proficient, the earlier images seem to better utilize artistic principles and design elements.

In short, these “wizards” might be going backward.  One could argue that the more the “masters” master their software and polish their craft, the less successful they are in their attempts to be artists.

What happens when priorities are out of whack?  Like when emphasis is placed on “mastering one’s tools,” as Keith Mackay likes to say, rather than on producing fine art?   Isn’t it evident?  As long as what can be done with software is prized over what fine art can be made, the trend shown above will continue.  Fractalbook, truth be told, institutionalizes such thinking with its “challenges” to adjust existing images and par file tweaking games popular on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List and elsewhere.  The priority is to see what the software can do — not what individuals can create as artists.  As long as this is the ruling aesthetic in our community, our “masters” may eventually conquer craft but will rarely produce fine art.

As long as one thinks of tools as toys, one’s work will remain more childishly playful rather than masterfully artistic.  I suppose only in the realm of Fractalbook can some of these featured “artists,” like LoonyL, rise from being a totally sucking noob to an accomplished grandmaster in just a little over two years.


Worse, the “art” being produced, especially in Fractalbook, nearly always must conform to an overriding, popular rubric of what constitutes fine fractal art in order to receive the longest choral threads of instantaneous praise.  Surfing through DA’s fractal gallery is like taking a trip out to some suburban fractal ticky-tacky.  Look at the less-than-subtle similarities in some of Ms. Fire’s chosen masterworks:

A masterpiece...

Overflow by JoelFaber

Another masterpiece...

mind reading by *LoonyL

Yet another masterpiece...

Starry Circuit by ~depaz

And still another masterpiece

the red dragon by ~grinagog

Clearly, a certain look is necessary in order to be proclaimed a “master” in the DA fractal community.  The images above are so, forgive the pun, self-similar and spiral-grounded that I wondered if the Fractal Universe Calendar had been resuscitated.  It’s no surprise that some people feel let down and experience cognitive dissonance when perusing Fractalbook.  This is what is considered the best we have to offer?  And the more it is held up to be so, the more the fractal assembly lines will crank out similar replications.  After all, who wants to run the risk of their praise-packed comment thread shrinking by living up to the site’s name and actually “deviating” from the agreed-upon by-popular-demand template for fractal wizardry and excellence?

It’s a hopeful sign, I suppose, that an occasional, lone voice questions the worth of Fractalbook’s ruling hierarchy. Case in point?  This astute comment from *Aspartam:

I dont get the point at all…Some nice fractals in both categories “before” and “after”. The one thing I see is a tendency to be less mainstream ( less overdone, with more use of space and not so many spirals) in the before category. Is it a way to point out a growing conformity in fractal making?

It certainly looks like a cancerous conformity to me, but Ms. Fire disagrees:

[S]ome of the first fractals are unique …I wouldn’t call them masterpieces not due to shape, but a basic lack of skill of the owner at the time of creation, and yes making the fractals more proper….isn’t main stream, it really requires full understanding of what each variation is doing.

There’s a manifesto to rally around:  Make your art more proper! Exploration has no place in creative acts.  Stifle such impropriety.  And don’t feel bad about grazing with the herd.  You aren’t going mainstream.  You’re just honing your craft and overcoming a “basic lack of skill.”  That way, you’ll avoid the stink of serendipity and never have any cumbersome accidents while making algorithmic art — which, as we all know, is grounded in absolutes and demands precise programming and complete technical comprehension.

PicassoMatisseGauguinMiroBasquiatSerranoOfili.  How much more famous would they all have been — if only — they’d made their art — more — proper?

As long as our community embraces prevailing mindsets like

–only programs like UF and Apo can help one become a “master”
–only decorative, spirally, layer-laden eyecandy — like that found in BMFAC exhibitions, the defunct FUC, and this DA collection of “masterpieces” — is “proper” enough to count as legitimate, worthwhile fractal art
–mastering the capabilities of fractal software is equivalent to creative acts of self-expression
–placing work in insular and isolated Fractalbook hidey-holes where social expectations define success based on behavior patterns of false flattery and mass conformity to limited artistic models is comparable to a stratagem of placing work in fairs, galleries, museums, and non-community web sites to be openly seen and widely reviewed

then the general fine arts world will continue to see fractal art and artists as, at best, non-professional — and, at worst, as completely mediocre.


Perhaps the last word on this whole fractal sucking matter can be found in the signature line from this comment from Jimpan1973:

Awsome news article!

Real friends are those you can fart with!

Yes, if nothing else, there seems to be plenty of that going on here.


Note: Edited to correct a misspelling and to add missing italics.

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Fractal Fields of Lightning

Lightning Fields 128

Lightning Fields 128 by Hiroshi Sugimoto

I learned to capture the lightning shock…
Roger McGuinn, “Lover of the Bayou”

The fractal properties of lightning have long been evident in dramatic photographs of self-similar jagged bolts caught in a split-second of illumination.  But few have pursued lightning so deeply “to its hiding place,” as Victor Frankenstein once put it, than Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Armed with a camera, a metal table, and hundreds of thousands of volts, Sugimoto freeze-frames the fractal zing of electrical charges in his “Lightning Fields” series.

Lightning Fields 138

Wired outlines Sugimoto’s process:

He wields a Van de Graaff generator to send up to 400,000 volts through film to a metal table. The resulting fractal branching, subtle feathering, and furry whorls call to mind vascular systems, geologic features, and trees. “I see the spark of life itself, the lightning that struck the primordial ooze,” Sugimoto says.

Lightning Fields 147

Lightning Fields 147

In describing his work, Sugimoto reminds us of of the historical connectedness between scientific experimentation with electricity and photography:

In 1831, Michael Faraday’s formulation of the law of electromagnetic induction led to the invention of electric generators and transformers, which dramatically changed the quality of human life. Far less well-known is that Faraday’s colleague, William Fox Talbot, was the father of calotype photography. Fox Talbot’s momentous discovery of the photosensitive properties of silver alloys led to the development of positive-negative photographic imaging. The idea of observing the effects of electrical discharges on photographic dry plates reflects my desire to re-create the major discoveries of these scientific pioneers in the darkroom and verify them with my own eyes.

Lightning Fields 119

Lightning Fields 119

The romantic notion of suffering for one’s art appears to literally be true in Sugimoto’s case.  ArtInfo reports that Sugimoto’s creative process can be, well, shocking at times:

The practice is not without its risks (the generator is ominously labeled “Danger High Voltage”). When I ask if he’s ever electrocuted himself, Sugimoto chuckles. “Quite often. Sometimes the spark comes to my belly. It hurts. It’s hard to describe — it’s just shock, it’s like cutting yourself, twisting.”


Self-Portrait by Hiroshi Sugimoto

Genevieve Quick, writing in Shotgun Review, sums up Sugimoto’s achievement as follows:

By essentially establishing a micro-environment in the dark room akin to the conditions of an electrical storm, Sugimoto creates lush large-scale black and white prints that resemble botanical and biological images, landscapes, high-power microscopic magnifications, and lightning itself. This richly layered process creates works that, in the tradition of Talbot before him, elegantly blur the boundary between science and photography.

The fractal properties evident in Sugimoto’s work are simply stunning.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear these images were rendered in a program like Tierazon.


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Selected Shorts

Casual Friday?

[Photograph seen on Manshion.]

Here are some selected shorts. Apparently, I have no grand vision to impart to start the New Year.


Orbit Trap has published several recent posts exploring the nature of fractal art, and Tim explicated an image by Guido Cavalcante and analyzed its artistic expression.  In response, several commenters wondered why we haven’t provided more examples of work we consider to be fractal art rather than fractal craft.

But a quick trip through OT’s archives will show many positive reviews.  I think it’s safe to assume that if we complimented someone’s work, then we probably felt that work was an example of fractal art we admired.  Here is a short list of fractal artists whose work we have praised in the years we’ve been blogging:

Morgen Bell, Tamrof Boynton, Guido Cavalcante, Jock Cooper, Paul DeCelle, Manas Dichow, Stephen Ferguson, Terry W. Gintz, Earl L. Hinrichs, Rich Jarzombek, Simon Kane, Maria K. Lemming, Jos Leys, Elizabeth Mansco, Kerry Mitchell, Samuel Monnier, Philip Northover, O, Stacy Reed, Jürgen Schwietering, Bryan A. Smith, Fernanda Steele, Mark Townsend, Harmen Wiersma, and Dan Wills.

As I say, this is an incomplete list, and OT’s archives contain more examples.  So, I wish our adversaries, like Ken Childress, who persists on whining that we are whiners who mostly wallow in negativity, would finish their reading before beginning their writing.


Last year, I said my favorite fractal art image of 2008 was one of Paul DeCelle‘s UF renditions of Lars-Gunnar Nordström.

I think my favorite image of 2009 was this one:

The Google Search Engine by Garth Thornton

The Google Search Engine by Garth Thornton

Orbit Trap also named Thornton our “Man of the Year” for the moral courage he showed over his resignation as a judge from the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.  Unlike two other fractal software authors, Thornton understood serving as a judge would create an inherent conflict of interest.


The Ultra Fractal Mailing List was offline for over two weeks at the end of 2009. Naturally, given his customary penchant for secrecy, there was no explanation for the outage from the list manager. No one on the list had the temerity to ask why everything went dark; instead, once service returned, users blithely exchanged New Year’s greetings as if nothing had ever happened.  I suppose one analogy would be to the power company.  When the juice cuts out, you just sit tight semi-patiently for the lights to come back on.  Either that, or UF List participants have read their Old Testament and know that questioning their provider-god tends to just annoy him and make him more prone to vengeance.


Ice Cream from Neptune

Ice Cream from Neptune by Daniel White

The latest “it” sensation in Fractaldom seems to be the 3-D Mandelbulb.  Like the Buddhabrot craze of a few years back, the 3-D Mandelbulb doesn’t much excite me as it maybe should — probably because I’m more interested in processing fractal images than I am in rendering them.  Still, it’s clear that many of the images of the Mandelbulb’s extrusion of the classic Mandelbrot set are impressive — especially these seen at Skytopia.

For more information about the 3-D Mandelbulb, check out this discussion area of Fractal Forums.


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On Making Prints

Framed Print of To the Joust

A framed print of To the Joust.  My cat studies its intricacies for hours.

I’d like to talk about my experience with making prints.  Let me begin by making clear that I’m not claiming to be any kind of expert in this area.  There are plenty of professionals who know more about the ins and outs of printmaking than I.  So, to show good faith, I’ll provide some links to a few more learned people at the end of this post.  My purpose in writing about making prints is simply to give an account of my own experience — and to try explaining why the decision to make prints has re-shaped the way that I see and create art.

What first set my dials to printmaking?  Thinking about presentation methods was the initial baby step — and then beginning to explore various ways in which fractal/digital art could be showcased.  All artists (with a capital A) have multiple means of presentation.  A musician’s song can be recorded, played live, played “unplugged,” be utilized as background music in a film, be transformed into a visual narrative using video, and so on.  Likewise, a poem has similar possibilities for being displayed — read privately, read aloud, performed, slammed, audio recorded, video recorded, inserted into multi-media, and so forth.

Fractal/digital art is no different.  Such art can be viewed on a  home monitor, be uploaded to a Fractalbook repository to take its place amidst the socializing and tabulating, be printed (on either paper or canvas) and hung in a home-business-museum, be displayed digitally on a hi-def, large-screen state-of-the-art television, be printed in a book, shared as a par file, reduced to a navigational thumbnail, and — as we’ve seen from past OT posts about Phase Two thinking — be sculpted or painted or blown or constructed or imprinted on t-shirts, mugs, balloons, frisbees, and thongs.  The paradigm shift for me occurred when I made a conscious decision to present my work offline as well as online.

The first thing I vowed to do was to take presentation seriously — as seriously as I do my own art.  I began to research and quickly discovered that to make decent prints I’d have to render images at much larger sizes — and so I did.  I found it was not too difficult to render fractals at larger sizes, at least in the fractal software I use, but the extensive post-processing I commonly do could be a problem.  I began to experiment pushing the size constraints of my “studio” to discover the comfort boundaries of the computer I use to make art.  Each time I can afford to build a new machine, I try to make sure it packs affordable maximum firepower to enable me to work larger and faster.  I first stepped up to images sized at 1800 x 1200 pixels, and now I can work and post-process at the notorious BMFAC-required sizes of 8000 x 8000.

But not quickly.  Everything slows down considerably once you go large.  Render times drag.  Working in graphic programs like Photoshop take patience and medication/meditation when effects and adjustments slow to a snail’s crawl.  One side effect, although not necessarily a bad one, is that the time lag corresponds to less output.  I probably (mercifully?) now produce 1/4th the amount of work than I did in the same time frame when I first discovered fractals.  Although I hope I’m more discerning about the work I now make public, it’s also true that it takes me substantially longer to finish individual pieces.

There is another side effect.  My canvas is now six to eight times larger than it used to be — and, consequently, I’ve become much more particular about how that space is filled.  Artistic concerns — like texture, balance, highlights, dominance, unity, overall composition, and (especially) perspective — become more integral (and more time-consuming) in the process of shaping and finishing a given work.  In fact, in previous OT posts I’ve described the effect of increasing the digital canvas as a significant mental shift moving from perceiving work in “monitor mode” to perceiving work in “wall mode.”  In other words, all through the composing process, I envision a work displayed large (wall mode) rather than small (monitor mode).

Once I made the conversion to wall mode, I then began searching for a professional Printer (I’m using the capital “P” to designate a person and not a machine).  Finding a good one turned out to be a difficult, hit-and-miss journey.  I’ve had no experience with places like Zazzle or the printing services provided on some Fractalbook sites like deviantART, but my experiences with online printing sites were frustrating.  The prints just looked funky — colors appeared over- or under-saturated, depth seemed washed out, and one image even came back exploded and reassembled as a neo-cubist collage.  Even several local print shops could not reproduce images to my satisfaction, although the turnaround time improved.

Finally, one afternoon, I saw a series of prints of nature photographs in a local museum.  The prints were breathtaking — exhibiting a clear sense of depth and a stunning clarity.  I called the artist for information, and he told me that he did the prints himself, and that he ran a print shop as a commercial venture.  I asked if he’d work with me, and he agreed — mostly, I think, because he’d previously worked exclusively with photographers, and he wanted to get some hands-on experience printing original, “pure” (his term) digital art.

I believe having a proficient, trusted Printer — one with an artistic eye — can make a noticeable difference in the quality of prints.  My Printer is exacting and takes pride in his work — making small test prints to see if color and resolution look right, or trying trial runs on various grades of paper to better obtain an ideal reproduction.  Again, taking your printing endeavor seriously is non-negotiable.  I insist on using the highest quality, archival inks and papers to try to produce professional Giclée (ink-jet) fine art prints. I was fortunate to find a Printer who is also an artist — and one capable of skillfully pulling off the sizable magic trick of bringing a digital image into the physical world.

You also have a decision to make at this point.  Should you use paper or canvas for a background?  In general, paper is the preferred choice for making archival, museum-quality, Giclée fine art prints.  Paper prints are de rigour for galleries and collectors, but they also come with their own set of problems.  They are delicate and can be easily damaged.  Smudging and sun-fading can occur, and liquids are their mortal enemy. So, paper prints must be matted and framed under glass to keep them safe — and, depending on the size of the print, the glass and frame can quickly become quite heavy.

Your other option is to print on canvas — although such prints seem to be less desirable for collectors and regarded by museums to be near-gauche.  Canvas prints, not surprisingly, are much more like a painting and are even stretched and mounted on a wooden frame — which means even large canvas prints are considerably lighter than small glass-enclosed paper prints.  Canvas prints, especially if covered with a protective lacquer, are certainly much more durable.  To my eyes, canvas prints tend to flatten out an image and degrade texture, but they retain more color richness and hue.  Paper prints, on the other hand, tend to lose bright colors a bit, or start to develop watercolor-like traits if the paper isn’t well suited, but they preserve both texture and depth far better.  In a good paper Giclée, textured forms can become visibly embossed and take on distinctive 3-D qualities.

So, now you’ve worked large and made your print — what next?  Admit, as a digital artist, you are working with a generally agreed upon disadvantage.  You have no original — no concrete, tangible masterwork — no unique physical object, like a painting or sculpture, that can be shown or sold.  A painter, too,  can make high-quality fine art prints — but she or he also possesses the original painting — the mold from which copies, even Giclée prints, can be made.  Naturally, as a fractal/digital artist, you also have a master, as does, say, a digital photographer.  But such masters cannot function in the same ways as do paintings or sculptures.  (Or can they?  More on that later.)  Therefore, facing such an inherent shortcoming, how can you try to insure that your prints will have value?

You limit the number you make.  From what I can tell, practices on limited-edition prints vary widely.  You’ll have to decide what idiosyncratic approach and commercial specifics best serve your needs.  What I eventually settled on doing was limiting each image of mine to a Variant Edition (V.E.) of 25 prints of any type or size.  That means only 25 prints — large or small, canvas or paper — will be made of any given image.  Once the 25th print of an image is made, I ask my Printer to delete the “master” file of that image from his computer.  I also allow making up to 2 “artist’s proofs” per image — that is, running off a small number of prints for the artist’s use that are set aside from the edition prints.  Artist’s proofs, because they are more scarce, tend to be more valuable.

To further insure the legitimacy of the print edition, I sign, number, and date each print — and, of course, keep records of the printing history of each image.  I also provide a “certificate of authenticity” to be included with each print.  These are made using my production company stationary and include background information on the print — title, year it was made, edition number, Printer info, Framer info (if applicable), ink and paper stock information, caring for the print notes, process/composition notes, and background notes (when appropriate).  Some artists go further and take the step of having their print certificates notarized to further bolster authenticity.  I even saw one artist display and discuss his prints while wearing white gloves.  That might seem like overkill, but the gloves made an impression that stuck with me.  It was obvious he considered his work to be valuable and acted accordingly.  I stress again, there’s no point in undertaking making prints unless you do so in a professional and earnest manner.

I have a challenge for you.  Work on an image you want to print.  From the start, make it larger than you usually would.  Reflect carefully about texture.  And perspective — squint at the image with your nose to the monitor, then stand across the room and see how it looks in complete darkness.  Take your time until you are satisfied with every detail.  You aren’t making this image for a desktop background.  You aren’t making this image to upload to a social networking site.  You’re making this image for a physical space in your home.  When it’s done, print it.  Print it — seriously.

Seriously — as in not at home on your PC’s HP deskjet or whatever.  No, take it to a shop.  Print it at a larger size than your home printer can handle.  Choose paper carefully.  Use archival materials, if available.  Title, date, and sign your print using a graphite pencil.  In fact, make it an “artist’s proof” (it is, after all, isn’t it?).  Then, frame it — seriously.  At a minimum, buy a frame set that includes glass and a functional matte.  Better yet, have your print professionally framed.  Carefully choose the frame and style and color of matte.  Take your matted and framed print home.  Find a suitable space.  Hang it.  Let it be.

For at least a month or two.  And see what happens.  See if you don’t develop a different relationship with your image — or come too see it in a new way.  Does it fill space in a manner unlike viewing it on your monitor?  Do the other surroundings in the room help determine its effect or shape its meaning?  Do guests or family members react to it?  Take my challenge and see if changing the way your work is presented changes the way it is perceived — by you and by others.

Making prints has certainly changed my own perceptions — both of my work and my process.  As I said earlier, I am only relating my own experience of making prints — but I hope you can tell it’s been exciting and pleasurable.  I have many prints nestled in around my home, and I have also been fortunate to place some into shows, as well as to sell some.  But, again, I’m not claiming any high level of expertise.  So, if you’d like to know more about prints and printmaking, you might want to check out these knowledgeable folks:

Here’s an interesting conversation from MOCA on “Printmaking: Traditions and New Trends” between Professors John Antoine Labadie and Ralph Lee Steeds of the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Thinking of doing your own professional printing?  Also from MOCA, you might consider following the example of J.D. Jarvis and his account of printmaking in his three-part essay entitled “From the Box Up: Life with a New Printer.”

About.com has articles defining Giclée prints, explaining how they are made, and advice on how to sell art prints.

Wikipedia on Giclée prints.  Authoritative as written by who knows who can be.

There are, of course, numerous books you can buy on this general subject — like Mastering Digital Printing by Harald Johnson and (for those with Phase Two leanings) Digital Art Studio: Techniques for Combining Inkjet Printing with Traditional Art Materials by Karin Schminke et. al.


And, yes, I know what some of you are thinking.  I can hear you clearly across the vastness of cyberspace.  Fractal art is a digital medium.  It’s an art of light and code.  It is best presented and viewed digitally.  If it’s not, so much is lost.  Colors dry up.  Depth is scuttled.  Distinctive elements, like lighting features, evaporate when placed outside a digital environment.  Moreover, there’s no quarter given on this point of view.  Intrinsically, it’s a disservice not to display and view fractal art in a digital milieu.

Well, I agree.  Digital art does become something else removed from digital space and reconstituted in physical space.  But, remember, I’m not advocating one presentational method is preferable to another.  I’m only pointing out that there are various avenues from which to present one’s work.  Each has advantages and disadvantages.  Frankly, I think the future looks promising for digital purists.  That’s probably because I had another eye-opening experience recently.  I took the master copy of one of my images, burned it to a DVD, and carted it over to a friend’s house in order to view it on a high-def, 65 inch, flat screen TV.  And, yes, its pixels jumped and buzzed in a visceral way that no print I’ve ever made could match.

So, don’t lose hope, digital true believers.  The days of Total Recall, wall-sized, high-definition, digital screens or “frames” are not science fiction.  I think museums and collectors will soon have to come to terms with the imperative of sometimes presenting digital/fractal art in digital space.  They’ll feel compelled to invest in high-end screens and to meticulously set the ambiance for an optimal viewing experience.

I only have one caveat for digital experience enthusiasts.  Be consistently serious.  Treat each image of yours as an individual work — a work deserving its own screen/frame.  If you’re thinking of just sticking a flash memory card into a digital frame and rotating through 1000 of your images with overly busy wipes and squiggle special effects, you’ve already cheapened yourself as an artist by settling for a screensaver on steroids.  Worse, by suggesting that your work is obviously disposable and replaceable — a Fractalbook mindset that implies today’s mass-produced “masterpiece” is as awesome as yesterday’s — you lost the war being fought to present your work as fine art.  In the end, after your many labors and tears, doesn’t your vision deserve better than a hokey digital billboard?


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Beauty Is Not Enough

La Pietà (1499) by Michelangelo

Michelango’s statue is beautiful and well-crafted.  But it is also a widely recognized example of representational art. It can also be interpreted as meaningful.  Even Wikipedia gets it:

The Madonna is represented as being very young, and about this peculiarity there are different interpretations. One is that her youth symbolizes her incorruptible purity, as Michelangelo himself said to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi:

Do you not know that chaste women stay fresh much more than those who are not chaste? How much more in the case of the Virgin, who had never experienced the least lascivious desire that might change her body?

Another explanation suggests that Michelangelo’s treatment of the subject was influenced by his passion for Dante’s Divina Commedia: so well-acquainted was he with the work that when he went to Bologna he paid for hospitality by reciting verses from it. In Paradiso (cantica 33 of the poem) Saint Bernard, in a prayer for the Virgin Mary, says “Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio” (Virgin mother, daughter of your son). This is said because, being that Christ is one of the three figures of Trinity, Mary would be his daughter, but it is also she who bore him.

A third interpretation is that suggested by Condivi shortly after the passage quoted above: simply that “such freshness and flower of youth, besides being maintained in by natural means, were assisted by act of God”.

Yet another exposition posits that the viewer is actually looking at an image of Mary holding the baby Jesus. Mary’s youthful appearance and apparently serene facial expression, coupled with the position of the arms could suggest that she is seeing her child, while the viewer is seeing an image of the future.

Finally, one modern interpretation suggests that the smaller size of Christ helps to illustrate his feebleness while in his state of death; no longer living, he now appears small in his mother’s arms.

Charlene (1954) by Robert Rauschenberg

Rauschenberg’s mixed-media work is beautiful and well-crafted.  But it is also a widely recognized example of nonrepresentational art.  It can also be interpreted as meaningful.  Dorthea Rockburne and Nan Rosenthal explain why:

Rauschenberg reinvented collage, changing it from a medium that presses quotidian materials into serving illusion to something very different: a process that undermines illusion and the idea that a work of art has a unitary meaning.


An overly scrupulous group of de Kooning followers had allowed Abstract Expressionism to become uninventive and Phillip Pearlstein and Alex Katz hadn’t yet succeeded in reinvigorating representation. Then along came Bob and, making it look easy, started assembling the things he saw around him, one next to another, always including aspects of nature, and setting it all off with a whole new approach to painting. Everyone in those days was talking about movement and color, a lot of very formal considerations. Rauschenberg took a striated, colored umbrella, attached a motor to turn it, stuck it in a collaged mass of paint, wood and photographs and called it “Charlene” (1954). That was what he had to say about color theory and formal art making.


A dream catcher made by Healings of Atlantis

The dream catcher above is beautiful and well crafted.  But it is not an example of art.  Although it is decorative, it is not particularly meaningful.  To become a work of art, the dream catcher would have to do more than just catch dreams.  It would have to put some dreams into our heads and our hearts.


I believe that algorithmic art must now engage in activities that have been “not appropriate” for the medium until now, during those times when it was still trying to find its own aesthetic. But now algorithimic art is finally ready to serve “non-artistic” purposes. It’s not a problem, of course, if some prefer to continue on creating purely aesthetic and visually intriguing objects. There is nothing wrong in doing that, although doing so does not constitute the same “heroic” accomplishment that it once did when algorithimic artists were struggling to break away, and give birth to a new medium.
–Guido Cavalcante, Orbit Trap

I was surprised to read on OT’s comments that I don’t think art can be beautiful.  I don’t recall ever saying such a thing, nor do I hold that belief.  Art can unquestionably be beautiful, as I illustrated above.  In fact, it was the beauty of fractals that first (strangely?) attracted me to them as a potential source for artistic expression.  I remembered how thrilled I was to discover algorithms could be employed to create visual forms illustrating concepts like harmony, balance, and order.  The resplendent forms that unexpectedly pop up in fractal generators can still take my breath away.

But I agree with Guido, and I agreed back on one of Orbit Trap’s first posts in 2006 when he found the words to give shape to what I had been thinking for some time. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to create and value visually pleasant works — unless it matters to you that our discipline move out of the craft fairs and into the museums.  The prevailing aesthetic in our community is beauty, and nearly all fractal images currently made do not transcend to much more than decoration and ornamentation.  Fractal art will never become a widely accepted fine art until more of us start making works of artistic expression and stop pretending that aesthetically pleasing works, however well crafted, rise to the level of art.

There’s also nothing wrong with creating beautiful images — and doing that well is a considerable achievement.  And I think it’s generally a good idea that artists learn as much as they can about their tools in order to practice and refine technique.  But if you’re merely honing your Ultra Fractal skills to produce a more technically accomplished, a more shiny and burnished spiral, then you may be perfecting your craft, but you’re no more close to making art than you were on the first day you ever used the program.

The problem in our community is that most of us seem to feel that making visually pleasing work is still “heroic” and get defensive when some people, like Orbit Trap, find such a state of affairs to be questionable — even destructive.  One reason I am “obsessed” with the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest is that it is a mirror of the state of our discipline.  It has a stated objective of presenting to the world the very best in contemporary fractal art, but it actually showcases highly crafted work that is visually striking but little else.  With several exceptions that I noted in my initial review of the 2009 BMFAC, nearly none of the winning images suggest any meaning beyond themselves.  They say nothing to me about my life — or about life in general.  They provoke no thought.  They raise no ideas.  They stir no emotions.  They put no dreams in my head or my heart.

Now visit any of those thriving “art” communities OT calls Fractalbook, open up the fractal “art” gallery, apply the standards I used in the last paragraph, and honestly tell me what you see.  Are you deeply moved — or are you let down?  Do you feel like you’ve seen much the same work many times before?  Do you get more satisfaction from watching a good movie or listening to good music — you know, interacting with art — than you do from viewing what’s come off today’s fractal assembly line?  And, as you peruse every lengthy comment thread — filled with raves for one masterpiece after another — do you feel a kind of cognitive dissonance and disconnect? Do the universally acclaimed masterworks, even if technically proficient and magnificently crafted, leave you feeling empty?

Welcome to OT’s world.  That sense of feeling cheated by what the crowd perceives as worthy of acclimation is why we feel our community needs to develop Phase Two thinking.  The craft mindset has to be seen for what it is.  The worship and privileging of any particular software and its programmers and its advocates should be shown the door. The status quo is not “heroic”; it is, in fact, keeping us from leaping to artistic expression — from evolving into multiple mediums and developing much greater variety of individual creative styles.  We should start insisting that art be showcased in our fractal art competitions and begin pushing our own work beyond cosmetics and aesthetic enhancements.  If fractal art is art, then we should act accordingly and immediately fire up works that are provocative, disturbing, intriguing, challenging — works that are socially and culturally aware.  We need to look up from the Narcissus pool of our own eyecandy.  Don’t you have something to say about the worlds out there — whether inner, outer, or cyber?

You know I’m right on some basic level.  Although I don’t buy into the stereotype that beautiful people are somehow intrinsically vapid, we do like to point out that “beauty is only skin-deep.”   I think most of you would agree that making an assessment on just the attractiveness of others is a shallow method for measuring anyone’s true worth.

So we do why operate in just such a manner when assessing fractal images?  I don’t know about you, but I want my beautiful fractal images to also have a brain — a brain that is interesting and expressive — a brain that sees connections beyond the confines of its body, frame, program, par files, monitor, mentor, mathematics, craftsmanship, and, yes, even its own gorgeousness.

Guido got it right.  Beauty is not enough — especially if we want to become legitimate, credible artists. Do you want to do something truly heroic?  Make your fractals make art.


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More Phase Two Thinking about Fractal Art

Art and photgraph by adak'76.

Art and photograph by adak’76

Repeat viewings of the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest winners consistently leave a bitter aftertaste.

I’m convinced, especially after reading Tim’s latest OT series on the distinctions between art and craft, that very little of what BMFAC will exhibit next year merits being called art.  The winning works are, at best, well-crafted craft — decorative, ornamental, and technically accomplished eyecandy.  With perhaps one or two exceptions, none of winning images fulfills any non-motivated function of art — like mysterious experience, imaginative expression, universal communication, or symbolic function.  The winning images also come up short in meeting motivated functions like social inquiry (as Guido Cavalcante’s recently discussed image does), psychological purposes, contemplating thought, elucidating concepts, or provoking ideas.  I’d even settle for lesser pursuits like demonstrating open propaganda.  No, for the most part, only one criteria apparently is necessary to be a BMFAC winner: beauty.  The winning images are, without fail, pretty pictures.

One recent commenter, Esin Turkakin, responding to Tim’s last post, seemed to confuse craft with medium — as if the two things were one and the same. She went on to say:

If you only judge images by their artistic value as you seem to do, medium becomes completely irrelevant – we can’t talk about “fractal art”. It’s merely defined by its message and expression, independent of the medium used.

This is nonsense.  Would you make the same claim about sculpture, ceramics, or photography?  If we judge photographs by their artistic value, can we no longer talk about photographic art?  Absolutely not. Actually, what we should no longer assume is that fractal images that are merely well crafted automatically rise to the level of art.  This is the modus operandi of BMFAC, the late Fractal Universe Calendar contest, every Fractalbook high schoolish it’s-another-masterpiece mutual admiration society comment thread, and (sometimes it seems like) the whole fractal “art” community.

But if you’re going to use the term fractal art, then I sincerely hope you’re judging such work by its artistic value.  Maybe if BMFAC was a little more “independent of the medium used,” we wouldn’t have nearly every winner using the very same “mediums” (UF and Apo) — that is, fractal generators coincidentally designed by two of the contest’s judges.

Art should always be the primary concern for critical judgment.  Otherwise, let’s start talking about fractal craft instead and just spend our time swooning over studying the intricacies of par files — which, by the way, is the preferred entertainment of the UF Mailing List.  Art remains art across mediums — whether the format be painting, sculpture, music, poetry, fibers, film, criticism, or computer-generated work.  Art certainly can be well-crafted — but just as emphatically does not have to be.  Is Duchamp’s urinal “well-crafted”?  The question is irrelevant, even absurd.  What matters is expression.

And that’s the limitation of craft.  It doesn’t express anything.  It just lies there and looks good.


Another commenter, Nada Kringels, makes the following observation as to whether Tim’s contention in his last post that an image by Guido Cavalcante rises to the level of art:

I do respect Guido’s passion and engagement, but hadn’t I been told what the image was all about I wouldn’t have seen it by itself. I had to read the whole horror to interpret something as garbage which I had seen as an unhappy color combination before. An instrument has to be practised, studied and played a lot before, MAYBE, it has this direct magic.

Using Kringels’ logic, here is an extrapolation of what she’d probably say about Picasso:

While I admire Pablo’s “passion and engagement,” looking at “Guernica” I saw just a bunch of “unhappy color combinations,” and I “had to read the whole horror” to interpret it as something like firebombing.  If only Pablo had taken Janet Parke’s VAA course, then he could have “practiced his instrument,” meaning Ultra Fractal naturally, and better honed his craft to produce more “direct magic.”

Did I mention that both Turkakin and Kringels are recent 2009 BMFAC winners?  Check the links on their names above and you can determine whether their soon-to-be-exhibited entries are well crafted.  But do either rise to the “direct magic” of being art?  If not, then can they be said to live up to BMFAC’s billing of presenting “the most important fractal artists in the world“?    And maybe because OT asks such questions is why both Turkakin and Kringels keep showing up here to argue that, at least when it comes to fractal art, distinctions between art and craft are arbitrary and/or meaningless.


The question of artistic mediums raises another problem I have with BMFAC.  It is far too limited in its vision of what fractal art is and can be.  To me, fractal art is precisely what it says: art with fractals.  BMFAC believes fractal art is art (well, craft actually, but let’s not get caught in a recursive loop) with programs — and, really, after examining what won, pretty much only Ultra Fractal and Apophysis — whose authors, if you don’t mind my pointing out the same feedback cringle once again, conveniently served as BMFAC judges during the last go around (talk about getting caught in a recursive loop).

Previously on OT, Tim outlined the necessity for fractal art to iterate into Phase Two, and I gave examples of what a Phase Two exhibition of fractal art might look like.  So let’s talk mediums today, or, more specifically, avenues for expressing fractal art that are not heavily dependent on software.

Photograph and art by adak'76

Photograph and art by adak’76

When I first saw the image above, I thought it was a digital/fractal image that had been post-processed with Photoshop filters like Flaming Pear’s Lacquer.  But this is a photograph, and a horizon can clearly be seen near the top of the picture.  Whatever this is, it’s big.

Exploring adak’76’s other galleries on Picasa provides some clues.  This shot, in particular, suggests the artist is proficient in metalworking and constructs his artistic installations on a grand scale.  The reflections of light on the photographs of fractal forms above suggest these pieces could be the size of a small bedroom floor and are likely highly varnished.

This fractal artist seems like a perfect fit for BMFAC.  After all, his installations far exceed even BMFAC’s massive file restrictions.

Fractal 23 by Takeshi Miakaya Design

Fractal 23 by Takeshi Miakaya Design

I saw this on BoingBoing.  It’s a fascinating example of 3-D recursiveness, although the task of having to dust “infinite” drawers seems a bit daunting.  There are twenty-three functional drawers on this chest, and you can own this piece for a mere $19,000.  One commenter noted that Miakaya built two of these — one for himself and one to sell — but then quit and observed that such fractal furniture was “a pain in the ass” to make.  I suppose such sentiment qualifies as suffering for your art.  Unfortunately, I could find no working web site for Miakaya.

Fractal Carving by Terry W. Gintz

A fractal carving by Terry W. Gintz

Terry W. Gintz is a true Renaissance Man.  He’s a programmer, artist, poet, photographer, and sculptor — and even a superb cook.  He’s recently updated his fractal carvings gallery — small sculptures based on 3-D fractals created with QuaSZ and other Mystic Fractal programs of his own design.  Gintz notes that “like fractals, every rock tells a story.”  In truth, Gintz has many fascinating galleries of his lapidary art.  I especially like his Flintstones Minatures gallery.

Gloria Caeli by Jonathan Wolfe and Friends

Gloria Caeli, a balloon by Jonathan Wolfe and Friends.

Sky Dyes, a project headed by Jonathan Wolfe and his friends, designs “flying fractal art balloons.”  Talk about an impressive palette.  In this case, it’s the sky itself, surrounded by (fractal) clouds.  Wolfe notes that:

The fractal balloons will contain roughly 100 billion pixels, about  the same number of stars as are in our galaxy and as many neurons as are in our brain…

Well, that should be big enough to (barely) meet BMFAC’s gigantic size limitations.

A fractal thong.  Wear it with pride.

A fractal thong courtesy of Fractal Generation Galleria

Software is so passé.  Thongs are the new new wave in cutting edge fractal art.  Nothing proclaims your seriousness as a fractal artist more than slapping your work over the genital areas of complete strangers.  You never have to worry about penis envy when someone’s family jewels are draped with your self-similar infinity.  Perhaps BMFAC could make fractal thongs a separate category in the 2011 competition. Then, finally, one could honestly claim those massive entry sizes do matter.  Moreover, such skimpy, fractally-enhanced undergarments might be just the ticket for presenting “our art form to a world that largely does not know it.”  Why maybe the BMFAC selection panel members (no pun intended) could even model the contest finalists — strutting the pageant ramp in a live YouTube fractalpalooza.

I’d buy that for a dollar.



On September 25, 20o9, on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, Damien M. Jones made the following remark concerning my OT post about a mysterious “winners page” where BMFAC director Jones appeared to be sorting contest entries into winning and losing categories before the BMFAC judging panel had ever convened:

The interpretation of what [Terry] saw was all his; he elected to spin it in a way that favors his cause. It’s demagoguery [emphasis mine].

On December 6th, as a comment to this post, Esin Turkakin, one of BMFAC 2009’s winners, made the following remark:

What I find sad is why you’re actively trying to avoid a civil discussion and immediately resort to demagoguery [emphasis mine] .

Does it sound to you like someone has marching orders to repeat established talking points?

Isn’t it interesting how quickly you can become a “demagogue” as soon as some people disagree with what you’ve said? They’ll earnestly accuse you of incivility — as they flat out call you names.


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Scams and Viruses

Have we got a deal not for you…

Photograph: The Scam Truck by jepoirrier

I know how exciting it is when someone contacts you and wants to purchase your work. Who among us doesn’t want to be discovered and sell or display our art?  Just make sure those who come knocking have good intentions.

In the past week, I had two such inquiries — both worded in a similar manner.  You’ve already guessed where this is going.  Both offers were scams.

I knew both emails were from con artists because I received a nearly interchangeable come-on last year.

The most recent email was from “Lewis Martins” at a generic sounding gmail address.  The subject line was “am interested in your work……….”  Here is the email text:

Top of the day to you .. i would like to know more details and descriptions of your artwork after checking out your profile on [Name of Art Site] but i was unable to get a name and details of the art as i am higly intrested and would like to buy as a birthday present for my wife. Kindly get back to me with info on how to get you the name of the artwork in order for you to get me details as well as final asking price of the artwork.i would await your response as soon as possible……

Several things ought to be fishy immediately.  The grammatical and spelling errors do not necessarily mean the inquiry is not from a cultured art curator, but the mistakes don’t give me confidence either.  There is a noticeable lack of specifics about the message — no mention of my name or the title of a specific art work, information that any semi-professional art site will surely have, and zero data on Mr. Martins.

Here are other common templates for similar art scam letters.  See why I instantly got bad vibes?

If I had responded to Mr. Martins in the hopes that he would purchase work from me, here is what would have happened.  Any of these circumstances should make you gun shy about further pursuing a sale.

1) Mr. Martins will be in a big hurry to complete the transaction — now — or, better yet, yesterday.  He can’t wait.  His wife’s birthday is looming. Your work is the perfect gift and he needs it immediately.  If you explain reasonable delays like taking days to make a print and taking longer to get that print shipped, Mr. Martins will be unable to tolerate the hold up.  His wife’s present can’t be postponed; he’ll have to look elsewhere if you drag your feet.  But the reason he is rushing you is because he wants to pay by

2) Writing you a check — which he hopes will not have time to clear (which it won’t) before you fall victim to the scam.  Which might be to send him art work, but, more likely, he’s after your money.  He’ll tell you there’s no need to ship the work — he’ll make the arrangements or have someone pick it up (and thus need your home address).  Or, and this should raise major red flags, he’ll concoct some convoluted reason to write you a check over the amount of your asking price — thus setting you up to pay him back the difference.  Since his check will bounce, you’ll be out any overage you agree to return.

What to do?  Don’t be in a hurry.  And don’t take checks.  Cashier checks are especially easy to forge.  Set up a PayPal account instead (and be aware that these can be prone to phishing schemes).  Insist the buyer use a credit card to purchase your art.  True, credit cards can be stolen, but at least the scam artists will be easier to track.  If you do decide to take checks (certified checks or postal money orders included), be aware that checks can sometimes take up to a month to clear.  Never send out any work until you are absolutely certain the check is legitimate and has been fully processed through your bank.

Be skeptical of anyone inquiring about your art that, for whatever reason, needs personal information about you — like street addresses or (shudder) a bank account or Social Security number.  Scrutinize carefully agents who love your work (for a fee) or galleries that want to represent you (for a fee).  Insist on written contracts and study them rigorously.  The same due diligence applies to any company that wants to license your work.  And, generally, be aware of ways to safeguard yourself from being a victim of identity theft.

It’s strange when I wrote Mr. Martins back saying that I suspected his interest in my work was actually a scam and threatened to turn his message over to the Attorney General’s Office, he never wrote back, although I assume his wife’s birthday was just as imminent as before.  Sadly, he now probably wants to “purchase” other art work for her.

Just don’t let it be yours.

For more information on art scams, visit this site at ArtWanted and this site (with email examples) by Max Magnum Norman.


What has to be one of the strangest narratives I’ve seen in the twelve years I’ve been involved with fractal art?  This tale found on LaPurr’s journal on deviantART.  It’s worth reading an extended excerpt:

A while back, out of nowhere, I was contacted by this person ~debora321 asking me if I’d try out her program, Fractal Magic, FMSetup.exe which was supposed to help render UF images more quickly. I don’t recall exactly what else she said about the program and I wasn’t really interested but I downloaded the program just to check it out. When I tried to open it, my computer went a bit nuts so I deleted the program and cleaned my computer. I wrote to her and told her that she had a problem and she said she’d fix it and for me to try again. There’s no way I’d open anything of hers again, so that was the end of it.

For me, anyway.

I got a note today from ~0Encrypted0, who told me that he was also contacted by ~debora321 regarding her little program. He tried to open the program and as a result, she somehow managed to get hold of params of his. He wrote in part:

…it looks like my computer was hacked when I downloaded a file called FMSetup.exe that debora321 asked me to try out.

I think some or all of my Ultra Fractal parameters were copied.

He sent me links to a couple of images that clearly show she ripped his params somehow.

Here is his original image from January 16:

Here is her version from October 15:

Here is his latest version to showcase the likeness, with links to the other images:

I have to assume that this woman somehow got ~0Encrypted0‘s params.

If you were one of those people who was contacted by her, and I’ve seen some of your names on her user page, I urge you to go through her gallery and see if any of your images are there, in a slightly altered form. See if any images you recognize are there. Most importantly, I think you need to get her program off your computer. Whatever you choose to do, please be careful.

When I first read about this incident, I thought it was a hoax.  I mean, why go to the trouble to build malware designed  simply to steal Ultra Fractal parameter files?  Why risk committing art theft — not to mention facing criminal charges — just to repost someone else’s par files, minimally altered, as your own on a popular and highly trafficked Fractalbook site?  Did the alleged perpetrator think no one would notice — especially those artists she personally invited to download and run her supposedly UF-enhancing program?

And while puzzling out the motive for such an inherently epic fail scheme, check out one of the more engaging comments about this whole bizarre business:

laurengary says:

You know, reading everyone’s comments & answers & one word Kat, one word came instantly to mind….that this is/was a form of a …fractal rape. Kinda sorta. Sorry for sounding so melodramatic, *grimaces* but honestly, that’s the first thing I thought of.

No, actually, rape is like rape.  What this is like is hacking computers to commit art theft.  I understand there might be some sense of being violated here, but still what you are like doing is being hyperbolic.

And here’s another choice comment from the alleged thief’s nearly empty DA page:

ChaosApostle notes:

I wouldn’t be surprised if an e-mob were to be incited and show up at your door.

Really?  Where can Tim and I get some of those virtual torches and pitchforks?  We’re planning to do some score-settling travel this summer.

The insults really take flight in the alleged thief’s home page comments and range from the expected “pathetic” to the inflammatory “art whore.”  “Sad” also comes up repeatedly.  I do find this whole situation to be sad.

And unnecessary.  One thing you can say about UF users: Many are not shy about sharing their parameter files.  There are stockpiled databases of such files, and the Ultra Fractal Mailing List has near daily posts of them — often inviting tweaking by others.  Why steal?

If proven guilty, the person who committed this hoax and hacking should be condemned.  DeviantArt should ban her.  She should be reported to the proper authorities, and they should investigate and, if warranted, take all appropriate legal actions against her.

Nor do I blame people for being upset by her duplicity.  =Velvet–Glove summed up the sense of personal betrayal that many others also clearly felt:

I gave you personal help and advice… and you repaid my kindness by trying to hack into and invade my computer in order to steal my work and data? I’m outraged!

But our fractal art communities should do a little soul-searching, too.  I once compared Fractalbook to high school cliques, and never has the analogy seemed more true to me.  Are people becoming so desperate for the fishing-for-compliments rituals that pass for discourse about art on Fractalbook sites that they’re willing to go to such lengths for a few kind words?  There’s certainly individual neediness pushed to criminal lengths on display here.  But there’s also an unflattering picture of the hierarchical social structure of online environments — small pond star systems that are ostensibly about art but are actually soap operas revolving around who gets the status and privilege of sitting at the virtual cafeteria table with the cool kids.  What’s sad is to see how many earlier love-and-kisses comments (thanks for the watch/favorite/star!!) the alleged thief has on her deserted home page — many from the same people who now call her an “art whore” or speculate on whether the Mafia has obtained her virus program and “will be on a plane to your house in no time to kill you for such a thing.”


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Ups and Downs of the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest

Ups and Downs

Ups and Downs.  Design by Roller Coaster Tycoon.

The 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest results have been announced.  If you’re a regular OT reader, you already got this news.  We announced it on Thursday — apparently before the contest itself was ready to do so.  When, on the UF Mailing List, one of the judges noted on Saturday that he “had to find out from OT” about the announcement, the BMFAC director graciously showed up to explain:

No you didn’t miss the announcement. I had enough time on Thursday to post the winners and open up display of the entries, but didn’t have enough time to craft an appropriate announcement. And frankly I wasn’t ready to encourage a flood of visitors until I had enough time to respond in case there were server problems, so I thought I would make the announcement today. It seems OT’s obsession with something they hate has made such an announcement unnecessary.

Moral of the story: Do not make a web page live until you are like totally ready to have it be seen by the public.  This moral applies whether one is engaging in art competition pre-sorting judging or art competition post-sorting judging.

And let’s also note a conundrum.  It’s hard to deny the privileges Ultra Fractal enjoys in a certain fractal art contest — a contest that says it’s specifically dedicated to bringing the richness and diversity of fractal art to “a world that largely does not know it” — when the contest director’s official communiqués are delivered via the small-pond vehicle of — wait for it — the Ultra Fractal Mailing List.

But I’m getting in a snit already, and I haven’t even started.  Let’s begin again…


As Tim announced on Thursday, the winners of the 2009 BMFAC are in.  I’m sure Tim and I will be writing more about this year’s iteration of the contest in the future.  We like writing about the contest, as some of you have probably noticed, although, truly, we long for the day when we will no longer have to.  Unfortunately, that day is not today, and, at least at this early stage, all I can tell you are my initial impressions.


What’s up:

The judges still do not have work officially entered into the exhibition.  Twenty-five winning images were selected, and none of them were by a currently serving BMFAC judge.  This significant change in contest procedure is to be commended; it unquestionably advances the credibility and professionalism of BMFAC.  I’d like to think OT had a hand in bringing about this change, although I’m sure BMFAC Central will claim such was the design all along.  Whatever the reason, it’s a positive change.

Naturally, OT will take a kind of Reagan-based “Trust but Verify” attitude in this matter, since we remember that falls off turnip trucks hurt.  We’ve seen October Surprise talk before of sponsors insisting and hedges against sufficient quality used as fresh clarion calls to hang up judges’ art.  The philanthropic graciousness of BMFAC Central has traditionally been bookended with dollops of self-publicity and grabs for personal or financial gain.  I wonder if the director and the selection panel will continue to be satisfied with consistently sitting out of the big show — with not being counted among “the most important fractal artists in the world.”  Will “prestigious” judging and pushing Ultra Fractal like Pepsi be satisfying enough for them?


Other ups:

One winner was a former BMFAC judge.  Several other former BMFAC judges did not win.  You know what that sounds like?  Fairness.  This round goes to the current judges.  Praise where praise is due.

Was it just me, or did there seem like better variety and a little more experimentation in this year’s winners?  It wasn’t quite as much of the usual UF parade of layered pancakes.  Some of the images were striking and inventive, especially those of Ramon Pasternak and Natalie Kelsey.

Every winner should be congratulated and deserves every accolade that comes their way because of their achievement.  OT has never had a problem with BMFAC’s winners — only with its administrators and sponsors.

The flash mob of 50+ alternates and honorable mentions that cropped up on the love fest that was the 2007 BMFAC winner’s page are gone and definitely not missed.  More good work — and thanks for that much needed purge.  I understand not wanting to hurt feelings and offer encouragement, but three-fourths of contest contestants do not need to have their egos stroked.  It cheapens the accomplishments of the exhibition winners.  Besides, we already have a near 100% delivery system for such an I’m OK You’re OK vibe.  It’s called Fractalbook.


What’s down:

More serious attention should be given to removing conflicts of interest from the competition.  It’s tawdry, not to mention highly unprofessional and ethically questionable, to include fractal software authors as judges.  The conflict of interest should be obvious: there is an increased opportunity for such persons to benefit financially or personally.  Whether the profit or publicity is a little or a lot does not matter; the principle should be sacrosanct.  As I noted in my earlier post about the nature of  conflicts of interest, even the mere perception of a conflict of interest should be a concern and could corrode trust in the legitimacy of a contest.  Garth Thornton, originally a judge for this year’s BMFAC, came to this understanding and resigned.  He is a honorable man, as well as a talented artist, and I respect him for his courageous stand.

I have little respect for the other two software authors who refused to resign, for I find them much less honorable.  Did they not see the same conflicts of interest Garth did, or were they looking the other direction at potential perks that might come from serving as judges?  Their decision to remain on the selection panel contaminates the integrity of the competition and should call the evenhandedness of the results into question.

BMFAC should establish a detailed conflict of interest policy and post it publicly on the contest’s rules page.  No software authors can serve as judges out of concern for their own commercial or professional gain.  Judges who teach fractal art classes must recuse themselves from judging their own students.  Other similar stuff.  Put it all in writing.  Examples of conflict of interest polices are all over The Google.  Everyone will be less suspicious if the contest administration at least shows awareness of such common, ethical practices.

Stop favoring Ultra Fractal at every turn.  Ultra Fractal’s author is a judge.  More than half the judging panel are commonly known as UF artists.  The contest director is an acknowledged UF zealot.  Worst of all, relax those absurd monumental image size restrictions.  Bigger is not necessarily better for an art exhibition.  Most photography shows are not comprised of picture window sized prints — and photographs surely have as much detail as fractal art.  Moreover, you’ll reap adding more diversity and variety to the competition — as well as come closer to the aim of showing a representative sampling of contemporary fractal art.  If you continue to so openly privilege UF, then just call the whole affair an Ultra Fractal contest and create a small category called “Other” for those few winners who slip through the UF sieve.

These recommendations do matter.  Failing to make these changes will allow doubts to remain and fester about the fairness and professionalism of the contest.  Here’s why.

I spent some time Googling each of this year’s BMFAC winners.  Most of them have web sites or community galleries.  In some cases, I found their winning images posted online to various web sites, blogs, or art communities.  Other winners had essays online where they discussed their art and mentioned the programs they use.  A few winners were blank slates; there was little or no information about them.

Using this data, I made a best guess estimate of the programs used by each winner to create his or her winning image.  I stress that I am guessing, but the guesses are reasonable and made after careful study.  Of course, BMFAC does not release such information, nor would it be in their best interests to do so.  They probably don’t want you dwelling on how many UF images there are per square inch of BMFAC’s exhibitions.  So, admitting my own scientific guesswork, here’s how the contest shook out for me*:

Ultra Fractal: 14
: 5
: 1
Fractal Domains
: 1
Unknown: 4

Assuming my conjectures are fairish, and granting a margin of error (or further additions from unknowns to the UF or Apo stats), it becomes clearer why those conflicts of interests and restrictive file sizes are bones of contention.  Let’s go to the math.

76% of the winning images appear to be made with either UF or Apo.  And the authors of both of those programs served as contest judges.  What’s that smell in the air?  Could it be — the scent of undue influence?

56% of the winning images appear to be made with UF (or more, if any of the four unknowns are also UF based).  This is actually a bit lower than in previous BMFAC exhibitions (especially if one counts the “invited” work by judges).  Still, what’s the overriding impression?  The proclivities of half the selection panel, not to mention those UF friendly and easily scalable image size restrictions, are paying off for UF — still unofficially BMFAC’s product-placed and teacher’s pet software.

Let’s face it.  If you don’t use UF — or don’t have a machine powerful enough to render Apo at quilt sizes — your chances of winning a spot in a BMFAC exhibition are remote.  I’d say they are about the same as a non-spiral had gaining admission into the pages of the now defunct Fractal Universe Calendar.

If the competition is going to continue to so heavily privilege only one or two fractal programs, then the merchandising and publicity of BMFAC should come clean and reflect this fact.


Other bads:

Tim has already addressed the shake-your-head, cloying obsequiousness of an image openly paying homage to a BMFAC judge somehow ending up in the winner’s circle.  In the VU meter of unprofessionalism, this bit buries the needle as deeply into the red as it can go.  Here’s a tip for those wanting to do better next go around. Start now building a series of tribute images dedicated to possible judges for BMFAC 2011.

One individual, who has never been a judge, has hit the trifecta and now won a space in a BMFAC exhibition for the third straight time.  I guess we can safely conclude that he is either a) the most important fractal artist in the universe, or b) a devout water-carrier for all things BMFAC who is consistently being rewarded for his loyal service to the cause.  The scales of justice want to know which way to tilt on this either/or issue.

If you’re going to say in your selection criteria that you want work that is “uniquely fractal; artwork that uses fractal tools to produce less-fractal imagery is not as desirable,” then you should probably be diligent to select such work.  At least several of the winning images have little discernible fractal structure.  Other people have noticed this slip, too — like former BMFAC judge Samuel Monnier who makes a similar criticism on his blog.  Hopefully, he won’t now start receiving those why-don’t-you-just-shut-up and go-start-your-own-art-contest if you-think-you-know-everything comments OT routinely receives.

The BMFAC selection criteria also notes the following:

We would prefer you create new artwork for this contest. Existing works may also be submitted, but we are more likely to select artwork that is new and fresh.

However, a number of winning images were not created solely for the contest.

This image appeared on Renderosity in August of 2008.
This image
appeared on DeviantArt in August of 2009.
This image
appeared on DeviantArt in July of 2008 under a different title.
This image
appeared on DeviantArt in October of 2009.
This image
appeared on DeviantArt in June of  2009.
This image
appeared on DeviantArt in March of 2009.
This image
appeared on Renderosity in September of 2008.
This image
appears on the artist’s website with a copyright date of 2008.

I quit surfing around at this point, since I had now found one-third of BMFAC’s winning entries were not newly created for the competition.  Again, why bother to insist upon this criterion if it’s going to be so loosely enforced.  Not that good role models were always provided.  Even when the judges were sneaking their work in the back door, did they follow their own suggested stipulations?  Not always.  The director’s “invited” selection for the 2006 BMFAC exhibition was made in 2001.

Finally, the director needs to build an announcements page for BMFAC.  That way breaking information about the competition can be quickly posted and easily checked.  A contest info page would be a convenient spot for stuff like photos and reviews of the exhibition — unless, like the 2007 exhibition, there’s going to be a total news blackout on the show instead.  Moreover, using the Ultra Fractal Mailing List as the official organ for disseminating BMFAC updates gives the appearance of favoring UF insiders over everyone else.  Worse, it makes those of us who don’t want our inboxes crammed with round robin UF tweaking games feel more than a little left out.


*This graph is only a guess.  Treating this graph like a fact will likely increase the risk of side effects like emotional outbursts, outraged emails, virtual gnashing of teeth, and erectile dysfunction — which, as everyone knows, is caused by everything.

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Keith Mackay’s Revisionist History

Do as I say, not as I do...

“It was already dead, so I didn’t see any point in keeping it around.”

One of the few extant group blogs on fractal art got its plug pulled recently. This was no surprise since the wedream(ed)incolor blog, run by Keith Mackay, had been on life support for some time. In fact, Tim wrote an OT post about its terminal condition not long before Mackay decided to play Dr. Kevorkian with it. In an October 10th post on his personal blog, Mackay explains why he finally swung the axe. And, naturally, he goes out of his way to sketch out why his actions were far more preferable than the “unethical” steps taken by an unnamed blog that can only be Orbit Trap:

I deleted everything on wedreamincolor because I felt that it was the right thing to do. A few years ago I was part of a fractal based community blog that fell apart when the blog owners started to personally attack some of the other members. The owners cut off write and edit access to the 20 or so members but hung on to all of the images and entries that the members had made. I thought that it was terribly unfair and unethical for the blog owners to do that. With all of their contributions, the cut off members provided significant readership and momentum to that blog. It would be akin to a place like DeviantArt removing write and edit access to their members, but hanging on to all of their images and journal entries. That would piss off a lot of people. It certainly pissed me off when that blog did that to me, so I decided to not do that to the contributors of wedreamincolor.

Mackay, as usual, is not telling you the whole story. It has always been Orbit Trap’s policy to remove any post should a contributor request we do so. Mackay knows this to be true from first-hand experience. He wrote us to insist his OT posts be removed, and Tim and I promptly deleted them. To date, Mackay is the only former contributor to make such a request. I’ll say again, just so there is no misunderstanding: If you are a former Orbit Trap contributor, and you want any of your posts removed from this blog, email OT’s editors, and we will quickly see that your wish comes true. However, you should be aware of the following implications: 1) Deletion of posts cannot be undone. You want it gone? It’s gone for good. 2) Deletion of a post also deletes all comments for that post. I’m not sure how those good folks who took the time to comment on your writing will feel about wiping them out of existence. Still, OT feels it’s your post, and thus your call. 3) If your post is a response to other posts, then the context or reference point(s) your post provides will be kaput. You may be giving rhetorical ground and creating a vacuum in argumentation where your point of view once provided a counter balance to the views of others. And 4) Visitors peruse OT’s archives every day. If you don’t want ongoing attention to your images and writing, just let us know.

So, given our policy, why does Mackay feel he is morally justified to criticize us about keeping posts online? Did he go out of his way to ask his blog’s contributors if they wanted their posts (and the effort that went into making them) taken down? Remember, too, such excision means all the post’s comments are expunged as well. Didn’t his contributors (and commenters) have the presumption when posting that their work would remain online? Why should Mackay’s contributors suffer because he goes into a melancholy funk and decides to scorch earth his blog? Really, though, this is typical, impulsive, slash and burn behavior from Mackay. How many times has he capriciously trashed then rebuilt his various Fractalbook galleries? I’ve lost count.

And he claims the happy family, kumbaya, group blog days is when OT had momentum? Somebody hasn’t been reviewing OT’s stats to properly keep score. Feed subscriptions and readership has increased at least tenfold since OT scrapped its initial group blog format. Mackay has everything backwards. OT did not succeed because we initially had so many “great” fractal artists on board; we succeeded in spite of that fact. The growth in OT’s readership took place after we junked what Tim likes to call the “community limbo” phase of OT. I suppose Mackay can be forgiven for assuming that gathering together a collection of so-called “prestigious” fractal artists would be the best way to get the community interested in our blog. Tim and I thought so, too — at first. It wasn’t until we changed the blog’s format that we discovered that OT’s readers wanted something else — something they weren’t getting from their Fractalbook forums and UF List threads. That is: honest, opinionated criticism. They didn’t want another venue where artists went on talking about themselves. They’d had enough of the mutual admiration society where every post elicits the compulsory “Another Masterpiece,” suck-up, bargaining chip, you-scratch-my-back remark that must be repaid in kind somewhere down the comment chain. Instead, readers want a direct, critical perspective — something the fractal community never engages in. Even if OT’s readers did not always agree with us, they at least appreciated our plainspoken bluntness. For example, if we feel a fractal contest is crooked, we say so — and we do our best to outline and illustrate the facts and behaviors that lead us to formulate such an opinion.

But Mackay would have you believe we have been unethical for not following his model example — an example that collapsed into epic fail mode. What Mackay doesn’t want to face is that his warm fuzzy group blog couldn’t generate much interest outside its own narcissistic, insular crowd. Like the small pond insiders on the UF List. Like the back-slapping shut-ins inhabiting Fractalbook arenas. Like the cowards who falsely flatter others to ingratiate themselves and worm their way into the good graces of any fractal artist presumably having status and power. Ironically, Mackay’s blog had some of the very same contributors who once cranked out a few-and-far-between post on OT during its salad days. So I have to ask. Why is he now chiding us for not following the very same framework that resulted in his blog’s slow death?

Then again, I’m not all that surprised that Mackay shredded every post from wedream(ed)in color. After all, that’s what’s done when you don’t want anyone to see the record of what you’ve actually done


UPDATE: Keith Mackay has responded to this post here by reanimating a few limbs of his dead (now undead?) group blog apparently for the sole purpose of answering OT and notes that

No one should ever answer to [Orbit Trap] for anything.

which, paradoxically, does seem more than a little like answering to us for something.


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Sailing into the Horror

The Garbage Path by Guido Cavalcante

The Garbage Path by Guido Cavalcante

[Click on the image above to see a large-scale version.]

Editor’s Note:
This is a guest posting by Guido Cavalcante. His image was made using Ultra Fractal. Excerpts in this post were taken from “Our Oceans Are Turning into Plastic…Are We?” by Susan Casey. For more information about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, please see this post at RTSea blog. The current print edition of Rolling Stone also has an excellent article on the floating plastic mass: “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” by Kitt Couchette. To illustrate the severity of plastic debris polluting the world’s oceans and waterways, Couchette notes: “On British coastlines in the North Sea, a study of fulmars found that 95 per cent of the seabirds had plastic in their stomachs, with an average of 44 pieces per bird. A proportional amount in a human being would weigh nearly five pounds.”

Orbit Trap welcomes guest posts on fractal art topics. Query the editors using the email link in the sidebar.


The facts happened twelve years ago.

It was August 3, 1997. A sunny day with little wind, Captain Charles Moore and the crew of Alguita, his 50-foot aluminum-hulled catamaran, sliced through the sea.

Returning to Southern California from Hawaii after a sailing race, Moore had altered Alguita’s course through the eastern corner of a 10-million-square-mile oval known as the North Pacific subtropical gyre. This was an odd stretch of ocean, a place most boats purposely avoided. So did the ocean’s top predators: the tuna, sharks, and other large fish that required livelier waters, flush with prey. The gyre was more like a desert — a slow, deep, clockwise-swirling vortex of air and water caused by a mountain of high-pressure air that lingered above it.

Map of the Gyre

Map of the gyre. The blue square represents one study of the garbage patch.

[Click on the image above to see a large-scale version.]

The area’s reputation didn’t deter Moore. He had spent countless hours in the ocean, fascinated by its vast trove of secrets and terrors. But he had never seen anything nearly as chilling as what lay ahead of him in the gyre.

It began with a line of plastic bags ghosting the surface, followed by an ugly tangle of junk: nets and ropes and bottles, motor-oil jugs and cracked bath toys, a mangled tarp. Tires. A traffic cone. Moore could not believe his eyes. Out here in this desolate place, the water was a stew of plastic crap. It was as though someone had taken the pristine seascape of his youth and swapped it for a landfill.

How did all the plastic end up here? As the Alguita glided through the area that scientists now refer to as the “Eastern Garbage Patch,” Moore realized that the trail of plastic went on for hundreds of miles. Depressed and stunned, he sailed for a week through bobbing, toxic debris trapped in a purgatory of circling currents. To his horror, he had stumbled across the 21st-century Leviathan. It had no head, no tail. Just an endless body.

The memory excerpts above of the first encounter with the Garbage Patch remain one of the most terrible discoveries of the century. My image tries to represent the surprise of the horror. I think it is the first time the Patch has been graphically represented, except for photos. For those that want to read the six page description which leads me into the adventure of making an image tied with the reality, it is here:

–Guido Cavalcante


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The Damien M. Jones Fractal Art Contest

And that absolute power corrupting absolutely thing is working out pretty well, too...

“I’m the decider!”

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Lord Acton

The recent revelatory leak that a pre-sorted “winners page” was being built by the director of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest leads to an inescapable conclusion. The competition is indeed a one man show. The director, Damien M. Jones, appears to be playing the role of sole gatekeeper. It looks like Jones not only screens all entries, he also classifies them, thus sending tacit signals to the BMFAC judging panel as to exactly where various entries should be placed. The BMFAC judges are strawmen; they don’t select so much as shuffle, like an iPod, material that’s been pre-ordained for them by Jones. If your entry doesn’t get past his initial sorting, you’re out. Once that happens, Benoit Mandelbrot, the honorary chair of the contest, won’t get the chance to pass judgment on your work, nor, for that matter, will the rest of the selection panel. In fact, Mandelbrot, the esteemed mathematical theorist and fractal pioneer for whom the contest is named, is merely a figurehead, a kind of trophy wife who looks good fronting the contest but has little to do in the actual selection process. The contest should therefore be renamed for the individual who plays the god-like role of deciding which entries live or die. BMFAC should more appropriately be called The Damien M. Jones Fractal Art Contest. After all, that’s what it truly is.

It wasn’t enough to load the judging panel with Ultra Fractal enthusiasts, including coders, teachers, apologists, and even the UF author himself. It wasn’t enough to rig the rules by calling for massive file sizes that only a program like Ultra Fractal can easily handle. It wasn’t even enough to hand many of the judges a back door pass key enabling them to display their own work in a (supposedly) juried competition they themselves oversaw. No. These incredible conflicts of interest, examples of UF privileging, and self-serving publicity stunts, were all contrived to radically skew BMFAC to heavily showcase exactly the kind of work that Jones and his UF paisanos produce and to hold up their style as rigorously judged, if not the epitome of our art form.

Astoundingly, none of that elaborate wrangling was enough. Apparently, BMFAC’s director and judges and sponsors still needed an ace in the hole. So, Jones, devoted to the interests of Ultra Fractal deeply enough to write this article, took it upon himself to insure that only work he approved of would be pre-approved for the already UF-inclined panel. With this final step, the deck would be fully stacked.

How else is one to interpret what Tim stumbled into last week when the “winners page” opened as he linked to it while drafting an OT essay. We’ve already shown in our last few posts why the “test page” theory put forth on the UF List won’t fly. The winners page was based on a template from the 2007 contest. It worked fine then, and a test, if even necessary, could have been made by importing a single image. Why test with so many images from current 2009 entries meticulously titled, identified by artist, and, most significantly, classified into three categories? Furthermore, if the “winners page” was only a test, then why were two additional entries added after I posted the screen caps last Thursday? That’s not testing. That’s sorting.

Tim referred, probably with some sarcasm, in his last post to the “official response” to the leak. Of course, Jones won’t talk to Orbit Trap directly, but he did issue an explanation of sorts on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, housed on Jones’ own server. It seems he’s only comfortable talking within the walls of his own fortress among friendlies who’ll provide a chorus of nods to his every proclamation. Since the UF List is a public forum, though, here is what he offered by way of an explanation for the “winners page” leak:

Indeed, no winners have been selected and any page purporting to have them is an error.

I did indeed duplicate the 2007 site in prepping the 2009 site, and neglected to include a check on the winners.php page to see if the winners had actually been selected. Since that winners.php page isn’t actually linked from the main page of the site and the contest site configuration is still set to accept submissions, for the page to even appear is a bug (now fixed), and for anyone to find it they had to go looking for it–essentially, low-grade hacking. Digging for dirt, as it were. It’s embarrassing for me to have missed this check, but it should be equally embarrassing for any would-be critic to try to manufacture issues where there are none.

The contest is still open until the 10th and the winning entries have not been determined.

Note that Jones admits building the page. The “bug” was merely that the page was “live” and visible. Think for a moment. What kind of a check would have been in place “to see if the winners had actually been selected”? Isn’t Jones aware of the material he’s consciously placing on his own page? The page isn’t self-aware; Jones is the one positioning those entries into the various slots that serve as signposts for where he feels the second rounders should be situated. And he has done all of this with no input whatsoever from BMFAC’s other judges. Kerry Mitchell, a judge, made clear on the UF List last Thursday that the panel had not yet convened. Even if the winners have yet to be finalized, Jones’ hunting and gathering of entries is laying out his own picks for the judges’ commendations. The only thing being “manufactured” here is Jones’ evasion.

And this, you understand, is the best case scenario for what’s going on. For all we know, Jones could be making all of the final selections in advance, and the BMFAC judging panel merely rubber stamps the director’s choices. Maybe you fall in line or Jones doesn’t ask you back for the honor of “judging” the next contest. Given BMFAC’s history of secrecy, how can anyone be certain what’s what?

This entire process, mirrored, as Tim pointed out last post, by the recently deceased Fractal Universe Calendar, is completely backward. In a conventional literary contest, screening is done by a panel who sends a pool of finalists to one judge. However, let’s be clear: These finalists are never categorized with pre-assigned preferences. BMFAC puts the sorting in the hands of one enormously powerful person and allows him to recommend final placement. A better comparison could be made to the art contests run by the Museum of Computer Art. MOCA makes all entries instantly available for public view. Anyone, including the judges, can visit the online museum anytime during a competition to review the entries. Once the deadline passes, then the judges convene, discuss, cast votes, and select a modest field of artists who placed or received honorable mentions. This seems fair and well handled to me. BMFAC, on the other hand, operates in buttoned-down stealth mode with the director having a heavy hand over who makes the grade.

I mean, seriously, what else could Jones have possibly been doing but weeding out and pre-slotting entries? He has yet to explain exactly what kind of “prepping” he was undertaking. He’d rather transfer blame to OT for accidentally uncovering his chicanery. We were “hacking,” you see, so that obviously excuses whatever sieving of entries Jones was tackling. However, I’m a little unclear as to how one can hack a page that is viewable to anyone who surfs to it. Tim stumbled onto the page while writing a draft for a post about tired fractal art. He thought it might be funny to link to the 2009 winners page that would have a similar URL to the previous contests. He expected to see nothing, or maybe one of Jones’ chiding bandwidth theft messages once popular on Fractalus. To Tim’s amazement, the “winners page” materialized. This is hacking? We put up a link to the page on OT, a link that was active for almost 24 hours. I imagine many of our readers visited that link, now down and appearing as a “security error.” Did any of you who used it have to hack in to see it? The link was so public, in fact, Google actually indexed it. The hacking charge is absurd, or, worse, a lie. Even if it were true, Jones has yet to convincingly explain why current entries were being sorted into categories before the judging panel had yet to convene.

The question for fractal artists everywhere is whether you are comfortable having the public perception of our art form so powerfully entrenched in the hands of one person — a person who, by his decisions and actions, has shown a repeated pattern of bias and preferential treatment that continually benefits himself, his friends, his loyalists, and his software of choice. Fractal art, and all that it is and can be, is not his personal property. It belongs to all of us — absolutely…


Update: My bad. I corrected a cut and paste typo leading to a garbled sentence at the end of the second paragraph.

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Winners First. Contest Later.

You may already be a winner!

Verdict first. Trial later.

I showed in my last post what OT found: a winners page for the 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest that displayed current contest entrants placed into three categories: exhibition winner, alternate, and honorable mention. How could some entrants already have won when the contest does not close until October 10th? I asked a few more questions but mostly left you to draw your own conclusions.

Now I want to draw some conclusions of my own. Something is definitely wrong here. Contest defenders seem to be taking one of two tracks. It’s either (a) a test page or (b) a glitch. And they’re trying to blame this whole business on us here at OT. We were skulking about. We hacked into the site. We were being devious.

Two BMFAC judges have responded so far. Here’s what judge Mark Townsend said on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List earlier today:

You could hardly come across a winners page by accident when it’s not linked to from the main page, so Terry was obviously looking around backstage on purpose and came across some pages put up for testing. Unless he’s a complete moron, he knows this — so either he has a borderline IQ or he’s being intentionally devious. Take your pick.

The winners haven’t been selected yet.

See? It’s our fault. We were snooping around where we had no business being. Either that, or I’m an imbecile. Neither slur addresses what this web site is and what it suggests. The truth is, of course, we did find it by accident. One of us was writing a post that made a point by linking to the (we assumed nonexistent) winners site for the 2009 competition. To our surprise, the page opened, and you can see what we saw screen capped in my previous post. We put up a link to the site which was still working as recently as late Thursday afternoon. If you checked it, you could see what we saw. Did you have to hack in to see it? Neither did we.

The link is now down, just as I predicted it would be. But it was up long enough for Google to index it. See for yourself. Google winners benoit mandelbrot fractal art contest 2009. In the first one to three hits, you’ll see this:

Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009 ~~ Entries

The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009 is being held to select artwork for an exhibition late in 2009 and in 2010.
www.fractalartcontests.com/2009/winners.php – 20 hours ago – Similar

I suppose devious Google hacked the page, too — poking around backstage with its ice-breaking bot.

Townsend says the winners haven’t been selected yet. But it sure looks like someone has been doing plenty of personal selecting.

A second judge, Kerry Mitchell, followed on the UF List with this statement:

I suspect that Damien is using these pages in his process of creating the actual 2009 pages, and using images from 2007 as placeholders. I know that the images listed under “Panel Member Images” are from the 2007 contest.This year’s panel has not convened, as the entry phase is still open, so the winners certainly have not been chosen.

See? The page was under construction. The images are innocent “placeholders” — mere carry-overs from the last competition. Except they aren’t. Either Mitchell is misinformed or trying to mislead you. The thumbnail images are not among the entries from either the 2007 competition or the 2006 competition. Check the links. You won’t find any of the most recent pics among past contest submissions. No, it’s more reasonable and likely that these are current entries in the 2009 competition. I suspect any one of the artists who appear on the “winners page” could verify my conjecture.

Mitchell’s observation that “this year’s panel has not convened” means that the judges have not yet reviewed the entries. That’s stupifying. Someone certainly has. Someone gave them a good looking over. Someone built the page — made thumbnails, imported them, typed in titles and artist’s names. And, most important, someone judged them by placing each entry into one of three evaluative categories. This is not an error or a sequence of accidental happenings. It is the result of conscious decisions and deliberate actions.

Are you buying the “test page” gambit? What, exactly, was there to test? The template had already been built and apparently worked fine in previous competitions. And why would the director add so many images, specifically categorized, even going so far as to include thumbs, names, titles, and rankings? Importing one sample thumb would have been enough to test the page.

The glitch angle won’t fly either. The site was acting up, was it? Sort of like when the director added a generator to Fractalus that somehow corrupted his hard drive? Next, he’ll be telling us this is all the work of a bug. The page somehow forgot to check something — or it accidentally let submissions through — or it’s gone rogue after becoming self-aware like SkyNet — or other such hokum. Last time I checked, Fractalus was just a server. It had not yet evolved into an AI. No, a human being built that page. Why? And what does its existence suggest?

It does not suggest a test or a glitch. It suggests that you are seeing early results.

It suggests the director has been making contest selections before the contest has closed and before the judging panel has convened. It suggests the judging panel is a cover put in place to legitimize the director’s choices. You think such a claim is exorbitant? Jump back to the screen caps in my last post and look again. The director, Damien M. Jones, who Mitchell notes is BMFAC’s webmaster (the “winners page” is on Jones’ server with his name stamped in the border) is making selections and none of the judges have had any involvement. In fact, neither of the judges who spoke in public can clearly explain what the page is about or why the director is “sorting” entries weeks before the contest has even closed.

But shouldn’t the last entry in an art competition have as much chance as the first? In a fair contest, one that uses artistic excellence as a criteria, that would be true. So, what seems to count in BMFAC? Punctuality? Who you know? What you did? It looks like some people can be be winners before others even have an opportunity to submit.

It’s like Alice in Wonderland. You know. Winners first. Contest later.


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2009 BMFAC Winners Leaked ?!!?

Let's see.  Which one smells like sucking up?

And the winner is…

Elvis’ alien clone
better move over. What is one to make of this?

Just by accident, OT wandered into the “winners” page of the current (and ongoing) 2009 Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest and found it active and showing thumbnails of entries listed as exhibition winners, alternates, and honorable mentions.

You can see for yourself here — or you will be able to for as long as this link lasts — which, I predict, won’t be very long. So, before you can shout out “you lie” from the peanut gallery, here are some screencaps taken on Wednesday, September 23rd. Click on the full-page image below to open a larger and more readable view in a new window.

2009 BMFAC Leaked Winners Screencap

Here are a few detailed shots:

2009 BMFAC Leak Detail 1

2009 BMFAC Leak Detail 2

2009 BMFAC Leak Detail 3

2009 BMFAC Leak Detail 4

There is no shortage of head shakers here, like:

Isn’t October 10th the deadline for the competition? So, are winners and runners-up being selected before all submissions have arrived and been critiqued by the judging panel? It certainly seems so. Moreover, are certain entries being given some kind of preferential treatment — that is, has their placement in the competition already been pre-determined before all contest entries have even come in? After all, how can one “win” an art competition before the complete field of entries has been seen and reviewed?

Obviously, this page mirrors the 2007 winner’s page. Is this an under construction page that adds selected winners and runners-up as the contest progresses? If so, has the entire judging panel fully reviewed and ranked these entries — or are these entries being placed on the site solely by the director who, presumably, is the only person with access privileges to change and update this particular page?

Why is this page “live” before the competition has even closed — especially if a forthcoming explanation (assuming the normally secretive director even bothers to provide one) is that what we are all seeing is merely some kind of practice template trial run kind of deal? If that is so, can we then assume that the artists listed as winners, alts, and HMs are not necessarily going to be receiving such accolades after the competition deadline of October 10th?

Bottom line: Have these artists actually won or placed in the 2009 BMFAC or not? And how is such a situation possible when the judging panel has yet to even view all of the competition’s entries?

Inquiring minds want to know.


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Phase Two: A Real Fractal Art Exhibition

Swine Flu by Luke Jerram

Swine Flu by Luke Jerram

I think Tim’s recent observations that fractal art is about to undergo into a new Phase Two paradigm shift are on target. Fractal art will never evolve beyond a curious, trippy, decorative craft until it moves away from being defined by software and instead starts thinking and acting like a legitimate form of expression within the broader parameters of the fine arts.

The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest, serious conflicts of interest for half its organizers/judges notwithstanding, is also a throwback example of old school, Phase One thinking. The competition is deliberately designed to suggest that “fractal art” can only come from software — and, in truth, almost exclusively from a particular software program favored, sold, taught, and scripted by some of BMFAC’s directors/judges. But this is only true if a narrow Phase One vision of what fractal art is and must be carries the day. After all, as Tim notes in a recent OT post:

Fractal art is a fractal look and doesn’t have to be something rendered from computing a fractal algorithm.

How true. If fractal art is art that has fractal characteristics like recursion and self-similarity, then the traditional mediums of the fine arts can be used for our genre just as easily as software. In fact, one could build the case that a true exhibition of fractal art would showcase art made using a variety of self-expressive tools — including painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphics design, and other recognized mediums. Software utilizing fractal algorithms to generate images would still be included, of course, but would merely be another component in the artistic arsenal, and such imagery might be broken into distinctions like algorithmic art or digital art, depending on the amount of graphic processing an individual artist used. But fractal art would be category of art, like abstract expressionism or cubism, and not winnowed down to be only the primarily Ultra Fractal images that will win this year’s BMFAC.

In the spirit of Phase Two, here’s my idea of a real fractal art exhibition that includes the kind of work you won’t see displayed in next year’s Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest show.

E coli (including detail) by Luke Jerram

E coli (including detail) by Luke Jerram. Medium: Sculpture/Glass.

Working with glass sculptors and virologists from the University of Bristol, Luke Jerram creates transparent glass sculptures of disease microorganisms. Microphotography frequently reveals fractal characteristics in the microcosmic world, including crystals, bacteria, fungi, and (here) viruses. It’s hard, though, to imagine the HIV virus, however beautifully depicted, to be merely ornamental. And that’s exactly the kind of paradox Jerram wants to suggest. From his web site:

These transparent glass sculptures were created to contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial colouring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena. Jerram is exploring the tension between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent, their impact on humanity.

It’s worth stressing again. Decoration isn’t enough. Meaning makes art.

Fractal Fish by Kevin Gordon. Medium: Glass.

The glass-blown objects created by Kevin Gordon emphatically exhibit fractal attributes but are grounded in a fine arts tradition. From his website:

[Gordon] fuses layers of glass, with engravings and incised prisms and lenses to trap and transmit light and colour. The prisms are influenced by fractals and the ‘Mandelbrot Theory’ where the image is composed of smaller reflections of the whole. Gordon’s preferred technique of engraved cameo glass, popular in nineteenth century France, is used by few glass artists in Australia because of its technical complexity and lengthy production time.

Isn’t Gordon’s work as worthy of being called fractal art as anything made in UF today and posted to the Fractalbook gallery of your choice?

Technomorphic Fractal Dragon by Art Videen

Technomorphic Fractal Dragon by Art Videen. Medium: Sculpture.

Art Videen’s kinetic sculptures and “suspensions” explore the shadowy province found somewhere between chaos and order. The dragon’s scales in the piece above, including those seen in shadow, reveal intricate strata of self-similarity. Videen sees such fractal patterns as “loops” and notes on his web site that:

Another mechanical solution to an assembly issue, are the loops that are seen in much of his work. To Art, the loops immediately took on the meaning of dimensional bands in space and time. He saw the sculpture as objects suspended within the bands of space and, therefore, referred to the sculpture as “suspensions.” Others noticed the anthropomorphic shapes combined with the technical assemblage and referred to the sculpture as technomorphic . . . combining anthropomorphic and technical.

Doesn’t Videen deserve a corner installation at the next BMFAC? Too bad he’s using the wrong artistic format.

Broccoli by Natasha Harsh

Broccoli by Natasha Harsh. Medium: Oil Paint.

If vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower display natural fractal forms, don’t they retain those forms when painted or sculpted? Natasha Harsh’s painting seems to reveal some common stalks and bubbles configurations I often saw when I first explored programs like Stephen C. Ferguson’s Tiera-Zon. How unfortunate Harsh won’t be able to meet BMFAC’s entry specifications. If only she’d had the foresight to quit painting and instead import a photograph of broccoli into UF5 instead. Then, it seems, no one would question whether she was making fractal art.

Comic Book Cover and Recursion

A comic book cover seen on Patterns of Visual Math. Medium: Graphic Design/Comic Art.

While I’m not ready to argue this cover for a circa 1970’s Harvey comic constitutes fine art, it does show recursion. However, I am ready to go out on a limb and predict this illustration will contain more obvious fractal properties than some of October’s BMFAC winners and legion of runner-ups.

Fractal Tea Cup

Fractal Tea Cup. Sold on Teavana.com. Medium: Ceramics.

It seems the concept of what a fractal is might be more imprinted in mass culture than some of us have been led to believe. The Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest claims one of its missions is to select fractal art “that represents our art form to a world that largely does not know it — or if they do know it, they know only garish, 70s-style imagery.” If mass marketing has gotten a handle (no pun intended) on what fractals are and look like, can mission creep into the public mind be far behind? Is it just as possible that BMFAC wants to convince the world that its narrow definition of a UF layered and processed image is the only legitimate expression of our art form? And I wonder who exactly might benefit if such a meme started to stick in the collective consciousness?

Such a far-reaching but constricted view of fractal art is only possible if our community continues to embrace a Phase One mindset, but emphasizing software over artistic context and content is dead end. Breaking into the fine arts is our only hope for being seen as bona fide artists. Although your latest 1000+ decorative layers of UF epic technical achievement might wow some Fractalbook fanboys, it won’t matter in the long run if your image is still meaningless schlock that looks like a bad Yes bootleg cover. You’ll never be, as Dire Straits once sang, “In the Gallery.” A real gallery, that is. No, you’ll still be languishing in Phase One craft malls, and the shoppers strolling the flea market looking for trinkets won’t be able to tell the difference between your lovely, over-saturated spirals and the pretty, painted rocks in the next booth.


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