Endlich Nach Zahn development

In the summer of 2016, Alex did a series of pencil drawings of flowers, inspired in part by the work of botanic illustrator Martin Zahn. At the time, they were intended to be part of an research project called Repeatless (the forerunner of ApeiroPattern). They didn’t get used, but making the drawings triggered a whole series of other work with pencil. Between then and now, working mainly in sketchbooks, he did hundreds of them.

A few years ago, he was asked what his creative “weapon of choice” was. Without any hesitation, Alex said pencil and paper. This surprised the asker, who probably expected him to say something code or computer related. (Alex thinks better when he’s got a pencil in his hand.) Anyway, over time, the new drawings felt part of some overarching thing and he began thinking about how they might become an ApeiroPattern collection.

In January 2021, he had the opportunity to start exploring a few ideas as part of Genuary, the creative code challenge. Alex rarely makes final pieces that don’t use colour and was initially a bit nervous about essentially greyscale outputs. The pace at which he had to make work for Genuary meant that he couldn’t dwell on this. He was pleasantly surprised by the code and drawing combination. Right away, it was evident that it could be developed into an ApeiroPattern collection. (Genuary also helped him get over a whole series of other creative hang-ups and prompted an article on LinkedIn.) In addition, the process of developing A Scheme Not Of This World (the first ApeiroPattern collection) made him want to rethink how he wrote code. Alex made two decisions…

Genuary prototype that lead to EndlichNachZahn by Alex Russell
Genuary prototype, developed into EndlichNachZahn
Sketchbook detail from EndlichNachZahn code development by Alex Russell
EndlichNachZahn sketchbook example, coding by pencil

Modularity and environments

Firstly, he would devise a system of properly modular code. He’d kind-of pretended to do this in the past. He works on code in blocks, each of which is designed to do a specific thing to the image library. In practice, he’s rarely actually re-used these blocks. Whilst the arrangement of the imagery changes significantly with each ApeiroPattern collection, there are certain actions that remain fairly similar. For example, cropping off part of an image with a tear effect, or applying a surface texture. Alex is a slow coder. He knew that producing properly modular code wouldn’t be quick, but that it would be much faster in the long run. Creating chunks of code that were easy to connect would allow Alex to devote more time to prototyping outputs, and less to remember how to do something he’d already done. Because Alex likes making things difficult for myself, he also decided to switch coding environments. (Here comes the geek paragraph.)

Secondly, when he started on A Scheme Not Of This World, Alex opted to use ExtendScript, the JavaScript extension that allows coding within Adobe software. He’s so familiar with Photoshop (he’s used it since 1994), using it to code the image building process was a logical thing to do. As the project progressed, Alex became aware of a few things issues. These were not about the quality of the outputs, but about the possibilities beyond single images, the clunkiness of some of the code (hello, Script Listener) and the lack of scope for running the code on computers that didn’t have Photoshop installed. When he was working on the Repeatless project, he used the Processing environment. Back then (up to 2013), Alex was learning how to use it as he went along, coding like a sleepy snail and gloriously unaware of its capabilities. He loved the whole ethos of it and the supportive community, but his inability to use it properly meant he thought it wasn’t the best for very large, complex 2D images. Alex was wrong. He’s now figured out how to make massive, high resolution images with loads of layers (like ExtendScript), with any amount of projection/animation possibilities, clean code and the ability to run the programme on tons of devices or platforms (not like ExtendScript).

The new ApeiroPattern collection

The collection is called Endlich Nach Zahn. It’s now in the final stages of development and will launch here soon, with a range of art print available in the shop.

A substantial part of the code-writing was done with pencil and paper. There are six main blocks of modular code that work with over 2,200 scans. The scans are mainly drawings, but there are some other hand-made marks in there too. The unique, one-off prints that the code creates look like complex pencil drawings. They are generative, but don’t necessarily look like they are.

Endlich Nach Zahn is coming soon. It’s Alex’s love letter to pencil and paper. If it’s not being unfaithful, he’s a bit smitten with Processing too.

Development output of one of the code blocks from EndlichNachZahn by Alex Russell
EndlichNachZahn development: block six of the code