Endlich Nach Zahn

The Endlich Nach Zahn generative art collection began in 2016, when 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. They didn’t get used, but making them triggered a whole series of other work with pencil. Between then and now, working mainly in sketchbooks, he did hundreds of other drawings. These ranged from precise geometric drawing to abstract mark-making.

A few years ago, Alex was asked what his creative “weapon of choice” was. Without any hesitation, he said pencil and paper. This was greeted with surprise; possibly because the expected response was something code or computer related. Every he does starts this way, every work that ends up completed digital or coded. Alex thinks better when he’s got a pencil in his hand. Over time, the new drawings felt part of an overarching concept and he began thinking about how they might become an generative artcollection.

In January 2021, he had the opportunity to start exploring a few ideas as part of Genuary, the creative code challenge. Colour is generally central to Alex’s creative approach and he was initially unsure about greyscale outputs. The pace at which he had to make work for Genuary encouraged him to put aside any misgivings. He was pleasantly surprised by the code and drawing combination. Right away, it was evident that it could be developed into a body of generative art. Genuary also helped him get over a whole series of other creative hang-ups and prompted this article on LinkedIn.

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


In addition, the process of developing A Scheme Not Of This World (his first full creative code collection) made Alex want to rethink how he wrote code. He made two decisions.

Firstly, he would devise a system of properly modular code for the Endlich Nach Zahn generative art collection. Alex had attempted to do this in the past. He’d work on code in blocks, each of which was designed to do a specific thing to the image library. In practice, the blocks rarely got re-used. The arrangement of the imagery changes very significantly with each of his collections of art, but there are certain actions that remain similar. For example, cropping off part of an image with a tear effect, or applying a surface texture. Alex 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 iteratively developing outputs, rather than perpetually building everything from scratch.

Coding environment

Secondly, when he started his previous collection, A Scheme Not Of This World, Alex opted to code with 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 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.

Prior to A Scheme Not Of This World, he had the Processing environment. Back then (up to 2013), Alex was learning how to use it as he went along, coding very slowly and gloriously unaware of its capabilities. He loved the whole ethos of it and the supportive community, but initially couldn’t work out how to work with very large, complex 2D images. Alex figured this out whilst building Endlich Nach Zahn, learning 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)

Development output of one of the code blocks from EndlichNachZahn by Alex Russell
EndlichNachZahn development: block six of the code
ApeiroPattern generative art print Endlich Nach Zahn 20220120 1453 by Alex Russell
Endlich Nach Zahn 20220120 1453

Endlich Nach Zahn

The final code for the Endlich Nach Zahn generative art collection builds the image up in seven layers. Each layer has it’s own set of algorithms that respond with increasing complexity to each other as the code runs. 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. A number of the possibilities are subtractive, erasing or covering existing content. The concept of creativity involving removal as well as addition is key.

Also crucial to the work is the idea of blurring the boundaries between digital and analogue, between new and traditional media. The unique, one-off prints that the code creates look like complex pencil drawings. They are generative and digital, but don’t necessarily look like a preconceived perception of this type of work. The code models six different pattern-making and compositional rules, developed from methods used ito arrange content in textile design, graphic design and fine art. Endlich Nach Zahn is a celebration of pencil and paper, of building complex artworks from the simplest of media.

Buying or commissioning

Endlich Nach Zahn is available as a series of archive-quality prints on paper. Browse and buy here.
If you’re interested in commissioning Endlich Nach Zahn at a different size or on another surface/substrate, please get in touch.