Generative art and creative code

Alex Russell makes generative art and creative code. He uses code (computer programming) to generate artworks from a library of pre-prepared images. Alex builds the library using a range of different media, including drawing, painting, collage and photography. The code combines a range of pattern-making and compositional rules that draw on all facets of Alex’s creative experience. It produces outputs that can cover an area of any size with ever-different pattern.

The artworks are built in collections that share the same code and image library. Every time the code runs, a unique output is created. Each is a one-off work of art that does not exist in any other format; no two are the same. To date, Alex has created six collections.
A Scheme Not Of This World: learn more, browse/buy
Endlich Nach Zahn: learn more, browse/buy
Genuary22: learn more, browse/buy
Future Rope Core Memory: learn more, browse/buy
Connected Play: learn more, browse/buy
Roundles Pallet: learn more, browse/buy

Alex’s code works in two stages, genotype and phenotype (biological terms). Genotype is the data with an organism’s DNA that determines its visual characteristics (the code for hair colour, for example). Phenotype is the physical manifestation of the genotype (in this case, what colour the organism’s hair actually is).

In the (first) genotype stage, the programme produces numeric data that corresponds to the composition and content of the output. In the (second) phenotype stage, the code uses the genotype data to build the output. The data tells the programme which image to open from the library, how to digitally manipulate it and where to pasting it into the artwork.

ApeiroPattern generative art library, code and two outputs from A Scheme Not Of This World by Alex Russell
A Scheme Not Of This World: image library, code and two outputs
BA, MA, freelance and Repeatless generative art by Alex Russell
Generative artworks: BA, MA, freelance and Repeatless


Alex has used a wide range of approaches to art and design; his creative coding crystallises pretty much all of them. He trained as a printed textile designer and has 30 years experience of creating and teaching print and surface pattern. He began making images with code in the early 1980s and has made widespread use of digital image applications since the early 1990s. Alex started exploring generative processes during his BA, using dice-throws to choose between a range of different colour, composition and content possibilities. He first incorporated scientific concepts into his working processes during his MA, initially using chaos theory. Alongside this, he has drawn and painted his whole life.

Whilst working as a freelance designer, he began applying generative methods to design in the mid-2000s, setting limits of randomness within which design content could occur or repeatedly looping simple image manipulation processes. A couple of years later, as a lecturer, Alex started to develop the idea of code using pre-existing images. Initially, he used very simple patterns (spots and stripes) to create complex artwork. As this took shape, it became an academic research project called Repeatless. The project made extensive use of complex systems theory, giving Alex’s interest in science a central role in his practice. At the heart of the projectwere two concepts. Firstly, that digital printing technology eliminated the need for repeat. Secondly, that code could generate a potentially endless stream of ever-changing pattern.

Current art and creative code

Alex’s current practice combines and extends all these approaches. He creates large libraries of images and writes code that arranges them to create artwork. The rules (algorithms) that govern how this composition happens include compositional techniques used by a range of different creative fields. These include printed textile design, graphic design and fine art. Each rule has parameters within which a range of outcomes can happen. The rules are inter-woven. As the code runs, the parameters change to reflect the in-process content of the image, creating a balanced final output.

Alex works in series, each with it’s own unique themes, code and image library. Overarching all the collections are is the desire to experiment with pattern concepts, including design patterns (from software design) and pattern language (from architecure). The work questions the existance of a boundary between hand-made and digital. His work questions at what point an image can be described as pattern, and how perceptions of this alter when it’s content includes traditionally decorative elements. It operates in a unique space where code, hardware and hand drawing/painting can work together.

Generative art: further info

Generative means created from a series of instructions that have scope for unpredictable things to happen. The instructions are written in a way that takes control away from the artist, giving the artwork itself autonomy. They are often an algorithm and carried out by a computer, but they don’t have to be. Philip Galanter’s academic-but-approachable “What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory” is a good place to learn more about Generative Art. One of Alex’s favourite examples is Celestino Soddu’s 1987 La Citta’ Ideale, which created generative Italian medieval towns.

Sketchbook, development, image library and output illustrating generative art process used by Alex Russell
Generative art process: sketchbook, development, image library, final output