Now you’re drawing with algorithms

Putting my work to good use, decorating my iDevices

Putting my work to good use, decorating my iDevices

I have been re-discovering the work of Sol LeWitt recently. In January my wife and I travelled to the Bay Area for a wedding. This was my first visit to San Francisco as well as my first visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. There was a room full of LeWitt’s famous wall drawings on display.

I think the first time I saw a Sol LeWitt work was probably in a back hallway at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC. It was a small work on paper. Colored lines, vertical, horizontal, and diagonal in a 4-square grid. I didn’t get much out of it. But! It was important! This was an artist whose work I learned about in school and there it was!

Over the years I’ve grown to love LeWitt’s wall drawings. They exist only as open-ended instructions, such as:

A square divided horizontally and vertically into four equal parts, each with a progressively darker gradation of gray.


A black five-pointed star, a yellow six-pointed star, a red seven-pointed star, and a blue eight-pointed star, drawn in color and India ink washes.

The drawings were (and are) typically executed by a team of assistants who follow the instructions and fill in the gaps with their own interpretation. The same instructions will yield different results each time they are followed. This may sound cold and mechanical - but the result are colorful and baroque wall-scapes that transform dead white museum walls into whimsical oceans of color and shape.

I wonder if LeWitt had “sketches” of instructions. Are there instructions that didn’t quite work out? Instructions that seemed to work, literally, on paper but didn’t come together once executed? Did he try the instructions out himself or on his friends?

My programmer brain reads his instructions and wants to write a little program which executes Sol LeWitt drawings in your web browser. Sol LeWitt’s drawing instructions are procedural art generating algorithms.

Algorithms on the art machine

This week I started making some algorithmic drawings on the iPad as a way to keep creative and produce more. I like to exercise with color and texture without necessarily trying to create an image. I’ve done this in the past with paintings based upon subway signs. They were pleasurable to make, but in the end, I just had a funny colored sign.

With these I chose a shape. A star, circle, diamond, triangle, and an isometric cube. I chose colors. Primary colors plus green or compliments. I then I chose a simple, concentric repeating pattern.

I used Sketch to generate a reference shape for each image, which I then imported into ProCreate on the iPad. There I could layer color and texture until satisfied.

I’ve been enjoying these as wallpapers for my phone and tablet. Feel free to do so yourself.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402