Neural Networks Create a Disturbing Record of Natural History in AI-Generated Illustrations by Sofia Crespo
Sofia Crespo describes her work as the “natural history book that never was.” The Berlin-based artist uses artificial neural networks to generate illustrations that at first glance, resemble Louis Renard’s 18th Century renderings or the exotic specimens of Albertus Seba’s compendium. Upon closer inspection, though, the colorful renderings reveal unsettling combinations: two fish are conjoined with a shared fin, flower petals appear feather-like, and a study of butterflies features insects with missing wings and bizarrely formed bodies.
Titled Artificial Natural History, the ongoing project merges the desire to categorize organisms with “the very renaissance project of humanism,” Crespo says, forming a distorted series of creatures with imagined features that require a new set of biological classifications. “The specimens of the artificial natural history both celebrate and play with the seemingly endless diversity of the natural world, one that we still have very limited comprehension and awareness of,” she writes.
Crespo manufactured a similar project, Neural Zoo, that combines disparate elements of nature into composite organisms. “Our visual cortex recognizes the textures, but the brain is simultaneously aware that those elements don’t belong to any arrangement of reality that it has access to,” she says. More generally, Crespo explains her motivation behind merging artificial neural networks and natural history:
Computer vision and machine learning could offer a bridge between us and a speculative “natures” that can only be accessed through high levels of parallel computation. Starting from the level of our known reality, we could ultimately be digitizing cognitive processes and utilizing them to feed new inputs into the biological world, which feeds back into a cycle. Routines in artificial neural networks become a tool for creation, one that allows for new experiences of the familiar. Can art be reduced to the remapping of data absorbed through sensory processes?
Share this story
Thanks to Studio Ghibli, you can hide piles of laundry and errant messes while videoconferencing from home with one of 400 stills from classic animations. The renowned Japanese animation studio recently released an online archive of images— which boasts iconic frames from films like Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo and Spirited Away and Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya available—for free download. Each month, Studio Ghibli will add an additional eight images, mostly derived from new works.
This recent collection appears to be an extension of the studio’s release of video-conferencing backgrounds earlier this year. Explore the entire archive and watch for upcoming projects, which include a new Miyazaki-directed film, on the studio’s site. (via Hyperallergic)
Share this story
Behind Jo Brown’s home in Devon is a rich countryside complete with a wooded area and thick vegetation. For years, the United Kingdom-based illustrator documented the wildlife and plant species she encountered in her Nature Journal, a black Moleskine that now has been reproduced exactly in a forthcoming book, Secrets of a Devon Wood.
Each page of Brown’s notebook contains a pen and colored pencil drawing that begins at the pages’ edges, appearing to grow from the corner or across the paper. Sometimes captured through close-ups that mimic scientific illustrations, the delicate renderings depict the detail of a buff-tailed bumblebee’s fuzzy torso and the red tendrils of a round-leaved sundew. Brown notes the common and Latin names for each species and common characteristics, in addition to where and when she spotted it.
Share this story
Considering Complexity and Ritual, an Imaginary Universe Emerges from Psychedelic Digital Illustrations
Luis Toledo has a knack for building ethereal universes. The Madrid-based artist, who works under the moniker Laprisamata, digitally illustrates otherworldly scenes and composite characters formed from vibrant blocks of color, patterns, and mundane objects, like pineapples and leaves. “I am interested in working on the complexity of human beings and animals, working against the medical anatomy atlases that try to simplify living beings. Nature always develops complex shapes, and I try to imitate that,” he tells Colossal.
Psychadelic in style, the collaged renderings are part of a larger narrative relating to the rites, rituals, and beliefs of the Blue Desert, Toledo’s imagined world. He explains the fictional universe:
Most of these artworks take place in the Blue Desert. The Blue Desert or The Desert of the Blue Men is the place where the Iberians will live, an ancient sea where priests make rituals and sacrifices, and where the three-eyed skull and black felines are venerated. Land of Esperpentos where elms used to grow and where some olive trees, acacias, almond trees, and thyme now survive.
Toledo created many of the pieces shown here during lockdown, while he was confined to his apartment with little access to nature. “I needed the characters in my works to be located in large open spaces where there was nothing to prevent the sky from being seen,” the artist writes.
Eventually, Toledo hopes to compile these illustrations and develop the characters’ narratives in a graphic novel or book, an endeavor you can follow, along with more of his kaleidoscopic works, on Instagram and Behance.
Share this story
Fascinated by the transient expressions and feelings of his subjects, Uli Knörzer attempts to capture a moment in time. The Berlin-based illustrator draws richly detailed portraits that are simultaneously revealing and elusive. By positioning each subject against a solid backdrop, Knörzer eliminates the contexts that inspire their particular looks and moods. “Because a tilt of the head and look to the side or a smirk could be just that but by putting it on paper, detached from their surroundings, that fleeting moment can be charged with a completely different meaning. All of a sudden someone very outspoken and extroverted can appear very introspective, etc,” he shares with Colossal.
Always focused on idiosyncracies, Knörzer says his choice in subjects is particular. “It’s always the side scene, someone in the background, or a backstage moment that draws my attention, and I imagine what their ‘deal’ is, so I love to put them front and center,” he says. He then sketches the subjects entirely with colored pencils, highlighting the texture inherent to the medium.
Many of the deflty rendered portraits shown here are part of a commissioned project for Highsnobiety that centers on Black hair. Having previously worked on a variety fashion and journalistic endeavors, Knörzer received direction on styles and runway looks from the magazine and was able to determine the rest. “I had the freedom to draw people the way I saw them in those clothes and with that hair. And that’s how I like it the most,” he tells It’s Nice That.
Knörzer’s background includes a lifelong love of portraiture—he shares that he would draw his teachers as a child and enjoyed paging through books of Tomi Ungerer’s work—and a degree in graphic design and typography from HfG Offenbach. Explore more of his figurative illustrations on Instagram.
Share this story
Full of extraordinary creatures, the illustrated series The Creative Specimens seamlessly combines species into unusual hybrids. Similar in color, each organism is bizarre in form. The feathered head of a bird is placed on a tortoise’s body, octopus tentacles sprout from the bottom of a cactus, and speckled coral comprises a deer’s antlers.
Adobe’s 99U Conference spurred the collaborative project as a way to offer a visual language encompassing various creative careers and passions. Inspired by the biological classifications of Charles Darwin and his contemporaries, New York-based art director and graphic designer Mark Brooks digitally rendered the organisms by referencing vintage illustrations. He then passed the project to Joanmiquel Bennasar, an illustrator living and working in the Balearic Islands, who recreated the creatures in watercolor.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Illustration
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.