Artificial Blooms: Digital Botanics Showcase the Fractals, Tessellations, and Repetitive Features of the Natural World
From tessellations to spirals and symmetry, the Cologne-based duo behind Shy Studio has been reproducing the mesmerizing patterns of the natural world through a series of lifelike botanics. Artificial Bloom is an ongoing project by Misha Shyukin and Hannes Hummel that features still-life florals and animated clips of petals slowly unfurling.
The digital renderings showcase the complexity of organic structures while also highlighting the fractals and endless intricacies inherent to nature’s designs. “We are only two artists, and when one of us had some spare time, we would pick a flower or plant from our Pinterest board as a base and start developing our own artistic interpretation of it,” Shyukin shares with Colossal. “It was fascinating to find that a lot of floral and plant structures follow certain mathematical rules, which we could replicate and apply to our own structures.”
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By day, Scott Reinhard designs graphics for The New York Times. Recently, he created a United States map detailing where city-dwellers fled during the pandemic and another showing how the Pantanal wetland in Brazil has transformed into a massive inferno. Incorporating an ever-growing swath of data, his daily tasks are connected to the fluctuations of news cycles.
But in his off-hours, the Brooklyn-based designer takes a broader look at the state of the nation. He merges vintage maps and contemporary elevation data, creating stunning digital works that flatten the differences of time and space into hybrid objects. While his graphics for The Times are rooted in the ever-changing present, his personal work is nestled within historical contexts.
Reinhard’s interest in data and map-generation grew while he was pursuing a master’s degree in graphic design at North Carolina State University, particularly during an introductory course centered around geographic information systems. “I basically became aware of all these cartography tools that I had no idea about. Because I wasn’t coming from that background, I was free to play around… and approach visualizing geographic data in new and interesting ways,” he says.
That experimental period spurred Reinhard’s ideas of fusing historical maps and contemporary land elevations, and he began exploring filtering, a cartographic method that calculates a theoretical sun and provides data about corresponding landscapes. “It’s pretty crude, but it really fascinated me that from a flat, black-and-white image, which is basically what elevation data looks like, you could interpolate this scene,” he shares, noting that he began to work with 3-D renderings around the same time. “That data that’s stored in a paper map can still be activated.”
Since 2019, Reinhard has refined his focus and shifted to larger series. “I’m still interested in these USGS (United States Geological Survey) maps as graphic objects and as really beautiful works of graphic design. What I’ve really been enjoying is to build these out,” he says. The more comprehensive collections have included studies of Alaskan maps from the 1950s, one series focused on the Oregon coast, and another considering south-central Indiana where he was raised.
A macro-view captures the intricacies and histories etched into the landscape of a region, showcasing glacial formations, seismic activity, and how a mountain range emerged during a period of years. “I realized once I started visualizing the landscape that, on a day-to-day standpoint when you look around you, you see elevation changes, but you don’t really see patterns. We’re just a little too small,” he says. Because USGS maps utilize coordinates, they also circumvent more political orientations found in documents outlining territories or other cordoned-off areas, offering an opportunity to correct false narratives that have been perpetuated by cartographic objects in the past. The historical maps hold additional information on trends and periods in design, which manifest in aesthetic choices like style and color.
Reinhard currently is working his way through producing a collection of USGS-recommended maps from the 1950s, a novel project that’s rooted in exploration and curiosity. “All maps are exaggerations, to some extent,” he says. “You can push and pull what the map says and what the map tells you.” Explore Reinhard’s extensive collection of digital works on Instagram and his site, where he also sells an array of prints.
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Raphael Vanhomwegen describes his process as “visual brainstorming,” a technique that involves rendering his digital paintings quickly “to keep a spontaneous going-with-the-flow feeling.” The Belgium-based artist depicts vertically built cities with houses, shops, and stairwells that spring up from a hillside or body of water. Whether in technicolor, neutral shades, or moody grays, the soaring architecture is otherworldly and even foreboding as it appears to peek through surrounding fog. In many works, a few figures are perched on the balcony or a swarm of birds flies overhead.
When painting, Vanhomwegen focuses on his internal thoughts and allows himself to move comfortably through the practice of adding a new walkway or leafy vine. “You need to at least be obsessed with one particular subject that you will explore way too much than necessary,” he shares with Colossal, noting that his favorites are tiny houses and moody scenes. Similarly, he strives to imbue each artwork with volume and energy, an idea he expands on:
Every brushstroke should have a meaning in order to be visually interesting. This is idealistic, of course. I am also one of those people who think nothing is more beautiful than a sketch. I almost never saw a finished drawing look better than a very good sketch. That’s why I almost never finish my drawings. It feels like adding more notes to a perfect musical piece. It’s just not worth it.
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The anonymous pair behind Frank Moth (previously) characterize their layered digital collages as “nostalgic postcards from the future.” Using vintage photographs, the artistic duo merges retro visuals with natural elements like botanics and outer space to create playful composites that range from futuristic to romantic. “Our work almost always revolves around introspection, soul searching, and universal themes like eternity and human vices,” they share with Colossal.
Based in Veria, Greece, the pair sources images of tropical plants and starry expanses from a variety of sources, including library and museum databases and other photograph-centered websites that offer copyright-free works. “We still have our own huge inventory of images that we have been growing and expanding for many years, after endless digging and searching in databases of very old photos and scanned clippings of old magazines from the 60s and 70s,” they say.
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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?
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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.
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