My fondest memories of childhood all center around making. I must have been around 7 when my mother laid the foundation of an "experimental laboratory" for me (I even had my own custom lab coat cum apron). It was a little room with a large wooden table, two chairs, and cabinets which always seemed to be overflowing with a variety of materials and fascinating tools. Paper, fabric, clay, beads, crayons, paints, pebbles, sand, pulses, wooden poles, dried flowers, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes- the supplies were always in abundance. Using common, everyday things we would make gingerbread men and galactic colonies, paperclip jewelry and painted pottery, miniature gardens, and magnetic racecar tracks. Working with different materials- cutting, shaping, bending, tearing, molding them- coupled with my mother's infectious enthusiasm and pride at all my creations made this my safe, happy space. Far removed from the notions of fidelity, utility, and aesthetics, I came to embrace the innate joy I got from expressing myself through the process of making. I remember always being on the lookout for new materials- the habit of scavenging is, in fact, something that has sustained over the years- that could help me build my imaginary worlds. Making was fun, and exciting and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Fast forward 10 years. I am 17. Formally enrolled in an arts and design program- where for the first time in my life I learn about the rules of making. The elements and principles of design- formalized principles that characterize "good" design. Suddenly making became high stakes, daunting even. I was anxious to make things that were "right". I couldn’t create anything without evaluating it against my own standards of how it should be. It should be polished. And amazing. And unique. And the best thing to have ever been made by me. And so making lost most of the charm it held for me- and instead, I became someone who would think, and conceptualize and agonize before I would start making.
Then in my first year of grad school, I enrolled in a class which shifted my perspective yet again. 5 code sketches a week. 14 weeks in all. I had been intrigued by the practice of doing daily code sketches ever since I had chanced upon Zach Lieberman’s work- and I wondered how it would translate to my own creative process. And that is how it all began.
I have shared an uneasy relationship with code. Admittedly- we are not best friends, and we do not know each other as well as I would hope. But I feel familiarized with it, and confident in my ability to work with it even though I haven’t mastered it. Using different software, coding languages, and techniques have taught me how to learn. I had always thought of code as incomprehensible- useful, but not central to my creative process. I realize now, that code is like any other language- with its own rules, and structure. And just like any other language- it takes practice, patience and more practice, to master and come to love.
Working with code allows a non-linearity in the process that is very exciting. It lets one iterate and create versions of an idea. I spent an hour every day coding a visual around a theme and the process of doing that varied. Some days I would have a clear idea of what I wanted to make, and I would try to find ways to translate my vision onto the screen. On other days, I would start with a snippet of code, or a function I wanted to explore and see where it went. Doing something every day is strangely liberating- doing a low stakes project repeatedly freed me from the notion of trying to do things "right", at the first go. Now, I don't get frustrated if something doesn't turn out the way I want it to. I keep it aside, knowing that tomorrow is another day.
Coming from a textiles background, I love working with physical, tangible materials. One major difference I observed was that while working with hand, the artist/ designer/ maker has greater degree of control over the final outcome, and works towards achieving their vision of the work. Working with computers is different- it is a collaborative process, where one's individual choices are combined with the computer's ability to create efficiently at scale.
Here are some examples of things I created that I was happy with. Looking back at my body of work in the realm of procedural art, I see certain aesthetic similarities. A lot of it is textural, made from repeating elements layered over each other. One limitation, in hindsight, is that I have always let the code be led by the form. I would love to work on more projects in the future, where the code is built around the form I have in mind.
Here are some in color.
But, in the true spirit of comp form, the ones I really want to include are the ones I did not like at all. The ones I was unsure about, the ones that I thought required a lot more work to be somewhat finished. Moving forward, my most valuable takeaway has been to allow myself to fail. Especially during the last few weeks, I felt freer and more open with my work than I had in years. I have learned to stop discarding my ideas before testing them and embracing the discomfort that is inherent when one is experimenting and exploring.