1988 - Composition

1988 Anne: Pattern Study

Sometime before 1988 I began thinking about composition, i.e. where to place graphic elements in the drawing rectangle. For many of the early drawings, the space was filled up with lots of lines except for a narrow margin. I do not remember thinking much about composition during that period.

Then an algorithm came to me along with a cute story to explain it. Imagine you have an empty drawing rectangle in front of you. You have a pen in your hand, but don't have any ideas about what to do.

Well, there is always the first mark. It has to go somewhere, but where? Don't know. How 'bout this? Let's divide the rectangle into two parts, put one part aside and focus on the other one. The problem should be easier, since the rectangle you are now focussed on is smaller than what you started with.

If you don't know where to make the first mark now, why not do the division trick again? Divide the current rectangle into two and put one aside.

If you keep dividing and putting aside, you will finally end up with a teensy, tiny rectangle which is not much larger than your pen point. Now it really doesn't make much difference where the first mark goes, so just make a simple stroke.

And, go pick up the last rectangle you put aside and repeat. Time will come when there are no more to put aside and you're done!

The drawing above was done using this idea.

Three things. First, I expect you will realize that it does make a difference where you put each stroke. Your choice here, where to draw or even to leave some tiny rectangles empty, will affect the look of the drawing, along with how the rectangles are split.

Second, all the computer people reading this are nodding their heads. In computer science, what is described above is called "divide and conquer," one of the first things every student learns. The "place" where you put rectangles aside is called a "stack." It is the first interesting data structure students learn about.

Third, when I write some variation on this algorithm, very often I get an "all-over" design. It's like I've gone to all this trouble and I don't want to waste the opportunity to make a mark. Realizing this, I began to search for more general ideas about composition.

Another story: at the end of SIGGRAPH 1989 in Boston Colette and I are sitting with Bob Holzman and Patric Prince in a sports bar in Pru Center. What I am hearing is that people we know who have been doing computer art are going to quit doing it. At that moment I decide we are not going to quit and I will try my best to understand composition.