Issue No. 06 - November/December (2006 vol. 26)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MCG.2006.130
Rick Spix works at a company that builds ruggedized computers and flat panel display systems for the military. After getting an AS degree in computer electronics technology and some additional work in math and chemistry, he spent many years in the satellite communications and fiber optics industries. He says he first discovered fractals in the late 1980s. "As with most early fractals on monitors, the colors were very bright and psychedelic …," he explained. Nowadays, with fractal artists popping up everywhere on the Internet, Spix still looks back at the first time he discovered fractal software. "I've sometimes thought that maybe a lot of us [fractal artists] are just old hippies who miss their black light posters."
Fantasy and sci-fi
Spix titled the cover image, Infinitely Possible, and he explained that it's a further exploration of a fractal from an earlier image, which was called Infinite Improbability Drive, a name taken from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. He redid the image, saving only the base fractal shape. "I wanted to give a vibe like an oil painting and give the piece a less 3D and a lighter, more positive feel while still keeping the sci-fi vibe," he explained. "I've discovered some fairly novel ways to use fractal patterns and fractional Brownian motion algorithms to create textures that cause filters in Photoshop to work differently when they are applied to these fractal patterns to give a more realistic painted feel to the textures of a work I feel might look best painted."
Spix created Infinitely Possible in Frederik Slijkerman's Ultrafractal program and he works on a muscular PC with an Intel 955 Extreme dual-core processor overclocked to 4.1 GHz, a RAID 0 array of two 7,200 rpm SATA2 hard drives, and 4 Gbytes of DDR2 RAM running at 802 MHz. But Ultrafractal is really what matters, he says. "[It] incorporates one of the most versatile sets of image editing capabilities you can get," he explained. "With experience using this program, modern fractal art leaves far behind the notion that this type of art is merely computer-generated, random pixels displayed on a monitor. With much hard practice, true artistic expression can be attained and very little that happens on your monitor is the product of chance, as there is the opportunity for user input [for] virtually every parameter or variable calculated."
For Spix, the program allows him to simply create art the way he wants to. "You can almost literally paint the monitor image very much in the way that a traditional artist first visualizes in his or her imagination what they want to do or convey, and then paints upon a canvas. In this case the brush is a mouse and keyboard, the canvas is a monitor, and the medium is the type of algorithm you choose to paint with. Both digital and traditional, 2D art requires the same elements of technical mastery, practice, and, most importantly, creative imagination. Accomplished fractal artists can choose exactly what goes exactly where and precisely what color and texture it is in exactly the same fashion a painter chooses these things."
And it doesn't stop with Douglas Adams. Spix turned to J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy for Galadriel'sMuse (see Figure 1). "One of the scenarios that always intrigued me was a tie-in between Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion where there were rumored to be 'seeing stones' called Palentir that enabled instant contact between different realms in Middle Earth. There was mention that one of these was believed kept by the queen of the Sylvan Elves, Galadriel, and that she'd been able to resist the Eye of Mordor when she peered into it. And so I decided I'd try to visualize this artistically."
Spix created Stormbringer (see Figure 2) when hurricane Wilma was bearing down on his coastal Florida neighborhood. He wanted to give it a dark sense of turmoil and worked on it until his power went out and finished it using an uninterruptible power supply.
On Tunnel of Love (see Figure 3), he says he was just trying to have fun with colors and mapping algorithms. "I tried to create a vibe like the old carnival tunnel of love rides where you ride in a little boat through a romantic but surreal environment," he explained. "I wanted to create the shimmering vibe of carnival lights reflected on the water and the surreal look to many carnival ride designs."
When it comes to creative technique, Spix will sometimes have a plan in mind while other times implementing a more improvised trial-and-error approach. "It can at times be any one or all of these," he said. "As happens with art or music, sometimes you are just messing around and experimenting. Playing, jamming, doodling. And sometimes in the course of your experimentation, a form or combination of notes will catch your fancy by eliciting a reaction within you, and you proceed to focus upon bringing to light that inspiration or vibe that has flashed across your mind's eye. … If you are a musician, the end product is a song or concerto. And if you are a fractallist, the result is many times a piece of very abstract art that not so much resembles any 'thing' but instead, through the use of color, form, and movement, evokes a visceral reaction or emotion in the artist and those who might view the piece."
One aspect of digital art that intrigues Spix, as opposed to the analog world, is the precision of it all. Lines can be perfectly straight. Circles can be perfectly circular. "If you ever get a chance to look at a high-resolution print of even an ordinary fractal spiral, you can put your nose right up against it and see self-similar (but not exactly alike) versions of the spiral that recede into the depths, each one minutely different, for as far as the human eye can perceive without a microscope."
Spix says he has a number of plans and dreams for the future, but the business of working full time as an artist just isn't something he's inherently cut out for. "I'm in the process of getting a large enough selection of giclee prints of my work to have an exhibition at a local art gallery," he said. "I'd like to get my work into galleries and be represented by one or more regionally. … I currently show my work online at the two largest online art galleries but will soon be putting up my own personal Web site to show my art and possibly to offer prints from the site. That will hinge on representation as art galleries frown on being undercut by artists they represent selling on the Web."
And the equipment? "I'm also looking into buying my own large format printer. Not only to save money on the printing of my art but also as a way to supplement my income with an eye toward quitting my day job at some point. There is a good bit of demand for large format prints, especially if you are good at it."
Lastly, his aspirations include transplanting himself into a 1970s rock tune and just tripping throughout the American landscape, living off his artwork: "[The dream is] to be a vagabond artist traveling across the country to art festivals in a Winnebago crammed with prints of my work and to make enough money to actually survive doing that. Of course, that would require winning the [lottery] so I didn't have to work 40 squares a week. … 'me and you and a dog named Boo'…yeah, right!"