On ‘taming the algorithm’ and the golden summer of NFTs

For the final piece of our series on Generative Art, we are pleased to pick the brain of two great ArtBlocks generative artists:

  • The first one is Nadieh Bremer, former astronomer turned data viz engineer who is now an accomplished data and generative artist.
  • As for the second one, RVig, he has been doing generative art since 1999, combining his knowledge in software coding and his passion for art and images.

They share their views on the community, how they dived into NFTs and give us an exclusive look into their creative process.

Here we go!

Can you share a few words about yourself and your journey as an NFT artist?

Nadieh Bremer:

I studied astronomy and loved it, but I knew continuing in academia wasn’t for me, I just hated writing papers 🙂 Instead, I joined Deloitte Consulting as a data scientist. After about four years, I realized that I actually loved visualizing the insights that we found from the data even more than doing the analyses. I therefore started to teach myself how to become a data visualization specialist on my own time.

I switched jobs to become a data visualization designer making dashboards and realized I didn’t enjoy it. I therefore took a leap and became a freelancing data visualization designer in 2017, focusing on the more creative side of dataviz. However, after a few years I noticed that I kept being drawn to the data art side. But it was hard to sell data art projects to clients.

And then the summer of 2021 came around. I just finished doing the Fab Academy for 20 weeks and got back into work when I realized that some of my favorite (generative) artists were creating NFTs. After finding out what NFTs were, and being fascinated by the concept I just dove in headfirst, working on making data and generative art (data art and generative art are quite similar, except that for data art part of the visual is determined by data (but much also still by randomness)). Starting with 1/1s, small collections, and most recently, an Art Blocks drop.

Rotae (Nadieh Bremer) / Nebula (RVig)

RVig:

I was born in France, but have been living in Switzerland for the last 12 years. Since early childhood, I have always been fascinated by the possibilities offered by digital formats. I had fun playing with computers and graphics, starting with Amstrad and Amiga computers in the early 90s. I obtained a degree in computer engineering in 1999 from the National Institute of Applied Science in Lyon, France.

Although I have a regular working life, my passion is computerized art. I have spent countless hours creating my own custom toolkit, and utilize these to continuously improve and refine my skills. I have printed a lot of this art and have exhibited my work at various venues.

The NFT wave has been a great opportunity for me to continue my digital art journey. To me, “NFT Artist” is quite reductive, I would define myself more as a “Generative Artist” who takes the opportunity that NFT provides to display and sell my artwork. My NFT journey started in February/March. I had some small mints on Rarible, OpenSea and Foundation but it was difficult to get visibility and gas was very high. I then had lots of fun with HicEtNunc on the tezos blockchain.

My first breakthrough was a very successful project with Artblocks, with my “Flowers” drop receiving 6,158 mints in an hour on August 2nd. That was beyond all my expectations! My next drop on Artblocks is “Nebula”, on Nov 30th at 4pm GMT.

What is Generative Art for you and what is your take on the current gen art movement?

Nadieh Bremer:

I personally see generative art as art that is generated through programming. Where you write “rules” for the computer to follow and insert a good amount of randomness, but with a very intended approach behind it, to create a variety of outputs. Where you have no idea how the visual output will look, but you know the style of it.

I still feel quite new in the generative art community, having mostly been looking in from the sidelines as an admirer for some years while I was still more focused on data visualization. But it’s been a great experience stepping into it, everybody has been very welcoming and supportive of each other.

The exploding popularity of gen art through the past “golden summer of NFTs” has really given the movement a boost, also in how people appreciate the works and artists. It’s been great to see artists get the recognition they deserve. I hope it will remain a movement where many styles and tastes are possible, from “muted tones to vibrant colors”, that it won’t get pigeonholed into a certain aesthetic or “color palette” to give an extreme example, “defined” by a few popular artists, now that more eyes are on it and saying “what gen art should be”.

Rotae (Nadieh Bremer) / Spiral Algorithmic Pattern SP01 (RVig)

RVig:

Generative Art is very experimental and exploratory. It’s a collaboration between the artist and the computer. You need to “tame” the algorithms, and at the same time leave some space to discover totally unexpected paths. NFTs and particularly Artblocks brought a new form of generative art, that was called “long form generative art” by Tyler Hobbs. Artists need to make sure each of the 1,000 outputs is good, which can be very challenging!

Usually, we generate hundreds of outputs randomly and then curate a few of the best.

Generative art was very confidential before the NFTs, and the current gen art movement really took this NFT opportunity to step into the light. It now needs to evolve outside of computer screens and reach a larger audience.

The movement is still young, techniques are very diverse and we all have a lot to discover. What is interesting is that it’s a mix of two worlds: artists learning code, and coders learning art, and both bring fresh air to the generative art movement!

Can you walk us through your creative process as a generative artist?

Nadieh Bremer:

I generally start with a rough idea, either a visual style, or an algorithm/mathematical concept, that I want to explore, such as spirographs for my Art Blocks drop (when it’s more data art, I generally start with the topic of the data: “I want to use the speeds of the stars in the night sky and show how they move across our sky during hundreds of thousands of years”). I first try to get a grasp of the algorithm/math that is the fundament of the piece. For the spirographs, I was making sure that each time I refreshed my browser to see a new output, it would be a visually pleasing shape.

Once that feels like it’s going pretty well, I start iterating with the visual design. I often create Pinterest “mood boards” where I save inspiration that I think might fit this particular project. Using the mood board I iterate endlessly with the design. Trying different shapes, sizes, colors — although colors is really a chapter on its own. For the bigger generative art collections, where there are hundreds of mints, creating an interesting mix of color palettes is maybe the hardest part for me in the project. For my latest project, it basically took me a week, full time.

After the design and colors feel good, it generally still takes hours and hours of fine-tuning, especially with the big collections. For the 1/1s and small collections where I mint the art myself and sell on Foundation, I will instead let the program create dozens if not hundreds of outputs and curate my favorites from those. Afterwards, I generally have to decompress for a while, because I throw myself completely into a project, it having been the only thing I can think about and work on until it’s finished!

RVig:

I am always working on multiple projects simultaneously using a large base of code and toolkit. The creative thought process is usually “what will be the output if I add this algorithm ?” I have some new ideas, or see interesting algorithms/techniques somewhere, and then I add them to my current scripts and experiments. It’s never a mindset of “I want an output like this” but more “let’s try this combination of algorithms and see the result”. If the result is interesting, I will try to improve it. If not, I just move on and try something else. Generative digital art is both enjoyable and frustrating, as sometimes you get beautiful surprises but other times nothing interesting is created.

What has been your biggest learning experience becoming an NFT artist?

Nadieh Bremer:

That you need to be in contact with other artists! To ask questions about crypto (because it’s all new at the start, and changes quite fast), asking for advice on how to handle certain things (which platforms, what pricing makes sense), to ask for feedback, and to generally just stay sane and share stories.

Thankfully there are several Discords with a focus on gen art with artists in them that provide such a place, and every NFT platform has one. But seriously, I wouldn’t have gotten to nearly half of what I’ve been able to do since getting into NFTs if I had tried to do it all alone.

I’ve also learned that selling NFTs isn’t all about the art, many factors come into play. On the other hand, though, I’ve also made really direct connections with collectors that do choose to buy my work for the art itself, which has been a new and great experience.

RVig:

The NFT art market is unpredictable and moving fast. The most important thing to me as an artist is to always enjoy making your own art, as it will then eventually find an appreciative collector. Social media surrounding generative art takes a lot of time and is necessary to get visibility, but we need to know when to disconnect and focus on art.

Rotae (Nadieh Bremer) / Flowers (RVig)

Are there chains or tokens you are particular to?

Nadieh Bremer:

I started out on Tezos, on Hic Et Nunc (which is now dead though), because it’s such an easy way to get started, get your feet wet. Early on, I decided to only mint works-in-progress from my past data visualization work on HEN. Screenshots or fascinating bloopers that I’d never shared before, but that had visual appeal.

However, I also immediately started working on brand new visuals and tiny collections specifically made to become NFTs. I see these as my “main” art, and sell them on the Ethereum chain. Primarily because several major platforms are on there, such as Art Blocks, EthBlock.Art and Foundation, which already have the audience and a certain level of quality that makes you feel honored to become a part of them.

RVig:

ETH has a great collectors market, Tezos has some nice interesting experimental projects. As an artist I try to focus on making art, I do not have time to try and understand every single blockchain.

Who are your favorite generative artists? Why?

Nadieh Bremer:

Someone who I’ve been admiring for years now is Matt DesLauriers. He is both extremely gifted in his eye for style, composition and color, but also immensely technical and smart. I basically love everything that he creates.

I’ve also long been following and loving the work of Dan Catt. He creates generative art, but instead of keeping it digital, he excels in bringing it to life with pen plotters and a wide variety of pens, paper and more exotic tools even.

Manoloide is also someone who I really look up to and get inspired by. I’m amazed at the frequency and diversity of the work he creates — each piece being so different from his previous result. I could go on here with even more people whose work I love, some only recently discovered!

RVig:

My favorites are the ones who like to play with colors, like Jess Hewitt, Amy Goodchild, Jonathan McCabe, and some others where you see the impressive artistic and technical work behind each piece, like Ben Kovach or Piter Pasma. There are many more who have provided inspiration but I cannot name everybody!

Rotae (Nadieh Bremer) / Flowers (RVig)

How do you see yourself evolving as an artist in the coming months/years?

Nadieh Bremer:

I really hope that the generative art NFT market will settle into something that will remain for the long term. If I can keep focusing on creating and evolving my data and generative art, instead of doing client work, and earning an income, I’d be stoked. I’m also very curious to explore if I can somehow take my art from the digital to the physical.

During the start of 2021, I studied at the Fab Academy, where I learned to work with machines such as laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC machines and making my own electronics. I hope I’ll find a way to use the skills that I learned there to take some of my future art pieces into the third dimension 🙂

RVig:

I will continue to learn, keep the freedom to experiment with different techniques and go where the generative creative process brings me. Generative art needs more and more evangelism, and I’d like to help, through my exhibitions or in any other way, to show this art to a broader audience.

This is the third and last piece of our series on Generative Art. See our previous articles: Why generative art is the next biggest trend in NFTs and Bored Apes vs. Squiggles: two distinct approaches to Generative Art.

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