What is Creative Coding?

by guest blogger Andrew Bryant

An artist explains the concept and technique of making art using computer programming.

 

Artist Andrew Bryant creates art using coding

Artist and coder Andrew Bryant

 

Coding is the practice of writing instructions for a computer to execute. We know that it’s a tool for building technology. But did you know it is also a medium of artistic expression?

Creative coding is the practice of making art with code. As computers have become more integral in our lives, artists have turned to the language the computer speaks, code, to communicate their ideas.

In creative coding you can work with data, text, images, audio, video, and more. You can combine different types of inputs and outputs. There are countless possibilities of what you can come up with.

What does creative coding look like?

Here’s an example of a piece I made from a photo I took near Valdivia, Chile.

 

"Southern Chile" coded image by artist Andrew Bryant

“Southern Chile 2” image by artist Andrew Bryant using creative coding

 

I didn’t draw those black squares one by one. I wrote a program that generated them. Their sizes and positions were decided randomly by the program rather than by me.

With creative coding you can create art that would otherwise be impossible to make. Because computers are good at doing calculations quickly, with them you can do things like draw thousands of shapes in seconds. That isn’t something you can do by hand.

Another cool thing about creative coding is that you can add randomness to art, like I did with the squares drawn on top of the photo of the boats. Computers are precise machines. A program can give you the same result each time you run it. But you can also write programs that allow some values to be randomly generated. These programs produce different results each time it’s run. Each run of the program becomes unique. You have control, but at the same time you don’t. The type of interaction between man and machine is a fascinating one to experience and explore.

How to do it

Every artist’s process looks a bit different, but I’ll share mine. It all begins with an idea. I start with something I want to explore. It could be a photo I took, or something I drew in my sketchbook. It might be a programming concept that I want to try out, or a modification to an existing piece that I want to make.

With that spark of inspiration, I sit down and get to work. I use the Processing programming language, or one of its implementations in other languages, to write my programs. After seeing the result of running a program, I modify it based on what I like or don’t like. I repeat that cycle of review and modification until I’m satisfied. Along the way I save images and videos of what I make. It helps me see my creative progress.

I also learn about art, programming, and creative coding through books, resources on the internet, and by interacting with other creatives.

 

"Dream Port" coded image by artist Andrew Bryant

“Dream Port” image by Andrew Bryant using creative coding.

 

Benefits of creative coding

Creative coding gives you a deeper understanding of the tools and ideas that are the foundation of our digital lives. The programming techniques needed to make a work of art are the same ones used to make the software we enjoy. Creative coding shows how it all works to a broader audience, not just those who work as programmers.

Creative coding pushes those who practice it to reach across disciplines. People who come from other forms of art will begin thinking like a programmer by turning an idea in their heads into instructions for a computer. People, like myself, who learned programming first will learn about the arts and the techniques used to make art resonate with its audience.

 

Going Somewhere image made with creative coding

“Going Somewhere” image by Andrew Bryant using creative coding.

 

Conclusion

In this article I’ve shared an overview of what creative coding is and how I go from an idea to a finished work of art. Creative coding is at a very interesting intersection of art and technology. I hope you’ll now look at coding in a new way, and maybe want to learn more about it. If so, there’s a growing community of creative coders waiting to welcome you!

 

Andrew Bryant is a creative coder. His art blends computer algorithms and lived experiences in both digital and physical spaces. It inspires viewers to create new relationships between technology and themselves and their communities. You can find more of his work on Instagram.

 

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