Generative Art HowTo Tutorial

How does creating generative art work? An introduction for non-coders

This is an introduction into coding with the goal of creating generative art. There will be no actual coding in this post, just fake code based on Processing. All you need to know is some maths from school.

A lot of generative art is at its core a combination of lines and filled out shapes created by a computer. Still, it is hard to explain it to someone with no experience in programming. This introduction is my attempt at explaining how I tell the computer to draw cool images.

Every Screen is a coordinate System

You remember the coordinate system from school? It is at the core of everything when we try to draw on screens. It’s very useful.

(Wikipedia: Coordinate System)

You can use the coordinates to tell the computer where to draw stuff, like for example points -> Point(x,y)


(This code isn’t a real programming language, but most would work similar like the example. First the name of a function, like “point” and then the coordinates in brackets)

With the same principle, you can tell the computer to draw lines:

Line( start_x, start_y, end_x, end_y) 

That translates to: Draw a line from Point (start_x, start_y) to Point (end_x, end_y).


Writing down coordinates isn’t taking advantage of a computer and annoying. Computers are great in adding and repeating things many times, so they should do the work.

There is a pattern in the distance of the lines. This is easy to automate with a computer. But first, you need to understand two concepts in programming: Variables and Loops.


Variables are a way for the computer to remember numbers (also text and lists, but that is not relevant here). We need them to reuse values. One basic thing we need them for is to count. And to count up you need to remember the last number you counted. Same for the computer.

Variables work similar like letters in maths. You assign a letter (or a word) a value. That letter is then equal to that value.


a is set to 3
banana is set to 1
c is set to a+banana

c is now 4.

Now we learnt this, we can use that to create our first line.

start_x = 0
start_y = 1
end_x = 2
end_y = 0
Line( start_x, start_y, end_x, end_y)


We want to draw more than one line and that is why we need loops.

A loop works this way: You tell the computer to repeat a piece of code (all the text inside the curly-brackets) until a certain condition is met. To use a loop the command “while” is used in many programming languages.

while (counter<=4){
   counter = counter+1

Here we create the variable counter. The variable “counter” is set to 4.
While the variable “counter” is smaller or equal to 4, repeat code in brackets{
“counter” is set to “counter” +1.

We create a variable counter and count with it to four. Afterwards, the condition in the loop is met and the loop ends.

And now we bring all what we have learnt together. We use the variables and the loop to create the graph we drew earlier.

start_x = 0
start_y = 1
end_x = 2
end_y = 0


while (counter<=4){

   Line( start_x, start_y, end_x, end_y)

   start_y = start_y+1
   end_x = end_x+2

   counter = counter+1

Create the variables for the lines Set them according to the first line. “start_x”, “start_y”, “end_x”, “end_y”.

Set “counter” to 1.

Start loop. Loop continues as long counter is smaller or equal 4{

Draw a line from Point (start_x, start_y) to Point (end_x, end_y)

Set “start_y” to “start_y”+1

Set “end_x” to “end_x”+2

The variables “start_x” and “end_y” aren’t changed, because they stay the same in each loop for this example (compare with coordinates above)

Set “counter” to “counter”+1

The same lines, drawn by the little program above!

And the great things is, it is easy to play around with values, when you have written the program.

Why not 160 lines?

start_x = 0
start_y = 1
end_x = 2
end_y = 0


while (counter<=160){

   Line( start_x, start_y, end_x, end_y)

   start_x = 0
   start_y = start_y+1
   end_x = end_x+2
   end_y = 0

   counter = counter+1

(The scale was changed to bigger steps)

Adding two lines each loop, changing the values

start_x = 0
start_y = 1
end_x = 2
end_y = 0


while (counter<=160){

   Line( start_x, start_y, end_x, end_y)
   Line( end_x, 1000-start_y, 0, 0)

   start_x = 0
   start_y = start_y+4
   end_x = end_x+8
   end_y = 0

   counter = counter+1

Now we have a foundation to create generative art. After playing around with the values and adding 1 or 3 more lines each loop, I have created some interesting results. If you would add a nice looking frame, you could call it art.

(The quality suffered from compression)

I hope you learnt something. For feedback or if you want a second part with real code, let me know on Instagram or Twitter

Art Generative Art Processing

I started making Art instead of Visualizations

I am back, nearly two years later. I haven’t posted anything here, but I wasn’t idle, I really got into Generative Art and shared it on Instagram. I posted over 200 Images in the last two years, all based on my code!

When you look at my last three posts, you see that I started to dabble in Generative / Glitch art. I was using R, because I was most familiar with the tool. I realized soon, that it might not be the ideal tool. I started looking into Processing.

Processing is a programming language based on Java. It was designed as an intro to programming with a strong visual emphasis. It is quite popular in the Generative Art space, which is why I made the leap. After some struggle at the beginning, it proved to be quite easy to learn. There are a lot of good tutorials

Sieh dir diesen Beitrag auf Instagram an

Ein Beitrag geteilt von infobil (@inf0bil)

But that wasn’t all: I learnt about Pen Plotters, machines that do the drawing for you and are quite popular with generative artists. Basically, it is a machine that can draw with a pen and can draw vector graphics.

I was fascinated and bought one for myself. I am now an owner of an Axidraw A3 by Evil Mad Scientists. I started plotting and I still am today. After doing this for two years, I thought it might be time to write up some things I learnt.

Art Fun Generative Art R

I created a shiny app for R. It generates colourful circles

I tried making a shiny app about 2 years ago, but I never really got it online for some reason. But after talking to a friend I tried again and it was surprisingly easy! Maybe I just got a lot better using R or the server infrastructure got a lot easier to use.

Anyway here you can play around with it.

I still could improve a few things UI-vice and maybe add more options. But honestly for a prove of concept it is good enough and I am quite happy how well it works. And I really like the results.

Chart R

I tracked my Podcast-listening for one year

I listen to podcasts all the time. But I didn’t really have a clue how much time I spend on it and what kind of podcasts I am even listening. So I started to track my habits. To do so I switched my podcast-app to Podcast-Addict. The app tracks how much time you spent on each podcast. Unfortunately there is no way to properly export that data, so I had to type in the times manually once a month. I did that for one and a half year of which I used one year. (My phone broke so there was a 10 days gap and I thought one year is prettier anyway.)

The main problem was that the interesting information was which podcast I listen to and how much. But at the same time there were 75 of them, too many to give space to all of them, because it would look to crowded. I tried anyway and the result is the graph “Podcasts by Category”. And it definitely is too crowded, but I am still quite happy with it because it manages to show a lot of information at once without being too confusing.

An alternative was to summarize the Podcast into categories, but this would be mainly interesting for myself but for no one else, also because the categorization is a bit arbitrary at times. For me, the result was interesting: I could clearly recognize the time I was working, the time I started my master thesis and the time in between. In the month with the huge spike I went back to university but most of my friends weren’t back yet. I was also listening to the Versailles Anniversary Project (100 years), which followed the making of the Versailles treaties nearly day by day and because I started a month to late I had a lot of catch up to do (amazing work by the way. Check it out)

One goal of this visualization was to try to properly apply one theme to all the graphs, so they look like they belong together. I think that worked quite well beside some minor errors. I also tried to get better at using colours. I wasn’t to successful there, the colours I used in the end  for the languages are quite ugly and I should have played around with it a little longer.

Generative Art R

Generating beautiful patterns with R

Motivated by my last experiments with Glitch Art I decided to look a bit more into generating images with R. One of my favorite musicians Max Cooper released another absolutely gorgeous music video. Check it out, the animation is fantastic. I was intrigued by the simple basic structure. It was just a rectangle divided by rectangles divided by rectangles. Something I can absolutely do with my R skills. So, I tried. The pictures are a result of that.

My tactic was to create a data frame just starting with the first rectangle, defined by start and end coordinates then just splitting them. I filled them randomly with colors. Honestly quite simple. Doing this and other experiments, I got a lot better making code run faster in R. Of course there is still a lot of space to improve. The code in my last post for example was super inefficient and I made a lot of basic mistakes (I improved it and now it runs a lot faster).

Here is the code if anyone is interested:


#data is one line of the total dataset, i is the number of the loop.
#because I don't want super long rectangles, I always first check which is the longe side.
yaxsplit=ifelse((data$z.x-data$a.x)^2>=(data$z.y-data$a.y)^2,F,T )
#create the divider which is a value which defines the proportions of the two new rectangles

#rectangle 1
#ifelse is necessary to change if it is a vertical split or not.
#here the new x.a1 and new y.a1 is created. (naming was a bit stupid I admit)
data[2,1]=ifelse(yaxsplit==T, data[1,1] , data[1,1]+(data[1,3]-data[1,1])*divider)
data[2,2]=ifelse(yaxsplit==T, data[1,2]+(data[1,4]-data[1,2])*divider, data[1,2])

#Points stay stay the same no mater the orientation.
#x.z1 and y.z1 are created

#rectangle 2
#are the same like in the first created recangle (x.a and y.a)
data[3,1]= data[2,1]
data[3,2]= data[2,2]
#y.z2 and y.z2 
data[3,3]=ifelse(yaxsplit==T, data[1,3] , data[1,1] )
data[3,4]=ifelse(yaxsplit==T, data[1,2] , data[1,4])

#add level (for potential animations)
#add a color. one of the rectangles keeps the color of the bigger rectangle, not necessary

#this changes which one of the rectangles is saved first. this should change it up and make sure there aren't more splits on one side.

# a list of color palettes

#how many splits should be done?
#create empty dataframe
#fill first row

#precreate random vector used for proportions and colors.
random=sample(1:4,loops,replace = T)

while(i <loops){
#filling up dateframe with simple loop and splitter functions

#this skips every few rows, so there stay a few bigger rectangles.

#this is just for me to choose one palettes in the list
alpha=9,show.legend = F,fill=pallist[[farbe]][df$color],col=pallist[[farbe]][5])+
Art Fun Generative Art Glitch Art

Beyond Charts: Creating Glitch Aesthetics with R

This newest project doesn’t have much to do with data visualization, but I use R for it. I am into Glitch Art  quite some time already. So far, I  used apps or plugins to create my own. BUT this will change now.

I was interested if I could write anything like this on my own. R is probably far from the  optimal tool to work on images, but it is the only programming language I really know, so it must do. The blog Fronkostin did something with images in R recently and inspired me to try it too.

Here is my first try: I basically, selected a random square of the image and randomly shuffled to color channels around (RGB) or inverted them. And then I repeated the progress between 10 and 80 times. It is quite basic, but I love the look of it. And I just love that I can churn them out automatically, randomly creating an infinite amount of variants.  The whole thing is quite slow and is basically unusable with bigger images, but it is a start.




#convert image to dataframe. Add additional colorchannels, which will be changed.,wide="c")%>%rename(red1=c.1,green1=c.2,blue1=c.3)%>%
mutate(red=red1, blue=blue1, green=green1)

 #this function randomly changes colorchannels of random squares. also uses negative of the colorchannel

colorswitches = function(data,negative=T){

#create cordinates for squares. choose randomly two points on the x and y axis. 

#there are 6 color variables. three of them are the originals. three of them are the ones who are changed
#variable which defines where color is picked from. chooses from orignal and changable variables. it is important that it also picks from original from time to time. because else at one point all becomes grey.
#randomly selects one of 3 changable variables

#add 1 to 6 chance the negative of the color is used.
minuscolor=ifelse (sample(1:6,1)==1,T,F)

#this is just that the for counter doesn't has to start at one. small speedup

for(i in startbla:nrow(data)){

#check if x and y is inside the defined square
if (data$y[i] > liney[1]){
if(data$x[i]<linex[2] & data$x[i]>linex[1]){

#two version of changing the color value of the selected channel. one negative on normal. 
if(minuscolor==T &negative==T) data[i,tocolor]=1-data[i,fromcolor]
else data[i,tocolor]=data[i,fromcolor]
#if y bigger then selected square, stop loop

#repeating the colorsquare function
for(i in 1:50){

#create proper RGB code from the three color channels
img=img%>% mutate(rgb=rgb(red,green,blue))

#display it with ggplot.
p<- ggplot(img,aes(x,y))+geom_raster(aes(fill=rgb))+scale_fill_identity()+

Map Travel

Where have I been in 2018

Last year I made a post about where I have been in 2017. I was worse with R so I solved it with a combination of cleaning up the data with R, importing it into Qgis and finally edited it in HitFilms.

This time I just did it all in R. The difficult part this time was to get the Google API running for the import of Google maps. (You need to enable billing to get the whole thing running.) It was the first time I used the new ggAnimate. It is great and easy to use. Less of a hazzle then the last times I used it.

I could reuse some of last years code, so I was done quite fast. (not the greatest code tough.)


register_google(key = “AIzaSyCTCk3yYCPEo1UKVkZm_iQk_r4wPJCHlA4”)

system.time(x <- fromJSON(“GoogleLoc.json”))

# extracting the locations dataframe
loc = x$locations

# converting time column from posix milliseconds into a readable time scale
loc$time = as.POSIXct(as.numeric(x$locations$timestampMs)/1000, origin = “1970-01-01”)

# converting longitude and latitude from E7 to GPS coordinates
loc$lat = loc$latitudeE7 / 1e7
loc$lon = loc$longitudeE7 / 1e7

# calculate the number of data points per day, month and year
loc$date <- as.Date(loc$time, ‘%Y/%m/%d’)
loc$year <- year(loc$date)
loc$month_year <- as.yearmon(loc$date)

#new dataframe with the important units
maps<- data.frame(loc$lat,loc$long,loc$date,loc$time,loc$year)

#filter out the year and convert the longitude to the proper unit.
maps1<-maps%>%filter(loc.year==2018) %>% mutate(longitude = loc.long/10^7)

#choose the 10. measurement of each day. not very elegant, but good enough.
maps2<- maps1 %>% group_by( %>%

#get background map. set size, zoom, kind of map)
mamap <- get_map(location=c(mean(maps2$long,na.rm=T),mean(maps2$lat,na.rm=TRUE)+3), maptype = “satellite”,zoom=5)

#put it all together.
geom_point(data=maps2,aes(x=long,y=lat),size=4, col=”red”)+
#the animation part
shadow_trail(alpha=0.3,colour=”#ff695e”,size=2,max_frames = 6)

a=animate(m, renderer = ffmpeg_renderer(),duration=20)
anim_save(filename = “my2018/2018video.mp4”)

Germany History Map Switzerland United States

American Cities named after big German, Austrian or Swiss Cities

Recently the Swiss ambassador in the United States posted an interesting tweet. It showed a map of places in the US which might have Swiss roots. A little later I found the same map on Reddit too. Reading the discussion and after checking some things myself, I noticed that there were mistakes or the cities weren’t existing anymore. Unfortunately, the ambassador didn’t share any source.

The map made me curious and I thought to check myself. I downloaded a list of places in the United States and Canada from I imported it into R and filtered it just for the cities and town.

I then created three lists with search-term for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. For Switzerland I used the names of the Kantons, for Germany the names of the 30 biggest cities and for Austria I took the 10 biggest cities and the name of some of the regions. I also translated some names of more famous places to English. I had to do some filtering because a name like “Uri” just gives a ton of wrong results. I then used the search-terms to look through the cities in the US and Canada.

The first result was, that a big part of cities were dead an had a population of zero. I think it was more than half. I had no clue, that there were so many empty towns in the US. I decided to filter those out, because it cluttered everything. Then I had to filter some more for names like “BERNard” and in the end, I went manually trough the list to remove false positives.

After that I just had to visualize it. I used the packages ggplot, ggrepel and ggmap to create the map. I finished it in Gimp. If anyone is interested in the code let me know.

Chart Europe History

The Reign of Roman Emperors

I visualized the reign and end of Roman emperors. I am quite a fan of history, so when the task in the /r/dataisbeautiful-DataViz-Battle was to visualize the reigns of the Roman Empire, I was excited.

Chart Europe Population

To which European countries do Europeans migrate?


Migration is a huge topic in Europe and I wanted to know where people go, when they leave the country they grew up in. Luckily Eurostat has some Data about that.

There is the problem of huge population differences between the countries, so I wasn’t able to just use the absolut numbers. So I created to graphs. Once it show the migrant-population  relative to the host country and once relative to their origin country.

I created the graphs with the help of R and Ggplot. Code of the second graph:

 scale_fill_distiller(palette="YlOrRd", direction = 1,na.value=NA,trans='log1p')+
 axis.text.x=element_text(angle = 45, hjust=.1),
 legend.position = "bottom")+
 labs(y="Host-Country",x="Origin-Country",fill="Share of Population in Host-Country (%)",
 title="Biggest groups of European immigrants in Europe (2017)",caption="Note: Missing countries had no Data avaible or were so small, that they distored the scale.
 Source: Eurostat")