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Placing Pixels

These colors come from a painting by French painter and printmaker Henri Edmond Cross.

A little while ago I decided to make some business cards based on an algorithmic art process I had been playing with. The idea was to make pictures by rearranging the colors that make up a photograph or a work of art.

For example, take this painting by Claude Monet.

The colors that make up the painting can be arranged in different ways. My project involved an idea by József Fejes, which has to do with "growing" artwork like a crystal: start by placing a seed color on a blank canvas, and then grow outwards pixel by pixel with like attracting like:

The colorful streaks are a result of the rules of the growth process and the order in which the colors are put down — similar colors tend to cluster together as they're being placed.

You can apply this idea in different ways to make different pictures. Varying the position and number of seed colors gives rise to different spreading patterns, while varying the order in which colors are placed causes different kinds of streaking patterns to appear. You can also play with the forces that cause colors to attract each other to create a more painterly look.

Designing the Cards

With the style of the art in place, I started thinking about the card layout. There were many ideas, all involving making each card a unique, one-of-a-kind art print. I designed many variations, and for a while was excited by the idea of giving each card an individually unique link that would be associated with the person I gave the card to.

The .is domain name belongs to Iceland. Yes, that is my actual phone number.

Eventually I realized that the art carried the design, and that anything more was unnecessary. This also made the printing process easier, as I planned to use letterpress printing for the text. In letterpress, varying the text for each card is prohibitively expensive.

The final card layout removed unnecessary elements, had two links — one to me and another to the story behind the cards.

Letterpress works by creating physical plates that, like stamps, are inked and pressed into the paper, leaving behind a depression and a deposit of ink. This makes duplication of a particular stamp cheap, but variety expensive, infinite variety particularly so.

Picking the Pieces

Now was the time to choose the source material. I toyed with the idea of using images that were personally meaningful, and experimented with lots of pieces from music albums and books.

I learned that most source images don't come out so well once rearranged, so I decided to be guided primarily by aesthetics. The final set of six hundred cards were made from 40 source pieces, contributing twenty cards apiece.


I worked directly with the owner of a local print shop, and even got to visit the premises to learn more about how the cards are made. The print shop, EM Letterpress was an amazing place where many printing presses from the 1960s are kept in working order.

The guy in the blue shirt is Elias Roustom, the owner of the print shop.

Final Words

This was a lot of fun! There's a lot more to say about the technical side, with tricks and optimizations and tree search algorithms improve the quality of the artwork, but those are stories for another day. Until next time!

Yuri Vishnevsky
May 2016