Week 2: Abstraction of visual forms over instructions for brushstrokes


In this workshop we continue our exploration of abstraction as instructions. In this instance it is the technique of painting bamboo trees: poles (trunks?), sticks (branches?) and leaves that is abstracted into instructions.

Please note: these instructions describe a technique, not a completed visual work (as does Lewitt’s instructions). In other words, by following the instructions, we each re-produce the technique which does not necessarily result in a visually engaging work. By abstracting a form (bamboo) into a set of instructions (here documented by video), we are engaging in computational media.

We ask questions such as:

  • what is the relationship between the form of bamboo and the form of the brush? Does the brush inherently serve the shape of bamboo? And if so, does that mean that an aspect of the instructions are contained within the brush?
  • what would the original instructions have looked like? Were they drawings, written instructions or otherwise?
  • how would other forms be abstracted as instructions on how to use a brush?

Exercise 1

In the below set of videos an Dr. Ning Yeh (from Coastline College in Southern California) takes us through the steps, the instructions, for creating bamboo brush and ink drawings.

A masterpiece as easy as 1, 2, 3
(2:40 in the 3rd video below: Bamboo Lesson 3)

Follow the below video instructions for how to draw Bamboo using Chinese brush and ink.

” if brush painting is language, then the bamboo provides the alphabet ”  (0:25 in above video)

What do you think is meant by the above quote, and how might it relate to the concept of Computational Media understood as abstraction as instructions ?

Notice (at 3:18) the document and illustrations shown that provides documentation of instructions.

Perhaps the below video is also useful

Some photos from the wed morning class.


IMGP5889 IMGP5878

It was found that Eucalypt leaves could be mimicked by altering the instructions in 3 ways (see image below):

  1. the downward hanging leaves should be slightly curved (unlike the straight leaves of bamboo)
  2. the branches hang down (rather than point up like bamboo)
  3. the leaves should be of differing darkness



In the above exercise, the instructions were conveyed to us using a demonstrator demonstrating the techniques on a video.

How do you think the instructions would have varied if:

  1. they had been conveyed using paintings done in brush and ink?
  2. they had been conveyed using diagrams (not done in brush and ink)?
  3. they had been conveyed using text-written instructions?
  4. they had been conveyed by word of mouth?

Research what original form the instructions on how to draw Bamboo using brush and ink would have taken, and highlight any insights you may have discovered.

Exercise 2:

Step 1 (explore)

Research any Australian native plant, and attempt to reproduce that plant using Chinese brush and ink. You might try exploring:

  1. Eucalyptus trees (many forms of which have vertical hanging leaves)eucalyptus-leaves-250x250
  2. Banksia pods and flowers banksiapod65c556d42ccddcf75ae1a9f69ae2a1cb--the-angel-tropical-plants
  3. Wattle trees
  4. .. any number of other Australian native plants

Step 2 (abstract as instructions):

Turn your exploration into a set of instructions (which you might document as text + ink drawings).

Step 3 (execute instructions):

Exchange your instructions with another student, and implement their instructions.

Step 4 (discuss):

Together as a class, place each original drawing (the exploration) with its execution (another student who has followed the instructions), identify:

  1. those works which seemed to be particularly successful at capturing a plant
  2. those works where the executed instructions is very similar to the original (the drawing itself may or may not have a good likeness to the plant chosen)

Students then to discuss each set of instructions with the other student who executed them.

Coding (Loops and Randomness)


Open Processing. Copy and paste the following code into the Processing window.

void setup() {
 size(480, 200);
 background(255, 255, 255);

void draw() {
 // In this loop,
 // X starts at 50, and keeps going up by 20 
 // as long as it is still less than 500 
 for (int x = 50; x < 500; x = x + 20){
    ellipse( x,50,80,80);


  1. The syntax of the loop command!

Make a loop within a loop (grid)

Open Processing. Copy and paste the following code into the Processing window.

void setup() {
 size(480, 220);
 background(255, 255, 255);

void draw() {
  // noFill();
  for (int x = 50; x < 500; x = x + 20) {
    for (int y = 50; y < 200; y = y + 20) { 
      ellipse( x,y,80,80);

Randomly vary one aspect of the copied shape

Open Processing. Copy and paste the following code into the Processing window.

void setup() {
 size(480, 220);
 background(255, 255, 255);

void draw() {
  // noFill();
  for (int x = 50; x < 500; x = x + 20) {
    for (int y = 50; y < 200; y = y + 20) { 
      int diameter = (int)random(100);
      ellipse( x,y,diameter,diameter);


Configuring the random method will change things significantly. Control the randomness!

Reproduce one of the following

  1. Choose one of the artworks below and create it in Processing.
    1. Bridget Riley’s Encircling Discs with Black.
    2. Vera Molnar, Interruptions, 1968/69.
    3. Kazimer Malevich’s Self-portrait in Two Dimensions
    4. Georg Nees Mikadospielhaufen, 1969
    5. Frieder Nake. Walk-Through-Raster, series 7.1, 1966
    6. Frieder Nake – 105/130 (1965)




Controlled Substances Key Painting (Spot 4a) 1994 by Damien Hirst born 1965




Export it

Export your work and post it to social media saying “I coded this up!”

Week 1: Computational Media means Abstraction as Instructions

manfredmohr-uhf81-1Manfred Mohr, P-48, “UHF81”, plotter drawing ink. From 1960’s series

How would you describe this early computational media work?

  • A 6 x 8 grid of circles, each showing a worm stylised into a jagged line?
  • An illustration from a biology book concerned with showing the different permutations of DNA strands?
  • 48 paths of how to move through a house?
  • Rasterised versions of shooting stars seen in a telescope?

The way in which you might ‘abstract’ this drawing into a single or multiple executable instructions is what MEDA102 is fundamentally concerned with. The key concept being developed in this subject is that:

computational media is best understood as abstraction into instructions

In other words, computational media involves taking things and translating them into a set of instructions. Visual artists engage with computational media by, for example, translating visual ideas into instructions.

Sol LeWitt, L: Wall Drawing 901, 1999 and R: Wall Drawing 1081, 2003

Sol LeWitt, L: Wall Drawing 901, 1999 and R: Wall Drawing 1081, 2003

Software programmers engage with computational media by translating real-world forms (social or otherwise), such as ‘responding to a message’, into lines of software code, and emoticon iconography.

Facebook 'reactions'

Facebook ‘reactions’

Knit-wear fashion designers engage with computational media by translating real-world forms (the human body) into instructions that take the form of knitting patterns.


In other words, we are suggesting that computational media is more concerned with HOW a form is abstracted into instructions than with the instructions themselves. What is fascinating about computational media is that the abstraction has one leg in its origins: the real-world form that is being abstracted, and one leg in its eventual form: the artefact produced by the instructions. So a master of computational media (such as Sol Lewitt, for example) has a capacity for both

Computational media thus involves working in an intermediary medium. The instructions that are written are there to facilitate the translation of a form from one material existence, to another.

This concept has a strong relation to a line of critical enquiry by Mitchel Whitelaw where he develops the notion of transmateriality. Here, however, we are concerned with the middle of the transmaterial process. Here, we argue that how a form is translated from one form to another is a function of the author’s skill and approach to abstraction. Abstraction is thus the intermediary form in Whitelaw’s transmateriality.

In this exercise we ask you to translate visual ideas into instructions that will be executed by your fellow students.

Exercise 1

Identify an example of a real-world form that has been abstracted as instructions and re-executed into a new materiality.

Hints: think knitting, cooking, Ikea furniture, kolam designs, and any thing that exists as instructions.


  1. The original material existence of the form
  2. The form’s key characteristics
  3. What is captured by the instructions
  4. The characteristics of the form as it re-births into a new materiality

Exercise 2

Step 1: Analyse

Each student will be provided one Manfred Mohr print. The student must analyse what makes the key visual ideas present in the print.

Step 2: Translate into simple instructions

Write down one, two maybe five or six sentences of instructions that describe how to reproduce the key visual idea.

Step 3: Swap your instructions

The class, together, swaps instructions with other students.

Step 4: Execute your fellow student’s instructions

The class, together, swaps instructions with other students.

Step 5: Analyse what worked, and why.


  • Did you capture the visual idea of the original idea?
  • Is the visual idea that you captured better than the original idea?
  • Are the multiple implementations of your idea better?

Coding (Lines, shapes, colours)

processing handbook

Processing … 

  • What it’s for?
  • Who uses it?
  • How to use it? The environment, tutorials, examples, reference etc.

Processing tutorials

Go through Getting Started tutorial: http://processing.org/tutorials/gettingstarted/

Exercise 1: ‘Hello World’

Open Processing. Copy and paste the following code into the Processing window.

Write a comment (after each line) describing what that line does. Use “//” to make a comment. Notice how the text goes grey.

  size(480, 200);
  background(0, 0, 0);

  fill(255, 255, 255);
  text("Hello World!", 200, 60);

NOTE that:

  1. There are 2 methods… one sets the drawing up, the other does the actual drawing

Exercise 2: Draw something

Now try the following code:

  size(480, 200);
  background(255, 255, 255);

  //fill(255, 0, 255);
  • Uncomment the “fill” line
  • Change the colour of the ellipse: Use different values in side the fill() command
  • Change the colour of the line: eg. stroke(204, 102, 0);
  • Change the thickness of the line: strokeWeight(2);

NOTE that:

  1. How to change colours, (with numbers represented as RGB)
  2. 0,0 (which is X, Y) is at the top left of the screen.
  3. Methods take ‘arguments’ … this is all the information that is required to draw that shape.

Exercise 3: Primitives


line(1,1 10, 10);


triangle(18, 18, 18, 360, 81, 360);

Square (or rectangle)

rect(81, 81, 63, 63);

Circle (or ellipse)

ellipse(252, 144, 72, 72);


arc(479, 300, 280, 280, PI, TWO_PI);

Exercise 4: Recreate a Donald Judd work.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.42.00 am

Donald Judd was one of the most significant American Minimalist who created important work in 1960’s. Search his images, choose that one appeals to you.

Ask yourself: what is the key visual idea present in this work, and how might I translate it into instructions? Then implement it in Processing.

Alternatively, execute one of these:

Donal Judd, Untitled, 1990

Donal Judd, Untitled, 1990

Ellsworth Kelly, Nine Colors, 1951

Ellsworth Kelly, Nine Colors, 1951


Fran Stella, Chocorua IV, 1966

Fran Stella, Chocorua IV, 1966


Ellsworth KELLY, Red, Yellow, Blue, 1963

Ellsworth KELLY, Red, Yellow, Blue, 1963