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!”

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