Sarah Ridgley

Please introduce yourself.

Hello! My name is Sarah Ridgley, and I’m a generative artist and asemic poet. 

I’ve enjoyed experimenting with different art processes for as long as I can remember. I’m a printer (letterpress and risograph) and most of my early work came from vector images made using programs like Illustrator. Several years ago I started drawing on an iPad using Procreate, and it was really exciting to explore more organic linework while maintaining a digital workflow. 

When I discovered generative art, it felt like a very natural extension of the process I was already using. I was captivated by the concept of drawing with code for many reasons, but the biggest was because I don’t have the best line control when drawing with my hands. It always bothered me that I couldn’t draw or paint the ideas that I had in my head, and generative art suddenly gave me a means to accomplish artistic goals I had only dreamed of. 

I only had minimal coding experience when I first started working with generative art, and there was definitely a struggle to learn how everything worked. But I was determined to figure it out. I read every book I could get on Processing and creative coding, and began testing out what I could make.  Once I was comfortable with the basic structure and syntax, I started pushing myself to create my own functions and algorithms. 

I was particularly drawn to using simple algorithms that I could easily manipulate. I’ve never been that good at math, so whenever I need to learn a math formula to make a shape it’s a challenge. But I think in that challenge, I find my own way. By breaking things down and learning why this or that worked or didn’t, I started to understand how to control the shapes I was creating. My favorite way to explore generative art is by mashing algorithms together along with as much randomness as I can, and then seeing what happens. 

How did you get into the NFT space? What has your experience been like thus far?

My first experience with NFTs was Cryptokitties back in 2017. I thought they were cool and bought a bunch. I was so intrigued with this idea of tokenizing art, as it was called back then. In 2018 I experimented with tokenizing some of my own digital art on the Stellar blockchain (I thought ETH was way too pricey back then haha) but that didn’t really go anywhere.

I came back to NFTs in the summer of 2020, bought a cryptopunk, and released a few generative pieces on Rarible. After that, I gave myself an Inktober challenge. I tried to make a new program each day and then mint an NFT of the result. It was really fun, and this time I actually sold a few of the NFTs I was making. I think in the fall of 2020 we were all feeling pretty overwhelmed with lockdown life. It was great to have this outlet to present my art to people, and to collect work from others and feel like part of a community. 

After that, I just kept coding away and working on various programs. I had been working on a generative handwriting program off and on for several years, and I started making a manuscript to track my development. This eventually led me into generative poetry, which I just love. I’ve released several poems on Hic et Nunc, and I’m currently working on some poems for theVERSEverse that I’m excited about. 

I also applied for Art Blocks in early 2021. When I finally heard back from them, it was really exciting because I knew there weren’t a lot of women on the platform. I saw it as a chance to bring a different perspective about what was possible with generative art. 

Vera Molnar, Lettre à ma mère, plotter drawing and hand drawing, 32 x 42 cm, 1990

What are your artistic influences?

I really love Matisse and his line drawings. I can relate to his attempts to try and “find the perfect line”, and I think he would have loved experimenting with generative art to create lines. I also love the work of Vera Molnar and her work with lettering via code. My first instinct with generative art was to do lettering, and I was so excited when I discovered her Lettres de ma mère. I also enjoy abstract figuration and painterly work by artists like Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne.

Image: Vera Molnar, Lettre à ma mère, plotter drawing and hand drawing, 32 x 42 cm, 1990

What tools do you use to create your art?

I use p5.js and JavaScript to create all of my programs. One great thing about generative art is that you can save multiple versions of a program and build out different ideas while reusing some of the basic tools that you’ve developed along the way. The “brush” that I’m currently using for most of my poetry and linework is something I’ve been working on and refining for a long time. I love the chalky, almost crayon-like style that it gives to my work. 

When I want to bring a piece into the analog world, I use my Risograph to print it. Then, I use thermography (which is basically pouring powdered resin on the ink and then heat setting it) to create a paint-like effect and seal the ink.

You just wrapped up Himinn, the beautiful collection of generative clouds on ArtBlocks. Can you walk us through your process for creating the collection? Where did the idea come from? What did early versions look like?

Sure! I started experimenting with generative painting last year. My process involved using the pixel layer and manipulating the pixels in an image to create my own painting style. But, because my paintings relied on a photograph for the form and colors, that process wasn’t going to work for Art Blocks. The code would be too big if I tried to upload a photograph, and even then I could only use one, so there wouldn’t be much variety and it wouldn’t work for long form generative art.

The inspiration for Himinn came from my search for a way to overcome my reliance on photographs. I finally had a eureka moment and discovered a way that I could create my own underpainting by using the graphics buffer in p5. This allowed me to do what I’d been working towards, which was find a way to explore a painting structure and all the form possibilities with generative art. 

I knew I wanted to use nature in my work, and the clouds were a perfect fit.  Cloud spotting is such a soothing activity, and I wanted to work on a project that would be good for my mental health. I know some artists find relief by exploring the dark feelings inside, but for me, coding is a time to find peace and comfort. And what’s more peaceful than staring at beautiful skies all day! Plus, clouds are so generative already. I mean you have these water droplets forming random, beautiful shapes in the sky all the time. 

In the early versions of Himinn, the clouds were much rounder than in the final program. I had to really experiment and work with my algorithm to find a more natural representation of what I was trying to achieve. There’s not a specific “cloud” formula that I used, but rather it’s a mix of so many different things. It was this question for me: how do you create a recognizable form without using your hands, just using code? You have to carefully build every step of the instructions, and also create a form that can be varied with many different outputs while retaining the essence of what you’re trying to represent. 

I also spent a considerable time working on the color and texture. There’s a lot of blending of colors so that I could create a much larger palette without having to define every color. I actually use 2 color modes for my program. I start with HSB so I can adjust the hues and saturation, and then once the underlayer is defined, the program switches to RGB for the actual draw function. This gave me a lot of room for color mixing and allowed a much wider color variation in each piece. The differences may be subtle, but each piece has slightly different shades of blue. 

It was this question for me: how do you create a recognizable form without using your hands, just using code?

Sarah Ridgley on Himinn
Himinn #0

BTA note: Check out Sarah’s behind-the-scenes writeup about her Asemic Manuscript project:

Tell us about a couple of projects you are enjoying right now.

I’m really loving Sasha Stiles’ EcoPunks. I’m determined to get one but I keep missing it when she mints them on Hic et Nunc.

I am also just completely mesmerized by the work of Huw Messie and their generative machine embroidered animation. It’s fascinating!

Can you share one of your works-in-progress?

I’m still in the planning stages for my next Art Blocks project, so I don’t really have anything to show yet. But, I am looking to continue exploring nature and generative painting, and I’ve been experimenting with some ideas that I hope will soon start coming together.  

I can share that I am working on some pieces for the verseVERSE gallery, which should be happening sometime soon. I love pushing my asemic writing program further and further with new ideas. 

Where do you see your art going next?

My programs are constantly evolving. I love that  I can start a program and release some work from it, then keep building and expanding it to grow my skills and what I am capable of creating. 

Where can people find your work?

I have one project, Himinn, on Art Blocks and other than that I am mostly on Hic et Nunc. I have some earlier work that I released on Rarible and OpenSea under the name GLAEM before I found Hic et Nunc.

My very first generative art / NFT experiment was actually on the Stellar Blockchain back in February of 2019. I made some Valentines that would generate a heart based on the wallet address holding the token. I made 100 of them, and I think 83 are still available, ha! 

Stellar Blockchain Valentines
Blockchain Valentines