Tech+Art Podcast: Tyler Hobbs

LISTEN HERE

You can catch Tech+Art Podcast in the following places – or your favorite podcast app:

OVERVIEW

Welcome to the new Tech+Art Podcast!

Join us on this adventure as we meet & speak with: artists, makers, researchers, designers and creators from all background and fields.

Our objective is to understand their creative perspective, dive into their workflow & creative process, be inspired by new ideas and their work – and stay one step ahead of cutting-edge industry developments.

"And artwork is almost, totally the opposite of that. It’s really a problem that you have to figure out how to solve for yourself [...] it almost gets harder as you continue working. You take on more and more challenging artistic ideas"

IN THIS EPISODE...

In this episode, we’re chatting with Tyler Hobbs, an artist working primarily through programming.

Tyler joins us to share his story combining his love of art and computer science – as well as the challenges of balancing the needs of a growing business. He also shares his creative process and how he’s approached making generative art over the last 5 years – while the creative coding and art worlds have evolved alongside him.

I definitely recommend checking out his incredible work online at

Question 1: At what point were you exposed to creative coding?

[ 2:45 ] – It was not an obvious thing for me. […] My artwork was starting to get pretty good but it very traditional work. And I knew I needed to make it more personal. And to me, programming was a really big part of my life – and so I figured that I needed to try to involve programming in some way. The solution did not immediately come to me actually. […] Then I had this ‘ah-ha’ moment of ‘what if I just try to write a program that creates a painting? What would that be like?’. I didn’t know there was this whole generative art scene. I didn’t know about Processing, which is one of the more popular pieces of software. So I just kinda started trying that out with some of the tools I had.

Question 2: What are your tools of choice today? How do you approach doing your art?

[ 4:44 ] – I still use Processing, but I use it in a little of a different way. So Processing comes with it’s own custom IDE, a little programming environment that is nice to get started with, but if you’ve been programming as a professional programmer – you’ve probably got a suite of tools that you’re more familiar with.

[ 5:20 ] – I keep my tech setup pretty simple and kind of developed my own suite of utility functions and pieces of code that I tend to reuse a lot. And I think that’s the most important part of my tooling, I think, at this point.

Question 3: And how has that evolved? At what point did you realize you needed to create some of your own tools? And was that style driven or you wanting to build some of your own stuff?

[ 5:43 ] – It was pragmatically driven. So it was just a matter of really coding efficiency. Artistically, I think this style of coding is a bit different from what you do as a professional programmer. When you’re working professionally, you want these tools to be really well organized and to try and be really abstracted and generalized so that you can kind of reuse them in different ways. And the artwork, you don’t really have the same demands of needing professional-level code. It’s actually ok if you just copy/paste some code and just change a few things here and there. That kind of development is a lot more reasonable for an artistic workflow. I play a lot more fast and loose with my coding. Anything sort of tools that I’ve built up from things that I’ve used over and over again, I really just wanted to optimize the use of that, you know, make it perform faster or make it easier for me to access.

Question 4: With the creativity side of things, where do you find inspiration? Do you start with an idea of what you want to make, or do you start experimenting with some of these snippets of code? What is your creative process like for you?

[ 6:44 ] – The creative process for me is very exploratory and experimental. If I have an idea, it’s not an idea for the destination. It’s an idea for where I can start out. And so sometimes I may start out with just the algorithm I was working with the previous day. I might have an idea for a small change for it or a big change for it – that I just want to see what happens. I might be combining a couple of algorithms. I might have seen something maybe in nature […] just kind of weird patterns that I might notice in different places. So I might have an idea of how to recreate that pattern or at least the key elements of it in an algorithm. So I might play around with how to turn that into code.

[ 7:25 ] – Sometimes I just start with a blank canvas and I just start throwing things at it. I just start drawing some rectangles and just arrange them in some kind of way, just to get something on the canvas. And from there, experiment with tweaking all the options. What if I rearrange them this way? What if I apply this sort of strategy for coloring them? This is what is what’s awesome about the generative art medium is that it is so flexible and so mutable that you can do this process that’s entirely exploratory. You don’t have the finished product laid out whenever you start. With something like traditional painting you really do. Maybe not all the details, but you want to have done the preparatory sketches and have some idea of where you’re going with traditional paintings.

Question 5: So what’s been your most ambitious project to-date?

[ 8:33 ] – I had never attempted to create that many works that all felt tied together before. As I just described, a lot of my process is just very exploratory and experimental. And so many of my pieces tend to jump around a lot. And so it was a different exercise for me, trying to create an entire body of work that fit together like that. I picked a single algorithm that was the basis for the entire show and just played around with stylistically how to use it in different ways.

Signup for our newsletter to stay connected!

Your dose of creativity

Question 6: How does your background influence how you approach writing some of these tools or writing some of this code? Especially if it’s so different and exploratory all the time?

[ 9:32 ] – I think coming from the programming background gave me the confidence to feel like I could write the code for whatever I needed to try to create. And it allows me to just work a little bit faster and more fluidly, but really the programming part of it is fairly easy in my opinion compared to the artistic problems. So programming is like, you can study it in school, there’s all these books that are laid out very cleanly, there’s things like stack overflow and blog posts that you can read that give you really good direction on how to accomplish something through programming. And artwork is almost, totally the opposite of that. It’s really a problem that you have to figure out how to solve for yourself and it kind of never gets easier, it almost gets harder as you continue working. You take on more and more challenging artistic ideas or you want to solve more complex problems and express more complex ideas.

[ 10:19 ] – So for me the programming, it is a necessary tool for creating the work. But I don’t view the programming as being – it’s not really the interesting part of the work in some ways, to me. I’m really interested in the visual output. I’m interested in ‘does this image, or series of images, that I’ve created, does it capture my attention? Does it inspire me emotionally?’ and whatever programming it took to get there is what it is. I don’t care if it used a fancy algorithm or some advanced mathematical ideas.

[ 10:48 ] – So I think this is where coming from that traditional painting background, grounded me in thinking about those visual ideas first. So that’s why I still kind of think about what I do as painting via other means. There’s definitely a lot of non-traditional aspect to the work, but I’m just primarily interested in creating that visual communication.

Question 7: And how has that thinking evolved over the past couple of years? Have you always taken that approach or has it evolved alongside the evolution of the art world?

[ 11:40 ] – […] it’s a marriage of computers and humanity. When you’re creating work through something as raw as programming, it’s very guided by what the computer can do naturally or what’s easily expressable through programming. That’s going to come out in your work, almost no matter what. And so that’s a huge influence stylistically on what I’m able to create. And what I’m kind of interested in is ‘how can we add a little bit of humanity into that mix?’, maybe make things that aren’t so cold and hard and sharp, like the computer kinda naturally wants to put out. So I’m kind of trying to – i don’t know – take computer aesthetics and make them a little more human, or maybe take human aesthetics and find out what happens when you move them a little more in the computer direction.

Question 8: As you mentioned, a lot of your work is experimental. But I’ve also seen you post a lot of iterations. So how do you know when to push something forward and how do you keep track of all the different ideas to try?

[ 14:23 ] – It’s kind of more of a micro-inspiration if that makes sense. Lately, what I’ve been trying to do artistically is whenever ideas pop into my mind, not to immediately reject them. But often times, to actually just try whatever the first thing that come to my mind was – and see if I can make it work. That’s actually worked out really, really well and I highly recommend giving that a try if you’ve never really, fully, tried to work that way. But with generative art, the cost of experimenting, and then maybe walking back an experiment if maybe it didn’t work is very low.

[ 15:00 ] – There’s kind of two big phases to each individual work for me. One of them is the exploration for the big idea. This is really the experimental part, where I’m just digging until I stumble across something interesting. Once I’ve found that interesting core of the idea, then it tends to switch more into a polishing and refining phase. So I’m really just looking at every aspect of the work, seeing if there’s anything I could change that might make it better. Anything that I could remove to clean it up. Once you get to the point where you don’t have any more ideas to improve anything else, that’s when you’re done.

[ 16:03 ] – A lot of times, I’ll look back at my folder of all the intermediate images that were generated while I developed the program. And oftentimes, there’s something in the middle that’s really interesting. It’s the core of an idea that I didn’t pursue. And so many times, I’ll go back and use that as the starting point for a new work.

Question 9: So over the last 5 years, how have you seen the creative coding world and art world evolved? What’s changed, what hasn’t and what’s still missing?

[ 16:45 ] – Just in terms of what’s changed on the creative coding side, I think the tooling is getting more and more accessible. […] There’s lots more tutorials and great folks out there that are helping to get people started. And so I think more and more folks are starting to get into creative coding. And especially what I like seeing is that there are people that are joining that don’t come from a programming or engineering background. People that come from an art background instead. Because if all you see is artwork created by engineers, then you’re missing a lot of valuable perspective there.

Question 10: What’s the biggest pieces of advice that you would share with a younger version of yourself?

[ 19:48 ] – I think there would be a couple of things. The first would be, artistically, to not wait around for inspiration. So I kind of had this idea of how you made artwork when I was getting started that you go about your business, and then you get an idea, and then you go and you make the art based on that idea. And that will leave you making like a handful of pieces of art a year. It just, it seems like the mind and inspiration doesn’t work that way. If I could give myself advice when I was starting out, I would say, just go spend your time sitting at the desk in the studio, ready to make some artwork and just start with whatever you can.

[ 20:39] – The other advice I would give to my younger self is, not to underestimate the amount of time that the business side of things can take up. And maybe to wait a little bit longer before starting that. Because once you start that, it takes up more of your time and so the pace at which you can create new artwork, goes down.
LISTEN HERE

You can catch Tech+Art Podcast in the following places – or your favorite podcast app: