Alien Technology

January 29th, 2009

In recent months I’ve been immersed in my new computational genetics job. I have been making new art: it’s only the “show and tell” part that has been neglected. Here’s a piece from this period that I like.

Alien Technology Geometric Pattern

Click on it to see an enlarged view.

Imagining seeing it for the first time, totally out of context, it seems to me like alien technology: highly structured and intentional, but to what purpose? Here are some closer views:
Alien Technology Geometric Pattern Detail 1 Alien Technology Geometric Pattern Detail 2 Alien Technology Geometric Pattern Detail 3 Alien Technology Geometric Pattern Detail 4 Alien Technology Geometric Pattern Detail 5

Here is the photograph that provided source material:
Alien Technology Source Photo

This pattern can be purchased at Imagekind. You may also be interested in some of my recent work at RedBubble.

How I got here

October 12th, 2008

Recently Fred McCoy of and I have been corresponding. They (probably Katherine O’Brien) are interested in doing a review of my geometric art, so I sent a DVD of some work and, belatedly, a bio. It was interesting to sit down and think through how my work developed, and I thought you might like to read it, too.



I apologize for the delay.  For the last six years I’ve been a programmer supporting research in security applications, mostly for first responders.  Our funding runs out at the end of October, so I’ve been scrambling to find another job as the economy collapses around us.  Fortunately a place has opened up supporting computational genetics research at Dartmouth Medical School, so I’m out of panic mode and looking forward to a new area of learning.

It is kind of interesting how I got into this.  I never expected to be an artist — I entered first grade the year the Soviets launched Sputnik, and the emphasis was on science and engineering throughout my schooling.  I did enjoy taking photographs and experimenting in the darkroom.  My father would bring home surplus military supplies — I remember huge cans of wide aerial surveillance film, sheets of micro-ruled film for making moire patterns, and high-contrast printing paper — that I would use to make internegatives so I could print a negative on top of its positive, emphasizing edges, and other experiments like that to transform images as we do in Photoshop today.  I recall putting a flashlight bulb and battery on a string hanging from the ceiling and weighting it in different places, then taking a time exposure from the floor as it swung in the darkened room.  That pattern was used in an ad in my high school yearbook.

I studied physics at MIT, but when it was time to finish up and graduate, I didn’t seem to be able to go the last mile.  We had to do a senior thesis.  I’d talk to a professor about some project, and then find that I just couldn’t go back.  So I finally left it hanging and became a COBOL programmer for a few years.

One day I was reading about psychological experiments where people were shown ambiguous shapes, somewhere between a square and a circle, if I recall correctly.  If they had been previously viewing a square, they tended to see the shape as a square, if they had been viewing a circle, they saw it as a circle.  I wondered if that tendency was modifiable — if you could learn to see things instantly as a confluence of qualities, and not just click into an identification based on your current set.  I envisioned a computer program that could draw geometric patterns that would vary on two parameters, so that when you adjusted either parameter, the whole pattern changed, but in some continuous, recognizable way.  I saw it like an Etch-a-sketch, with two knobs to turn.  As you slowly turned one knob, the whole pattern would change in some way, but continuously.  Each possible pattern would be like a point in the two-dimensional space represented by the knobs.  The user could play with moving the pattern through a given point along different paths, and perhaps learn to see a given pattern as a special case of a higher-dimensional pattern.  (This was the 70’s.  That’s where our heads were.)

I needed a computer to try out the idea, but this was before personal computers were available.  Aha!  MIT had computers, and I still had to do a thesis.  I found Andy diSessa, a former physicist who now studied learning, and he agreed to sponsor the project.  By the time the thesis was done, I was short of my goal but had developed an interesting little computer language for making geometric patterns, which I submitted as TILER: A Geometric Pattern Generator as a Tool for Exercising Holistic Perception.

During the development of TILER, I discovered that outside of the world of COBOL report generation, programming was pretty interesting.  So, degree in hand, I went out into the world to earn a living as a computer programmer, and geometric patterns went into abeyance for years as I got married and raised a family.  Though I mainly worked on embedded systems (printer mechanisms, medical devices, audio workstations, motion controllers and the like) I always took advantage of any opportunity to work on the image generation portion of a project, if there was one.  Developing test patterns and color halftone patterns for inkjet printers, for example.

Gradually technology was catching up with my interests.  Personal computers, painting programs and digital cameras became available.  I used a plugin called Terrazzo to create tiling patterns from photographs, and it reminded me of the fun I had doing the thesis, trying to find, for example, what qualities of a pattern in a triangle would result in an interesting emergent pattern when that triangle was repeated in different configurations.  When doing the thesis, I had taken inspiration from J. Bourgoin’s 1879 book (available from Dover) ARABIC GEOMETRICAL PATTERN & DESIGN.  Later, as the kids were growing up, our family would color in the patterns.  Staring at one of the patterns at lunch one day, I wondered if you could look at the lines not as the pattern itself, but as indicators of what a representative line would do if transformed according to an underlying reflection pattern.  (I know this sounds vague, but you can see what I mean by looking at all of my work.)  This is what Terrazzo did, but only for the very simplest, kaleidoscope-like patterns.  Maybe some of the complex Arabic geometric patterns would be susceptible to the same treatment, which would mean finding a way to make many different shapes fit together, while still keeping the image continuous.

Several lunches later, I had worked out on scraps of paper how to build one of Bourgoin’s patterns from reflected triangles and I was dying to try it out in Photoshop.  But scripting the transformations in Photoshop took many months of evenings and weekends.  In the end, it worked, and I began to work out which kinds of patterns were susceptible to this treatment.  I found that initially drawing the patterns in a CAD program was much easier than working with a protractor and calculator.  Over time the process became smoother, and now I have perhaps a hundred different transformations I can apply to an image.

My daughters both have artistic abilities and I thought I’d provide a model for them of how to make an income from art as a sideline.  Ha!  Some model.  A mere babe in the woods I have been.  I learned how to print, mat and frame.  I’d take these things around to craft fairs, which is a pain and a lot of fun.  I loved being part of a creative community, having a foot in the art and craft world, seeing how other people solved (more or less well) their problems and found a way to keep going.  But make money I didn’t.  I kept shifting my ground trying one thing and then another, so that although I had sales, I always had an expensive inventory of works from my previous attempts.  I developed a line of greeting cards with the original photo on one side and the pattern on the other, which sells pretty well when I promote it.  My brother sold them door-to-door for a while, which was great for me, but rough for him in the hot Albuquerque sun.  But taking the time to promote subtracts from my limited spare time to develop and create, and I certainly can’t quit my job (my wife is quite clear on this) while paying for my daughters’ college.  So for now I have cut my expenses to almost nothing by offering my works on line at print-on-demand web sites, Imagekind and RedBubble for prints, and Cafepress for clothing.  I would love to license some of the repeating patterns for gift wrap, wall paper, fabric and the like, but have not found anyone interested yet.

Artistically, my interest remains what it was in the beginning.  I love patterns that seem to be one thing but that become something else as your eye follows a path through the image.  I love the way you see one arrangement, then suddenly the whole pattern clicks over into another arrangement.  What makes that happen?  What makes one person see one range of organizations and another person another?  I love the different qualities that emerge as you view a work from different distances.  I love the little figures of people and animals that pop out with whole stories attached, capture your attention for a moment, then fade back into the clouds.

I just like organic geometric patterns a lot, and they seem to capture and represent the way my mind works more precisely than anything else I have produced.

Thanks for your interest, Fred.  I look forward to finding what someone else sees in my work.  It has been fun putting together this review.  I think I’ll publish it on the blog.

Douglas P. Hill


September 6th, 2008

English Setter Fishing Photograph
Over the past week I’ve been experimenting with doing more manipulation of the source image before transforming it geometrically — increasing the color saturation and using brush effects. It started with a series of English Setter pictures that I enhanced with a watercolor technique. Then, using similar techniques, I tried manipulating the color and texture of some of my favorite source images. I found that patterns made from them gained new interest at both extremes of detail. Overall, the color was more interesting. And at the closest detail, the brushy texture created complex and fascinating figures.

Round Geometric Pattern
Here is “Round Black and Red Construction” (coming up with names for these things is killing me!). And below are details showing some of the brushy effects.

Painterly Geometric Pattern Detail 1 Painterly Geometric Pattern Detail 2 Painterly Geometric Pattern Detail 3 Painterly Geometric Pattern Detail 4 Painterly Geometric Pattern Detail 5 Painterly Geometric Pattern Detail 6
The background image is a repeating pattern from the same source, but with reduced contrast.

Who’s There?

September 6th, 2008

Some bits I noticed in patterns lately.

What do you see?

September 5th, 2008

I’d like to hear any reactions you have to this.

Ring of Reds Geometric Pattern in Detail

August 28th, 2008

Ring of Reds Geometric Art by Douglas P. HillComing back from vacation it has been hard to find time to make designs, but last night I was expecting to play table tennis, only to discover that they were sanding the floors. So having a free evening, I made this new design. It’s another attempt to deal with a fundamental quality of reflective geometric art: how do you cut it off in a clean and appealing way? This one uses circular areas to repeat a small portion of the image around the circumference. This simplifies the border to a manageable degree. When several different parts of the image impinge on the border it becomes very difficult to line them up with parts of the image that are good border material — and make an interesting internal pattern at the same time.

The source is a photograph of barberry bushes in the fall.

8n Black and White PatternHere is a black and white representation of the reflection pattern used.

Click on the thumbnails to see enlarged details:
Ring of Reds Geometric Art by Douglas P. Hill Ring of Reds Geometric Art by Douglas P. Hill Ring of Reds Geometric Art by Douglas P. Hill Ring of Reds Geometric Art by Douglas P. Hill Ring of Reds Geometric Art by Douglas P. Hill


August 9th, 2008

I’ll be camping in New Hampshire and Maine for two weeks. Hope to gather source material for lots of patterns.

Orange and Periwinkle

August 5th, 2008

The colors, that is, not the fruit or the ground cover. I took this picture several years ago in Virginia. The bold bright line of the stick and the shadows, colors and curves in the leaves have been the basis for many patterns.

Here I’ve arranged it into a nine-sided pattern with six, four and five-sided motifs. I like the way the stick and its shadow provide a strong border, and the nine sides give a definite this-side-up quality to it. While the pattern has distinct concentric zones, the orange shadow helps tie them all together. Click the thumbnails below for detailed views.

Orange and Periwinkle Geometric Design by Douglas P. Hill Orange and Periwinkle Geometric Design by Douglas P. Hill Orange and Periwinkle Geometric Design by Douglas P. Hill Orange and Periwinkle Geometric Design by Douglas P. Hill Orange and Periwinkle Geometric Design by Douglas P. Hill Orange and Periwinkle Geometric Design by Douglas P. Hill Orange and Periwinkle Geometric Design by Douglas P. Hill

Connection Unlimited Geometric Art in detail

July 27th, 2008

Brush Pile In an earlier post I alluded to the fact that source material with the highest connectivity tends to have a limited range of color. Here’s an excellent example. I took this picture of a pile of brush when we were camping in Maine. Neutral colors but lots of geometric possibilities provided by the overlapping sticks and strong contrast.

Connection Unlimited Geometric Pattern by Douglas P. Hill Processing this into a pattern of eights (eight different interconnected eight-sided designs) produced an intensely connected pattern. The neutral colors actually help overload the connections, because at some distances lines appear to be continuous when they are actually created by different sticks with a similar width and tone. As you move closer these connections dissolve, but other detail becomes evident. This is a rewarding pattern to view from different distances. It is available for sale at Imagekind.Click on these thumbnails to view several degrees of enlargement.

Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill

Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill

Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill

Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill

Detail from Geometric Pattern Connection Unlimited by Douglas P. Hill

I imagine this in the study of someone whose world revolves around recognizing connections: a physicist, investigative reporter, architect or ecologist, perhaps.
If you like this pattern, see Earth Cometat Redbubble. Similar construction, more curves and color. While you’re there, have a look at my contribution to the body of chicken art.

Geometric Design Products

July 24th, 2008

In response to . . . well, because I wanted to, I’ve created some designs specifically for printing on clothing and other articles.  The first are black and white T-shirt designs, because, as my daughter Karin points out, Black is Cooler.  Which, once I get into the product mindset, strikes me as a pretty good slogan to put on a T-shirt.

Other colors are available for those to whom coolness is not supreme, or who work in the sun and find coolness too hot.