|Ivars Peterson's MathTrek|
July 20, 1998
There's a chance that you may come across the work of a physicist. Igor Bakshee got into fabric design several years ago while he was doing scientific research at the Science University of Tokyo. Using the graphics capabilities of a symbolic mathematics program called Mathematica, he set about creating what he considered attractive patterns. It started out as a hobby. Some of his designs were striking enough to interest textile companies, however, and he was soon in business.
Bakshee's graphic work attracted the attention of Wolfram Research in Champaign, Ill., which produces Mathematica, and he started working for the company. He was responsible for developing a sophisticated program called Control System Professional, which extends the use of Mathematica to the engineering, analysis, design, and simulation of control systems. On the side, he continued his design work, creating patterns for textiles, wallpaper, magazine covers, carpeting, gift wrap, ornaments, and tiles.
The key to Bakshee's designs is a delicate balance between perfect regularity and complete randomness. Neither pure symmetry nor total disorder makes an attractive image, Bakshee contends. Small irregularities are important.
Bakshee has now packaged his techniques in a computer drawing program he calls Artlandia, which extends the use of Mathematica to graphic design (http://www.artlandia.com). Unlike many other drawing programs, Bakshee's system depends heavily on composing algorithms--writing lines of instructions--rather than on directly manipulating elements on a computer screen to create a variety of effects. It's a bit like writing out mathematical formulas to generate specific designs.
The advantage, Bakshee says, is the amount of precise control that you have over what appears on the screen. It's a style that would appeal to those familiar with programming computers or manipulating mathematical expressions.
I've spent about a week exploring Artlandia. I have found that creating designs isn't easy, but it can quickly become an addictive pastime--especially when you are rewarded with one stunning image after another. It's great fun to start with a set of basic instructions, given in the Artlandia manual, then modify the algorithm little by little to see what happens. The doses of randomness typically incorporated into various algorithms produce all sorts of surprises.
Color selection turns out to be an important issue. Finding the right mix of dark and light shades, all by itself, can keep you busy for a long time.
One neat feature is the ability to use any sort of data--statistical information, experimental results, or the letters of a name or title--as input. Incorporating such information in a suitable design can serve as a novel way of revealing its structure.
The program provides a host of commands for creating a wide variety of geometric objects, from spirals and rosettes to polygons and tilings. You can modify those objects in many of ways--adding fringes, making zigzags, adjusting shapes, creating tilings with different symmetries, and zooming in on particular features.
So far, I've followed the instructions provided by Bakshee for creating specific types of designs. The three illustrations accompanying this article represent my variations on his algorithms. Now that I've gotten a feel for how the system works, I'm ready to venture out on my own. I'm also starting to wish that I had a color printer at home.
You need Mathematica to run Artlandia. You have to be patient in learning how to use the program. The well-illustrated manual that accompanies Artlandia has some rough spots. At $195, the downloadable software is also a bit pricey.
But, who knows, your fabric design may someday adorn a high-fashion model striding down the runway in Paris, Milan, or New York.
Copyright 1998 by Ivars Peterson
Igor Bakshee's textile design work is featured at http://www.wolfram.com/discovery/textile.html.
Information about Artlandia is available at http://www.artlandia.com.
Illustrations created using Mathematica 3.0 (http://www.wolfram.com) and Artlandia.
Comments are welcome. Please send messages to Ivars Peterson at email@example.com.