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A lot of my art has to do with the search for meaning. What individual things mean isn’t as important to me as trying to find meaning in general. That’s why I like to make weird stuff. Art and images that no one has seen before. Then I wonder how I thought of it and what it means. That’s interesting to me.

I the 1990s I made a series of short comic book stories that I called “Organics.” They were made back when I first started learning Surrealist automatic drawing. If a story was going to be ten pages long I’d get ten blank pieces of paper and rule borders on them. They would look like blank comic book pages, which was what they were, and I’d close my eyes and then scribble with a pencil on those pages.

After I was done scribbling I’d look at each panel on each page to see what I could make out of the scribbles and then draw that thing I saw. It was kind of like finding faces in clouds. It was a weird technique and I ended up drawing a lot of weird stuff.

After I drew all ten pages I’d lay them in front of me and decide what order they went in and what story they told. Usually with comics you think of the story first and then draw it but with “Organics” the images came first and then the story. Plus the story didn’t have to match the images literally. It had to tell its own story.

To me this was all about the search for meaning. I had a story written in words and a bunch of weird drawings but what did they mean together? My mind used to find ways to fit the words and pictures together and that was interesting to me. It wasn’t interesting to most people though. It’s not like I’ve ever had a ton of fans for my work but most of my friends, with a couple of exceptions, had zero interest in my “Organics” comics.

The first few of the comics were the most off-putting to people. I was working in this really opaque drawing style where I was trying to blur the line between the foreground and the background. Sort of along the lines of that classic face and vase optical illusion. If you concentrate on one part of the drawing then you see a face of if you concentrate on another part of the drawing you’ll see a vase. This was sort of the kind of think I was going for in the beginning.

No one really got what I was going for so over time I made the drawings more illustrative. They were still weird but it was a better defined weird. People liked them better and I think it was a better way to go. People may as well be able to tell what I’m drawing if I’m going to spend time drawing it. Foreground/background confusion was a dead end.

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This ties into one thing I’ve been doing this past week. Checking out using AI to make art. Talk about a search for meaning. I’ve been using an app called Photoleap. It does a bunch of stuff but the thing that it does that I’m interested in is that it turns a sketch or photo into a finished piece of art based on thirty one different Anime/Japanese Animation styles. It’s push-button art. I load one of my sketches into it and hit a button. That’s it.

With the app I would make various pieces of art from my art and I would also be asking myself, “Who’s art is this?” It exists because of my art and because I pushed a button but it doesn’t look or feel anything like my art. What does it mean? I don’t have an answer for that question but it fits into my liking to search for meaning.

So at some point during my playing around with this app I remembered my “Organics” strips from the 1990s. I wondered what would happen if I ran a page of that comic through Photoleap. I thought that I might have to deconstruct the page of comics into its individual panels and run those through but that wasn’t the case. When I ran a page of “Organics” through Photoleap it kept all my panels but filled them with completely new art.

This new comic book page was based on my page but since my art was so weird and dream-like the Photoleap page was also weird and dream-like. It was so strange to see and I started calling it “Art from the machine.” Because it really wasn’t art form me. I was the starting point but certainly not the ending point.

I decided to run an eleven page story through the machine but I had to prep the pages first. These comic pages were made before the days of digital lettering so I had to strip the lettering off the scan of the original art and then art correct the hole in the art that was left by deleting the lettering. Finally I had to re-letter the comic digitally to be matched up with the new AI art.

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Page by page I ran my art through Photoleap and even saved it in three different styles:
Romantic, Fantasy, and Isekai. I don’t know what that last style means but it seemed to add greenery to the art. After doing that, it took about forty minutes, I transferred the art to my computer. Most of the time was spent saving the files and keeping things organized. The actual creating of the AI art only took seconds per page. Finally I matched up the art with the lettering as with any comic.

I like the way this new version of “Organics” came out. The art that the AI made was sufficiently weird and interesting. I even made a version with my old art side by side with the new art that came from it. That really makes me say “Who’s art is this?” I still don’t know. It clearly comes from my art but it also comes from whatever art the AI is pulling from, mixing up, and putting back together to match my stuff. But it doesn’t feel to me line it’s mine.

I’m baffled by the who process and don’t know what it all means but I don’t think I can just ignore it. AI art isn’t going to go away just because I want it to. Art from the machine and the search for meaning will continue.