Behind the AI; Beyond the Painting: Alacrity

Posted on April 22, 2022 in Inspiration , The Art

Anyone interested in the visual arts probably has a favorite painting (or a bunch) … but, what determines an artist’s favorite piece from their own body of work? What speaks louder to the creator regarding their creation: the finished project, or the process it represents? Furthermore, when trying to bring inspirational beauty into the world, is it possible to inspire oneself? 

These questions are, truthfully, a bit of a tease, as they have no concrete answers. However, for the artists and creators of the world, it’s important to remember that you’re ultimately making art for just one person to enjoy: yourself. 

Paul calls the 2015 Alacrity one of his personal favorite works to date, even though it never necessarily began with that intent. The journey to making powerful art is – as all of Paul and Dulcinea’s works reveal – a winding road, indeed. 

See More: Looking for a different painting? Head to the Gallery to view all of Dulcinea’s current works.


Iteration is Key

In 2013, Paul Kirby and his painting robot, Dulcinea, created Cappuccino Fluid Dynamic, a swirling tempest of color and energy, produced from a complex system of AI fluid dynamics. Cappuccino’s hypnotic spirals were inspired by the painting’s namesake caffeinated beverage and its famous, swirling blend of coffee and foam. A virtual system of fluid dynamics was created utilized to simulate fluids of various densities, swirling, colliding, and commingling, with every aspect of the simulation being variable and adjustable – from the placement of virtual nozzles emitting fluids into an empty chamber, to their angle of emission and flow rates, to the overall compositional design layout. Paul saw this process as the only way to authentically capture the arresting energy and motion he beheld in that coffee cup.

As the simulated fluids danced, collided, and combined merged in real-time on the computer screen, at interesting moments, Paul would freeze the simulation and capture that instant of swirling energy – a moment of striking visual resonance. Then he’d convert that data into robotic code and pass it along to Dulcinea as a brushstroke layout for what might become an exciting new painting. Much more can be learned about the process by reading about the fascinating creation of Cappuccino Fluid Dynamic.  

Read More: Behind the Scenes of Cappuccino Fluid Dynamic

Two years later, in 2015, Paul contracted with a local video production company to film Dulcinea in action creating a painting. For a one-day, budgeted shoot – including setup times, lighting, and other production requirements – the actual, physical robotic painting time had to be fairly short… only two or three hundred strokes at most. 

For Alacrity, the process of making the painting would need to look just as interesting in timelapse as it would as a finished canvas. To effectively scale down the project, Paul had to think hard about what core components made Cappuccino so special, and how to capture them in an inherently simpler painting. Required ingredients were energy, liveliness, and a showcasing of painting’s most important component: the brushstroke. With a lower density of brushstrokes per area on the canvas, Paul could achieve his dual goals of having Dulcinea finish the painting in the required time while also highlighting, front and center, the visual interest and fascination that a select few strong brushstrokes can bring.  

Despite Paul setting the initial fluid simulation parameters in the code, being a chaotic system, every simulation yielded its own unique design, feel, and surprises. Paul was capturing single moments of infinitely complex moving fluids and attempting to see which instances – which swirls of motion, frozen in time – would speak to him. He landed on what would become the final design for the finished piece and was struck by the light-hearted liveliness and beautiful brushwork, with its vivid and exciting color, in the final painting.


When Means and Ends Meet to Make the Extraordinary

Paul did not set out on the journey to create Alacrity with a specific end result in mind. The name – meaning a “brisk and cheerful readiness” – was applied to the lively, fun, and energetic piece after it revealed its nature to its creator. Serendipitously, “alacrity” describes not only the feeling the painting can evoke, but also the attitude its creator used in its inception. Because of the emergent, AI-simulated nature of the piece, the finished brushstroke map was a wonderful surprise to Paul, and many of the brushstrokes that Dulcinea laid to canvas (brushstrokes that are infinitely varied in their application, and therefore entirely unique and never the same) were fantastic surprises as well. 

In the finished painting, Paul could see strokes that he as a painter would never risk attempting, or would never even have considered making. All of these surprises culminated in the greatest surprise for Paul: that the painting would be a feel-good, effervescent, showcase of the power of brush work and the exciting, uplifting, feeling of happiness and light that can be born from motion, color, and brushwork . Is it any wonder that the painting is one of his favorites that Dulcinea has thus far produced? 

All this goes to show, no matter what has driven you to make something, you should still give it your absolute all; you never know what circumstances might produce your favorite work.  

Still contemplating the creative journey? Read how Paul found his way into the business of robotics, art, and inspiring creators.     


Are you interested in hearing the complete story of Paul and Dulcinea? Watch the video (nominated for Best Short Film at the 2021 Vail and Portland Film Festivals) for more info.

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