What’s your background and how did you get into AI art?
I grew up in Colombia, in a family of 3: my mom, my brother and me. We never had much money, but my mom always supported our decisions and pushed us to pursue and learn. She planted a deep interest and curiosity for the world in us, we grew knowing there wasn’t enough money for toys but always had access to books and colors and paints. I got a scholarship at one of the best universities in Colombia, which helped me study as much as I wanted. I studied both art and astronomy, and I would not have been able to afford any if not for the scholarship.
At the university I found a heavy interest in interaction and programming with Wiring and Processing for making interactive art. I was always pursuing the search of communication in art. What the artist says with the piece and what the person who sees it hears, sees, understands, how is that connection affecting both the viewer and the creator and the world around us. As I was about to graduate from art, I found astronomy through a program the University offered and fell in love. I wanted to learn more, study more, and the University allowed for double/programs so I went all in.
Since then, and because of my passion for art and reading, I fell in love with science fiction. It just filled everything I liked. Amazing world building, economic tropes, great takes on religion, poetry of technology, it felt like the perfect literary genre. The genre contains all others. This is why all my art always touches on scientific subjects and science fiction. I believe my visuals are more an excuse to recreate the stories I write. Characters, places, situations. I am very much in love with storytelling, and the pursuit of connection is still very much at the core of everything I do.
What drives you to create?
I think curiosity. My brain is ALWAYS going. Always. Some people might say that’s a good thing, but it can be really taxing if you don’t have an outlet. The stories I had in my head were running too fast, faster than I could type them, describe them, explain them, and they are the reason I suffer from insomnia often. Too much activity. Too many books to read, too many films to watch, software to learn, things to do. Life is at the core of everything, and the small things that are hard to describe but make up all that matters. How others’ impact us, how we impact others, and that wall of languages that account for so many difficulties in understanding each other. We may all be reading the same book and imagining in our heads an entirely different person as a protagonist, depending on our backgrounds and preferences. This tiny gap moves me to keep creating. Searching for a language that can connect us all. It might not exist. But the search is truly addictive.
What does your workflow look like?
I found AI as I find most everything in my life. Searching for it. If I see a movie I like, I look for the name of the director, the director of cinematography, the composer, the actors and try to look for all the work they’ve done until now. If I see a piece of art I love, I try to see how it was made, understand the mental state the artist was in while creating it, and even before it. I began seeing some of my favorite pieces a few years back were AI. And I mean, for a science fiction junky, this was the ultimate dream. An AI to make art, to speak and solve problems, not only complex in science but also menial, like everyday choices. To have a personal assistant that understands you and knows your preferences, a system to train models with your style. I just had to try this, I’ve been dreaming about it all my life.
I began investigating and reading about it. A LOT. I didn’t sleep for days. I began creating images. I could go as fast as my mind was going. Iterate at the speed of how I’ve always wanted but never could. I imagine stories in my mind and see the settings, the costumes, the light.
My process in creating varies. I love raw AI outputs so most of the work happens beforehand. I create textures and palettes in procreate, I model a basic setting in Unreal, or generate a code that gives me a specific texture. I then plug whatever I’m working on into the AI and run my prompt. My prompts are long. Always. And weird. I sometimes even plug code in it. It’s a process that feeds itself many times. I am looking for specific things but find amazing things in ways that I could not have imagined. AI just opens up the world to something I’ve always wanted. Connecting everything together.
I use Midjourney a lot, but lately I have been in love with all the possibilities Stable Diffusion offers. Controlnet, training Loras and models, animation, it’s way more exciting as it keeps me learning and investigating and testing every day.
What is your favourite prompt when creating art?
I vary my prompts too much, there’s just too much to explore. One thing that always heads my characters’ prompts though, is:
portrait of (insert scientific plant name classification here) sorceress and then what comes after is always a mix of different techniques or looks I’m going after. It’s complex sharing just one prompt because my pieces are never a result of one prompt. I usually prompt the initial character to get the main pose, then remix with a completely new prompt on top of it to add texture and then remix with image prompts of the textures I created for it. When using Stable Diffusion, a lot of Multi-ControlNet is involved, also taking the resulting images, inpainting them and running the image as an init image to a completely new prompt is usually my process.
This is just an example of the many iterations and processes one image goes through:
Any of those steps can become a final image depending on the collection I am working on and the specific story it serves.
How do you imagine AI (art) will be impacting society in the near future?
One of the things Anti-AI people don’t seem to think about is how this technology can open the world to people with discapacities. How for centuries people with arthritis, or people with paralysis had to go through excruciating processes of overcoming their situations, their illnesses, their disabilities in order to make art. Now, they can by telling their prompt to a language model plugged into an AI image generator, or they can talk to Midjourney and SD through the technologies that enable voice assistants navigations. People with sight disabilities can create images by describing what’s in their mind, even music, they can code interactive objects with the help of ChatGPT where before it was just way harder.
AI Art came at a pivotal moment in time when we need to ask ourselves if our worth comes from how much we have to suffer through the making of something or if we can rethink the way we’ve always done things to focus more on the voice within our work, the intent, and what it says to others, how it connects us.
People seem to be scared of how AI will break human connection. I actually believe it will bring more of it to our lives. It is in bettering the tools with which we work where true innovation springs, not years and years learning 3D tools to be able to create an environment, but simpler more intelligent tools, to help us do what we imagine without the suffering part. AI is a great beginning towards that reality. And not only AI. The new generations understand this deeply and this is why tools like figma, spline and canva are evolving now. Easier, more user friendly software, that you can use at any level of knowledge, and you can choose to go as deep as you want. That’s where it’s at.
So the future of AI art is gonna be the future of Art. People who never even dreamed of making something beautiful because of lack of skill, now can. It’s like that language barrier I always thrive to break is beginning to be born. Someone who can’t draw can finally make me see what’s in their head for their house renovation plans, someone who can’t hold a brush now can show me the paintings that haunt their dreams, art is a part of humanity, and it should not belong to a privileged few. Yes, I grew up in a family with no money, but I am terribly aware of my own privilege. My privilege of having grown up with a supportive mother who despite of not having money always sparked my imagination, my curiosity and my sense of always keeping other people’s situations present in my mind, my privilege of being able to go to one of the best universities in my country with a scholarship thanks to all the love my mom sparked in me for learning, and to choose art as a career and being supported at home with that choice instead of being made to study something that would bring me money. I am very privileged. But this is not the case for everyone. Art is a difficult thing to access and it shouldn’t be. AI art is the threshold to break that frontier and to allow anyone to express their artistic visions.
Who is your favourite artist?
This is a dynamic question, imo. It flows and changes as I grow, as I learn new things, as I evolve as a person and an artist. Technically and aesthetically, I could name many from all the eras of art. But technique and aesthetics, although I am a visual collector and very much a visual thinker, have become secondary to me in my preference for art. My favorite artists today are those who share the infinite well where their art comes from. People who understand that others might share and improve on their work, encourage it and provoke it, instead of patenting it, close it behind restrictive ownership laws, and fight for every penny until the end. People who work open source, with shareable licences, creative commons, who share their work like and uplift new creators like Trent Reznor, Mike Winkelmann, Peter Mohrbacher. Those are the people I love in art today. The teachers, the ones that share, the ones that pass on the knowledge and the tools and the craft because they truly wanna see more of art in their worlds.
And if you wanna be blown away by constant beautiful work, check the work of these artists: MemoryMod, A.L. Crego, Thibault Zeller, Yugal, huleeb, Summer Wagner, Polygon 1993, Ash Thorp, Maciej Kuciara, Nikita Replyanski, Stephan Duquesnoy, I could go on forever. 😅
Do you have a specific project you’re currently working on? What is it?
I’ve never done a proper genesis collection drop, so I’m working on that. But every collection is a small part of the world. They all tell a specific story and right now I am finessing the details of how each drop works, what the rewards are for collectors but mainly how to uncover the story in a beautiful way. Each episode opens up a side of the story in space and time.
Also working on starting the first AI art conference and gallery exhibits in Colombia. Technology is a slow adoption process down here and I’m looking to push it forward. With teaching programs, exhibits, and workshops.
Would you tell us about the AI Surrealism exhibition you are a part of?
I have said multiple times that this show was bound to be the highlight of my art career.
Because I think exhibiting alongside most of my favourite artists in the space is truly a thing of beauty. Way more than a solo show, way way more than huge big sales, it’s the fact that we’re all working together with a common vision. Remember what I’ve been saying about the communication gap between us? Well, this was a beautiful way of exploring it. How do we each see and approach the same concept? How do we read it, perceive it, create it, how do they communicate between them?
Each piece elicits beautiful narratives within me, does the creator know this, how can they know, how can we share the emotions around art both ways: the creator and the consumer of the piece? I am still wondering. I started writing about my favourite pieces in tweet threads but this proved to be not enough. I will write about each in a Medium post.
From the beginning of the call, it felt very magical. Anna Dart from Exquisite Workers shared with each of us the theme, with deep and beautiful words explaining the concept but what I loved the most is that we were given a mentor. A surrealist artist to inspire us and guide us through our explorations of the surreal. They talked to us personally, such a beautiful experience really, through a personalized letter they sent each of us in the mentor’s voice. Dropped us to explore, again, igniting curiosity into someone else’s world view and left us free to explore.
I mean… what a way to kick off a curation. Just giving 100 beautiful artists entire universes within. Imagine Anna Dart and Roger Haus, curators of AI Surrealism, exploring together for weeks all kinds of artists to share with us. And then sitting down to write the letters over coffee, were those rainy days, late nights, sunny afternoons? You can imagine how deep their work went.
When the exhibition was about to begin, varios twitter chat groups were created to keep us in the loop. We were asked if we wanted to talk on the Space and everything was full communication from there.
I’d never minted a piece myself. I have a very personal story with crypto that took me years to recover and was holding out on getting back into it. But I’ve been seeing for years now, pieces from artists I truly loved going away to people who were not me because of that. I’ve known for a while that I needed to get back on that wagon and sell art so I could buy art. The art I love. They helped me with screenshots and detailed descriptions on how to mint my pieces step by step. It can be a daunting process, the gas price and mint can mean a whole week’s food money for people earning in a currency way below dollars, so making a mistake can mean you won’t be able to mint your piece at all for lack of the needed funds.
For some it may sound trivial, but some countries have it rough, not even being able to afford the gas price of minting. Help in this process and the complete and loving availability of Anna through questions, doubts, inquiries on the way to do it right was invaluable to me during this whole process. Outstanding job, and truly caring. I can only imagine how exhausted they must be now after the first week that the Open Editions have closed bids.
Once the Twitter Space ended, (shout out to Jessee from Superchief Gallery NFT who conducted a beautiful space, and to all our friends there who truly are there for the art. It is obvious in the way they treat the artists they support) graphic pieces for the official poster, and the exhibit started rolling FOR ALL 140 pieces if you can imagine. They created the poster with ALL the artists involved and gave us each one version with our piece in it and our name highlighted. MONUMENTAL.
And then, the tweets, the threads, the retweets and the comments. This was not a typical case of every artist for themselves rooting for their own piece. All artists promoted other pieces, when their pieces sold, began bidding on other pieces. This was truly a thing of beauty. A true art community if you ever need one.
I sold my piece to my favourite artist, and the serendipitous thing is, when that piece was born, I thought they would like it. Full circle.
It was a thing of beauty. I am not one to talk about money and sales, although it truly was outstanding in terms of sales. But just getting to your goal in different manners like having your favourite artist collect the piece that made you think of them when it was created is one of them. I hope I can sell more art to be able to do that myself soon.
And then, artists, friends, organizers, Exquisite Workers, Foundation, Superchief Gallery NFT, NFT now, everyone sharing pictures and videos of the whole exhibit at The Oculus in NYC, USA. Superchief Gallery NFT has something super clear and it’s the way they appreciate art because they always make it look fabulous.
What happened here, the friends I made, the connections I got, the care and love received by collectors and the appreciation of building a new family all interested in the same curiosity of the world, of the many worlds people carry inside, is definitely what was most beautiful about this whole event.
As for my pieces, they are different parts of the “world”, my Genesis collection I am about to release. My Open Edition “School Break”, depicts an anarchist creation against the rules of a dimension that prohibited creating life. A group of genius punks went out and broke that rule, and the result was a world where things made themselves. Now they had to face the choice of living in a place where they could be happy or returning back home.
My 1/1 piece titled “WaitingForTheBarbarian/prelude.dat”, has many layers of meaning. It is a creation of the whole story and music behind Philip Glass’ Opera with the same name. It is also the file stored in a supercomputer that makes the whole system universe bit by bit. As the files are created, the opera moves along the timeline, and the characters have their own development. Prelude is the AI extension file that supervises all processes using both mathematical algorithms and magic.
Remember always the quote by Arthur C. Clark:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
What does it mean to be an AI Surrealist for you in the times we live in?
Well. This is the question, is it not? As a scifi junky and a believer in human internal chaos and universes, surrealism is a constant state of being. It is the merge of the practical with the ethereal, the technology with the emotion, the form with the meaning. What, if not AI, can be more of a meaning of surrealism then?
Anything else you would like to share?
Just a few Words for emerging AI Artists. Keep playing and exploring. SHARE. Do not focus on money or likes, the world needs to be flooded with art. Do not pay attention to all the noise coming from people who hate seeing art flooding spaces. Do it. Do it again. Do it more. In astronomy there’s always noise when you collect data. You have to separate noise in order to see the real data and see the beauty in what you are studying. Be like astronomers. Separate the noise and see the value in your work. There’s people being moved by your visions and your creations. And the more you do it, the more you learn where you want to go with it.
Share it. Teach your friends, your parents, your grandparents and your nieces and nephews how to play with AI. Teach the janitor at your office building and the person who cleans your house. This technology, art, has the power to make a huge difference in mental health, it can make a huge difference in how someone’s outlook on life is. Share it. Share tips, don’t be afraid, you are building on the shoulders of giants. Support emerging artists and hype them up!
We need that. Stop thinking about markets and bulls and bears and begin thinking about the emotions real people put into their pieces. Feel them. Be vocal about them, let them know. If you cannot collect yet, comment, share, like, send a DM.
Stop arguing how AI is creating disconnection between us and start connecting. That’s the thing. It’s in us.