It was 1998. I was a bookseller at the now defunct Borders Books & Music in Hillsdale, CA. Loitering by the magazine rack, a cover caught my eye. It featured an article about John Maeda and his java coded art pieces. Art with computers wasn't new to me. As a young boy i blindly copied miles of assembly into my commodore 64 to create clunky animated patterns. Far from clunky, Maeda's designs inspired. These glitchy interactive pieces compelled me to learn to make code art.
Reactive Books (1995 to 1999) from John Maeda on Vimeo.
There's so much nostalgia in this post, it feels odd omitting that a few months after holding that Maeda magazine, i embarked on a high stress (and sometimes bizarre) college/career journey. That's a story for another post. Back to code art.
Coding art was hard
In 1998 you had to learn java to make anything interesting. In a couple months i logged hundreds of hours staring at the heavy CRT of my self-built AMD 75 MHz Win95 box. Over 90% of that time was spent looking at code or JRT compiler errors. Console fonts impacted my aesthetic. But my 'techie' looking design had such little success, i hadn't really designed much.
Embedding Java applets in the browser naturally lead me to learning HTML and CSS. Compared to making java-based code art, designing web pages felt easy. Over 90% of my time was then spent looking at books about the burgeoning genre of web design. While i found my niche in designing web pages, i gave up on Maeda-inspired code art in less than a year.
Flash got me back in the game
The open-source movement provided a fire hose of software libraries, code examples, wrappers, helpers, and tutorials. But (in 2000) Macromedia Flash 5, with it's actionscript language made Maeda-inspired code art easier to make.
Making code art get's easier every year
Browser standards and an onslaught of libraries and tools has made code art accessible to novices. The work per pixel designing code art used to be hard — you felt like you earned it. Now the speed/ease of making code art is the gratifying part.
You should try it
See the Pen Playing with Triangulate Image by mattjqueen (@mattjqueen) on CodePen.
See the Pen sqBLz by mattjqueen (@mattjqueen) on CodePen.