40 colored lines randomly drawn and overlapping mimicking a pile of pick-up sticks

Pick-up Sticks Series

My newest series of prints is inspired by a cherished childhood memory of playing pick-up-sticks. It consists of 20 unique images based on the classic game.

A quick explanation for those who’ve never played: the idea is that you drop a group of 30 or more colorful sticks on the ground, then take turns with other players to remove individual sticks without disturbing the pile. Your turn continues until you disturb the pile of sticks. You accumulate points for each stick picked up, and the sticks have different colored markings, which are worth different amounts of points.

A pile of multi-colored pick-up sticks

Image credit: https://www.interismo.com/printworks/classic-mikado

Programmatic randomness is a key concept in my work, so the randomness of a pick-up-sticks pile feels like a perfect subject. Like my previous two series, Web Moons and CMYK, all of the prints in this series are created from a single “blueprint” of code that is run several times in a web browser to generate the unique images.

Some of the random factors in this series include:

  • For each print, 10 colors are used and have been chosen at random from a modified list of the 147 CSS Color Keywords. Because many of the lighter colors don’t show up well on a white background, I chose to exclude them based on luminance, which is related to brightness. Here is a post from CSS Tricks with more info on that. I also wanted the set of 10 colors initially chosen to be unique, without duplicates, so I wrote that into the code as well. 
  • The starting and ending points to draw the “sticks” on the browser canvas are random.
  • The order in which the “sticks” are “dropped” (in this case, drawn) changes for each draw of 10 “sticks” - once one set of “sticks” in the 10 colors is drawn, the colors are randomized for the next draw. This helps create more visual interest and helps ensure that there isn’t accidental repetition due to the order of colors.

One of my favorite parts of developing new series are the happy accidents that occur along the way, especially as I learn the HTML5 Canvas drawing API more and more deeply. To me, these are analogous to artist proofs in printmaking.

From Wikipedia:

An artist's proof is an impression of a print taken in the printmaking process to see the current printing state of a plate while the plate (or stone, or woodblock) is being worked on by the artist. A proof may show a clearly incomplete image, often called a working proof or trial impression, but in modern practice is usually used to describe an impression of the finished work that is identical to the numbered copies.

In my case, these are pieces generated during the process of coding, but not part of the final series of unique images, so they are more like process pieces. I am constantly testing as I go to ensure the code I’m writing is producing the intended result. Some of them are really cool, even if the way they turned out was not even close to what I was intending.

For example, as I was writing the code for this series, I had a bug in the drawing function which led to these weird shapes instead of the lines I was going for. These kind of look like horizontal colored spotlights to me:

Overlapping triangles of random colors originating from the left side of the canvas and bleeding off the other edges

Then I had another bug where the sticks were getting cut off at a specific coordinate, kind of looking like they were getting bent. They almost look like straws to me here:

Random colored lines overlapping across the middle of the canvas, getting cut off by an invisible line on the vertical axis, where new random colored lines are then drawn from

Once I got the code doing what I intended for it to do, I started playing around with different amounts of “sticks” - here’s one with 100!

100 random colored lines generally drawn horizontally mimicking a pile of a lot of pick-up sticks

Next, I was trying to settle on the number of sticks to draw - here is one of my tests with 30.

30 random colored lines randomly drawn and overlapping mimicking a pile of pick-up sticks

I decided that 30 sticks was not enough, and bumped it up to 40. As you can see, the light colors are hard to see against the white background, so this is when I decided to filter them out:

40 colored lines randomly drawn and overlapping mimicking a pile of pick-up sticks

Finally, with the lighter colors filtered out, I arrived at the first image of the series!

40 colored lines randomly drawn and overlapping mimicking a pile of pick-up sticks

I hope you enjoyed that glimpse into my process! My next series is actually based on another bug that I encountered when I was working on this series, so stay tuned for that.

If this post has made you nostalgic, and you’d like to buy your own game of pick-up sticks, there are many to choose from on Ebay ranging in price from as low as under $10 to nearly $300 for a set made by Louis Vuitton that was given as VIP gifts to exclusive clients of Louis Vuitton at new store openings. For that price, you could buy your favorite 4 of these prints!

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