ArtAtomic, From Code to Textile: a Creative Journey

ArtAtomic scarves: wearable art, created with code, inspired by chemistry.

“Wait! You’re making art from code and Chemistry? How?!”

This is often the first thing people say when I start talking with them about how I create my artwork, and what inspires me.

Yes, I do strive for beauty and elegance in my art. But I have another goal. I’m also working to break down barriers of intimidation that surround Science and to challenge the myth of Science versus Art. In my brain, and a great many others, Art and Science get along just fine.

With my current project, ArtAtomic scarves, I’m making wearable art, created with code, inspired by Chemistry. For the artwork, I write a small program that simulates a particle system, with each particle having an ‘atomic number’. As the particles bounce around and collide, they ‘draw’ the image which is then saved to a bitmap file.


Particle Rings and Traces, by Kristin Henry

How did I get here? Through a lot of work and creative visual thinking.

When I was a student, I had a hard time with exams. Things like names and dates, vocabulary lists, and so on. But if I could diagram it I could remember it for the exam and beyond. I ended up developing my own study aides, with lots of diagrams and color coding.

Later, when developing learning tools for science students, I was animating molecular biology, and simulating water molecules bouncing around. Around that time, I discovered an online group of programmers who developed animations from code. I started more experimental coding in my spare time, playing with concepts from Chemistry and Biology in a more creative way.

It wasn’t until a design studio was helping me put together a display poster for the GalaxyGoo Cell Project, that I started thinking about printing my experiments. They asked me for images to include. So I sent them some digital pieces I’d been working on: geometric mandalas created with illustrations of cell organelles.

Seeing my digital pieces in tangible form, for the first time, opened up a whole world of print possibilities for me.


Fast forward several years, and now I’m experimenting with printing my art on textiles and tackling a whole new set of challenges. Beyond the art and design, it’s been a journey through color corrections, quality control, and finding an online venue and market.

Initially, I was thinking I’d offer the scarves through my Etsy shop. This would be convenient, since I already use it for my fine art prints. But, unfortunately, Etsy policies are a bit inconsistent when it comes to artists and what materials they can sell prints of their art on. Their policies currently categorize textile printing as manufacturing and not permitted on the venue without prior approval. That is, unless I use one of their ‘pre-approved’ drop-ship printing partners.

Update: these policies have changed, and I’m now offering my ArtAtomic Generative Art Scarves in my shop.

While this would be convenient for managing sales, I’m not quite ready to hand over the entire production and shipping to another company. The test print I ordered from one of the ‘pre-approved’ printers was not at the quality that I’m aiming for.

So, instead, I’m now working with a local textile printer. This allows me to maintain higher quality and check for any required color corrections.

First batch of test prints for ArtAtomic scarves project.

Which brings me to an interesting challenge: color corrections on textiles. When printing on silk and other textiles, the chemicals in the printing dyes react differently on different fabrics. Especially with reds. Blues and greens turn out pretty much as you’d expect, but a deep rich red may turn out as bright pumpkin orange.

Test prints on silk.

Now I’m in the process of comparing color swatches printed on the textiles with the colors in my artworks, and swapping in the ‘corrected’ color in the file I send to the printers. It’s a long process, but in the end I’ll have some beautiful color palettes to work from.

For now, I’m working mostly with blues and greens in my palettes.

Update: apparently, the rules at etsy have changed. The scarves are now available in my shop: ArtAtomic
Update: Dec 1st is the last day to order these scarves in time for Dec 25th. After Dec 1st, it’s possible but unlikely to arrive in time for holiday gifting.
ArtAtomic Silk Scarves