Covehithe: Algorithmic landscape

Harvey Rayner
9 min readApr 30


Cove: a small sheltered bay; a concave arch

Hithe: a small port, harbor or haven especially on a river

Covehithe is an expression of my deep connection to a remote stretch of coastline near my hometown in England. Rather than setting out to create literal landscape scenes I wanted to find a new authentically algorithmic interpretation of the landscape. This means using certain rudiments of landscape art as primitives in a process that is true to generative art making. Covehithe is my most evolved work to-date in terms of combining multiple texture algorithms in an attempt to create surfaces that look like they have been abraded and discolored by the churning of the sea. Another key goal of this work is to capture the sense of nostalgia, mystery and ambiance I associate with Covehithe. This expressly emotive concern I feel has not been explored so much within generative art.

Many of my ancestors stretching back at least five generations were seafarers from this small area of coastal Suffolk. Having spent countless hours walking along this coast, the dark tumultuous sea, the inclement weather, the primordial spectacle of rapidly eroding cliffs and shifting shingle banks, are deeply imprinted into my artistic vision. Spending time at Covehithe often fills me with a complex tapestry of emotions that somehow meld with the spirit of the land. I feel good art has the power to convey a paradox of thought and feeling. My hope with this series is to simultaneously make art that looks familiar and at the same time fresh and with a very specific blend of belonging and awe; melancholy and rejuvenation; comfort and exposure.

Try algorithm on my site

Albert Pinkham Ryder — Moonlit Cove 1883. I’ve loved Ryder’s work for many years for his use of large compositional masses that are packed with tension and dynamic movement. I also greatly admire his ability to capture the foreboding mood and mystery of the coast at night.

Algorithmic distress vs skeuomorphism

“The greatest art is the most convincing lie” — Pablo Picasso

Creating surfaces that look worn and discolored might be seen as skeuomorphic, however I feel there is an honesty to this type of treatment because objects in real life are also typically aged in an algorithmic way. Usually through a repetition of partially constrained movements and patterns of specific interactions. The intrinsic visual properties we find comforting and fascinating in antique surfaces can be created in generative art in a very direct and authentic way. When I remove these layers of textural distress the underlying work is often somewhat unapproachable and cold. I feel the compositional flow is also softened and unified by the addition of algorithmic distress. Transitions are easier to visually digest and the overall visual variety and interest of the surface is increased. Perhaps what’s more important is there is a sense in which the art has settled into the physical world and has had interactions with it. Of course this is a lie but every story we tell in art is a lie. When creating the distress marks I am careful to leave the simple circle and line primitive building blocks at a scale that makes it easy to see on close examination how the art is constructed. This reveals the truth about the lie and creates visual tension between the illusionistic and abstracted mark making. Painters have intentionally played with the tension between the ‘image’ and the reality of the marks and surface for centuries.

Paul Nash — Winter Sea between 1925–1937. If you’ve ever spent time out to sea in the north at night I’m sure you will be moved by this painting. The black endless and constant horizon and the capricious white swell and motion of the wake in this poetic contrast. An analogy for death and life, the enteral and the transient.

An ancestral connection to land

I’m fascinated by the idea of art capturing the ancestral memory of a place and transferring a deep sense of belonging and familiarity to an audience that may not have a direct experience of that land themselves. I personally feel this with some art and music that comes from Scandinavian countries. Somehow it feels like I know the atmosphere of that place and it resonates with my own nostalgia for my home in the UK, although I’ve never been to any Nordic countries.

The key concern for me with this project is capturing the melancholy and sober mood I associate with this place. It’s not that the sun never shines in Covehithe although it can seem like it sometimes. For me I’ve always been drawn to pathos and melancholy in art and music. Somehow I feel more able to access sadness through art in a way that feels whole and healing.

Covehithe test mint

Whilst trying to articulate the ‘mood’ of this series I came up with the working title ‘hidden box landscapes’. The mental picture I have is of discovering an antique wooden box in an attic containing some precious personal effects from an ancestor. I wanted the outputs to have the feeling of old crinkled photos or drawings of landscapes that had been stored in such a secret box as a personal memento of a special place. Like an artifact of a deep emotional connection to the land and environmental characteristics.

Forms and colors in Covehithe

In the outputs I wanted to include a non-literal equivalent to footprints in the landscape. A trace of our passing through the landscape. I wanted this trace to look and feel light and delicate compared to the main mass of the landscape form. I settled on these sketched chains of arcs that look like they could be unfinished or temporary, but activate the negative space at the boundaries of the compositions. I didn’t want these marks to be on the landscape itself as the contrast of these two primitives would be lost. I loved how insignificant these marks look compared to the weight of the land. In abstracting them from the landscape I also wanted to give the impression these footsteps told a story about a journey or path in a vast space.

There is an intentional visual reference to quilting in these landscapes. The land itself is quilted. For me there is something very comforting and connected to a sense of home evoked by the image of a quilt. Strangely I feel I have inherited this just in the last 10 years since I’ve been living in the US. Quilting is a strong part of my wife’s family tradition and I wonder if I have absorbed an affinity for it through osmosis from my wife and her family. Quilting to my knowledge is not a significant tradition in native Suffolk. It strikes me that the cultural lexicon of motifs and visual references in art are key to making contact with our emotional core as humans. Art is never made or experienced in a vacuum, finding ways to weave persisting visual motifs, from our collective past, into my art making is one way I try to make my generative art more approachable and relatable. Doing this in a way that is not overtly literal — deriving forms and mark making that is familiar and yet not literal is a fascinating challenge for me.

Using generative color algorithms has become a default part of my generative practice. Although I use a very limited color space, I’m very happy with the color expression in this project. The primary forms are not partially transparent unlike in the background elements in both Velum and Fontana. Instead I build layers of color using the grid markings and spindrift spots that overlay the quilt patches. Combined with the algorithmic distress and patches of color modulation the totality of color is continuously shifting. Ultimately I feel color, texture and form are one and abstracting one from the others can give us a false idea of how the whole will work.

I made this painting in 1994 in Art School. Even then I was experimenting with using geometry to constrain the boundless space of possible forms that could exist in a painting. But you can also see I was simultaneously interested in conveying a mood and ambiance.

Dynamic aspect conditional rendering

Covehithe is aspect ratio agnostic, but with a twist. As the screen proportions change in live mode the landscape undergoes orientation and scaling changes by design. All features and color properties remain consentient. This gives the viewer an ability to explore the landscape in a way that’s native to the browser and the way the art has been built. I feel this provides a way to travel into the landscape in a way that’s true to the 2D nature of the art, providing a sense of navigating more dimensions without resorting to any illusionism or literal 3D devices.

Generative art as a medium to explore emotion

“My work is about the great human emotions” — Mark Rothko

My personal goal as an artist is to find ways to explore the deep human emotions. On the face of it exploring emotion using code, math and geometry may seem counterintuitive at best if not plain impossible. In my mind it is the unobvious path that makes it have so much potential to produce something truly original. In another sense it doesn’t seem to me to be perverse at all. Having worked in this way for over a decade it actually feels just as direct as painting and drawing to me. Picture making regardless of the medium always requires problem solving, methodical application, a clear mind and full heart. The true superpower of the visual artist is to be able to look with a completely open heart and make a response to what is being revealed right in front of them. If the response is channeled through a paint brush or code function I see no fundamental difference. For me generative art is just a medium that can be worked with in the same direct way any medium can be explored. I ultimately feel a medium is just a means for the artist to explore and realize their own inner world.

John constable — Rain Over The Sea — Brighton beach painted between 1824 and 1828 — Constable was one of the first artists to really make the weather the subject of his work. Personally I prefer his sketches over his more polished works. There is something so immediate and honestly communicated about his felt sense of the elemental force of nature here. Its nuts this painting is already 200 years old.

There is a text in Tibetan Buddhism called ‘The genuine heart of sadness’. The sadness the text points to is born out of a deep unconditional compassion for all life, and is not a personal sadness of feeling sorry for oneself. I believe one of the great gifts of art and music is that it can help us access emotions that are much vaster than those born out of our own narrow self interest. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, the arts just can help us find a bigger space in our own emotional landscape. This is the ultimate hope with any art I make. With Covehithe, the emotion I wanted to characterize was a sorrow and longing that for me feels deeply rooted in the landscape of coastal Suffolk and maybe my ancestry. Perhaps hard for me to put into words which is why I make art.

Pre launch notes

Covehithe will be dropping in the late fall of 2023. Originally planned for Spring 2023, the project had to be pushed back to fit into a busy schedule of releases this year. This does however means I have time to plan a IRL pre-drop show most likely in NYC — hope to see you there! All announcements will be on my Twitter @patterndotco

In the run up to the drop I’d like to run a competition to promote the project. The community will be invited to generate testmints from phrases using a generator on my site. (Written phrases are converted to hashes and art is generated from these). The community tries phrases that capture what the series expresses to them. In this sense the community helps to articulate and explore the themes of the work. After a defined period of days/weeks I will select my 10 favorite testmint and phrase combos and get them printed and framed. Phrases are passed to the algorithm and printed at the bottom of each print in the border, providing a title surrogate for the work. I would love to find a gallery space to show them in NY city prior to the drop. These 10 physicals could either be sold with the profit split with the author of the phrase or just given to the author as an incentive to take part in the pre-drop competition. Not sure on the exact details yet. Prints will not have a token associated.

Covehithe test mint



Harvey Rayner

AKA @patterndotco - Long Form Generative artist. Loves making art that explores esoteric geometry.