Fractal Art: A 101 Design Intro
Art elements rooted in math and algorithms might seem like a futuristic idea, but it’s a growing and popular concept.
Fractal art has been around since the 1980s but it seems to be having a moment with more designers looking to this style for backgrounds and main art elements. Another reason for the growth in popularity? Use of this style as an interior design element for wall hangings and more.
This can be a fun design element to think about and incorporate into projects. Here’s everything you need to know to get started with fractal art.
What is Fractal Art?
A fractal is rooted in mathematics and geometry plus visual design. By definition, a fractal element is a geometric pattern that is repeated with smaller and/or larger scales to create irregular shapes and patterns.
Many of these patterns and shapes mimic things that might exist in nature, such as the nautilus (nature) as it pertains to the Fibonacci sequence (mathematical).
Another example of a historical fractal is a mandala.
While fractals can be an element of nature, mathematical formula, or hand-created, the more modern definition of fractal art extends to images and elements that are digitally created using an algorithm. (Which isn’t that far off from the old-school model when you consider the relationship between math and algorithms.)
Modern fractal art is created with an algorithm and calculations that create a result that might be a still image, animation, or other type of moving media. Most fractal art elements are abstract elements that have an obviously digitally-created look and style.
They may have a geometric shape – or contain many shapes therein – or have irregular curves and shapes without symmetry. Within larger fractals, you can almost zoom in and find even smaller pieces of art.
Fractals can be the basis for beautiful background patterns or single art elements for design projects. One reason for the popularity of this design element might be research that shows fractal patterns are visually pleasing and even stress-reducing.
Types of Fractal Elements
Fractal art comes in a variety of forms.
Wikipedia actually breaks it down into a list of 10 types, which seems to be the best explanation out there.
- Fractals derived from standard geometry by using iterative transformations on an initial common figure like a straight, triangle, or cube
- IFS (iterated function systems) which are computer drawn in two dimensions
- Strange attractors with points and patters
- Fractal flame which can look kind of like a mandala
- L-system fractals that come from realistic patterns
- Fractals created by the iteration of complex polynomials, perhaps the most famous fractals
- Newton fractals on complex planes
- Quaternionic fractals that come from pure mathematics
- Fractal terrains generated by random fractal processes (geo and nature shapes)
- Mandelbulbs are a three-dimensional fractal
Fractal Art Techniques
When it comes to creating fractal art, there’s definitely some science and technology in the mix. They are generated by applying iterative methods to non-linear equations. (If you are like me, that’s a lot of complex calculation.)
That’s why computers do most of the work.
One of the neatest examples of fractal art in action may be Electric Sheep.
“Electric Sheep is a collaborative abstract artwork founded by Scott Draves. It’s run by thousands of people all over the world and can be installed on almost anything. When these computers sleep, the Electric Sheep comes on and the computers communicate with each other by the internet to share the work of creating morphing abstract animations known as sheep.
“Anyone watching one of these computers may vote for their favorite animations using the keyboard. The more popular sheep live longer and reproduce according to a genetic algorithm with mutation and cross-over.”
Wikipedia describes it like this: “Fractals are sometimes combined with evolutionary algorithms, either by iteratively choosing good-looking specimens in a set of random variations of a fractal artwork and producing new variations, to avoid dealing with cumbersome or unpredictable parameters, or collectively.”
In the process of this algorithmic drawing, a sense of harmony comes to light, which is why many people like looking at these often intricate designs.
Fractal Art in Design
There are a few ways you can incorporate fractal art into design projects.
The first step is to figure out whether you need a still or moving fractal art element.
Then you can use them for everything from a website background to hero video to part of an abstract visual collage to combining fractals with other design pieces to create a design theme.
The thing to keep in mind with most fractal art patterns is that they can be rather intense and should most likely be considered as a dominant element. Otherwise, you may end up with competing pieces in the design, making it a challenge for people to visually comprehend.
Another option, a fractal art background that is faded way down can provide depth and dimension without being too overwhelming. If you want to test the waters with fractal art, this could be a starting point.
Elements You Can Use Right Away
If the idea of making your own fractal art is intimidating or scary, we have a few neat options to help you get started.
This Titanium Tube loop video is in the perfect style of fractal art.
The Fracture Photoshop Action will add a geo/fracture style to images for a fun look.
Fractal Landscape Background has a space-like feel that can add depth almost anywhere.
Bright Background with Abstract Pattern is a stock photo in the fractal style.
Ink Liquid Art Swirling is another fractal animation that will keep you mesmerized.
The neatest thing about fractal art might be that it is no visually interesting. With shapes and algorithmic origins, there’s plenty to sink into.
It can also be a good solution for projects that don’t have a lot of other visual bang. And with rules that are pretty loose, you can apply these concepts in almost any manner that works for you.