My name is Dillon Notz and I am a full-stack software developer for a data analytics and visualization company in the Atlanta area. In my spare time, I create art with AI that I share on Instagram (@artfurly), while simultaneously offering my skills for creating custom digital pet portraits.
I was fascinated by computers from a young age, enamoured with their promise and logical organization. I always knew that I wanted to be involved with computational technology in some way. The applications of big data, analytics, and modern web frameworks enable some powerful experiences for people today. As soon as I began to learn what was possible, I found myself endlessly excited by the idea of working with a team of collaborators to create magical experiences. You could say the inspiration to procure a job in the field was there from the start!
I moved to Atlanta, USA, to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology to obtain a computer engineering degree. I’ve been living here ever since. Atlanta’s a lovely city!
Outside of my job, I love AI Art – I first became interested in AI Art the moment I saw Google’s DeepDream project in the ‘computer science-y Reddit content’ during my college days. Impressionism is one of my favorite art styles, so I frequently tend to use such examples as inspiration for a piece. However, I must say that the world is your oyster with AI-generated art, as nearly any texture can be used to create novel artworks.
While I have my own preferences, my customers can make any suggestions they want, so I end up experimenting a lot with their ideas until we find interesting synergies that the customer might enjoy. That takes me down a lot of paths, so I’m pretty open to trying anything. Half the joy is in the journey.
What I want to capture the most with my Art is what I imagine any painter or artist wants to capture: a physical representation of an idea, perhaps a special moment in time, or to convey an emotion that immediately captivates the viewer’s gaze because you relate to it so fundamentally.
I love trying to replicate the delicate impression of a Monet garden or capturing a swirling landscape with Van Gogh’s striking brushstrokes. However, my Instagram is specifically about pets; I sure do enjoy pictures of pets – don’t you? Now, consider this: what if you could see images that looked like Vincent himself painted them just for you?
What I really like these days is experimenting with making artworks that share brushstrokes from two or more painters. Sometimes, you can get some really incredible results! Think Monet collaborating with Cezanne, or Dali with Andy Warhol – there are lots of possibilities.
The process of creating AI Art is interesting. Neural style transfer algorithms are a heavily researched section of neural network theory. Essentially, I use a specific neural network architecture to build a statistical representation of the features of a particular image, and I use matrix math to manipulate some other image to have “similar” features to the first image while still retaining the “content” of the second image. What does that really look like in motion? Me sitting or standing at my desktop computer, typing and clicking away, then curating the best content on my phone to share with my followers on social media.
How long it takes to create an AI artwork this way generally tends to depend on what the person wants. A customer might have a certain vision, and it takes a variable amount of time to produce a satisfactory result in that case. In terms of time to compute a new output image? I can make a new one every 60 seconds using specialized accelerator hardware. There’s an art to efficiently navigating the search space of the “knobs” you can tune to improve the quality of the algorithm’s output. These days, I can usually produce an “okay” result for any particular image in about 10 minutes, but I might obsess on one image for an hour or two if I see a lot of potential in the idea.
What I love the most about AI Art, in terms of philosophy, is that AI demonstrates humans have developed the math that enables us to teach computers to self-organize their own memory in order to “dream” up new things that have never existed before – now, that’s just fascinating. On a different note, the potential intersections of technology and art have always intrigued me – with this endeavour, I’ve found the perfect way to be engaged in both spaces at the same time!
I see many similarities between AI Art and my current occupation. Codebase crafting is truly like forming a pearl. Small additions at a time slowly accumulate into a spectacle that you “behold”, but it’s an art form in itself to actually create a quality codebase worthy of putting on a necklace, so to speak. Notably, working my 9 to 5 job and dabbling in personal projects in my spare time both help me to hone my software craftsmanship because the lessons they each impart are applicable in both endeavours. I like staying sharp and learning new skills to hone my toolset, so I’m really happy and fortunate to have that synergy.
AI Art has been a benefit to my technological career. It has challenged me to learn new information every day and spend time thinking about how best to improve my workflow. That’s the best wind I’ve found for my sails, both in the near and long terms. I’m hoping I can sail as far as I need to go before the wind dies down.
My advice to anyone interested in AI Art is that it’s worth studying advanced math (linear algebra and calculus) to understand the way neural networks adjust their own internal structure to produce the effects and insights we desire. As you learn, look up YouTube videos detailing the technicals of how images can be generated using convolutional architectures. Then, learn to start constructing algorithms to use on your computer, either with PyTorch or Keras to start. Obviously, you’ll need computer programming skills to make any meaningful progress creating art using AI at this time, but that’s a 10,000 hour topic for another day.
There is always more than tech. Art is meant to be shared because it is a magical tool that gives us the mysterious ability to convey ideas to another person that they deeply and intuitively understand without you having physically spoken any words. For that process of mental connection to happen, art must be shared – it’s as simple as that.
To see Dillon’s art on his Instagram page, be sure to check the following link: https://www.instagram.com/artfurly/.