I had an idea of creating a generative art piece in which elements are decided randomly. After some thought, I settled on rolling dice, and using the numbers to influence colour on a set grid.

You can continue reading to see the process involved, or watch the handy video below:

Each square in the grid was broken into four segments, and each possible throw assigned a colour.

Colours were applied following the throw, in a clockwise direction from the left segment, then moving to the next square in reading order. The palette continues for a while, before numbers gradually lose their unique colour and become the same as the background – throwing up interesting areas of space and contrast – hence the name, Decay.

Before starting anything, I had to establish rules, and have some form of a plan as to the appearance of the finished article!

I decided on dimensions and broke the artboard up into a grid 60 squares wide by 39 squares tall. Each square on the grid was then broken into four equal pieces, like this:

decay element frame

Four triangles form a square

Each segment was to have a random colour applied to it, strictly in this order – left, top, right and bottom. Once the square is completed, the pattern moves onto the next block on the right, and so on. Once the line is finished, the process starts all the way back at the left hand side of the next line down.

colouring order

Sequence of pattern

In case you’re still reading, I had set myself the task of rolling dice 9,360 times and recording each outcome. Before I could start that lovely job, I had to decide on a colour palette. Thankfully this didn’t have to be set in stone from the outset – Adobe Illustrator allows you to select an object and then easily pick up all other objects that share the same colour, so making amends can be a snap. So the palette consisted of 11 colours to match each possible outcome of the sum of two dice.

artwork colour scheme

Colour palette and assigned numbers

I knew that seven is the most likely outcome of a roll, so I made sure that I chose a strong colour for that one. Other likely numbers were also appointed colours that I was happy would tend to dominate.

I would have been happy with a piece that continued with this setup from start to finish, but I wanted to explore what happens when this rule gradually changes.

order of decay process

Order of system decay

I decided that the colour on 12 could be called the background colour. And every 12 rows, one randomly decided digit adopts the background colour. The pattern continues like this for three rows, and then another colour is lost. This formula repeats itself to the bottom, introducing interesting areas of space as the background gradually takes over.

Illustration / Client: Self Initiated

After around five weeks of short sessions building up the piece, it was finally completed. I had to treat this as a long-term project, as creating more than a couple of lines at a time was rather mundane! I was very pleased with the resulting artwork however, and it can easily be adapted to have a completely different palette or be applied to a differently proportioned space.

Decay 1.5

I have tried to revisit this project in the past with a dotted grid, and even crazy-paved shapes, but the results were mixed and ultimately abandoned. The global pandemic afforded me plenty of down time, and so I decided to come back to it – over ten years later – with more subtle tweaks to the format.

Instead of breaking the squares into four, they were halved diagonally. So there were now two possible orientations of each square. The first step was to roll the dice for each square, even throws oriented the diagonal one way, odd throws the opposite.

Apart from that, it’s very similar to the previous process. The simplified square segments give a less busy appearance to the final artwork.

Developed in Summer 2021, Decay 2 (I told you I had plenty of down time!) takes a slightly more radical direction from the original project.