Revisiting ‘Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand’

Nettrice Gaskins
4 min readJan 24, 2023
Nettrice Gaskins, “Cosmic Geometry IX,” 2023. Created using Midjourney, Deep Dream Generator & Photoshop.

In Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand, Malcolm McCullough writes,

In the case of craft, interpretations focus specifically on the way in which content takes form. With art, however, the relation of form and content varies constantly. Computing transforms this relation too: the same content (bits) may take many different forms quite easily, and it may do so after the fact. Of course there is considerable debate as to whether content must take material form…

McCullough observed the emergence of computation as a medium, rather than just a set of tools, he suggests a growing correspondence between digital work and traditional craft. When I created the “Cosmic Geometry” series of images I remembered this quote and book. The process to create the work began in Midjourney using text prompts, then the output was uploaded to Deep Dream Generator’s Text 2 Image tool to sharpen certain elements. I used Photoshop to composite the outputs.

Nettrice Gaskins, “Cosmic Geometry VIII,” 2023. Created using Midjourney, DDG & Photoshop.

Years ago I was interested in batik art, which involved transferring black and white computer images using carbon paper to fabric, then adding wax resist and colored dyes in layers, starting with the lightest color. This work inspired me to draw into the output and layer textures over the image. The process is similar to scratchboard art, which is made by incising into a surface covered in a dark ink to reveal a lighter colored layer underneath. In my case, the Photoshop brush tool was the incisor and AI the ‘board’.

Nettrice Gaskins, “Cosmic Geometry X,” 2023. Created using Midjourney, Deep Dream Generator & Photoshop.

This quality of engagement is personal. Something must draw your interest. This might be the pleasure of handling a material. It could be the concentration required not to ruin a piece of work. At a more abstract level, it could be the intricacies of solving a problem, whether technical or conceptual. It could be the anticipation of a finished product. It might be the ambition to succeed, or the fear of failure. Or it could simply be the calming effect of routine, based on soothing motions, habitual expertise, and a sustaining commitment to practice. — Malcolm McCullough

“Cosmic Geometry X” consists of two images combined: Midjourney output (to Deep Dream Generator) and a stock photo. I added a watercolor effect to the stock photo using Photoshop and this required the use of several filters and blend effects. The purpose was to make the two images appear as one image (created all at once).

Left: Midjourney output; Right: Stock photo and DDG Text 2 Image.

McCullough writes that for a medium to be engaging it must also be dense. He notes that the medium must “surround us in possibilities” and it is through immersion that we can “coax the medium from one state to another.” For example, it was the silhouette of the AI image that compelled me to add a head and shoulders via Photoshop. What emerges in the process of extending the AI imagery is the digital artist’s practiced hand.

Nettrice Gaskins, “Cosmic Geometry IV,” 2023. Created using Midjourney, Deep Dream Generator & Photoshop.

Density supports engagement not only through continuity but also through variety. Only countless subtle differentiations of conditions will yield a heightened, satisfactory practice. A rich medium offers such an extent of possibilities that no one author or piece can incorporate them all, and only this is enough to sustain continued exploration.

I think it’s fair to say that AI tools such as Midjourney, in combination with other tools such as Deep Dream Generator and Photoshop provide the density to engage artists in various methods and novel production. I’m immersed in the call-and-response correspondence with AI and I’m learning as the machine learns.

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Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.