Butterfly Becomes Bird
An AI Metamorphisis
Creating art with an AI is every bit as involving and deliberate as painting with a brush or creating a unique photograph. The creative capabilities of AI challenge our minds to dig deep into the nature of our own thoughts.
The other morning, stumbling in the general direction of the coffee pot, I spied a beautiful butterfly resting on the kitchen floor. Of course, I whipped out my camera and properly documented its visit.
Science, according to Peanuts
Many days later, thinking of that butterfly reminded me of my favorite science lesson from the comic strip Peanuts. To paraphrase, Lucy instructs Linus, “See this tiny butterfly Linus - someday it will grow up to be a mighty eagle.” I wondered what kind of a bird my lovely butterfly might become.
Creating with the AI
I turned to one of my best AI assistants in residence, DreamStudio(DS), to help me illuminate my dream. For the next who knows how many hours, DS and I enjoyed a marvelous, humorous, and mind-bending trip. Here is how it went:
First, you need to know that I have a variety of ways to tell DS what I want it to do. All AI image assistants are different, but this is how DS works.
First, I give DS a text prompt, like “imagine a fantasy butterfly on a colorful background.” Text prompts can get quite complex as an evolving conversation.
In addition to text, I can give DS an image to work with as an “image prompt.” I can adjust the “strength” I want it to give the image. With more strength, DS will stick to my image with small changes. With less strength, it will “dream” and come up with new ideas on its own. It’s often a contest of wills.
Each “run” of the AI produces a set of unique “output” images - I mostly use four. If I asked for 1,000, every image would be different. After each run, and much contemplation, prompts, images, and strengths are tweaked. Cajoling, cursing, and crying are all part of the experience.
I may or may not choose one of the output images to replace the current image prompt for the next run. Doing this “steers” DS in the direction I want it to go.
If desired, I can choose any of the output images, open it in Photoshop, modify it in any way I like - paint on it, add or subtract stuff, rearrange the composition, anything. Then, I can plug it back in as a new image prompt and carry on from there. This interaction makes the creation process truly a collaboration of minds.
A session might produce 20 to 100 or more unique output images over a couple of hours to more than a day. If the objective is a creative exploration, like my butterfly, dozens of unique and desirable images might be produced. There is more, but this is a basic overview.
Selecting an artistic style
One thing that DS understands is artistic styles. The more examples of a particular artist it has seen, the better it can work in that style. This is the same way that every human visual artist learns how to paint or take photographs.
I can tell DS what style to work in - general styles like fantasy art, photographic, comic book, or pencil - or a specific style like “Picasso in his cubist period.” My image prompts tell DS how to compose the image. It applies style. Every image it creates is unique and is not a copy of any existing painting or photograph.
As the artist, I have to teach DS what I am looking for, exactly as I would have to teach my own mind and body to operate a paintbrush or to take a photograph. Unlike painting or photography, DS then contributes ideas of its own based on the conversation we are having and its knowledge of art. This is the magic part.
Working together, I can focus on my ideas, and we can create images that express my artistic intention far better than I could do on my own.
Creating with DS is as absorbing and mind-expanding as anything I have experienced, but without chemical hangovers.
Using AI creatively is a new experience for all of us. Some of my peak experiences are sharing the process with friends. Our sessions often produce animated discussions and moods that are fascinating, ecstatic, and emotional as the visual ideas unfold in an ever-expanding landscape.
So what happened when I showed DS my photo and asked it to imagine how my butterfly would grow to be a beautiful bird? Here is a very brief overview of a session that produced dozens of unique and beautiful butterbird images.
At first, when DS heard that I was interested in a fantasy butterfly, we had a ball coming up with a series of wild and crazy ideas based on my photograph. They were beautiful and fun but not quite what I was going for.
Pulling back on the reins, I brought DS back to a more “realistic” conception of a butterfly.
Finally grasping my idea of transforming a butterfly to a bird, DS discovered the concept of metamorphosis, with the butterfly becoming a chrysalis, even showing the biomorphic energy flowing through the transformation.
And then, after more discussion, the bird body appeared, still wedded to the butterfly form.
Finally, the full bird transformation took place.
And soon after, with CS now fully understanding my intent, the masterpiece expression of my concept appeared.
I am both proud and humbled by the journeys DS and I take together. Unlike any other artistic experience, working with AI has brought me closer to the collective human experience and closer connection with my fellow humans than ever before. I am rereading Jung and studying art with new eyes. Our new human artistic journey with AI is just beginning.
If you are interested in learning more or just following along, let me know in the comments. And please forward this to anyone you know who might be interested.
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