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The Duality of Light Exploited in the Fusion of two Designs:

Introducing Matricism

John N. Randall Ph.D.

Space is made up of time and distance. Human values are forged in intelligence and emotion. Electricity is measured in current and voltage. Light is made of color and brightness. There is a duality in most things. Christian Seidler has developed a new painting technique that explores the duality of light in a way that produces remarkable results. In doing so he has found a harmony in the dual aspects of human progress: art and science.

I. Introduction:

This article is a description of the basics a revolutionary oil painting technique called Matricism. This new language for expression in art is being developed by the artist

Christian Seidler who in the past century was best known for his portrait work. Matricism has two distinct but related elements. One is an exploration of the discreteness of human vision. The other is a unique method of combining two designs into one image. Matricism is a technique rather than a style of oil painting. It is not restricted to representational (creating a recognizable image) art, though to date, that has been its

principle mode.

scratched the surface. In this article, paintings created with this technique will be referred to as Matrix paintings.

Seidler has already developed several distinct styles and has only

Until recently the Matricism carried a heavy burden. Its intricacies placed a high physical, mental, and emotional demand on the artist. In the first 13 years of the existence of the technique Seidler produced only 3 or 4 paintings per year. For example, one painting “The Quest for Innovation”, took over three months of debilitating physical labor to complete. The compensating feature of the technique is that it is algorithmic. In other words, the technique is based on a structured approach that makes it amenable to realization through the use of recently developed technology.

In this article, we will attempt to explain the basic elements of Matricism starting with the unique approach that combines two designs into a single image. Next the granularity or discreteness of Matrix paintings will be discussed. An example of a Matrix painting construction will be given which will allow a discussion of the algorithmic nature of the construction process which leads to computer aided painting design and mechanized execution of paintings. The mechanization of the execution of the painting has led critics to dismiss (quite erroneously on both counts) the technique as either a reproduction technique or computer generated art. The mechanization has led to new possibilities which will be briefly discussed here. The article will close with a discussion of future possibilities for this new painting technique.

II. Merging Designs

In this section we will discuss the most unique aspect of the technique of Matricism, a

method of merging two designs into one painted image. But we must first lay some

groundwork that will allow us to clearly describe this technique.

Two distinct aspects of light are brightness and wavelength. The brightness is the quantity of light with darkness existing when there is too little light, and unviewable

brilliance when there is too much light. The wavelength of light is the primary factor that determines color. The longest visible wavelengths are red while the shortest are violet. Wavelengths longer than red (infrared) and shorter than violet (ultraviolet) are not visible. The wavelength of light determines the basic color, for instance, red or blue. Most colors are made up of combination of wavelengths. However, it is a combination of these aspects of light, brightness and wavelength (or more generally the ratio of a number

of wavelengths), that our eyes register as color: a dark red or a light blue.

A two dimensional image such as a painting or a color photograph is a design that is a

pattern of wavelength and brightness of light. In a grayscale or monochrome image all of

the information is in the range of brightness from the different parts of the image.

Sunday comic strip image is mostly a wavelength pattern. Or stated differently, the Sunday comic is made up of patches of simple color and makes little use of brightness information.


In the vernacular of painting, paint colors are described by hue, value, and intensity. In

the discussions that follow we will generally ignore paint color intensity because (at present) the Matricism technique does not deal explicitly with intensity. But we will see

the natural relationship of the wavelength of light to the choice of hue and the brightness

of light to the choice of value.

Matricism achieves the merging of two designs into one image by assigning the brightness information to one design and the wavelength information to the other. In what follows, we will refer to the brightness design which is a grayscale or monochrome image and the wavelength design which is regions of color with no brightness

modulation. The simplest explanation of the image merging technique is that any one position in the painting has the paint color value determined by the brightness design and the paint hue determined by the wavelength design. One way to conceive of this aspect

of Matricism is looking at a black and white image (brightness design) through a stained

glass window (wavelength design). However, this explanation describes a concept not a technique. In order to understand the technique, we must delve into the other aspect of Matricism, that being the exploration of the discreteness of human vision.

III. The Exploration of the Discreteness of Human Vision

While the merging of two designs is the most novel feature of Matricism, the most obvious feature of most Matrix paintings is the granularity of the paintings due to the use

of distinct and often relatively large dots of paint applied with a palette knife. In fact,

early works by Seidler while he was developing this technique, completely lacked the

merged design aspect. The discrete dots of paint restrict the artist in his ability to reproduce all of the features of an image (limits spatial resolution) and force him to find the essence of the subject. Small and unimportant details are stripped away and only the truth of the image is conveyed. The palette knife technique that Seidler employs on Matrix paintings is usually restricted to applying a small number of dot sizes. Most Matrix paintings use only two or three dot sizes and many use only one. This technique not only limits the minimum spatial feature it can use but limits the choices of sizes of the feature elements. The palette knife application of paint with a limited range of dot sizes allows a richness of expression through texture and granularity. Seidler’s choice of a palette knife to apply discrete dots of paint both ties him to Pointillism and differentiates his technique from it. While pointillists were counting on the eye to merge their dots, Seidler uses prominent heavily textured dots to demand attention. However, the choice of the palette knife application of the paint should be considered a style rather than a fundamental aspect of Matricism. Other artist might choose a brush, a knife, a stick, or their finger.

In addition to the restriction of spatial resolution in Matricism, Seidler also restricted his

use of colors.

classical training in oil painting techniques that demanded a large number of paint colors. He chose instead to restrict his color palette. By restricting the color palette we mean that both the hues and values were restricted to a relatively small number, and once a finite

number of paint colors were prepared, only those paint mixtures were used and the

temptation to mix them to achieve intermediate colors was avoided.

definitions of ‘matrix’ is a rectangular array of elements. The discrete paint colors can be

arranged into a color matrix where each row is a distinct hue and each column a value.

For instance figure (color matrix) is a color matrix with 3 hues (red, blue, and yellow)

and 9 values. Usually, the values of each hue are well matched.

composition the artist chooses, before he starts to paint, a color matrix. That is to say that

he or she selects the hues that they intend to use and the range of values. The notion of a color matrix is the origin of the name Matricism.

In his effort to find a new approach to painting, he broke from his

One of the

For a particular

Using this color matrix method restricts the use of color in a composition. Images are formed with a set of colors far fewer than a human is capable of perceiving yet the

images can still convey meaning to the viewer.

explore representational art, the restricted color palette combined with the restricted spatial resolution inherent in the discrete dots of paint provides the opportunity to produce abstract beauty with this painting technique. Regions of the painting with little information in the painting design can have abstract beauty in color and texture of paint.

Although Matricism has been used to

We can now describe the technique of merging designs into a single image in Matrix paintings. First, the brightness design is restricted to using a reasonably small number of different brightnesses which corresponds to the number of color values to be used in the painting. Second, the wavelength design is limited to a relatively small number of colors or hues. Finally, the wavelength design is divided into many small regions or dots which will become the individual dots of paint.

As an example, if there were 11 brightness levels in the brightness design and 3 principle hues in the wavelength design then there would be 33 different colored (hue and value) paints in that particular composition. We can now explain the basics of the construction method for a Matrix painting. As mentioned above, the wavelength design is divided into small regions or dots. Each dot in the wavelength design will get a dot of paint whose color will be selected by the hue of the wavelength design for that dot and the color value will be selected by the brightness level of the brightness design in that dot’s position. Once all of the dots of paints are applied, both the wavelength design and the brightness design are combined in a way that keeps each distinct, yet each clearly visible.

While it is speculation on our part, the authors believe that the division the color selection into a simple set of hues and a small number of values combined with the use of discrete dots of paint is what led Seidler to recognize and exploit the opportunity of dividing the assignment of value to one design and the hue information to another design. With a restricted color palette, it is difficult to make color selection based on the representational criteria. If a painting was being created that had an object that would normally require a color that was not available within the color matrix available, what would a color choice be based on? In other words, the color selection could be made for abstract reasons. We believe that it is the freedom to select colors abstractly, that led Seidler to the innovation of color selection that was determined by a completely different and abstract design while the value selection remained with the original representational design. The piece “Moonlight Reflections” circa 1990 is a transition piece. First completed as a three hue (red, blue, yellow) representational piece, Seidler went back and added a completely abstract design of vertical lines in gray. At this point Seidler did not match the values of the abstract design to the values of the underpainting but went from lighter values to darker values as the lines moved away from the luminous moon emulating a glowing fog.

In the piece “Lavender Angel” we see the fully developed design merging technique. The value design is a young girl angel staring at the spiritual energy that glows above her. The wavelength design is a set of colored lines spiraling out from the center of the glow. It is the discreteness of the dots that make up the lines that allow the artist to select the principle color from frequency design (spiral lines) and the value from the angel design to select the color value for each dot.

We can then understand why the years of experimenting with discreteness of color, value, and individual paint dots came before the design merging technique was developed. In fact they had to come first. Counter intuitively, it was this simplification in painting technique, fewer color choices, fewer value choices, and fewer paint application options that led to this dual design complexity.

IV. New Technology

It is paradoxical that in an attempt to simplify his art, Seidler ended up developing a technique that is both complex and demanding. Historically he can be seen as falling into the same trap as Seurat, Pissarro and other Pointilists. The demands of Matricism are similar to the demands of Pointilism which so restricted the output of that movement in

painting. As mentioned above, Seidler’s output of Matrix paintings was only a few pieces per year. Frustrated with the extreme demands of the form, in the late 1990s he essentially abandoned the approach.

In 1999 however, in collaboration with some technologists, Seidler was able to exploit the systematic nature of Matricism and developed new painting tools which have permitted this new language of art expression to survive and evolve as technology has presented new possibilities.

In order to understand how technology has been used to aid in the production of Matrix paintings, it is appropriate to give a concrete example of the creation of a Matrix painting as Seidler has done it by hand. The first stage is painting a grayscale underpainting. This is the brightness design. Seidler does this alla prima, with no drawn sketches to begin with. He simply conceives of and paints with oil on canvas using ordinary brushes. Figure (underpainting) shows a completed underpainting. This grayscale image is typically done with relatively thin paints and provides little in the way of texture. The underpainting usually is created with no obvious restriction on value.

Next he creates a wavelength design. Often this is a series of lines, each in a principle hue. The choice of three principle hues is typical but not universal. These lines are

drawn on the underpainting.

Seidler selects the number and range of values. Once both hues and values have been selected, the paints can be mixed to create the color matrix. Seidler will then pick a line in the wavelength design of a particular hue and start applying dots of paint with his palette knife along the line. Along that line the dots will typically be the same size and spacing and will always be the same hue. The value of the hue for each dot of paint is selected by Seidler to be as close as possible to the value (graylevel) of the underpainting in the location of that dot. This process is repeated for each line in the wavelength design

until the painting is complete. Sometimes the wavelength design produces dots so closely packed that very little if any of the underpainting is left uncovered. Such is the case of the Lavender Angel. In other compositions the grayscale underpainting is clearly seen between the dots of the wavelength design and forms an integral part of the composition.

Having selected the hues as part of the wavelength design,

The manual process so easily described in the above two paragraphs requires an enormous amount of painstaking labor that is taxing physically as well as mentally. As he works along each wavelength design line, the artist must keep the dot size and spacing consistent. This is done by progressing along the line with each dot placed one after another. This requires that all of the paint values of the particular hue to be available. The artist must judge the value of the grayscale on the underpainting and find the appropriate matching color value. Unlike painting with a brush, where mistakes are easily painted over, this process is very unforgiving. The thick dots of paint are difficult to remove once applied to the canvas, so each dot must have its value carefully selected and must be accurately placed. When tens to hundreds of thousands of dots must be applied to finish a Matrix painting, the manual and mental effort can be overwhelming.

The salvation of this approach is that it is structured so that the choices that the artist makes: principle hues, number of color levels, dot size(s), and dot spacing(s) can be applied to his designs in an algorithmic manner. This has allowed Technology to be invented that enables the creation of original Matrix oil paintings. The intended advantage that this technology was intended for was to reduce the time to produce a

Matrix painting.

painting of moderate complexity has been reduced from weeks to days. However, the technology has also provided new opportunities for Matricism to evolve as we will explain in a later section.

In this it has been very successful. The time to produce a Matrix

The technology used to produce Matrix paintings includes digital imaging, image

processing, lots of programming, and a 21 st Century paint brush. The process starts just

as it always did with Seidler creating the brightness design by painting a grayscale

underpainting. The underpainting is then digitized and stored in a Tagged Image Format

(TIF) file in a grayscale mode. Normally there are 256 levels of gray in such an image

file. The artist selects the number of levels that he/she would like to use. Let us say that the artist chooses 11 levels. The image is processed to have only 11 gray levels instead

of 256. One way to do this is with the ‘Posterize’ function in Adobe PhotoShop. The

processed TIF file is made up of pixels which represent spatial points of the image. Each pixel has one of 11 different gray levels.

Next the artist creates the wavelength design. In this case we will consider a wavelength design with 3 principle hues (red, purple, gray) that is made up of lines. There will be

multiple red lines, purple lines, and gray lines.

underpainting, this can be done in a computer drawing program.

TIF file made up of lines.

Instead of drawing lines on the

Each hue gets its own

The artist selects dot size, dot spacing, and several other parameters that affects the placement of dots along the lines drawn in the wavelength design. These selections can be different for each hue or even for lines individually. Based on these inputs, dot positions are determined along the lines of the wavelength design. At the same time for

each dot the gray level of the brightness design is determined in the position of that dot. The end result of this process are files which contain the size, position, hue, and value for each dot that will make up the painting. The data for the dots is arranged into different groups with dots of a particular paint color (hue and value) and within these groups into

dots of the same size. paintings.

Data in this grouping is what is used to create the Matrix

The Matrix Painting Tool (MPT) is a large scale XYZ positioning robot with the ability

to deposit paint on a canvas with control of the size and shape of the deposited paint. The

paint delivery mechanism is a paint filled cartridge that is pneumatically driven to extrude oil paint out of a tip. Figure (plotter image) shows the first MPT and Figure (cartridge close up) shows the paint deposition mechanism.

A painting is produced one by depositing one paint color (hue and value) at a time. Paint

cartridges are loaded one at a time and the machine parameters are adjusted to achieve a

particular dot size and texture. Once adjusted, all dots of a particular size and texture are deposited sequentially until all dots of that color are applied. This typically proceeds through all of the values of one hue before another hue is applied. The order of paint application can make a difference particularly with closely spaced or overlapping dots.

It is tempting to think of the MPT as a large scale plotter or ink jet printer. However, it is distinctly different from a printer or plotter because it creates three dimensional structures of paint where printers and plotters create two dimensional images. This ability to deposit paint with control of the texture is what makes the MPT a 21 st century paint brush rather than a reproduction machine. While there is little doubt that this technology will eventually be used to reproduce art, Seidler is adamant about never creating copies of any work. He has stated are two many possibilities to explore to bother with creating more than one of any Matrix painting.

While the MPT was created simply to mimic Seidler’s hand done Matrix technique, the use of the technology immediately created new options. The first realization was that the creation of a Matrix painting no longer required the underpainting to be directly used. A hand done piece required the wavelength design to be placed directly over the brightness design so that both the location and the value of each dot could be determined. The new technology allows that determination to be done in virtual space on a computer. The data produced by the process captures the position, hue, value, and size of each dot, so the MPT can place each dot and create a Matrix painting without the underpainting beneath the dots of paint. This has allowed a single brightness design (grayscale underpainting) to be used in multiple Matrix paintings with different wavelength designs.

This possibility also created some new opportunities and problems. With wavelength designs that do not completely cover the brightness design, the lack of the underpainting beneath the dots was an element Seidler had not dealt with before. In some cases it led to an undesirable loss of definition of the brightness design. To deal with this change, the wavelength design was expanded to include a concept Seidler calls “negative space” which refers to relatively large areas of space not covered by the wavelength design. This was accomplished by defining a uniform background set of lines that allowed dots to fill this negative space. In the first paintings done on the MPT these negative space dots were kept grayscale to reflect the unseen underpainting. Later, Seidler adopted the negative space into the wavelength design using it as a background hue other than gray to fill in the negative space.

The absence of the underpainting also provided a new freedom. The canvas can be painted with yet another design. The principle restriction is that the design is executed in paint with little texture so as not to negatively impact the significant texture of the dots of the wavelength design. So far the independent design of the underpainting has been restricted to very simple designs of a principle hue. But this hue filling in the regions between the dots, can strongly affect the overall tone of the composition. Seidler has a tendency to use dark backgrounds even in his underpaintings, but he has begun to explore lighter tones and even bright colors for backgrounds of Matrix paintings.

The other significant development that the MPT enabled is new paint textures. The original plan was to have the MPT deposit a dollop of paint that the artist would manually “smash” with a palette knife. However, Seidler immediately became enamored with the variety of dots that were deposited directly by the tool. By changing the amount of paint

deposited and the tip height above the canvas, various shapes including spikes, little “Taj Mahals”, Hershey’s Kisses, and pancakes. A fat Hershey’s Kiss shape is a favorite of

Seidler and several paintings have been done with this texture exclusively.

many more opportunities for unique paint texture effects that are being explored.

There are

Another more subtle effect of the technology is a new method of creating abstract wavelength designs that Seidler is now using to create some stunning landscapes. The artist selects a uniform set of lines that cover the composition and a size and spacing for all of the dots. Instead of assigning different hues to different lines, the artist selects a number of hues and a ratio of the hues with respect to one another. For example the artist might select purple and yellow as his hues and pre-determine that 70% of the dots will be purple and 30% will be yellow. As the program places the dots along the lines, it selects in a pseudo random manner (weighted to achieve the 70/30 split) between the purple and yellow dots. In addition, the artist may choose to add some randomness to the placement of the dots to avoid the regularity of the dot spacing.

There has been some discussion that paintings done in this manner do not involve the merging of designs. We beg to differ. Simply because the wavelength design is abstract and pseudo random nature does not change the fact that it is this design and not the underpainting that selects the hue, size, and position of each dot.

The precision of the MPT is another new capability that the technology brings. It can be used to create uniformity and alignment effects that are impossible to create by hand. Seidler has generally avoided exploiting this feature. We believe that this choice is at

least partially in reaction to the ire of anti-technology reactionaries.

Matricism, when realized with technological tools, is “computer generated” art is to be

expected, but we believe is misguided criticism. The artist is in control of the composition. He paints the brightness designs and draws the rudiments of the

wavelength design. He selects the color matrix that is the hues and values. He selects the size, spacing, and placement of the dots. The computer and robotics simply reduce some of the labor involved. To those who say that it is not original art because technology is making its realization easier, we suggest that there must have been similar complaints when commercial oil paints became available. It may have been said that a “real” artist

mixes his own paints.

oil paints in tubes was a factor that allowed the Impressionists to take painting outside where they were able to capture the transient effects of light and atmosphere.

The complaint that

It is an interesting historical note that the innovation of premixed

The introduction of power tools to stone sculpture has been accepted for some time now. Few people begrudge a modern sculptor using power tools to save time instead of using a hammer and chisel. The MPT is simply the first power tool for oil painters.

We believe that real art is created by the heart and mind. The question of the importance of Craftsmanship in art is an interesting one, especially with regard to the technical innovations of Matricism. If one believes that craftsmanship is not important, then why bother about what the artist uses as a tool? If you believe that craftsmanship is important, then why deny the artist a superior paint brush?

V. The Future of Matricism

Matricism is a painting technique that has been developing over the past 13 years. It started with the idea of simplifying color choices into a color matrix of values and hues combined with the application of discrete dots of paint. These choices led to the unique merging of separate designs into a single image. The complexity and intricacies created by Matricism led to paintings that were so demanding that Seidler almost abandoned the approach. The logical structure of the Matricism technique however, has allowed technology to be developed and is allowing Matricism to evolve. New paint textures, new execution techniques, and new design methods have already been discovered.

Where will Seidler take his new technique next? Certainly many new methods of creating paint texture will be explored. But the opportunities for merging two designs are most exciting and have only had the surface scratched. What relationships and interplay between the two images will be explored? There are some intriguing possibilities for including a background design to go along with the brightness design and wavelength design. Perhaps Seidler will attempt to find some method of determining color intensity along with hue and value. The exciting news is that the new found productivity that technology has provided will allow Seidler and others a far greater opportunity to explore the many possibilities of Matricism.