Fun with Fractals

Sequim’s Pam Dick explores the digital side of art

Bridging mathematics and art, Pam Dick has found her perfect, limitless palette.


Crunching numbers and tweaking triangles, Dick creates fractal art, a graphical representation of a mathematical formula.


The moderately new art form caught her eye in a calendar given to her by a niece.


“I fell in love,” she said. “I was captivated by the images. You never know where they are going to go.”


A photographer first, Dick moved to Sequim and soon thereafter realized she didn’t want chemicals from her darkroom going into the soil and groundwater, so she switched most of her artistic efforts to computer design. She said this was when home computers were becoming more affordable and commonplace.

Dick started exploring 3-D modeling, creating fantasy images such as dragons in vast landscapes, but now focuses only on fractals.


“It’s a hand-killer after grasping a mouse for hours at a time,” she said.


So far, Dick has created more than 400 fractals filled with luscious colors and vibrant energy. She finds people’s love for her work is growing: Often they imagine it’s something completely different from her original intention.


“What I see is not what other people see,” she said.


“People help me to see it in a different way and (with fractal art) everyone gets to use their imagination and go where they want to go.”


The idea of showing her art really didn’t sit right with Dick until her friend Sky Heatherton, a fellow artist, talked her into showing a piece at the first “Embracing Life through Art, the Journey Back,” a free art show that runs each October for all artists who have been impacted by cancer in some way.


“I showed one piece and it’s taken off since then,” Dick said.


Getting the right equipment

Dick began her fractal art journey using a free program called Apophysis, which she still uses today.

Several programs are available for both Windows and Apple, but she said people usually stick to the program they learn on.


She usually starts a fractal on her tablet, often modifying an algorithm she’s worked on before, but finishing or rendering a fractal on a computer can take a lot of memory and computer usage. So she renders a final fractal she wants to print on her home computer, which boasts two monitors and a fast processor. Even so, the largest fractal she’s created took 36 hours to render, leaving her computer unusable in that time while it was loading.


The idea is that the finished fractals, about 30-60 megabytes, can be printed large without losing any quality. She owns seven hard drives with three copies of each fractal she’s worked on.

But beginners can go with the basics and start from there.



Fractal art can deter some people, Dick said, because they’ll open the program and not know where to start. Also, the math may deter people.


“You just have to just get in there and try it,” she said. “It’s all about experimentation.”


She recommends opening a program such as Apophysis and choosing one of the program-provided fractals to alter.


On the screen there will be triangles to manipulate. By moving a triangle’s location, making it smaller, larger, twirling, or altering the sides, the look of the finished image will change.


Triangles can be skewed and users can create as many as they want to an image.


Decimal numbers appear on the ride side of the screen. Changing the decimal — for example from 1.0 to 0.15589 — will drastically alter the look of the fractal image.


Playing around

Dick said different variations of fractals can be combined to change the look.


“This is the time where you get to play around and see what fantastic images you can make,” she said.

“By combining the math and by moving the triangles, you create your unique image. A fractal does not begin with a photo or a drawing. It is completely created by the combination of the math and the location of the triangles, and the variations you choose.”


Next, to bring out hidden details, she suggests duplicating the triangles one at a time.


Once you’ve set the image you like, users can adjust the colors by using the system-provided gradients of different color combinations. These gradients are applied to the many different layers of the finished fractal.


Rendering the fractal converts the image from a low resolution thumbnail into a high resolution .png file. The finished fractal at this stage has no background.


Once a fractal is rendered, the artist can edit it in a photo program to add a background. Dick said these can be a solid color, a gradient or a digitally drawn background such as a nebula or galaxy.


“This gives the finished image a 3-D look and separates the image from the background giving it depth,” she said.


“Fractal images are made of many layers giving the images a 3-D look and texture.”


Due to its size, the images can be printed on an ink jet printer and blown up large without loss of quality.

Dick prints on a professional printer at home as wide as 22 inches and as long she desires.


Wholly original

“The images are nature’s original art, common shapes we see every day such as clouds, snowflakes, feathers and trees,” she said.


However, trying to create things people see everyday is more difficult, she said.


Dick tried to create a lavender stem once but it turned out more like a cherry blossom, which has a glowing element to it that she didn’t notice until it was rendered.


She did go back though and create the lavender stem using the blossom’s template.


After hundreds of artworks, Dick finds she has an affinity for science fiction and the fantastical and sometimes names works after items in “Star Trek.”


Each piece is available as a print and from now on she’s doing them as limited runs.


Dick recently joined the Landing Artists Studio in the Landing Mall in Port Angeles with eight other artists. She’s also a member of Sequim Arts, a participant in the Sequim Arts Juried Art Festival Museum and Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, and displayed in the Harper Art Gallery in Port Angeles.


She recently was featured in the CVG Juried Art Show and will be featured in the Tidepools magazine.

Dick said her work has been bought by people all over the world and digital art is becoming more widely accepted among the art realm. She knows of several other fractal artists, too.


“There’s a lot of fractal creativity out there but they aren’t showing for whatever reason,” she said.