From Bioinformatics to Generative Art: Unveiling Thomas Lin Pedersen's Creative Path
"The faster you feel confident following your own vision, the faster you’ll begin to hone the skills that eventually turn into a personal style."
Welcome to the first edition of Behind The Keys!
It is with great pleasure to start this new project where we will learn directly from the minds of the most important artists of the crypto space. It is an even greater pleasure to be sharing it with you.
This is how it’s going to roll.
First, I’ll share with you a small message that may or may not be related to Behind The Keys.
Then, I’ll share a small bio about the artist, calling it WhoTF as an homage to my previous series.
After that, you’ll find the interview. As a reminder, all artists are given the same 18 questions in total and they get to choose which ones they answer. They might answer them all, they might answer only half… up to them. That’s why you might not see the same questions week after week.
Finally, there’s a small part where you can find links to learn more from the artists, and a small section with their social media accounts and/or their webpage.
And that’s it! Won’t commit to a schedule as it depends on whether an artist replies to the interview, but I will do my best to send them weekly, each Thursday.
I hope you enjoy this newsletter, and please let me know your thoughts through Twitter or just replying directly to this email. Would love to hear them all.
With that said, let’s start with Thomas!
WhoTF is Thomas Lin Pedersen?
Thomas Lin Pedersen is a generative artist living in Denmark who combines traditional art media with computer programming to explore the tension between analog imperfections and the precision of math.
Thomas has been a bioinformatician, computational biologist, photographer, and data scientist. He currently works as a software engineer at Posit, an open-source software company creating tools and utilities for data science.
Thomas has launched long-form generative collections on Ethereum such as Screens with Art Blocks and Inprecision with Bright Moments, as well as curated collections in Tezos, such as Yonder or Constructive. He is an avid collector of the space too, always showing support to his fellow artists.
Behind the Keys: Thomas Lin Pedersen
What is something you wish someone had told you before becoming an artist?
That is an interesting question because I don’t have any clear idea when I “became” an artist. To me it is a process, and at some point, you reflect on where you are and then go “Hmm, I guess I’m an artist now”.
It is a very long and gradual road and given how blessed I’ve been along it I don’t think I have any lingering feeling of “I wish someone had told me this before I learned it”.
What does your creating process look like?
It usually starts with some creative spark. It can come from an observation in nature, another artwork I see, or perhaps through work on an unrelated artwork. Then, and this is perhaps where I divert from a lot of artists, I do nothing.
The spark will sit inside the back of my head, and if it is strong enough it will survive there and grow into something more than a spark. This “actively doing nothing” phase can last a long time, from months to years. I rarely write ideas down so there is an implicit filtering going on in my head where I eventually forget about the ideas that don't claim enough headspace.
Sooner or later, I’ll sit down and code but I only do that when I’m ready to commit to an idea, and usually at that point the idea is so well formed in my mind that there is very little exploration going on. Of course there is development in this phase as well as it is impossible to pre-visualize everything, but I usually have a very strong sense of where I’m going when I sit down in front of the computer.
Who are 2-3 artists you admire or respect that you think deserve (even) more recognition?
One artist that I definitely think deserves more attention is Yi-Wen Lin who creates some amazingly atmospheric generative art and masterfully wields their heritage.
Alida Sun is another amazing artist that really pushes the bar for what computer-based art can be, how it can interface with the world, and how it can provide immersive experiences.
Neither of these two are unknown by any stretch of the imagination but both clearly deserve even further recognition than they have today in my opinion.
What activity do you fall into when you are trying to enhance your creativity?
Mostly reading. I don’t have any formal art training and there is so much I have yet to learn about the history and practice of art. I find it deeply inspiring to read and understand about various artistic periods, movements, what they were trying to achieve, and the implications their work had for future artists.
On the same note, visiting museums and galleries is a great way to kickstart new sparks in my head.
But, to be completely honest, the main killer of creativity is to not have enough time to devote to art so enhancing creativity is often about removing clutter in my life and making space for my creative mind to exist.
In that regard, web3 is a double-edged sword. You can get so consumed by communities that it will actively soak up any spare time you have that could be used creating art, but on the other hand, it also brings in so much insight, knowledge, and joy, that I wouldn’t be without it. I’m still learning how to balance this properly.
What do you benefit the most when working with NFTs and the blockchain?
The direct contact with my collectors and the wider generative art space is, I think, the biggest boon.
As an artist, being able to directly connect and listen to people who care about your art is very fulfilling. I have learned tons of knowledge about the art world from my collectors by engaging with them and being open and honest with them.
What is one thing you think artists should focus more on, and why?
This is mainly directed at generative artists, and not artists in general:
I think we collectively should begin to care more about the intent and concepts behind our art. As a group, we have largely been molded by the urge to have a computer produce something of beauty - a worthy goal, yes, but also something that has now been proven many times over.
There is a need for generative art to be about more than pleasing visuals and algorithmic fascination (IMO) if it should convert its current web3 momentum into a broader interest from the art world.
What’s the hardest part of being an artist?
Putting yourself out there. When you present new work you are mentally naked and extremely vulnerable because you put so much of your own person into it. Rejection from the community is easily perceived as a rejection of yourself and mental care is an extremely important part of staying sane and healthy. I think I’m pretty hardened at this point but I can still get the sting of doubt before presenting new work.
What skill should anyone harvest early in their artist career that will pay off massively for years?
Learning to listen to your own creative voice. The faster you feel confident following your own vision, the faster you’ll begin to hone the skills that eventually turn into a personal style.
While a personal style is important for recognition as an artist, it is also something that will somewhat insulate you from the urge to compare yourself to your peers and the inevitable self-doubt that can follow. When you have your own style it is much harder for you to look at a successful project and think “I wish I had made this”, because it obviously isn’t your work/style.
Why do you create art?
Because I can’t stop it…
What habit or practice has changed your life the most?
The habit of being a dad. It may sound trite, but there is no single change in my life that has had such a profound effect on my worldview, my priorities, and how I plan my day. I have never been particularly organized, nor have I planned anything far ahead, but having kids means that you at least have to lean into these qualities a little. It has also crystalized how I approach art making (mainly working in my head at an unconscious/background level) simply because that was how I could make everything fit together when my kids were small.
What’s a book or an article that has greatly influenced your life?
There is a Danish book called “Se Her!” (loosely translated to “Look at this!”) by Rudi Hass, which collects essays by the Danish photographer William Mortensen on composition. I have never experienced such an academic and in-depth treatment of the subject and while aimed at photographers it has influenced me deeply even as I pivoted from photography to algorithmic work. It is unfortunate that it has not been translated into English because it is a treasure trove of information about composition, even moving beyond image content and into framing, etc.
Moving beyond artistic influences I think that perhaps “Lord of the Rings” is a good contender, if for nothing else than it consumed my life during some very formative years. It definitely influenced how I approached the world, both in terms of seeing the magic (not in a literal sense) in the small everyday episodes, but also in my view of ethics and how to conduct myself in a moral manner.
All that being said I don’t want to put too much weight into any single book or text. Hopefully, my personality and worldview hinge on more than one singular source.
What is your favorite failure?
My first job after I finished my PhD was a complete disaster. It was such a mismatch in culture and while it hit hard to be fired within 3 months it is the best thing that could have happened. I would have drowned in their horrible culture and lost most of what I treasure. The experience also made me much more focused on figuring out my own path instead of running along with what the universe decides to present to you.
What does success look like to you?
Success in life is about waking up content every (or at least most) morning. This is a bit of a trick answer because it then becomes about what makes you wake up like that.
On a personal level, it is about having a happy family, but I obviously have aspirations outside of that. A driving force behind my work (both artistically and professionally) is a wish to create something that outlives me. I have dealt with depression and anxiety centered around my own mortality and while I am in a much better place right now, the need to somehow trick death by putting something into the world that has continued relevance beyond my own existence has lingered on. Family is one way to beat death, but I also have an impetus to create work that lives on outside of my family.
What are you willing to struggle for?
Success, as defined above. I would love to present something more altruistic, but looking back at life decisions, both conscious and unconscious ones, it is clear I have an inner drive for it that I cannot deny.
However, my own personal success is also deeply linked to my self-regard and I would feel like a failure if I didn’t try to improve the world in both big and small ways whenever possible.
What is one strong opinion you have?
That people with strong opinions need to be better listeners.
Which of your past experiences/learnings have set you up for success in the present?
If we return to my conception of success from above, it would seem that my depression has primed me to strive toward what I now define as success, but I concede that that is a pretty grim answer…
I’m a person born into privilege in many ways and on top of that I have been quite lucky a number of times. To be honest, I think that has had a much bigger effect on the amount of success I experience now than anything else. This is not to discount any personal development or hardship — I have not sat idle waiting for success — but I would be remiss to not acknowledge the impact this has on one's present and future.
What would you say to your 25-year-old self?
I think I’d just give him a hug…
Learn more from Thomas
Something to read: A casual chat with Thomas Lin Pedersen
Something to watch: Creative Coding for Fun and (Non)Profit
Something to listen to: Inprecision Q&A @ Bright Moments London