Stardust. An experiment in generative portraiture

The Stardust experiment will end soon! Get your free portraits at

Stardust. An experiment in generative portraiture

Life is finite. Creativity isn’t. An artist has the potential to create infinite artworks but only some of them will see the light due to the constraint of time. What if we use technology to outsource the creation of art so more of these potential artworks are finally created? Modelling artistic decisions into software would provide a generative assistant that could even survive an artist in the creation of meaningful works of visual art. This project is a first experiment around this concept.

Some models of human creativity describe it as a process that produces novel combinations of pre-existing ideas or objects. We curate these combinations in our human minds. We abort potential creations. This experiment in generative portraiture will be the opposite: it will give birth to as many novel combinations as possible, taking the risks of non curated creation and experimenting with the use of generative strategies to create assisted works of art. It should also raise issues about the origin of value in art: meaning to the viewer eyes, originality, authorship, scarcity, idea generation and execution dexterity.

As a theme for this series of portraits, I’ve choosen the concept of nucleosynthesis or the process of creation of new atomic nuclei from pre-existing matter that takes place at cosmic scale. We humans, are believed to be novel combinations of cosmic stardust. It could be argued that the whole universe is the biggest running generative art installation today. Personal beliefs will determine who we think the artist is.

In a nutshell, this experiment, with the participation of an Internet audience, will produce as many artworks as possible (during a limited time, beginning 18th of June 2013). An automated process will create human portraits as generative collages, using as sources some images from the hubble space telescope. Generated portraits will be exhibited at the flickr Stardust Portrait exhibition. Participation is free and everyone is invited:

Provide a photo of yourself and get three free generative portraits in digital form. The steps are:
1 – You upload a frontal face photo of yourself (in jpg format) to your Google Drive cloud storage. You just need a google account (gmail, google+,…). If you don’t have one, you can sign up for one. It’s free. (note: I am not promoting nor endorsing Google services here. It is just a convenient tool for this project). How to use Google Drive.
2 – Once uploaded to Drive, you share the photo with with “can edit” access level. Don’t send the photo or the share link by email! Just use the share function in Google Drive with that address. Don’t worry, only that photo is shared. All other documents will be private to you. How to share a photo in Google Drive.
3 – Wait. All photos will be reviewed and approved manually before entering the generative process to ensure they comply with the requirements of the project (see Q&A below).
4 – Hopefully in less than three days you will have three generative portraits written as new versions of your original photo. Check your Google Drive space. Your original photo will still be there as the first version. How to get access to file versions
Please, read the terms and conditions before participating, thank you!

Q&A (Questions and answers)

– Who can partipate in the project?: Everyone is invited. If you are a minor, you may require your parents or tutor permission.

– Is it free to participate?: Yes, totally.

– What are the requirements of the uploaded photo?: It should be a frontal face photo of yourself and you must own certain rights over the photo (see terms and conditions). Ideally, the photo should have a good contrast. Usually, photos without frontal flash are the best. You can upload a photo with several faces but only one face will be selected and used at random.

– How many portraits will I get?: Three versions of one photo selected by you.

– Can I get portraits of more than one photo?: No, only one photo per Google account to allow participation for as many different people as possible. If you share more than one photo with, only one will be downloaded and used. If you desperately need more portraits, the only way is using several Google accounts, one per photo.

– Can I change the photo once shared?: No. Once shared, the project will use the first photo shared.

– Will my photo be available to anyone?: No, if you follow the instructions, your photo is shared only to the project address. Your generative portraits will be public in the flickr exhibition unless you opt-out (see below)

– I love the project! Can I buy a print? Do you accept donations?: I do not accept donations. If you want to support my work, from time to time, I print limited editions of my work that you can buy at my online shop. If you want to stay tuned for new editions, just follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr and you will be notified.

– I want the generative portraits but I don’t want them publicly exhibited in flickr: You can opt-out from the online flickr exhibition by ending your original photo file name with “NOFLICKR” (without quotes) before uploading the photo to Google Drive. Example of photo filename to opt-out: myPortraitNOFLICKR.jpg

– I shared a photo but I’ve changed my mind and I don’t want to be part of the project anymore: Just remove the share you did with from your original photo file and you are done. Please note that if the portraits were already generated and uploaded to the online flickr exhibition and you want them removed from it, you must send an email to indicating as subject “Remove flickr stardust portrait”, attaching the original photo with the original filename you used in Google Drive to prove that you are the owner with the right to make the removal request. The removal from flickr is done manually so please allow some time.

– Can I use to send you an email with questions or ask for help?: Only with removal requests from the flickr exhibition (see above). Please review this Q&A section to see if your question is already answered. All other emails will be discarded and not readed nor answered, I’m sorry.

– What about privacy? Will you use my photo or data in any form?: Your photo will be donwloaded and used only for the generated portraits. Once generated, your photo will be immediately and permanently deleted from the project local storage (not from your Google Drive account). No personal data is collected nor stored in this project.

– I have shared my portrait with but I don’t get the generative portraits: Please be patient. All photos are checked manually before creating the generative portraits and maybe the queue is big. Make sure that you shared the photo as described in step 2 above. No photos attached to Google docs, emailed as attachments, etc, will be processed. Only uploaded images that comply with the requirements are processed. Also, make sure that your image is jpg / jpeg type. Other image types are not supported in this project.

– I have received only one generative portrait. Where are the other two?: The three portraits are received as new versions of your original photo in Google Drive. You only see the last one, but the others are still there as versions. To access to them, please see step 4 of the above process.

– I dont like the generative portraits I’ve received, I want more new generative portraits: I’m sorry, as with any other artwork, there is no guarantee that you’ll like the results. Given the actual constraints, only three generative portraits are created.

– Can I share, publish or sell the generated Stardust portraits?: The portraits are licensed Creative Commons BY-NC-ND: You are allowed to make non-commercial use of them if you give credit to me. Commercial use is not permitted.

– I did something wrong and my photo is not processed: If you want to resubmit a photo, your best bet is to create a new Google account and share it follwing the instructions above.


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