Juhani Halkomäki: Exploring a digital arts practice that builds on creative coding

Juhani Halkomäki , is a digital artist born in Southern Finland and currently, practicing in Helsinki. Halkomaki’s practice is a process of coding vivid, expressive digital illustrations. The new media artist blurs the line between digital art and more classical practices. His oeuvre is striking, for both, the coded perfection that the strokes of some pieces carry, but also the playfulness that others exhibit. Indeed, there is an expressionistic quality, reminiscent of Van Gogh to much of the art that Halkomäki creates, and the detractors of coded art will undoubtedly experience a pause for thought when engaging with it. Discussing his own background, the new media artist tells STIR, “I’ve been interested in programming from an early age. I used to spend hours in front of my computer writing QBasic programs that would draw moving circles and rectangles on the screen. Nowadays this could be called creative coding. Back then, my dream was to become a game developer, as I had no idea that programming could be used for creating art.”

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Untitled, 2022, video Video: Courtesy of Juhani Halkomäki

Years would come to pass, and it was time to choose a career path for Halkomäki. By this point, he had given up on what he humorously describes as “silly dreams”, and was trying instead to focus on building a foundation for a “serious” career. He found himself forgetting his passion for creative code art. As the artist was still very interested in programming and visual art, he found himself studying Media Engineering as it combined the two. After five years of studies, he graduated as an engineer and started a job as a front-end web developer. There was not a great deal of creativity in the artist’s professional work, and life seemed quite repetitive and banal. Every now and then, Halkomäki would make small visual art experiments for his own personal enjoyment but did not have the time or space to develop a command over the creative tools necessary to truly express himself. He explains his position at the time, saying “I still had no idea that creative coding and generative art were a thing. After years of working, a colleague of mine suggested that I should apply to a New Media program at Aalto University.” Despite being somewhat sceptical, he applied to the course and was selected; this was ecstatic news for Halkomäki. He tells STIR, “I had a lot of fun creating the pre-assignments for the application, and when I got a letter saying I had been chosen for the study program, I was very happy, as I had grown tired of my job and really needed a change.”

Untitled #14, 2022, digital illustration | Juhani Halkomäki | STIRworld
Untitled #14, 2022, digital illustration Image: Courtesy of Juhani Halkomäki

In 2017, the artist began his studies at Aalto University, and this opened up a new world to him. Digital practices in an environment such as Alto clicked instantly, making Halkomäki realize that this was exactly what he had dreamed of pursuing ever since he was a child. He would eventually return to his day job, except this time around, he was armed with the digital tools he needed to pursue his passion on the side, all the while growing his network of digital creatives through the internet. Today, he works within a large community that continuously pushes their craft, and he cites the likes of Aleksandra Jovanić, Kwame Bruce Busia, Melissa Wiederrecht, Erik Swahn and Zach Lieberman among his foremost inspirations.

Kratta #3, 2022, digital illustration | Juhani Halkomäki | STIRworld
Kratta #3, 2022, digital illustration Image: Courtesy of Juhani Halkomäki

The artist’s creative process usually starts from a very simple idea. At this point, he was often unsure of how the idea would develop into a cohesive piece. He elaborates on this, saying “The ideas arrive in the form of questions such as, “How would it look on the screen if this happened?” or “How could I mimic that real-world phenomenon? “. As an example, for the ‘Kratta’ series my idea was “How could I make something that looks like Japanese sand raking”. Once Halkomäki has a compelling idea, he starts programming to see how it might translate to the screen. The outcome is usually somewhat surprising and unexpected for him, which acts as fuel for more ideas to develop in order to take the original further. This becomes a sort of a ‘feedback loop’ as he describes, “and the artwork starts to take shape by layering ideas that work the best.”

Sun Scribble transports us to a tropical scene, 2022, digital illustration | Juhani Halkomäki | STIRworld
Sun Scribble, 2022, digital illustration Image: Courtesy of Juhani Halkomäki

Another example of this is Halkomäki’s work Sun Scribbles, which started out as an asemic writing experimentation. The artist made an asemic writing algorithm and started playing around with it, trying out different line heights and line densities. Eventually, he tried to make a gradient using the process. He was also exploring the use of the colour blue in his work, which made him think of the ocean, and in turn, took him to the setting sun on the horizon. “So”, he says, “I took the piece in that direction.”

Artist profile portrait, 2022, photograph, | Juhani Halkomäki | STIRworld
Artist profile portrait, 2022, photograph Image: Courtesy of Juhani Halkomäki

For the artist, creating generative art is first and foremost a way to relax and take his mind off of the noise of daily life. He believes that his work is a series of subconscious decisions made during the creative process, that reflect the world around him and how he is responding to it emotionally within the moment. While some pieces are purely abstract and explore little more than a technique or algorithm he finds interesting, others’ works are more cohesive. He says, “In my opinion, I am actually not that good at using colours. Black and white is the easiest choice for me. I’m quite fond of muted colors but I would love to be more versatile. If I think a piece could use a wider palette, I usually make a method for generating random colour combinations and make a huge amount of test renders. I then pick the best-looking colour combinations and make palettes out of them.”

While the artist’s creative toolset and process continue to grow, so does his acclaim: as of now, his artworks are being displayed as part of a series of pop-up exhibitions in Japan, arranged by 3XHIBITION. His work has also garnered a considerable following across the internet.  When asked where he would like to see his practice go in the future, Halkomäki tells STIR, “In the long run, I’m hoping to develop a recognizable style. For now, I’m just seeing where it will take me.” One can only hope that the artist preserves a bit of the charming expressionist quality his work often presents.

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