The Strange and the Beautiful

This series of illustrations explores the concept of universal beauty and timelessness found within the realm of geometric forms and impossible figures. Computer-generated visual components are explored in the work, enhancing the images. The result of this process is a captivating visual experience. In print form, the abstract figures draw you into another world from another time.

Select Images:

poster001_bluepyramid_sposter001_bluepyramid002_s poster001_bluepyramid003_s poster001_bluepyramid004_s

Technical Documentation:

Digital tools used:

Adobe Illustrator (for vector tracing and drawing)
Adobe Photoshop (for colouring and texturing)
p5.js javascript library (for generating visual components using original code)


Some of the code for this project was adapted from my previous experiment with diving into computer-generated visuals based on following sets of rules. It can be found here on CodePen:

“The Sun”
From my previous experiment, different parameters given in the code modify the layers of randomly-generated lines radiating from the center point, giving the appearance of a layered circle.

“The Sun 002”
Another iteration of “The Sun”, the visual effect generated is reminiscent of an ink mark-making effect.

“Radiating Lines”
Generated lines radiating from a center point, forming an outer circle. This tool is simple yet powerful, as the visual designs generated can be applied to many different applications.

Design Files and assets:

I created a separate vector file in Illustrator to archive the ‘impossible figure’ subject matter in the work, so that it can be easily modified and reused in future endeavors. Various images of textures and photoshop brushes are used to create the images with a worn-in style.

These design files and assets can be found here:

Context Summary

The Strange and the Beautiful is an experimental series of illustrations. It dives into the realm of working with geometric forms, optical illusions, and impossible figures as subject matter within two-dimensional design.

The aesthetic of the final prints are very antique-looking, reminiscent of ‘found treasure’ from a mysterious time or place. The red-orange and deep purple colour scheme along with the added ‘grunge artifacts’ resembling a worn-in print give a mysterious appearance. This is deliberate, as it explores the concept of ‘universal beauty’ from the perspective of it being found during no specific time period. Theoretically, the entire design could be created by hand without very sophisticated tools, pigment, or ink. I have also found that introducing ‘print artifacts’ to the design is visually appealing for many viewers, as it gives a contrast to the very geometric and clean lines often found in graphical works.

The visual aesthetic appeal of straight edges and solid, geometric forms can be found in many contemporary applications of graphic design, especially in the rise in popularity of the minimalist, two-dimensional style. The appeal of these features goes back to ancient times, and can be found throughout world history in cases such as ancient Greek architecture and pottery, and ancient Egyptian pyramids and illustrations.

I initially planned on exploring using different new media techniques in this series, such as various forms of glitch-art using code. However, I realized that this would conflict with the design direction that I had set out to achieve. Having someone look at the prints and say “hey, this is glitch-art!” would have taken away from the idea that the designs could have been made without the use of any computers. You would be able to conclude right away that the piece is very contemporary. However, I used digital media and computer generation as a tool to help achieve the look I was aiming for. I used code to generate the visuals that would have been very time-consuming to create by hand, or even using digital tools without the aspect of complete automation. Some of the generated visuals create an organic feeling in the work, where randomly-placed lines (still following a predetermined set of rules) create a contrast from other visual elements. I find it interesting to leave the viewer a hint that parts were computer-generated without giving it away completely. I definitely plan on further exploring this uncommon subject matter with different approaches producing different visual styles. Although this series focuses completely on the aesthetic of old-school prints, I would like to focus on different styles in future iterations of the subject matter, evoking in viewers a different feeling or impression.

Other artists and designers working primarily with impossible figures and optical illusion as subject matter continue to be relatively uncommon. In the 20th century, artists such as Maurits Cornelis Escher and Oscar Reutersvärd have explored these unusual constructions. In graphite, Escher created architectural scenes featuring surrealist patterns and architecture that would be impossible to construct in the physical world. Reutersvärd, independently developing the Penrose triangle, created paintings on canvas as well as coloured pencil drawings of impossible figures. They can often be seen as formed constructions that appear to look like a window, framing a sky with clouds. Viewers often find it difficult to look away as what the mind sees is in these images is in constant conflict with what the mind knows and expects to be physically possible. Impossible figures continue to be an obscure subject matter, with many works drawn or painted by hand with traditional tools.

It is difficult to find detailed research and writings about impossible figures specifically. They are uncommon as subject matter (human figures are much more common in art, for example) and they are a subcategory in the world of optical illusions and optical illusion art. There has been documented research in observing how the human brain reacts to visual stimuli that conflicts with how the brain is programmed, producing visual phenomena and the ‘wow’ factor that can be found when looking at constructions involving these impossible figures. People looking at images often see colours, distortions, and other visual effects that are not in the images, instead, they are subjective and are created in the brain. I am interested in further exploring surrealist optical-illusion art from a 21st century lens, using new tools to bring the audience different experiences.


Movement in Squares, by Bridget Riley 1961

Process Journal

I started by thinking about what techniques I can use to sketch these impossible figures on paper. Using an isometric perspective can make it very simple to blend foreground areas into the background, as they remain the same size on the page. This is particularly important for impossible figures.

I created and printed out some isometric dot paper to use for my sketches. It can be found in the design files section.



Drawing different figures on paper with a dot guide is a quick way for me to sketch out ideas before I do the vector work digitally.


For this experiment, I wanted to focus on this particular form: the Penrose square. Making one versatile vector file to modify in various ways is useful in trying different techniques in Photoshop.


I traced out the final lines in red after making the guide squares in green, following the grid set up in Illustrator. The tricky thing with these figures is that you can’t just draw one set of squares and then copy-paste them and resize them again in another layer without changing the size. They need to be retraced every time.

Then I made a mental plan for which parts are going to be on top or underneath other parts.


Tracing the fills is the trickiest part of the job, but the final result is always well worth it. I decided to have all the box corners end up on top, with the overlapping squares showing a repeated under-over-under-over pattern. Having the fills transparent makes it easier to view the lines underneath for much better accuracy. It’s important to get everything lined up as there is very little room for error.


Here is the final image that can be documented for later use. The colours are set so that the sides of the squares can easily be seen and selected in different programs. It can be set up in Photoshop with many different configurations. It’s a ‘base’ for creating new images on.

Making the new images in Photoshop involves selecting and masking the different fills by colour. At first, I tried adding a gradation over the entire figure, but I felt that it didn’t fit with the flat colour print look I was going for:


I still wasn’t completely satisfied with the look even after desaturating the image completely. I find that this technique is much more effective when photographs are placed inside the fills instead of solid colours.


With playing around with masking, filling, and inverting parts of this image, I ended up with something I found to be particularly aesthetically appealing, so I kept this part and moved on with other things for the image. I experimented with adding different colours in the background and to the fills in the figure, but I found that I enjoyed two-tone colour schemes the best.


I added some abstract shapes for the background the go with the impossible figure.


After adding in print artifacts to add texture and weight to the design, I added a gradient map as a final layer to have an aged-paper look. I used an orange and purple gradient map at 35% opacity for this. With a gradient map as a final layer, I’m able to continue editing and inverting the black-and-white colours underneath while keeping a clean, non-destructive editing workflow.





Then I created the computer-generated visuals using the p5.js library. I used some of the code I experimented with before. Adding them to the images was simple, as I made these outputs in black and white so that they are easily visible and can be easily modified in image editing programs.

I enjoyed playing with the different aspects in these iterations to achieve different results. It’s interesting to look at the variations that can be made by changing the lines (so that figures pop out of or blend into the background), placing visuals with different sizes in different positions and at different layers in the image, and inverting the image to reverse the positive and negative space.


A brief history of surrealism in design:

More examples of modern surrealist art and design:

About surrealist landscapes:

Documented research about visual phenomena and optical illusions:

About sacred geometry:

About celtic knot patterns:

A guide on isometric projection aimed at designers:

A website about impossible figures, the artists in their history, and a large illustrated library of figures:

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