From pixels to paint: How do AI art generators work?

Cherry Yadvendu
October 23, 2023
15 min
From pixels to paint: How do AI art generators work?

Introduction

Imagine a world where the beauty of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Monet's lilies, the boldness of Picasso's shapes, and the emotion of Rembrandt's faces meet modern tech. Ever been curious about combining such iconic styles? AI is turning this curiosity into reality. By 2025, Gartner projects that 30% of major brand ads will be created by AI. These aren't just random strokes on a canvas; they're meticulously produced by using AI art generators. Intrigued about the magic behind them? Hold onto that thought.

Take a scroll through your social media, and you'll spot images that seem almost out of this world in their creativity. That's AI in action. But here’s a twist: it’s not just the realm of the elite artists. Everyday enthusiasts are embracing AI, creating art that captures the imagination, and for some, it's even paving the way to a new career. From setting up digital art galleries to teaching eager learners how to use AI to make art, there's excitement everywhere. Whether you're an artist, a budding entrepreneur, or just someone keen on tech and art's fusion, we're in a golden era of digital artistry. Let's dive deeper and understand how AI art generators work!

A world envisioned showcasing how AI art generators work in the realm of AI art.

Historical context

Humans always find innovative ways to express themselves. Think of the ancient times when people used cave paintings to share their experiences and dreams. These first art pieces were humanity's way of showcasing the variety of emotions and life. The true renaissance, however, began with the advent of Artificial Intelligence.

Early cave drawings depicting human experiences


Pioneering moments included the utilization of neural networks to understand and recreate artistic styles. Neural networks have been game-changers in mimicking and recreating artistic styles. Simply put, they are computer models designed like our brain to find patterns in data. The real breakthrough came in the 2010s with the introduction of Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). These advanced AI tools let machines craft art with remarkable originality. If GANs sound technical, hang tight; we'll cover them in depth later. As AI began producing unique artworks, the art and tech worlds took notice. For emerging artists, mastering AI as a new tool became crucial. This led to groundbreaking events, like the first-ever AI art auctions and shows. But this fusion of AI and art isn't just about mering techniques. It's a symbol of human brilliance, showcasing our drive to always think outside the box and push our creative boundaries

Pierre Fautrel stands beside an AI-generated artwork using GANs named "Portrait of Edmond de Belamy" at Christie's in New York on October 22, 2018.

From prehistory to today

From cave paintings to digital art, humanity's expression has transformed through ancient sculptures. Renaissance masterpieces, Impressionist visions, Modernist experiments, and now to AI.

A brief timeline

How does AI really 'learn' artistic styles?

Now that we've touched the surface on how AI makes art, it's crucial to delve into two key factors: Neural Networks and selecting the appropriate training model.

1. Core of AI art: Neural Networks

Neural networks, often foundational in the realm of artificial intelligence, are computational models inspired by the way our human brain functions. At their core, they consist of layers of interconnected nodes or "neurons" that process information. These neurons are organized into input, hidden, and output layers. The input layer is where data enters the system, the hidden layers further process this data internally, and finally, the output layer produces the desired result or prediction. To understand how AI learns styles and technique, it’s important to understand data processing, which has two primary components:

  • Data training
  • Layers and nodes

1 (a). Data training

Imagine teaching a child to learn countless examples of a particular subject. That's what data training does for AI systems. It's the heart of AI, mirroring the way we humans learn. At its heart, neural networks—inspired by our brain's connections—tweak their internal settings based on the information they receive and the results they produce. These settings, called "weights," determine how strongly different parts of the network interact, allowing AI to learn and predict.

As these networks are exposed to more data, they get better at spotting patterns and drawing insights, much like how we learn from experience. And it's not just about numbers or texts. In the world of art, AI dives deep into everything from classical masterpieces by Da Vinci to modern street art by Banksy. This immersion helps AI capture the essence of artistic evolution, enabling it not just to understand art but also to recreate and even innovate new forms.

1 (b). Layers and nodes

Just like we have neurons in our brains, AI has layers and nodes. When we dive into AI, especially art, we see these layers filled with nodes, much like pages in a book filled with words. Each layer is like a chapter, talking about different things, while the nodes are the details or the words. In the art world, these layers look at every little thing about an artwork. Imagine one layer seeing basic shapes in a painting, while another looks closely at the colors.

It's really fascinating. Some AI networks have many layers, up to 150! And within them, there are millions of these little nodes. This means that they can see every small part of an artwork, from the lightest shade of blue to the feel of a brushstroke. It's all about understanding art in every detail.

An example of a neural network consisting of layers and nodes


2. Choosing your preferred training model

2 (a). GANs a.k.a the model through which AI can generate original art

Generative Adversarial Networks, or GANs, represent one of the most innovative advancements in the field of artificial intelligence, particularly when it comes to AI-driven creativity.

The portrait painting of Edmond de Belamy was produced using a generative adversarial network in 2018.


At a basic level, a GAN consists of two parts:

  • Generator: This component takes random noise as an input and produces data (like an image).
  • Discriminator: It receives data from both the generator and a real dataset and tries to distinguish between the two.

The two networks operate in a competitive manner, continually challenging and refining each other's outputs. In this context, they act as "adversaries", with each trying to outperform the other.

To understand this better, imagine this:

  • You (generator): Your job is to create portrait drawings, specifically of your friend’s face. At first, you might not capture their likeness perfectly, and your drawings might look quite imaginative, rather than true-to-life.
  • Your friend (discriminator): Every time you show your drawing to your friend, they try to guess if it's a real, accurate depiction of their face or one of your imaginative representations.
  • The game: You keep trying to improve your drawings to more closely resemble your friend's face, and your friend keeps trying to get better at guessing. Every time your friend correctly guesses if it's a true depiction or not, they win. Every time they guess wrong, you win.

As you keep playing this game, two things happen:

  • You get better at drawing because you're trying to fool your friend.
  • Your friend gets better at telling real from fake because they're trying to catch you out.

Eventually, you become so good at drawing that your friend can't tell the difference between your drawings and real professional ones. That means you've become a master artist!

In the context of art, GANs have emerged as a groundbreaking tool. The Generator can produce entirely new pieces of artwork after being trained on thousands or even millions of existing pieces. If one were to use AI to make art, the resulting piece isn't just an imitation or a direct copy; it's often unique, showcasing styles and elements learned from the training data. Thus, GANs are considered the pinnacle of AI artistry, opening up new realms of possibility in the intersection of technology and creativity.

2 (b). CNNs a.k.a the master of visual texture and form in AI art

Convolutional Neural Networks, or CNNs, have redefined how AI systems interpret and emulate visual styles in art.

AI uses CNNs to blend Van Gogh's starry swirls and other art with an input image, producing a mesmerizing new artwork.


Essential components of a CNN are:

  • Convolutional layers: They extract elemental visual features, like strokes, textures, and motifs from art pieces.
  • Pooling layers: They distill these features, focusing on the most critical artistic elements.
  • Fully connected layers: Based on the discerned features, these layers guide the AI in creating or classifying art.

To understand this better, imagine this:

  • You (convolutional layers): You're given a mission to study the details of a painting. You focus on every stroke, every dot, every texture. Your role is to understand the smallest features, the foundation of the artwork. This is what the convolutional layers do—they break down images into fundamental features like lines, colors, and shapes.
  • Your friend (pooling layers): After you've noted all the details, you share your observations with your friend. They don't need every tiny detail; they want a summary. Your friend takes note of the most crucial parts—the dominant brushstrokes, the main colors, the overarching shapes. This is akin to pooling layers, which simplify and condense the information from the convolutional layers.
  • The team (fully connected layers): Now, with your detailed observations and your friend's summarized data, a team of artists starts creating or identifying a piece of art. They combine and consider both the intricate features and the summarized essentials to create or classify artwork.

This process makes it possible for AI to understand and emulate complex visual styles in art. So when you think about how do AI art generators work? With is with the help of CNNs, artists and technologists can reimagine traditional methods, pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

2 (c). Transformer-based models like DALL·E a.ka The mastermind behind turning words into pictures

Transformer-based Models, especially exemplars like DALL·E, have ushered in a new age in AI creativity, simply bridging the realms of text and imagery.

“An illustration of an avocado sitting in a therapist's chair, saying 'I just feel so empty inside' with a pit-sized hole in its center. The therapist, a spoon, scribbles notes.” - Taken from Open AI’s Instagram.


Diving deep into the architecture, the Transformer's superiority to other models emerges from:

  • Attention mechanism: This allows the model to focus on specific parts of the input text, much like an artist dwelling on the essential details of a vision or concept.
  • Multiple heads & layers: By processing the textual data in parallel and through layers, the model captures intricate nuances, understanding both overt and subtle directives.

To understand this better, imagine this:

  • You (attention mechanism): You're at a bustling party, surrounded by multiple conversations. But when someone mentions a topic close to your heart, say, an avocado feeling empty without its pit, your ears perk up, and you instantly zero in on that conversation. Amidst a sea of noise, you've captured an illustration of an avocado sitting in a therapist's chair saying, 'I just feel so empty inside.' This selective focus mirrors the attention mechanism, allowing the model to concentrate on specific parts of the text that are more relevant or informative.
  • Your friends (multiple heads & layers): At the same party, several friends are immersed in different chats. One friend might overhear a comment about the pit-sized hole in the avocado, while another catches a joke about the spoon therapist scribbling notes. Later, gathering together, you exchange the intriguing bits you've overheard. Combining all the snippets, you form a comprehensive picture of the evening's topics, catching nuances you'd miss alone.
  • The team's artist (transformer model): Using the compiled information from the evening, one of your artist friends sketches a detailed illustration that incorporates all these tales. Maybe it's an image of an avocado in distress with the humorous twist of a spoon therapist. Every stroke and detail captures the essence of the myriad stories, blending them into one magnificent artwork. Similarly, the Transformer model, given a textual prompt, deciphers its essence and crafts a corresponding visual representation.

In the world of AI art, Transformers are like magic artists. They can turn a simple sentence into a unique and creative image.

Process of making art with AI

1. Selecting a model and dataset

When starting an AI art project, the first step is deciding the type of art you want to produce, be it classical, abstract, or modern. To understand how to use AI to make art, it's essential to know that based on this decision, you then choose an appropriate neural network model—either GANs (ideal for generating novel images), CNNs (great for style transfers), or DALL-E (suited for text to image generation). Once the model is chosen, the process progresses to the next stages.

Collect a set of images that represents the type of images you wish to generate. The richness and diversity of data affect the AI's output. Bigger and varied datasets lead to more comprehensive learning.

  • Public datasets: Places like Kaggle, UCI, or ImageNet have datasets for various domains.
  • Custom datasets: How do AI art generators work with specific styles? By using custom datasets. You can curate your own datasets using web scraping or other data collection tools.

2. Training phase: time, computing resources, and nuances

In order to use AI to make art, start with a selected dataset. Train the chosen neural network model iteratively, while constantly monitoring the time and resources consumed. Adjustments are made as required until the model achieves the desired accuracy, marking the completion of the training phase. This process is essentially how AI art generators work.

Training machine learning models requires careful consideration of various factors. The duration of training hinges on the chosen model and dataset size, with simpler models on small datasets taking hours, while more complex ones can stretch into weeks. To handle this computational demand, high-end Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) or cloud-based platforms are often sought, offering parallel processing capabilities or scalable resources, respectively.

During training, it's vital to watch out for overfitting, where models learn the training data too closely and struggle with new data. Also, models should produce a variety of outputs to ensure they're learning properly and not just repeating patterns. Lastly, testing regularly during training, instead of just at the end, helps identify and fix issues quickly, saving time and resources.

3. Generation phase: creating the artwork

Using the trained model, AI generates an initial art piece. While this first piece may carry the essence, there's usually room for improvement. Much like traditional artists who refine their work through repeated strokes and edits, AI-driven artwork undergoes a series of refinements. Each pass seeks to enhance the details, correct anomalies, and move closer to the desired aesthetic.

With each model iteration and refinement, the generated image improves significantly.

4. Post-processing and refining AI-generated art

Beginning with the AI-generated artwork, it undergoes either manual or automatic enhancements, followed by quality assessments. The result is a refined piece of AI art, primed for display.  Engaging in feedback loops, either through human reviews or automated criteria, helps in fine-tuning the piece, ensuring alignment with the envisioned art.

Best practices for AI art generation

Exploring the realm of AI art is exhilarating. For optimal results on understanding how do AI art generators work, consider the following key guidelines:

1. Optimizing training data for best results

  • Diversify your data: Ensure your dataset includes varied examples to capture the essence of the subject.
  • Regular clean-up: Periodically remove irrelevant or low-quality images from your dataset.
  • Augment data: Use data augmentation techniques to artificially expand your dataset, ensuring broader coverage.

2. Selecting the right model based on desired output

  • Understand your goal: Certain models work best for specific art styles; choose accordingly.
  • Stay updated: Using AI to make art is fast-evolving; be aware of the latest models and their capabilities.
  • Prioritize flexibility: Opt for models that allow customization to cater to your artistic needs.

3. Adjusting parameters for unique art styles

  • Experiment fearlessly: Tweaking parameters like learning rate can drastically change outcomes.
  • Document changes: Keep track of changes made and their impact, aiding in future projects when considering how to use AI to make art more effectively.
  • Seek feedback: Share your art with peers and consider their feedback when adjusting parameters.

4. Overcoming common challenges in AI art creation

  • Patience is key: Perfecting AI art takes time; don’t get discouraged with initial results.
  • Join a community: Engage with AI art communities online to learn from shared experiences.
  • Stay educated: Regularly update yourself with new techniques and solutions in the realm of AI art.

AI art tools and platforms

Training your own model for AI art can be a complex endeavor, especially when it comes to crafting the right prompts that guide the AI. More often than not, you might find it more beneficial to leverage pre-existing tools in the market. These platforms, built on diverse and advanced models, simplify the art creation process. They allow you to generate captivating AI-driven artwork without the intricate setup, all while utilizing intuitive prompt systems. Here are some of the best ones:

DALL-E 2

DALL-E 2 is user-friendly and perfect for those new to AI art generation. It's known for producing detailed and photorealistic images. By entering text into the "Generate" box, DALL-E 2 produces four versions of the prompt, which can be edited or downloaded. A standout feature is the ability to create, edit, and fuse multiple images together.

Images produced by DALL-E2

DALL-E 2 pros:

  • Intuitive and easy to use.
  • Offers creative flexibility.
  • No third-party platform needed.
  • Can generate a wide range of styles.

DALL-E 2 cons:

  • Simplistic images.
  • Not a high degree of accuracy.
  • Can only create square images.

DALL-E 2  pricing: $15 for 115-credits.

Midjourney

Midjourney is a powerful AI text-to-image generator known for producing highly artistic and believable images. Unlike DALL-E 2, users need to create a Discord account to use it. Despite its complexity, the quality of the results is unmistakable. A standout feature is the ability to upload personal images and have Midjourney create prompts for them, leading to entirely new image creations.

Images produced by Midjourney

Midjourney pros:

  • Produces high-quality images.
  • Users can program custom ratios.
  • Offers flexibility to control image parameters.

Midjourney cons:

  • More complicated to use.
  • Requires users to sign up with Discord.
  • Image generation time increases after Fast hours are exhausted.

Midjourney pricing: Subscription options start from $8 per month.

Cohesive AI

Cohesive AI specializes in transforming text into high-quality images. It offers an array of styles ranging from cartoons and anime to celebrities. The platform is designed to be user-friendly, allowing individuals to generate visuals effortlessly, regardless of their design experience.

Images produced by Cohesive AI

Cohesive AI pros:

  • Instant text to image generation: simply type and get visuals.
  • Diverse styles: offers a plethora of styles to cater to every creative need.
  • Tailored AI images: can generate unique images based on specific styles and descriptions.

Cohesive AI cons:

  • Free version may have limitations.
  • Direct comparison with competitors might show variation in image quality.

Cohesive AI pricing: $15 for 100 images.

Stable Diffusion

Description: Stable Diffusion offers a variety of web-based applications and installation options. The official Stable Diffusion website, DreamStudio by Stability AI, provides a glimpse of its capabilities. The layout in DreamStudio is more cluttered, but it offers unique features like the Negative Prompt. This feature helps improve image quality by allowing users to specify what they don't want in the image.

Images produced by Stable Diffusion

Stable Diffusion pros:

  • Multiple options for web and installed versions.
  • Offers more creative freedom.
  • Many controls to customize image parameters.

Stable Diffusion cons:

  • Burns through credits in paid versions.
  • Steep learning curve.
  • Image quality varies depending on the version.

Stable Diffusion pricing: $10 for 1,000 credits

Adobe Firefly

Adobe Firefly is a top-tier AI art generator tailored for professional designers. It's integrated with other Adobe Creative Cloud products, offering a seamless experience.

Images produced by Adobe Firefly

Adobe Firefly pros:

  • Integrated with other Creative Cloud apps.
  • Can generate text styles and color vectors.
  • Offers versatile editing capabilities.

Adobe Firefly cons:

  • Still in beta.
  • Requires a Creative Cloud subscription.

Adobe Firefly pricing: Included in Adobe Creative Cloud.

Conclusion

Art and AI are coming together in amazing ways. By understanding how to use AI to make art, especially the intricacies of crafting effective prompts, you're ready to dive into this new world. It's a fresh, exciting chapter in creativity. The fusion of technology and artistry is reshaping how we view and create masterpieces. Embrace this change, explore the tools, and let your imagination soar.

For those eager to delve deeper, our upcoming blog will provide further insights into AI art prompts and their potential. Remember, diving deeper into understanding how AI art prompts work can be the key to unlocking unparalleled artistic expressions. The canvas of the future awaits your touch.

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Cherry Yadvendu
October 17, 2023
15 min

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