Exploring AI Art Co-Creation – Steve Pavlina
As I’ve been playing around with AI art tools, I decided to update the associated images for our courses. I wanted to come up with a more unique and personal expression than using the old stock images as we’ve been doing for the past few years.
This was a relatively small project, and it gave me a nice reason to delve into some interesting AI tools to better assess their capabilities. I definitely learned a lot and very much enjoyed the experience.
With most of the images I iterated dozens of times, feeding incremental images back to the AI tools and prompting them to keep evolving those images in directions of my choosing.
I also did some classic image editing to get the images the way I wanted them to look. Often I’d do some edits along the way to nudge the AI to explore in a different direction.
I began by feeding the AI different words that I associated with a given course, including the name of the course, my name, and lots of topical keywords that relate to the course. Then I set the AI to generate at least 100 images to begin with, sometimes a few hundred, so I could see a nice divergent set of conceptual ideas. From there I could pick my favorites and evolve some of them further.
I went through many rounds of diverging to generate more ideas and then converging by creating more subtle variations of concepts I like. Finally I did some fine-tuning.
The experience was like having a team of artists to keep creating more art, and I could keep guiding them and giving them feedback till they created something that satisfied me.
I don’t expect or need other people to like my creations. My goal was to replace the stock photo images with creations that are meaningful to me, full of symbolism and imagery that genuinely connects with each course. I wanted to raise my standard for authentic and personal expression. I’m not seeking to impress anyone, and I’m sure some people will not like the images. I’m totally okay with that. I really like how these turned out though.
I smile now when I look at the Courses page since I have a personal connection to each image. I no longer think, “I should really replace that stock image with something more expressive.”
The first one I made was the Submersion image.
Submersion is about exploring Subjective Reality, which can be like stepping through a portal, so I like that this looks portal-like. SR is also a lens that can be used, so the lens-like look works nicely too.
With this image I did very little editing and largely used what the AI created, although I did generate many hundreds of other images before finding this one. I like how it conveys so many aspects of the Submersion experience in a compact visual form, especially how you can’t really grasp the world of SR until you finally dive in and explore it. It looks like some kind of deep aquatic world inside, but you’ll never know what it’s like to be in that reality till you go inside and experience it for yourself. I love how this image invites us to explore what’s in there.
I especially like the intricate look of the border around the portal. I deliberately prompted the AI to create something intricate and detailed.
Rachelle also noted that this image reminds her of an old diver’s helmet, which is another good association to the course.
I find this image very beautiful too. I love the rich complexity of it.
The next image I created was for the Octo Intensive workshop that we did online in October 2021.
This was a one-time workshop, so I’m only using this image for the recorded version that Conscious Growth Club members can access as part of their membership.
The Octo Intensive was about 8 principles of motivation, hence the Octo theme. At first the AI was generating a lot of weird octopus images that were too literal, so I had to tone down the octopus prompting and nudge it to do more with the other concepts. Eventually we started converging in an interesting direction.
I like how to ribbon represents a prize, award, or gift, and there are embedded diamonds as well, representing the many rewards of maintaining strong motivation. The octopus owns its place in the midst of those rewards, like of course that’s where it belongs. Its eyes look a bit like gemstones too – a reminder to practice intentionality by focusing on our desires.
Deep Abundance Integration
For Deep Abundance Integration, I started with a tree in a circle and then evolved it a lot from there, eventually coming up with this.
I put a lot of thought into the symbolism that I included in this one. There’s a tree and leaves for growth. The leaves are textured for nuance and subtleties in the growth journey. The tree has branches for the many form of abundance. There are leaves below (inner journey) and leaves above (external rewards).
The heart jewel is to remind people to follow their path with a heart and for a symbol of wealth and luxury. The water has ripples for the many ripples that we can create with an abundance mindset. Sunrise is happening in the background (sunny days ahead).
The copper color was Rachelle’s idea. I like it as a symbol of groundedness and depth since it’s mined from the earth. She also came up with the heart idea.
The sky represents unlimited expansion (i.e. the sky’s the limit).
I like images that look like they could be real physical objects instead of just making flat 2D images. I like it when images convey depth and texture, like I could reach out and touch them. This reminds me that the growth ideas in these courses are accessible. They aren’t merely ideas – we can integrate them into our lives and make them real.
This new Stature image took took the longest, but I love how it turned out.
There’s a bronze person with outstretched arms, and there’s an animal-like face in the glass behind. The eyes of the face also function as a Superman-like cape for the figure.
There’s more symbolism embedded in this… such as putting metal (strong) in front of glass (fragile).
Stature is a course on character sculpting, which is like transforming the wild, beast-like parts of ourselves into the strong selves that we wish to become. Yet we don’t abandon the beast side because it supports us in our human journey.
The Amplify image merges a microphone, speaker, and light bulb all in one. I love the simple elegance of this one.
This was the fastest and easiest course image to create, and I felt like I was really in the flow of working with the AI to develop it. It still took many iterations, but we made interesting progress at each step and converged pretty quickly.
Amplify is a course on creative flow and creative productivity. The mic represents finding our voice. The light bulb is for creative ideas, and since the light bulb is the same object as the mic, it’s a reminder to act on inspired ideas immediately. The speaker in the background is there to amplify the message, and it also looks a bit rippled to represent the ripples we can create.
This image also has a structure similar to a trophy, representing the fulfillment side of creative achievement.
And the image is compact and simple, reminding us that we can just create without overcomplicating the experience.
Tech-wise though, that configuration would send a ton of audio feedback from the speaker right into the mic, so that’s symbolic of hearing the call of one’s audience so loudly you can no longer ignore it. It’s like the speaker is advertising that it’s time to step up to the mic and start expressing yourself.
Guild is a course on social alignment, so I wanted to convey many different aspects of a good social circle in a single image.
In the different faces, you’ll see diversity and playfulness. But there’s also a lot of uniformity, which represents creating alignment in your social circle.
The characters are in sync, but the pieces aren’t all perfectly square since we’ll surely invest more in some people than in others. There’s a gold cord around the outside since good friends are like gold.
We all wear masks at times, so the challenge of intimacy is to look beyond the surface and get to know the characters behind the masks. Not everyone is masked to the same degree.
There’s a mix of warm and cool colors since people can be warm or cold too – and sometimes both.
Does working with AI tools circumvent the creative process, such that the AI does all the heavy lifting?
I don’t see it that way at all. Using such rich tools allows me to focus more attention at a different level. Instead of thinking about brush strokes and colors, I can focus on meaning and symbolism and the overall structure of an image. I can pay attention to lower level details too, but I don’t have to get bogged down in creative skills that don’t interest me, like learning to draw, paint, or sculpt.
That might bother some people who invested years in some of their creative skills, which I can understand as a former game developer. I could just as easily say that to be a true artist, you should make your own canvases, paints, pencils, brushes, etc. I could say that it’s cheating if you play a musical instrument that someone else built and that a real artist would build their own. But of course that’s rubbish. We all lean on the work of the past, and to me this experience is no different in that regard. There’s just more past to lean on now.
I will say that I didn’t try to copy or emulate any known artist’s style with these images, living or dead. I never fed in the name of an artist or person (other than myself) for any of the prompts I used. That wouldn’t have felt good to me, and it would have run contrary to my purpose for this exploration.
These images may violate people’s expectations. Right now I don’t know of any friends in this field making these kinds of images to associate with their products. I’m sure some people would discourage me from going this route as well, just as people tried to discourage me from getting into blogging back in 2004.
To me these images are all meaningful. They represent much of what I put into the courses. I actually prefer images that make people do a double-take. If people see these as odd or unusual, I consider that a good thing.
Even though people often invite me to converge on their expectations, Reality has been rewarding me for divergent behavior for decades, and I trust my instincts. Presently my instincts tell me that this is a fascinating toolset to continue to exploring with.
I don’t have negative associations to co-creating with AI. I leveraged AI ideation tools for the Octo Intensive and for the Guild course, and I felt this added value to those experiences. Other participants appreciated the AI’s contributions as well, which helped us to explore some interesting directions.
Moreover, I’ve gained some useful personal growth insights from co-creating with AI tools. As I worked with prompting images to evolve in a certain direction, it reminded me of the importance of iterative upgrades in my life as well. In the short term, progress may appear to be minimal, but the compounding effects can be profound in the end.
I’m reminded of a time that my first wife Erin and I put up a sign in our living room that said, “$5000 per month,” back when we were struggling financially. That simple sign did the trick, and we soon got to that income level and well beyond. It was like prompting ourselves to create what we wanted, causing our mindsets to shift a bit more each day. Those micro-shifts can really add up over time.
I was also reminded of the importance of combining intentionality with flexibility. When I tried to over-control the AI, I would often hit a plateau because I wasn’t playing to the AI’s strengths. In those situations it was better to give the AI more creative flexibility, so it could evolve images even in violation of my prompting. But it wasn’t wise to let the AI be too divergently creative for too long since we could get lost in the vastness of the possibility space and never converge on an idea. I found other ways to leverage the AI to refine a messy or flawed concept into a more refined one.
At its best this was a transcendent experience. I love the synergy of combining my strengths with the AI’s strengths and working in the zone where we can each contribute our best creativity for interesting results. Sometimes I would see a new image and smile, marveling at the AI’s cleverness or brilliance. Its ideas often inspired me to go down different paths than I’d previously had in mind. Where we ended up with each image was usually very different from where we started.
This is good reminder to bring a similar mindset to our goals. Be intentional but also flexible because you’re not 100% in control. You’re co-creating this journey with Reality, and you need to play to its strengths to invite the best flow of cooperation.
I remain very optimistic about the future of co-creating with AI. It seems like such a rewarding path to keep exploring. It elevates the creative experience away from the mundane and towards the divine. I love how such tools are extending the range of what I can create and express and with whom.