How to Paint Like Piet Mondrian with Python

RedXIII | April 14, 2021, 11:11 a.m.

Programming like an artist.

Piet Mondrian was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. The Dutch painter, known for his strikingly abstract art, was the founder of the De Stijl movement, a style that favored economy and symbolism.

De Stijl and Mondrian gained international recognition through the German Bauhaus, a school of art that became famous for its principles of design.

Paintings like Broadway Boogie Woogie and Composition C are prime examples of Mondrian’s style. He often used a minimal color palette, and relied on the concept of the grid.

Mondrian was a devoted artist. He’d spend hours in his studio meticulously painting until he developed blisters on his fingers, or made himself sick from exhaustion.

With Python, and a little math, we can generate our own geometric abstract art.

By observing some of the rules present in Mondrian’s work, we can create an infinite number of paintings. No blisters required!

Drawing Graphics with Python

In order to paint with Python, we need to install a graphics library. We’ll be using PyCairo for this demonstration.

PyCairo is a free graphics library that you can use to draw shapes using Python code. Hopefully, you already have Python 3 installed on your computer.

It’s easiest to install PyCairo from the command line, like so:

pip install pycairo

Once the library is installed, we can use it in our Python programs.

The Rules of Painting

Before we write any code, we’ll need to define some rules for our painting program. We need to break down the Piet Mondrian paintings into fundamental rules.

For starters, Mondrian only uses primary colors like red, yellow, and blue. These are concentrated in squares and rectangles.

Connecting the shapes are straight black lines. These lines extend from the edges of the rectangle shapes, forming their borders.

The background canvas is always white.

With these rules, we can start to imagine the algorithm for generating a Piet Mondrian painting:

  1. Start with a white canvas.
  2. Draw random lines extending from the edges of the canvas.
  3. Fill in some of the white rectangles created by lines with random primary colors.

We can start writing code now that we have something concrete in mind.

Generating Art

Let’s start with importing PyCario and drawing a white canvas. Use the import keyword to import a library in Python. We always import libraries at the top of the file.

We’ll need to import the random library too. This one comes standard with Python, so there’s no need to install it like we had to do with PyCairo.

Let’s start by drawing a white canvas that’s 500 pixels wide and 500 pixels tall.

import random
import cairo
surface = cairo.ImageSurface(cairo.FORMAT_RGB24, IMAGE_WIDTH, IMAGE_HEIGHT)ctx = cairo.Context(surface)

Piet Mondrian relied on the concept of the grid, and so will we. By building our painting on a grid, we can ensure that everything lines up just like in Mondrian’s work.

How do we do that in Python? Well, we could try drawing some random lines and rectangles on the canvas with PyCario, but that wouldn’t give us the result we want.

To get something like a Mondrian painting, we’ll use a grid of tiles. Each tile will be a single unit in the grid.

By changing the color of these tiles, we can draw lines and rectangles.

Creating the tiles

The information for our tiles is going to be stored in a dictionary. We’ll use x and y coordinates as the key for the color information of each tile.

# mondrian.pyimport cairo
import random
# the size of the image
# the size of the tile grid
# the size of each tile
tiles = {}#colors (0,white),(1,black),(2,red),(3,yellow)(4,blue)
def generate_tiles():
# build tile map
for x in range(MAP_WIDTH):
for y in range(MAP_HEIGHT):
# set every tile to white
tiles[x,y] = 0

Each of our tiles is going to be a square 10x10 pixels wide. The color information will be an integer. We’ll need a function to draw the tiles to the canvas once we’ve finished generating them.

def draw_map():
# draw tile map using pycairo
surface = cairo.ImageSurface(cairo.FORMAT_RGB24, IMAGE_WIDTH, IMAGE_HEIGHT)
ctx = cairo.Context(surface)
for x in range(MAP_WIDTH):
for y in range(MAP_HEIGHT):
size = TILE_SIZE
if tiles[x,y] == 0:
elif tiles[x,y] == 1:
elif tiles[x,y] == 2:
elif tiles[x,y] == 3:
ctx.fill() surface.write_to_png('mondrian.png')

Using flood fill


The Code

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