Unlimited Dream Co.

Stephen Young on creating art that brings joy and the excitement of discovery

The artist and developer speaks about how a chance encounter led to finding his true passion and the frustration and serendipity in coaxing the AI to create something that matches the imagination.

As an introduction, what’s your background and what do you do when you’re not making AI art?

I am a software engineer and photography enthusiast, who has dabbled in various forms of creativity such as generative art, game development, and AI art. But it wasn't until I discovered AI art that I found my true passion. Though my previous experiences have influenced my current work. In my free time, I enjoy exploring the city on foot, playing board games, and immersing myself in PC games.

↑ Stephen Young, 2023.

How would you describe what you do and when did you first see your style develop?

My style can be described as a fusion of romanticism, black and white photography, and modern digital art movements. The sweeping landscapes of Ansel Adams have been a long standing inspiration, as well as the thought-provoking paintings of the German romanticism movement. Recently, I've been drawn to the vibrant colors of vaporwave and synthwave, which often find their way into my work. I began to develop my style early last year as I experimented with VQGAN and stable diffusion techniques. My goal is not to create something profound or meaningful, but simply to create images that bring me joy.

↑ Sunset Behind the World Spires, Stephen Young, 2023.

How did you first get started using AI tools and what was your ‘aha’ moment?

My introduction to AI art came in the form of the big-sleep repo back in July 2021. Although it was a fun experience, it didn't quite resonate with me at the time, as I couldn't fully grasp the potential of the medium. However, a chance encounter with the Wombo app in December changed all of that. The speed and ease of use allowed me to experiment quickly, and I was blown away by the potential of AI art. It was a turning point for me, and I quickly dove into the world of AI art, joining Twitter for AI news, experimenting with Colab notebooks, and discovering new techniques like disco diffusion. It was an exciting time to join the scene, as the explosion of interest in AI art was just taking off.

What was the first piece you created?

A Horse in space

↑ A Horse in Space, Stephen Young, 2021.

The very first piece I made was “a horse in space” in big sleep. If you hold the image back and squint you can just make out a horse!

One of the fun things about AI is its unexpectedness. Which piece are you happiest with, and which surprised you the most?

Flower Station

↑ Flower Station, Stephen Young, 2022.

One image that stands out to me as my favorite is a Disco Diffusion piece from my earlier works. This particular piece was significant to me as it marked the first time I felt like I had truly mastered the technique. It features a rusted car in front of an abandoned building adorned with floral murals. Even to this day, I still find it to be a striking and visually pleasing image. It really surprised me at the time. It seems silly now it’s so easy to make something this even prettier than this and in less time.

A painting of a diner

↑ Stephen Young, 2021.

I’d love it if you could talk me through the creation of a piece, from beginning to end.

My artworks are born from a combination of inspiration and experimentation. I am often drawn to traditional forms of art, and my creations are often a blending of different concepts, or a reinterpretation of a classic painting. My process typically involves using prompts and iterating through them using Midjourney. I recycle outputs as image prompts or by incorporating my own photography. Once I am satisfied with the outcome, I use Lightroom to add final touches, although I sometimes use Procreate as well. I work primarily on PC and iPad.

A spy in the subway

↑ A Spy in the Subway, Stephen Young, 2021.

What have you found to be the biggest challenges with AI art?

I have a vivid imagination, and when I first started working with AI, it was difficult for me to reconcile the output with what I had envisioned. I would often spend hours trying to coax the AI into creating something that matched my mental image. It was a frustrating experience at times. However, over time, I have learned to accept that I have limited control over the final output and have come to see these "miscommunications" as a natural part of the creative process.


↑ Diner, Stephen Young, 2023.

What are you working on right now and what’s coming up next for you?

Right now, I am in the process of researching and conceptualizing New York City during the 1930s for a separate project. The art I am creating is heavily influenced by various art movements of the era such as art deco, streamline moderne, and film noir. These works are mostly raw outputs that I am using primarily for my own inspiration and not spending much time refining. I am not yet certain if any of these pieces will be included in the final project, but the process is helping me explore and understand the era better. I prefer not to disclose more information at this time.

Who inspires you?

Some of my favorite artists in no particular order: Caspar David Friedrich, Jean-Pierre Ugarte, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Hubert Robert and RHADS!

Please do follow Stephen on Twitter, Mastodon and Instagram – and check out Prompt Parrot, a notebook to finetune gpt2 on your prompt style.