Artist Patrick Cabral: ‘AI is not the sole solution; it’s merely one tool in my creative arsenal, and I have many’

Images: Patrick Cabral
Images: Patrick Cabral

It all started with images of women in Filipiniana wear, but with details that looked vastly more intricate than the traditional garb most are familiar with. Here, the sheer fabric of piña appeared ethereal, woven into complex patterns and modern silhouettes.

While looking extremely photorealistic, those images were actually the work of artificial intelligence (AI). The topic of AI has been a contentious topic among artists, designers, and creatives on the basis of originality since increasingly sophisticated AI-powered art generators such as Dall-E and Midjourney were introduced to the public last year. Among the many issues they raise: If a machine can produce art based on a few words you type and a vast amount of training data from other artists, can the product even be considered an original work?

Yet multi-disciplinary artist Patrick Cabral, who rendered the Filipiniana concept art that went viral recently, has a different take on the matter. No stranger to working with his hands, Patrick has been creating art for over a decade. He burst onto the scene as a calligraphist and lettering artist before making a name for himself in the past seven years as a paper sculptor. He then honed other digital skills such as web development, animation, and graphic design.

“Defining creativity is crucial. Skill alone doesn’t equate to high creativity,” Patrick tells Coconuts. He shares that when he was in high school, he competed against a fellow student named Gilmore, “and our work became so similar that sometimes I would mistake his work for mine. However, my work was always superior. Gilmore once confided in me that he could never beat me because I always found new ‘gimmicks’ and had a different take on a subject.”

“My edge was creativity. I combined different ideas and told unique stories. Creativity, to me, is the ability to combine different ideas and concepts to create fresh new ideas. When skills become commonplace, creativity is what sets one apart and propels them to the next level,” he explains.

Patrick says that as creatives, we all draw inspiration from existing work — and AI has merely magnified this. “Growing up in a small rural town, my family was among the lucky few who had access to an encyclopedia, and my grandmother subscribed to Liwayway, a magazine. Being an avid reader, I was exposed to many stories, information, and ideas, giving me an advantage in combining different information in novel ways.”

“The realization dawned on me after relocating to the city. Some children had access to pricey overseas magazines and simply replicated the designs, selling them in the local market. They drew inspiration from others’ work, and with AI, this practice has been multiplied by millions. Nonetheless, individuals with a genuine passion for their craft will catch up, and that’s when the true creative minds will be distinguished,” he adds.

Patrick has been experimenting with innovative digital technologies for five years, starting with Facebook’s Spark AR, the company’s augmented reality program, combining traditional and digital art. While these initial experiments did not come to fruition, he gained a reputation for implementing some of the most challenging applications of AR.

This led him to gravitate towards artificial intelligence, which is closely related to AR. “Many people believe that AI will revolutionize the creative industry, and I want to explore this trend. I also wanted to verify if AI poses a threat to my livelihood by determining if someone can easily replicate my unique style. Spoiler alert: they cannot do so — at least not yet,” he says.

Patrick continues to showcase his experimental works and other projects on social media, including his recent foray into generative art — by using existing programs and even developing his own system. “I am constantly on the lookout for new tools and techniques, and I am willing to invest my time and effort to master them. I firmly believe that every skill or tool I acquire can be harnessed to create future projects that have yet to be imagined,” he says.

The artist talked to Coconuts about his much-discussed Filipiniana concept, his plans to realize them in real life, and how artistry and AI don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

How did the idea of experimenting with embroidery work on Midjourney come to mind? What was the prompt you gave?

My paper sculptures have a visual style that resembles embroidery, and as I practice lace-like embroidery style using paper daily, I have turned it into a science. Because of this, I have an innate sense of what makes an appealing embroidery design. As I experiment with AI fashion design, I typically begin by testing styles that share a similar visual aesthetic to my artwork. Given that I have already established a loyal base of art collectors who appreciate my work, it is reasonable to assume that they would also be interested in my fashion designs.

My AI work is not only prompt-based but also utilizes data trained with Stable Diffusion [an open-sourced AI art model that can be modified by users]. For example, I trained the AI to recognize phrases like “butterfly sleeves,” unique to Filipiniana fashion but not yet part of the AI’s dictionary. Without this training, the AI would generate a literal interpretation of butterfly wings. This process is a combination of image-to-image and prompt-based training. It is important to note that simply typing “Modern Filipiniana” into an AI platform will not yield results similar to mine.

Why Filipiniana in particular?

Quantum Dance from Patrick Cabral on Vimeo.

A few months ago, I created a system that simulates the appearance of cloth dancing in the wind. I believe this technology captures the ethereal quality of my work, reminding me of Piña textile. This idea has been percolating in my mind, and if I were to create an animated digital clothing piece, I would want it to have the same fluid effect as my experimental animation. Filipiniana clothing has a natural flow that embodies this quality.

Another reason I am drawn to this project is the untapped potential of using this technology in fashion. Filipiniana clothing is often reserved for formal gatherings, but I believe it could become an everyday wear option, especially as temperatures continue to rise. Additionally, my wife is my target market, and I would love to create pieces that she can wear.

Challenging myself is always a motivating factor. With experience in sewing and owning a small embroidery machine, I understand the difficulty of programming an embroidery design. However, I have built an advanced system that simplifies the embroidery process. A Filipiniana garment would be an excellent application of the technology I am developing. This project would be hitting three goals at once.

How long did it take before the AI program generated the images that you were happy with?

It took me weeks to perfect the butterfly sleeves model, as training models typically focus on facial features. Limited documentation on training a style led to days of waiting for the computer to calculate for hours at a time, only to end up with unsatisfactory results. Additionally, I had to develop a prompt that would produce embroidery with a specific flow that my system could generate. Some of the embroidery resembles body tattoos, which aligns with the generative embroidery program I created. Ultimately, it was important to ensure that the embroidery resembled the details of my physical artwork so it still has to look like the work that I am known for.

Artists have expressed their concerns that AI is affecting creativity or even getting inspiration from real work. As an artist yourself, what is your opinion on this?

Defining creativity is crucial. Skill alone doesn’t equate to high creativity. Ultimately, being creative is about connecting the dots. It’s about having a vast amount of data in your mind and knowing how to cross-pollinate that data. AI is just making those connections faster and generating new, unexpected results. However, humans still have to determine which direction to take.

Some artists/designers argue that inputting words or prompts into a program defeats the artistic process and can be a form of plagiarism. What are your thoughts on this?

The artistic process varies from person to person and is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If creating AI art were as effortless as some claim it to be, then perhaps I would not have invested so much time in it to begin with. Although AI is already capable of accomplishing more, the advantage lies in being able to make it perform more than what others are currently doing.

No art emerges out of a vacuum. It is often inspired by and derived from the work of other artists. The key is for artists to accumulate enough visual data and life experiences to reinterpret a story that has already been told many times before.

Plagiarism is a clear-cut offense that is easily recognizable. If an individual is content with copying or heavily drawing inspiration from someone else’s work, they are not true creatives. However, if someone is just starting out in their career and is using imitation to find their own voice, I would not be quick to judge them.

If a work generated by an AI appears to be plagiarized, it is because the human partner has directed it to do so. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that using AI is one of the easiest ways to commit plagiarism.

How do you envision creatives working with AI programs such as Midjourney in the future? How should artists or designers treat AI?

Using AI creatively is like using Lego blocks to plan a building. Although it’s unlikely that the fashion designs created with the help of AI will be made exactly as they appear, the success of the physical work is measured in the crafting process. This is where experience and technical skills play a crucial role. Even if someone creates a fantastic digital image, it’s just that — a set of pixels. To be considered complete, it must become a tangible object.

There is a growing trend in the creative world to become part of the workforce that creates moving pixels. Our world is so centered around screens that many creatives aspire to create something that can be displayed on them. While I acknowledge this trend, I’m not as concerned as others because I have many skills to offer. It may be wise for everyone to consider an art-related trade career outside of the screen as a fallback option.

I am not particularly concerned about how other creatives might utilize AI. Personally, my objective is to surpass the limitations of what has already been accomplished. This is why I gravitate towards designs that feature intricate embroidery — I have yet to come across someone who can execute seamless embroidery that spans the entire garment. Similarly, when working on paper sculptures, my aim is to create something so complex that other designers would not even dare attempt to recreate it.

With AI such a hot topic now – particularly Midjourney and ChatGPT, which artists and writers have hotly discussed –  how do you view originality and creativity now? Should we redefine originality and creativity in this day and age?

I have realized that striving for originality is an unproductive pursuit. Rather, a more worthwhile goal is to create a deeper human connection with my audience and to make them feel less alone. When I was creating my paper art, I was overly focused on making it appear original. However, what people remember most about my work is the emotion it evoked and the connection they felt with it. 

Moving forward, my intention is to create pieces that inspire people to improve their craft and recognize that there are still unexplored possibilities. I do not view AI as the sole solution; it is merely one tool in my arsenal, and I have many. 

It may currently be effective due to its novelty, but I do not want to rely on it as a crutch. This is why I am constantly developing new skills to expand my range of possibilities. The use of AI in my process is limited to approximately 20 percent, as it is a platform to showcase my skills and ability to execute designs better than most. Bringing my designs to life can be incredibly tedious, and I am currently strategizing on how to engineer the sleeves into place. That process is beyond the capabilities of AI.

You mentioned that you now have the capability to produce in real life the images the program generated. Can you explain how you go about doing that?

Last year, I took an eight-month sabbatical during which I decided to explore generative art using Houdini, a 3D modeling program that I had been using for two years but had not fully mastered. To challenge myself, I set out to achieve something difficult – to create a Manhattan Voronoi pattern in 3D that would allow me to add intricate details to a 3D model simply by changing its silhouette. This task turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated and consumed all of my time. I spent months reading mathematical papers and watching instructional videos until I finally achieved my goal: a complete understanding of creating details in 3D from scratch.

This achievement unlocked the secrets of generative 3D modeling for me and allowed me to create complex embroidery designs using math. By feeding 3D patterns generated by clo3d [a 3D fashion design program]  into my system, I can instantly generate a standard embroidery file that can be used with all embroidery machines. This process used to take weeks to months, but with my system, everything is calculated by the computer. With a few adjustments, I can create a custom embroidery file in minutes.

Can you share a bit more about those who have expressed interest in funding the production of your Filipiana creations?

My post attracted the attention of Ms. Mercedes Zobel, a passionate supporter of local talents, who expressed interest in helping me secure funding. I have since received numerous calls from business people, established fashion designers, and corporations offering sponsorships. However, during these meetings, I realized that securing funding for a single fashion show is not enough. I need to establish an entire business, which requires expensive machinery and more time to be spent on fabric engineering. Despite the challenges, I am excited about the possibilities. There are many innovative technologies such as 3D printing, digital fabric printers, and embroidery machines that I can experiment with to bring my ambitious designs to life. I am open to exploring where this journey will take me.

Responses have been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.

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