A Russian Couple Figured Out How to Recreate Famous Artworks Using Only Thread—and an Algorithm Running Billions of Calculations

Meet the Russian couple harnessing the power of math in service of thread art.

Ani Abakumova, after Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.
Ani Abakumova, after Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

What do you get when art meets math and computer programming? If you’re Ani Abakumova, what you get are stunning replicas of art historical masterpieces made from colored thread. The 32-year-old Russian artist developed the technique in conjunction with her husband, Andrey Abakumova, a talented mathematician who uses an algorithm to generate patterns for recreating printed or painted images in this unique medium.

“Without a computer program, it would not be possible for the human eye to create something like this,” Abakumova told Story Trender. “My program analyzes millions of possibilities of how to place the threads and when it finds the result that best matches the photograph, it stops counting.”

Andrey’s algorithm makes some 2 billion calculations in order to produce a pattern for each work. Thanks to the computer’s instructions, Abakumova knows just how to have the different threads overlap to recreate famous works of art such as Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl With the Pearl Earring or Leonardo da Vinci‘s Mona Lisa.

The effect is remarkable. Black, white, yellow, red, and green threads, crisscrossing over one another and winding around nails hammered around the edge of a circular plywood board, somehow come together to form a realistic approximation of an Old Master. Each piece takes hours to make, the string passing cross the piece as many as 8,000 times in order to create the final image. Unspooled, according to Awesomebyte, one of Abakumova’s artworks could stretch as long a two-and-a-half miles—and she’s hoping to make even bigger pieces in the future.

Artist Ani Abakumova holds a string art portrait of Marilyn Monroe in her workshop in the village of Romashkovo. Ani Abakumova and her husband Andrei Abakumov create string art replicas of famous paintings; Andrei makes computer calculations that show patterns for future images, then Ani winds colored strings around nails hammered around a plywood board. Photo by Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS/Getty Images.

Artist Ani Abakumova holds a string art portrait of Marilyn Monroe in her workshop in the village of Romashkovo. Photo by Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS/Getty Images.

The husband and wife duo were inspired by new media artist Petros Vrellis, who began experimenting in knitted algorithmic art in 2016. Abakumova got her start working in black thread, branching out to include color last fall. She claims to be the first in her field to have done so. (Her work has come a long way.)

“I am the first one to do this with colored thread instead of just black,” she added. “I enjoy seeing how mathematics can help create beautiful things.”

Watch photos and a video of the artist at work:

Ani Abakumova, after William Adolphe Bouguereau’s Italian Girl Drawing Water. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

Artist Ani Abakumova at work in her workshop in the village of Romashkovo. Ani Abakumova and her husband Andrei Abakumov create string art replicas of famous paintings; Andrei makes computer calculations that show patterns for future images, then Ani winds coloured strings around nails hammered around a plywood board. Photo by Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS/Getty Images.

Artist Ani Abakumova at work in her workshop in the village of Romashkovo. Photo by Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS/Getty Images.

Artist Ani Abakumova's version of Vermeer's <em>Girl With a Pearl Earring</em>. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

Artist Ani Abakumova’s version of Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

Ani Abakumova, after Johannes Vermeer''s <em>The Girl With the Pearl Earring</em>. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

Ani Abakumova, after Johannes Vermeer”s The Girl With the Pearl Earring. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

Ani Abakumova, after a painting by François-Hubert Drouais. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

Ani Abakumova, after a painting by François-Hubert Drouais. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

Ani Abakumova, after François Martin Kavel's <em>The Water Nymph</em>. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.

Ani Abakumova, after François Martin Kavel’s The Water Nymph. Photo courtesy of Ani Abakumova.


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