DEV Community


How I Approach a Creative Coding Project

dominicduffin1 profile image Dominic Duffin ・4 min read

In this post I aim to demonstrate how I approach a creative coding project, using my contribution to this months Creative Coding Club theme (Spring into Action) as an example.

Before writing any code, I find it helpful to sketch out what I want to do on a piece of graph paper. Having the sketch in front of me makes it easier to work out what code to write. I draw the sketch using squares, rectangles, circles and ovals, angled as needed, which are the shapes I will code (I could use others, but I like to keep it simple, and I haven’t yet found those four insufficient). I create more complex shapes by combining shapes in various ways. I normally draw the shapes in pencil and then use coloured pens to highlight each layer, with each colour corresponding to a z-index and background colour. Oh, and I often cross stuff out and start again because it doesn’t end up looking the way I want, as you can see from the picture below:

Sketch of sun, clouds and lightning plus some crossed out.

Now that I have sketches I’m satisfied with for the cloud, sun, rain and lightning, I’m ready to write some code. From the sketch I can see most of what I need to write. Each square on the graph paper equals a set number of pixels on the screen, this time I’ve chosen 10 pixels, but I vary that from project to project. The colour coded highlighting tells me what z-index each element should have. I create curved elements using CSS border-radius, and angled elements using CSS transform. I’m not afraid to deviate from the sketch if it doesn’t look right once coded, and this time I adapted the lightning sketch as I coded.

The HTML code is just a long series of divs (semantic elements are not much use in this type of project).

<div class="cloudRectangle"></div>
<div class="cloudCircle" id="leftCloudCircle"></div>
<div class="cloudCircle" id="topCloudCircle"></div>
<div class="cloudCircle" id="rightCloudCircle"></div>
<div class="sunCentre"></div>
<div class="sunRay" id="sunRayNorthNorthWest"></div>
<div class="sunRay" id="sunRayNorth"></div>
<div class="sunRay" id="sunRayNorthNorthEast"></div>
<div class="sunRay" id="sunRayEastNorthEast"></div>
<div class="sunRay" id="sunRayEast"></div>
<div class="sunRay" id="sunRayEastSouthEast"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainTopLeft"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainTopCentre"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainTopRight"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainMiddleLeft"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainMiddleCentre"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainMiddleRight"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainBottomLeft"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainBottomCentre"></div>
<div class="rain" id="rainBottomRight"></div>
<div class="lightningYellow" id="lightningYellowMain"></div>
<div class="lightningBodyColour" id="lightningBodyColourNorthWest"></div>
<div class="lightningBodyColour" id="lightningBodyColourNorthEast"></div>
<div class="lightningBodyColour" id="lightningBodyColourSouthWest"></div>
<div class="lightningBodyColour" id="lightningBodyColourSouthEast"></div>
<div class="lightningYellow" id="lightningYellowTopStrip"></div>
<div class="lightningYellow" id="lightningYellowMiddleStrip"></div>
<div class="lightningYellow" id="lightningYellowBottomStrip"></div>
<div class="lightningBodyColour" id="lightningBodyColourLeftMiniRectangle"></div>
<div class="lightningBodyColour" id="lightningBodyColourRightMiniRectangle"></div>
<div class="lightningBodyColour" id="lightningBodyColourLeftMiniSquare"></div>
<div class="lightningBodyColour" id="lightningBodyColourRightMiniSquare"></div>

<div class="ground"></div>

<div class="flowerStem" id="flower1Stem"></div>
<div class="flowerPetalNorthWest" id="flower1PetalNorthWest"></div>
<div class="flowerPetalNorthEast" id="flower1PetalNorthEast"></div>
<div class="flowerPetalSouthWest" id="flower1PetalSouthWest"></div>
<div class="flowerPetalSouthEast" id="flower1PetalSouthEast"></div>
<div class="flowerYellowCentre" id="flower1YellowCentre"></div>
<div class="flowerOrangeCentre" id="flower1OrangeCentre"></div>

<div class="flowerStem" id="flower2Stem"></div>
<div class="flowerPetalNorthWest" id="flower2PetalNorthWest"></div>
<div class="flowerPetalNorthEast" id="flower2PetalNorthEast"></div>
<div class="flowerPetalSouthWest" id="flower2PetalSouthWest"></div>
<div class="flowerPetalSouthEast" id="flower2PetalSouthEast"></div>
<div class="flowerYellowCentre" id="flower2YellowCentre"></div>
<div class="flowerOrangeCentre" id="flower2OrangeCentre"></div>
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

I use descriptive id and class names so that I can easily see what each bit of the code is for. I often have to make decisions about how to assign the ids and classes. For example, I could’ve chosen to use one class for all the parts of the cloud, or equally to have used a different class for the larger circle than the smaller ones.

The CSS has a lot more lines than the HTML. First of all, I just write the CSS for the basic visuals. I will add more code for the animations later. I won’t show you the entire CSS here, but here is an example for the cloud:

.cloudRectangle {
  position: absolute;
  background-color: #cccccc;
  width: 120px;
  height: 100px;
  left: 750px;
  top: 150px;
  z-index: 3;

.cloudCircle {
  position: absolute;
  background-color: #cccccc;
  border-radius: 50%;
  z-index: 3;

#leftCloudCircle {
  width: 100px;
  height: 100px;
  left: 700px;
  top: 150px;

#topCloudCircle {
  width: 120px;
  height: 120px;
  left: 750px;
  top: 90px;

#rightCloudCircle {
  width: 100px;
  height: 100px;
  left: 820px;
  top: 150px;
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Now that I’ve got the basic visuals right, it’s time to start coding the animations. In this project I’m using CSS keyframes animations, so I add the animation properties to the CSS for the elements I want to animate, and specify the animation using a keyframes @ rule. As before, I’ll just show you a bit of the animation code, this time for the sky:

@keyframes skyAnimation {
  25% {
    background-color: #aaccff;
  50% {
    background-color: #ffffff;
  75% {
    background-color: #dddddd;
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

The sky is actually the page background, so the animation property needs to be added to body:

body {
  background-color: #ffffff;
  animation: skyAnimation 60s infinite;
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Now that I’ve got the animations working satisfactorily, the project is complete!

You can look at the full code and see the finished project on CodePen:

Discussion (0)

Forem Open with the Forem app