Veve Merit Badge

I saw this tweet the other day and it got me thinking about a project I worked on a few months back and how I could bring it to the web.

@Nerdmeritbadges Now I'm fascinated by voodoo veves: Hmm, What's the veve for emacs? ^JY

At the beginning of the summer, Daniela and I worked on some visual poems for a contest, one of which was a self-portrait with my face overlaid with generative line art. In part the line art was inspired by Voodoo veves, and used the same page mentioned in the above tweet to refresh my memory of them. My interpretations was pretty fast and loose, I'm afraid, and the results were not much like those hand-made veves of flour or chalk, but I was happy enough with the result that I've been using it as my avatar around the web.

I wrote the code for my visual poems in NodeBox, but I've ported the veve() function to Javascript, using the Raphaël library to create SVG (or in IE, VML) graphics. If you reload the page, you will get a new "veve" each time. The code itself is fairly simple. We define some utility functions, then call the recursive function veve().

// Initialize Raphael based on the div with id="veve"
var paper = Raphael("veve", 500, 500);
// Initialize a list of 8 directions to re-use
var dA = Math.PI / 4;
var directions = [];
for (var a = 0; a < 8; a++){
    directions.push(dA * a);
var LINE_MULT = 20;
var RADIUS_MULT = 15;
function removeItem(list, item){
    list.splice(list.indexOf(item), 1);
function random(a,b){
    // 'Returns an integer between a and b, inclusive';
    // 'If b is not specified, returns an integer between 0 and a';
    if (b === undefined){
        b = a;
        a = 0;
    return Math.floor(Math.random() * (b-a + 1)) + a;
function choice(list){
    // This is an exclusive, or mutating choice that
    // picks a random item from a list and removes that
    // item before returning it
    var idx = random(0, list.length - 1);
    var item = list[idx];
    list.splice(idx, 1); // remove item from list
    return item;
function start(centre_pt, direction, radius){
    // Find starting point outside of the circle
    return {
        x: centre_pt.x + Math.cos(direction) * radius,
        y: centre_pt.y + Math.sin(direction) * radius
function end(start_pt, direction, units){
    // Find end point just outside next circle
    return {
        x: start_pt.x + Math.cos(direction) * (units * LINE_MULT),
        y: start_pt.y + Math.sin(direction) * (units * LINE_MULT)
function next(end_pt, direction, radius){
    // Find point in center of next circle
    return {
        x: end_pt.x + Math.cos(direction) * radius,
        y: end_pt.y + Math.sin(direction) * radius
function line(pt1, pt2){
    // Draw a line and style it
    var l = paper.path('M' + pt1.x + ' ' + pt1.y + 'L' + pt2.x + ' ' + pt2.y);
    l.attr({'stroke-width': random(1,4), 'stroke': 'rgba(0,0,0,30)'});
function veve(centre_pt, n, return_path){
    var i, radius, dirs, direction, start_pt, end_pt;
    radius = n * RADIUS_MULT;
    concentric(centre_pt, radius, n+2);
    if (n < 2) return;
    dirs = directions.slice(); // make a local copy
    // Don't go back the way we came
    removeItem(dirs, (return_path + 4) % 8);
    for (i = 0; i < n; i++){
        direction = choice(dirs);
        start_pt = start(centre_pt, direction, radius);
        end_pt = end(start_pt, direction, n);
        line(start_pt, end_pt);
        veve(next(end_pt, direction, (n-1) * RADIUS_MULT), n-1, direction);
function concentric(centre_pt, radius, count){
    var c, i;
    for (i = 0; i < count; i++){
        c =, centre_pt.y, radius);
        c.attr({'stroke-width': random(1,4), 'stroke': 'rgba(0,0,0,30)'});
        radius -= random(3,10);
        if (radius < 1) break;
veve({x: 250, y: 250}, 3, -1);

And here is the self-portrait I came up with using this:

Dethe Self Portrait

Still waiting for the Nerd Merit Badge for Digital Voodoo Graphics.


[] Posted on 2010-05-29 by Dethe Elza

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