Funded PhD opportunities

Natural Design and the Automatic Image

  • Application end date: 11 February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK students only)
  • Department: School of Art and Design
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Marius Kwint, Dr Olly Gruner, Dr Branislav Vuksanovic

Project code: ADES4400218

Project description

This project is a practical, theoretical and historical investigation of the traditions of making aesthetically appealing, abstract and non-pictorial but coherently shaped or patterned images using physical phenomena that appear to be substantially self-authoring and generative, or use techniques that are to some degree dependent on natural, random processes. These include Lichtenberg figures that capture the shape of electrostatic discharges, the making of equally dendritic, fractal patterns through diffusion-limited aggregation, or the harnessing of pendulum oscillations, waves, air or fluid turbulence to distribute pigment dust or paint. These practices have long straddled both scientific and artistic domains; in the former, they have often been used to demonstrate the principles of natural design under the sway of physical laws; in the latter, they have been used as technical short-cuts or to challenge traditional notions of creativity as flowing directly from the imagination and the hand of the artist. Intertwining concepts of nature and authorship are heavily freighted with ancient theological and cosmological overtones, and have been the subject of intellectual modification and periodic doctrinal revolution for millennia. Renaissance ideas of divine disegno and Enlightenment concepts of natural law may be especially relevant in this study, as will the decentring of creativity and the use of mechanical and cybernetic devices in Modernism and Post-Modernism; however, the theoretical resolution remains open to the student, as do the particular techniques that will form the focus of the study after an initial period of varied exploration and experimentation. However, it is envisaged that the focus will be a physical, as opposed to digital or computer-based, method of image-generation. 

The programme of practice-based research will interdisciplinary, spanning the sciences, arts and humanities, and will culminate in the production of (a) a final major, public creative output, such as an exhibition, a video, performance or book, and (b) a scholarly thesis detailing the historical background, present art-theoretical contexts and justification of the practice of up to 40,000 words. The successful candidate will be expected to utilize primary sources and engage in critical, evaluative dialogue with both expert and lay audiences in the production of this research. The project will be supported by experienced supervisors in both the schools of Art and Design and Engineering, who have track records in high-profile, interdisciplinary collaborative research, practice, curation and project management. Technical support and up-to-date facilities will be available both within the extensive workshops of the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries and the laboratories of the Faculty of Technology. Additional advice, technical facilities support may be solicited with supervisory support from other departments of the University such as Mathematics, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Cosmology and Gravitation. 

Supervisor profiles

Dr Marius Kwint

Dr Olly Gruner

Dr Branislav Vuksanovic

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr Marius Kwint at (02392 845623) or Dr Olly Gruner at (02392 843806).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

We welcome applications from highly motivated prospective students who are committed to develop outstanding research outcomes. You can apply online at You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at

Applications should include:

- Full CV including personal details, qualifications, educational history and, where applicable, any employment or other experience relevant to the application

- Contact details for two referees able to comment on your academic performance

- Research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of a research design you would propose to meet the stated objectives, identifying the challenges this project might present and discussing how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field.

- Proof of English language proficiency (for EU students)

When applying, please quote project code: ADES4400218

Interview date: TBC.

Start date: October 2018

Funding notes

UK/EU students -  The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

International students - International students applying for this project are eligible to be considered for the Portsmouth Global PhD scholarships.

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