Draw bots and Data visualisation – Part 1

Over the summer I have been working towards my final postgraduate exhibition, as it opens next week I thought it was a good time to (attempt) to write up what I’ve been up to.

Since first working getting to grips with the open source prototyping platform Arduino in 2013, when making an interactive audio screenprint. I’ve been interested in combining emerging open source technology with tradtional artistic media.

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In Gas 2013 (above) technology was applied to an image created by hand to make it interactive, I became interested to see how this technology could be incorporated into the making of the image itself. It was about this time that I became interested in the open-source and maker movements, I liked to democratic, collaborative values at their core. I also saw their ‘hacking’ and repurposing as a subversive yet positive way of combatting the incredible wasteful nature of the cycle of upgrading and disposing we seem to be locked into with modern technology. A product of structured obsolesce and our closed-source system I increasingly see the rate of technological progress as being set by market forces as opposed to actual technological discovery. (I recommend Maciej Cegłowski’s piece on the future of the web on the nature of technological progress).

I decided I wanted to make a machine that could ‘draw’ in the physical sense, it would create a physical, analogue image based on digital data that I gave it. About 30 seconds of googling showed me I wasn’t the only one, and there was already an online community of people making and sharing images created by their ‘drawbots‘. After studying a number of Instructables I made a number of prototypes, which seemed as good excuse as any to raid me and my brothers boyhood lego stash. As you can see the initial attempts were pretty crude and could only really mange basic shapes and patterns.

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The next design I decided to try was a hanging pen type plot called Polargraph, after seeing Sandy Noble’s excellent instrucable, seriously, check it out. Based on a draw bot called Hektor (2002) byJürg Lehni & Uli Franke
2002 (below), a polargraph consists of a pen suspended between 2 stepper motors run from an Arduino and motorshield.


Despite its rather basic appearance it’s an incredibly versatile drawing machine, not least thanks to the open-source controller designed by Sandy in Processing (a java based programming language designed for artists and designers, more about that in part 2). Once I had it up and running I started putting it through its paces:

Once I had got the hang of it I decided to see how it coped with some some iconic works of art:

To test how it handled drawing vectors I combined it with a programme I had been working on in Processing and turned it into a photo booth:
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I was really excited with the results, I loved how it combined the serendipity of the physical drawing materials with the precision and repetition of their mechanical means of production. Things like tone and quality of line take on a different significance when they are products of mechanical reproduction. It made me question the emotive value we attribute these qualities.

I knew I wanted to explore the relationship between the emotive power of a drawing and its mechanical means of production further. I decided I would try to create physical analogue drawings of digital data. To do this I would need to learn a heck of a lot more about coding and data visualisation, something I will explore in part 2.

Here’s a video of my polar-graph in action:

This is the first part of a 3 part post on this project, read the other posts here:

Drawbots and Data Visualisation – Part 2

Drawbots and Data Visualisation – Part 3

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4 thoughts on “Draw bots and Data visualisation – Part 1

  1. […] the previous post I explained how I had built my own drawing machine, something that could take a digital input and […]

  2. […] For more information about this project see my blog posts: Draw bots and Data visualisation – Part 1 […]

  3. […] For more information about this project see my blog posts: Draw bots and Data visualisation – Part 1 […]

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