Konstfack: Drawing Machines

A 3 day workshop for graphic design and illustration students about drawing machines where we explored the poetics of mechanical movement.

Clara Terne is senior lecturer at Konstfack, University of Arts, Crafts and Designs in Stockholm. She invited me to give a 3 day workshop about drawing machines for her graphic design and illustration students.

The idea was to reproduce the format of exercises, play and reflection I did at Blivande's Artist in Residency Room.

The first day was about building Strawbees structures, give it movement with Quirkbot and attach a pen or brush to it. The goal of this day was to give up direct control and put a motor between the hand and the canvas.

The next day we built a "do it yourself" version of a polargraph and controlled the machine by hand instead of using motors. This was an attempt to understand the machine not only intellectually but also embody the movement. Once the mechanism was familiar we wrote instructions for drawings in natural language and translated that into code instructions. With this exercise we practiced verbalising and formalising movements.

In the last day of the workshop we played with the Axidraw. We framed the printing process into: Design, compile and print. Each student designed a piece in their favorite technique, translated it into a format that could be printed by the machine and learned how to actually print. The goal for this day was to experiment on the edge of precise and unexpected movements.

At the end of each day we hanged the drawings on a wall and reflected on the exercise and how we felt through the day.

In the wrap up I wrote to the students:

A good part of being literate in technology is to be constantly dealing with the unknown. There is discomfort in trying to do something that is not known and the technique I propose is:

  1. Give up control. Instead of trying to make things do what you want straight away, observe what is the natural bias of the tool you are using. Watch it and hear it before starting a dialog.
  2. Choreography. Verbalise and rationalise the movement, think about what's needed for synchrony. Discover and define a language to talk about and with a tool.
  3. Precision. Understand that in order to achieve precision it is necessary more than a precise machine but also a skilled hand. Navigate the edges of complete control and unexpected.