The Simple Act of Making a Mark (2011)


The Simple Act of Making a Mark is a recursive drawing machine that abstracts and automates the creative process. The machine begins by looking at what is placed before it, for example a pile of salt, and detects patterns within it. Then the machine traces those subtle patterns, amplifying and solidifying them.  Then, again it looks at what is before it, and detects a new set of patterns.  Again, then machine traces those patterns.  As this recursive process unfolds, subtle patterns are strengthened, interference emerges and complex, generative patterns emerge autonomously.

This is the essence of the creative process.  We start with our inspirations, and see some subtle pattern we’ll work to bring into the world. But no matter how hard we try to bring what exists in out mind perfectly into the world we will fail.  The simple act of making a mark changes the vision.  But the vision was truly incomplete until it was born into the physical world. We are then confronted with our creation, a beautiful approximation of our vision, again we see something within to bring out, again we attempt to bring our vision into the world, and again we fail.  From this cycle between the abstract and the concrete art is born.

The Simple Act of Making a Mark began when I was imagining what would happen if you cyclically 3d printed and 3d scanned an object, and although this is a project I’m working on, I realized that I could explore this space faster if I limited it to two dimensions.  The original idea was to use a pen and a fresh sheet of paper with each loop.  But late one night I put some table salt on the drawing platform to see what would happen and I loved the result. I view this work as a platform rather then work that has a completion point. In the future I’m going to experiment with different drawing media and styluses.

The machine is hand made (with machine tools)  from found aluminium and reclaimed mechanical components. It uses an Arduino Uno, an AdaFruit Motor Shield and a latching relay to control the two stepper motors and the rotary solenoid on the stylus up-down mechanism.  A single USB HD web camera is used for both the computer vision and to build a time lapse movie of each loop. The software is built in Processing. Libraries used: Messenger, controlP5, fullscreen, and v3ga blobDetection. I use a gCode inspired command structure and Bresenham’s line algorithm to determine where and when the steppers should move.

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