Built a pen plotter with an Arduino microcontroller, and designed programs to generate line art for the plotter.

While studying printmaking at BealArt  →, I decided to explore less traditional ways to reproduce artwork. I wanted a very accurate mark making machine that could churn out prints reliably, but one that would have a slight human quality.

I stumbled on Sandly Noble‚Äôs Polargraph  → pen plotter plans, ordered some parts, and built one. I love the slightly shaky quality the lines can have when the system is set up just right — there's no noticeable impact on the precision of the drawings, but the lines seem like they might have been produced by a human hand. I learned how to assemble and program Arduino microcontrollers, and figured out how fun it was to design programs that spit out SVG data for use on the pen plotter.

One of the first programs I designed was a word generator. I wanted to produce random words, but I wanted them to be easily pronounceable.

One of the program's modules ingested text, and calculated the probability that any specific letter would follow another. I fed this module a plain text version of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland from Project Gutenburg  →. The second module used data from the first module to generate pronounceable pseudo-English words.

Once I had a long string of random yet pronoceable words, I still needed a way for the plotter to draw individual letters. I wrote a piece of software that used as set of SVG files as glyphs, adding new points on a continuous line for each letter in an input string, and keeping the paths linked together so that the writing could be completed with one continuous line.

For a while I'd also wanted to create scripts that could generate cloud-like images, with forms and shapes could be freely interpreted. I tested a few different algorithms for generating random clouds of lines.

The first is very straightforward, with new points generated at random co-ordinates on the canvas.

The second is a kind of random walk, with each randomly generated point constrained to a specific distance from the last point.

And the third image simulated the line as the journey of a particle, randomly accellerating towards and orbiting around ever-changing gravitational points on the canvas.

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