The Indexical Mark Machine: Mark 2

Above: its first drawing


I set out to make some kind of machine that could draw using XY coordination, with the idea that it should also have interchangeable drawing heads, some of which would also have motorized components of their own (for example an attachment that would swing a drawing pencil back and forth in strokes, while itself being moved through XY axis plotting).  I also wanted to program the machine such that it could be controlled with manual knobs, programmed with patterns to follow, or set to follow a vector image file.

I didn’t achieve all of these things, but I did assemble a functional XY axis plotter from scratch.  One thing I vastly underestimated was the amount of time it would take to make, test, and adjust the mechanical components of the machine (that is, almost the full time of making the project).  I also had trouble with getting the right kinds of motors, the first one I used wasn’t actually a stepper, and I had to cut it out and replace it.  Then I found that the motors I had finally put in were not 360 degree steppers, which is what I really needed to have the components move back and forth as far as they were physically able, so the machine’s full plotting range was smaller than intended.

I also went the quick and dirty route, using cut cardboard and hot glue, pulley systems made with bolts as axels and makeshift sprockets rigged out of shaped wired.  This meant the machine stuck and jittered a lot.  In some ways this was expected, and also a happy accident.  Any 3D printer or similar plotting apparatus could give me close to perfect XY movement, but this machine was more… shall we say, personal.  No matter how well the XY plotting software was made, any drawing it made would be filled with mistakes where the marker caught on the paper, or the carriage got stuck for a moment, or the fishing line didn’t engage with the top motor as strongly as the bottom one.  This I think makes for a more artistically interesting interaction between machine and mark making.  I want this thing to be obviously incapable of drawing anything like a person could.  I want it to draw in a way that only a fucked up robot could.  I think if I tried to make a similar thing in the future I would make it out of dumber and more intentionally haphazard materials.


The Indexical Mark Machine

I want to make a drawing machine.  What interests me about machines drawing is rhythms in mark making, rather than accuracy and depiction.  I think what’s beautiful about mechanical drawing is the pure abstraction of endless uniform marks done in a pattern, simple or complex, that is evidence of the same motion done over and over again.  
I feel what’s most beautiful about all art is the presence of the indexical mark: the grain of a brush stroke, the edge and slight vibrations in a line of ink that prove it was drawn with a human hand, or the finger prints in a clay sculpture.  I make the case that the difference between artistic media is defined by indexical marks.  Do two works have different indexical marks?  Then they are different forms of art entirely, showing us different aspects of compositional potential.

So I want to invent new indexical marks, ones that the human hand is not capable of producing.  I want to see patterns fall out of a mechanical gesture that I built, but didn’t anticipate all the behaviors of, and to capture a map of these patterns on paper.

I don’t care if the machine can make a representational image; rather I want to make a series of nodes and attachments that each make unique patterns, which can each be held by mechanical arms over a drawing surface, each hold a variety of drawing tools, and be programmed into “dancing” together.


  • 5 V stepper motors
  • 12 V Stepper motors
  • 12 V DC motors
  • Sliding potentiometers; light and sound sensors (I want the frequencies of the mark making mechanisms to be adjustable by both controlled factors and factors influenced by the environment. )
  • Controller frame
  • Card board for prototyping the structure of the machine
  • Acrylic to be laser cut for the final structure



  • Built from the ground up.  The most complex programing will be that of the arms which position the drawing attachments over different places on the drawing surface.  I may use a coordinate positioning library for a configuration of motors that pushes and pulls a node into various positions with crossing “X and Y” arms.




  • Weeks 1 and 2

Make several attachable drawing tool mechanisms which each hold a drawing tool differently, and move it about in a different pattern.


  • Week 3

Build a structure that holds the attachable nodes over a drawing surface, with the capability of arms to move the nodes across different areas of the surface.


  • Week 4

Control board and sensory responders that can be used to change patterns of the arms, and the nodes.


  • Week 5

Program built-in patterns that the controls will influence factors of.

  • Week 6

Make some more nodes, and make some drawings!

Assignment 5: Vampire’s Thrall





The first thing I had for this project was a series of shrieking speakers that shrieked harmonically, the frequencies of which could be raised and lowered with a potentiometer.
I wanted to make a series of tentacles that vacuum pumps would undulate uncomfortably, and would scream when touched.  However, depression was kicking my ass this week and I could barely keep lucid enough to make sense of code at all.  I ended up working with a heart rate monitor because it required less extra steps to make something spooky, because awareness of your own blood running through you is inherently creepy.

I wanted to have a wide variety of subtle atmospheric effects surrounding an alter-like sculpture, which would raise to a more anxiety inducing crescendo if they were reading someone’s rapid heart-rate.  Blinking LED eyes were to be a single element, not the central ones, but this is what I ended up with.

A Machine that Slowly and Painfully Erases Waluigi (Assignment 3)

I started with this:
A tripod of solenoids that would behave as specified in this image:

The emotion I was going for was futility and frailness.  I wanted the tripod to scramble about aimlessly, the firing of the solenoids powering it.  Unfortunately I over estimated the strength of the solenoids and found that they wouldn’t move when under their own weight.  I simplified, and got a bigger solenoid.


I found that its’ scooting about was still really weak and pathetic, which I liked.  The ideal version of this piece would have had a slice of pizza stapled toppings-down to the bottom, as the sled.