For my final project, I’m programming a Universal Robotics robotic arm to inscribe and mark polymer clay surfaces. This is meant to primarily be a two-pronged technical exploration of both the material possibilities of polymer clay and the technical capabilities of the robotic arm to use tools and manipulate physical media.

The inspiration for this project is honestly more rhizomatic than emergent from a collection of works of interest. That said, I was at least partially inspired by the robot-human collaborations of artist Sougwen Chung.

Throughout the semester, I’ve done most of my work using pen and plotter. While the plotter creates an exciting interaction point where computational principles and the physical  properties of media try to coexist and even contradict each other, I wanted to explore a new space with different effects at play. I decided it was time to try a ne medium, so I moved into paint and polymer clay. Initially I tried merely plotting on clay:

Above – using pen plotter and needle tool to poke points into clay

Above – misregistered plot

After a few experiments, it seemed that the plotter just didn’t have the power needed to do anything substantial to the clay – the tool would often snag and the motor couldn’t always actually push the clay, messing up registration.

I realized that the robotic arm in Frank-Ratchye studio could push what I could do computationally and gives me a continuous third dimension. The robotic arm also seemed to promise more physical pushing strength compared to the plotter. From there, I realized that polymer clay pairs nicely with the additional dimension and stuck with the robot.

I’ve been using polymer clay for most of my life already but have taken a long hiatus, so this feels like a natural direction for my work to go into and an exciting opportunity to explore the medium with a fresh set of eyes.

I started exploring for this project by digging into clay by hand in different ways. My intent was to test what sorts of marks my tools could make in an attempt to think of concrete ideas for the final project and produced the following:

From here, all that I had left to do a learn how to use the robot. After getting comfortable with manually controlling the robot, I moved on to automating the bot. I received extensive help from my classmate Dinkolas in understanding how to program the robot and am indebted to his time and efforts.

Below are the preliminary results of merely having the robot tear across a block of clay along random paths:

The robot managed to fold the clay up during the inscription process. More work will need to go into measurements to ensure that the clay stays flat, or maybe this folding direction may deserve a bit more time and thought.

Video pending, I need to remove audio from the footage that I have.


For this project, I made use of a modified circle packing algorithm that would use a thresholded noise field to generate a cool blobby form, fill it with circles, and apply a drawing step. At the drawing step, the circles can be drawn in different ways. Above I tune some parameters to produce the different circumscriptions and packing densities. I can also shut circumscription off at will.

It was exciting to seriously push myself with this project this time and I feel like I learned a lot about ways of filling a page and ways of considering and solving geometric design problems. Through testing I would devise different visual debug methods to give me an effective visual description of the code state.

Going forward, I want to use more color.


In my hatching methods, I tried a few different strategies using randomness and lines.

I’m interested in scalability and parametric systems, so I tried a few different methods with these properties – my first hatching method simply uses tighter and tighter angled intersections to create darker values.

For two of my methods, I had a point move around the canvas in a controlled fashion with differing parameters. From here, I stored the point and made used the points in different ways.

Finally, I’m really interested in signals and the aesthetics of plotted oscillations and noise, so I plotted a sum of cosines with scaling.

Hatching Studies:




These takeaways come from Tyler Hobbs and Licia He

  1. I didn’t really consider the potential challenges of making a large drawing – Hobbs points out that breaking down a drawing into smaller drawings like tiles can allow for the creation of something large.
  2. I’m really interested in the mechanics of paint plotting. It seems that Licia’s methodology is to just immerse herself in the work and be as prolific as possible. She makes a lot of experiments with her materials.


I find it really interesting that Lostritto focuses so much energy at the start to addressing the contentious notion of trying to define drawing. While drawing has technical elements that are often colloquially associated with said medium (medium in the broadest sense here), the fact that drawing itself is so deeply embedded in a wide variety of cultural setting makes it almost unfruitful to try to produce a singular encompassing definition. The whole of drawing is a rhizomatic landscape with such incredible variety that someone with familiarity with one subculture may not even be able to recognize a practice that the practitioners themselves consider drawing.

The tension in trying to define nebulous practices or other less technical concepts is a bit thought provoking if potentially dangerous as it plays readily into cultural elitism and in more extreme cases forms of cultural poisons like white supremacy. By attempting to specify what counts as art, you necessarily exclude examples that don’t suit your definition. Instead of opening up and considering new ideas for the sake of more meaningful at production, it seems the objective becomes adhering to and upholding this restrictive and segregative definition, to the detriment of culture as a whole.

frog – Drawing Machine

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This machine consists of a spinning motor and a few utensils mounted on said motor. I was originally trying to have the machine shoot paint from the tips, but I couldn’t get this to work and substituted markers. Only one of the markers actually fired ink so the effect is less exciting than I had hoped, but this could probably do some neat things.