The Drawing Robot

During the lockdown, Tinderbox Lab have been trialling different projects that we hope to be able to develop into workshops in the future. Armed with basic component parts, we had a go at building various robots over Zoom calls. One of these was based on the artist Helen Leigh’s project for a drawing robot that we found in the book ‘The Crafty Kids Guide to Electronics’, and over the past few weeks I’ve been rebuilding, adapting and playing with it to develop the basic idea into something that I can use for my own work. 

I am a visual artist and within my own practice I am particularly interested in ideas of authorship and exploring the roles that I, as an artist, have in the production of my work – especially in regards to ideas of a ‘creative touch’ and the processes that making artworks involved. This follows a long line of artists that have explored a similar vein of thought, most influentially for me in Sol LeWitt’s instructions for wall drawings or Agnes Martin’s meticulous grids. 

Over the past few weeks I have been using and developing the robot as my primary method of drawing, and it has become a really exciting and important development in my practice. The robot allows me to mechanise processes of drawing and begin to explore what happens when I remove the ‘artists hand’ from the work. Using the robot as the drawing tool has allowed me to explore the other ways I might reintegrate myself into the creative process. If you break down drawing or painting, I think it is essentially a stream of aesthetic decisions. Even when drawing from something, you don’t tend to copy it exactly and you might miss parts or decide to use specific kind of mark, and with the development of abstraction, it is not unusual for works to be constituted from pure aesthetics. 

I have recently been experimenting with isolating this, but the robot has allowed me to shift it. I am now working in conjunction with something else to make these decisions. The robot can make some really beautiful and interesting marks on its own, but I can then re-enter the creative process by altering these: if I add heavier weights to the motors, the marks will change. If I only turn on one motor instead of two, it is again different. The marks are different in a circular or rectangular robot. I can also alters where the marks go by laying down tape on the paper to guide the robot, to control its lines and direction. As a result, the idea of  process becomes much clearer to me because the robot is in charge of what might be seen as the ‘creative’ part – the types of mark made – and I can then experiment with controlling, changing and adapting this. 

This process of making has been something I have been really interested in for a while now and I feel that these methods have allowed me to think more about what goes into making an artwork, and processes on making in general. I’ve been reading John Robert’s book ‘Intangibilities of Form’, which discusses ideas of skilling and deskilling in art, and making these works using the robots has been a really practical and insightful way to work through these ideas of skill, craftsmanship and forms of redistributing labour within art making.” –
Rhona Sword (Tinderbox Lab Artist)

Check out more of Rhona’s work here: //