CNC historical drawing machine
CNC historical drawing machine
apr 12, 2012

CNC historical drawing machine

left: ‘machine drawing drawing machines’ book frontispiece right: ‘a verie easie way to describe a towne or castle being within the full sight thereof’, john bate, 1634

in a project entitled, ‘machine drawing drawing machines‘, spatial artist and architecture professor pablo garcia programmed an industrial CNC unit to copy 12 historical images, effected by affixing an ink pen to the machine and laying stonehenge artist’s paper beneath.

the images were chosen specifically to represent moments of technological progress and promise from the past, including prints of robert hooke’s 1694 camera obscura and a profile-drawing machine, as well as ‘a verie easie way to describe a towne or castle being within the full sight thereof’.

madeline gannon (head of madlab computational architecture studio) provided technical assistance for the project, which was funded by the ferguson jacobs prize in architecture from carnegie mellon university. the prints of the series are produced in a limited 4-edition set.

video of the ‘CNC drawing machine’ in action

the designers reflect:

‘although CNC drawing is well trodden territory, this project carries poetic undertones in the ironic use of a highly specialized and powerful piece of manufacturing machinery to achieve a level of detail and accuracy that the last five centuries of drawing machines could only aspire towards.‘

CNC historical drawing machine photo still of the ‘CNC drawing machine’ at work

CNC historical drawing machine early testing, using paolo uccello’s 15th century ‘wireframe’ of a chalice

CNC historical drawing machine left: ‘machine for anamorphosis’, jacob leupold, 1713 right: ‘pantograph’, christoph scheiner, 1608

CNC historical drawing machine ‘portable ‘picture box’ (camera obscura)’, robert hooke, 1694 (full and detail views)

CNC historical drawing machine left: ‘machine for orthographic projection’, hans lencker, 1571 right: ‘perspectograph (perspective device)’, baldassare lanci, 1583

CNC historical drawing machine ‘dürer’s door’, albrecht dürer, 1525

CNC historical drawing machine ‘projection device’, ludovico cigoli, 1600-13

via geek

  • Er… The more common term for a cnc drawing machine is an ink jet printer. Wow. We have our heads up our rears a bit..

    alexandra says:
  • It might be ‘ironic’ but a $5k(?) prize should by more than irony.
    This is nowhere near the peak of this technology. The stated framework for this project does not illicit much speculation about our contemporary architectural culture.

    We can all build one of our very own in the living room!

    raggatt says:
  • alexandra i am not even sure where to begin with what you wrote.
    i’m glad you wrote it because it is, at its base, a good and interesting point.
    but in terms of how someone interacts with the device, they’re two very different things.

    what i like about this project is that it kind of exploits that… i mean, effectively the machine is holding a pen, like a person would. we’ve gone from a person holding a pen and drawing these designs (which are also anyway about technology), to apparently hours of experimentation and testing just to do the same thing… but this time a machine is ‘doing’ it not a person. but the result is basically the same. it’s like a step backwards, but the step backwards that illuminates.

    carl rothsberg says:
  • What I just wrote made absolutely no sense.

    carl rothsberg says:
  • Carl, I\’m just curious as how this process illuminates us.
    Has the CNC machine done a better job then other available media/machines? What have we actually learnt from this other than you can put a pen in the end of a CNC machine instead of a cutter?
    As Alexandra observed, the CNC machine clutching a pen is fundamentally little different to the function of an ink jet printer – or more precisely, an old fashioned plotter.
    While plotters were fun to watch, with their little arm picking up the different pens and zooming around doodling at high speed, there\’s a reason why you don\’t see them in offices these days. Printers do the job quicker and with infinite ranges of colours.
    Technology for its own sake serves no purpose – Engineers have the end in mind. The means change, and machines become obsolete for good reason.
    If the sole virtue of this project resides in the fact that this CNC has anthropomorphic qualities, (OOooo! I looks like a hand!) then I\’d agree with the other commentators that this is superficial waste of time. There is nothing profound at work here.
    What I see here are some crude tracings of an beautiful Durer print, which any average draftsman could do with a rotoring pen and a piece of trace. This diluted, derivative image has then been digitised (turned into vector file perhaps?) so that the data is compatible with the CNC machine\’s needs. The machine has then reproduced it slavishly, unconsciously – controlled indirectly by the human hand that did all the mouse clicking to make that second-rate drawing into a digital file.
    The assertion that what has been achieved is \’a level of detail and accuracy that the last five centuries
    of drawing machines could only aspire towards\’ is bogus. They\’ve reproduced a crude drawing accurately.
    Durer on the other hand drew his finely detailed designs, cut his own blocks and then was able to make hundreds of copies that were phenomenal in their crispness – I went to the exhibition of his work in London some years back and you had to squint to make out all the details, they were so incredibly fine.
    He used the technology of the time to mass-produce his work and ensure his immortality.
    Had a CNC machine been used to reverse engineer a Durer print, and cut a wood block that could be used to make new prints then that might have been interesting, but it would still have just been playing around. Better to create new work that uses the technology of today in a meaningful way.

    There is a world out there that needs designers to be busy making it better everyone.
    Not mess around reinventing the wheel for their own amusement.
    I\’d question the intelligence of anyone who buys these prints. Better to buy a good facsimile of the originals – No doubt produced by a decent digital printer!

    The Cat says:
  • Carl – Your frank admission does you credit!
    I just wish you hadn’t posted it, then I wouldn’t have been moved to writing that essay above and could have concentrate don my drug of choice – Namely ebay.
    Still, keeps the grey cells ticking over…

    The Cat says:
  • The Cat you make very good points. And yet you don\’t address the one that I think carl rothsberg might have been trying to get at, and that raggatt did in a single word: irony.

    Durer did draw finely detailed designs. which were reproduced (but not redrawn).
    Almost 500 years ago.
    And while we have machines that let us mix music, edit photographs, calculate distances between galaxies, and communicate with people on the other side of the world, we don\’t have a machine that itself \’draws.\’ And I don\’t think that claim is bogus: the last five centuries of (non-human) drawing machines, any that I know of, at least, have not been able to mimic hand drawing.

    There\’s nothing I can say to defend the project against the CNC/inkjet printer argument, other than the fact that the action of a printer printing is not what anyone would call drawing (even if technically maybe it shouldn\’t have been called \’printing\’ either) and so seeing a machine \”draw\” — even when the algorithmic process underlying it is effectively the same as desktop printing — has a different effect on the viewer. But you\’re right that in the end this doesn\’t help the Work Itself, just explain why it is becoming so popular.

    It\’s not design, no. Art? Maybe. Watching this machine work reminded me of some of my first experiments in Photoshop: Select by Color Range, for example — \”but it\’s so easy to see that those colours are all BASICALLY the same — select ALL of them!\” Or trying to write a Java program that identified vertical lines in a JPG image. These things are SO. EASY. for a human. And you realize they are SO. DIFFICULT. when you try to delineate it.

    It\’s not necessarily a defense of the project itself. As a process yes, I\’m sure it was very interesting and exciting, even enlightening, for the designers. But I agree that doesn\’t mean it does the same for viewers, or is valuable for greater society.

    Okay, thanks all for reading my chapter of this book we’re writing together! 🙂

    Pablo says:
  • i know my comment is going to sound idiotic in the context of all you guys, and i never used a cnc printer so i don’t know anything about it, but i do think it is cool to watch it at work.
    and kind of unsettling in a way, seeing this machine imitate such clearly human-created forms.

    megan says:
  • Megan, the unsettling thing hasnt happened yet, and that would be that the CNC machine which drew or cut our purposely made designs during the day, came up with its own interpretations during the nite when we were sleeping and presented the results the next morning. Im still waiting for CNC to evolve so we can attach electrodes to our heads and the machines draw/cut what we are thinking. But we still live in the binary world of ON/OFF switches which WE decide on so nothing has happened yet to make us run for the hills. I beleive we are at the limit of how much brain power we can instill in a machine because the presence of the machine still forces us to think binary. The machines are driving us now, or limiting us or keeping us prisoners and we wont evolve until we scrap everything.

    charles says:
  • Today doodles, tomorrow masterpieces.

    Dimm says:
  • It is an interesting discussion that this has raised. I teach/do drawing for a living, that is hand drawing, from observation right through to exploring the possibilities of what drawing is/isn\’t and how we can use it as a communicative tool.

    This project seems to be a rather expensive form of a photocopier in a lot of ways! \”Megan\’s\” comment about the unsettling, but perhaps way more exciting thing that hasn\’t happened yet would be for the CNC machine to imprint it\’s own \’hand\’ onto/into the process. At this moment it seems to be simply replicating exactly something that already exists without adding to it in any way, hence my photocopier comment and it seems the shared comments about how \’not exciting\’ this actually is by many of you.

    The vagaries of the human hand/mind are what make drawing such an interesting thing to do, research and ponder, it is our mark on the world. The slippage and error that we human\’s make when trying to record our thinking and communicate this through drawing is what is infinitely of interest and it is this which is innately human.

    I think many of you are right in that there has to be a more rational reason for doing such a thing. As with technology in many cases we are dazzled by the technology itself, and yet it does not really add to or speak to the very idea of the work. I think the technology is great, but the logic behind doing such a thing seems empty – they need to get an artist involved who could really push the idea of what a drawing machine is and what it poses for us as human beings.

    For those of you interested, check out the eye writer initiative [url=] eyewriter [/url] – it\’s an interesting use of technology to not only perform a task but also expand our understanding of how and where drawings can exist, plus the technology leaves it\’s own mark – to a degree). These types of technologies can and should be developed (conceptually & technologically) to really question what hand and machine drawing means for us as human beings. Afterall we have been using various types of such technology for thousands of years, beginning with the burnt stick on the cave wall – perhaps the first drawing machine!! But like all tools there are limitations as to what it can do physically, that\’s where the human mind and hand come in as the possibilities are then endless.

    Annalise says:
  • Well I\’m rather unimpressed.
    My father had a Roland Pen plotter when I was a child.
    This could have been done more than twenty years ago. In colour. The plotter would change pens on it\’s own, for colour or line thickness. So I\’ve seen this decades ago.

    Maybe everyone is younger than me? 38 or don\’t remember these devises.
    But he still have an A3 pen plotter in his store room gathering dust.
    It was from these devices, that vinyl cutters evolved. So were going backwards here.

    What I remember is it was so boring watching the plotter draw. They took forever and sometimes the ink would run out or the tip would get blocked.

    The coolest thing the plotter did was the noises it made when drawing, especially circles had a cool sound.

    BBaker says:
  • I think the artistic portion of this concept is the selection of images reproduced in this fashion.

    Having a CNC machine do drawings isn\’t terribly unusual of an idea. I just finished building a two meter by one meter machine, and to test the firmware and stepper motor drivers I designed, the first thing I did was tape a pen to the spindle platform and have it do some drawings, first with single lines of g code fed via a telnet session, and then using a touchscreen interface I designed which let me interact directly with the machine\’s motion. Drawing is a good way to test alignment and motion of the system, leaving a permanent record which can be scrutinized, without the expense and waste of cutting materials. A friend I\’m working with did the same thing with his machine when he built it many years ago. So, even beyond the old fashioned pen plotters, giving a CNC machine a pen to draw with is an obvious thing to do and has doubtlessly been done hundreds or thousands of times by amateur CNC machine builders.

    That said, I think this is novel and interesting due to the selection of images and the unifying theme of technical progress which they represent.

    JBE says:

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