Drawing Machines


Computer Aided Design, Computational Media, Electronics, Digital Fabrication


In the 1960's, artists like Desmond Paul Henry began to explore the creative potential of drawing robots, experimenting with machine-generated visual effects when "computer art" was an emergent movement.

This body of research returns to the idea of the drawing machine - not as a tool for automation, a utility of industry - but rather as an extension of the pencil, the mark-making tool, the artist's hand.

By experimenting with different ways of employing a robot to create marks on paper - both by building custom apparatuses or by hacking/modifying existing ones - the conversation around human-machine collaboration in art is extended.

This large-format drawing machine uses laser diodes as registrators, allowing a drawing of any scale to be broken into smaller tiles.

Both custom-built machines (top-left and top-right) and re-purposed computer-numeric-controlled robots (bottom-left and bottom-right) are utilized to pursue this body of research.

A Prusa i3 Mk2 is fit with a low-tech pen holder (above). Here, a custom Grasshopper definition is used to generate G-code for the modified machine.

Similarly, an X-carve CNC router was modified with a custom pen holder.  Blueprints for this modification have been published as an open-source hardware project, and can be found here.

The modified X-carve was used to produce larger-scale (1000x1000mm) drawings in UV-reactive inks. These were exhibited alongside the Volte-Face series.

Tangential experiments (pictured above) employ a Dobot M0 robotic arm to draw on non-planar surfaces and objects.

A prototype is currently under development for a drawing rover. This drawing machine utilizes omni-directional wheels, and future versions will receive commands wirelessly to allow for a virtually infinite drawing area.

Another strategy for an infinite-scale drawing machine is this registration plotter. This machine uses lasers are registrators to align subsequent tiles. A custom Grasshopper definition is used to automate the process of breaking a larger vector drawing into tiles.

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Bryan Cera​

Assistant Professor in Object Making and Emergent Technologies

Alberta University of the Arts


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