About: Pen Plotters

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  • Post published:April 3, 2022

At first glance a pen plotter seems just like any X-Y axis based tool, much like a 3D printer or a laser cutter. It deposits material in the exact places you ask it to. A pen plotter deposits ink in the places you ask it to, but there is quite a distinct difference. A pen plotter doesn’t build on top of its own previously deposited materials like a 3D-printer and it doesn’t carve into the material like a CNC mill or a laser cutter. And besides that, you can easily shift the drawing tools around on the fly. Thick pens, no problem, thin pens, sure, white, black, silver, GOLD!? Sure, just stick it on, heck, I even used a wood burner on the machine to burn graphics into wood in an experiment (which needs more practice when I feel like it).

“But why not just make a print? It’s easier, more precise, and cheaper.”

Because of this wide variety of tools, pen plotters give a certain authentic feel to the work that is being produced with them. Small imperfections, maybe the ink in the pen not flowing well, a paper fiber ending up in the feed mechanism of the ballpoint or some other issue.. Together they make up a geometrically perfectly drawn artwork, but these small imperfections are what gives it its authentic feel.

In this very self-explanatory video, the pen interacts with the paper to draw a maze.

Someone asked me: “But why not just make a print? It’s easier, more precise, and cheaper.” When they asked me this, I started to explain; it’s not about efficiency. It’s about poetry. Yes, I dare say it, watching a pen plotter produce work is pure poetry. The intricate linework being drawn out in a constant speed as if it’s nothing by the machine, simply carrying out instructions, but doing it in such a manner that it fascinates everyone I’ve ever shown it.

A generative artwork that consists purely out of lines. Generated by a script that was written in Processing 3.

A plot always starts out with a few random lines that are drawn on the paper by the machine. The scripts that I use to optimize the drawing path order generate seemingly random instructions. But in the end the lines always come together to make another wonderful artwork.

Lines upon lines, colors upon colors.

It usually starts with an idea, a rough sketch, made in my favorite programming language or software. It sometimes takes days to weeks until the algorithm is massaged into the right shape to produce what I have in mind. This design is then further processed by another self-built algorithm that translates all the lines and curves into instructions that the also self-built drawing machine can understand. All in the right proportions to fit on the chosen paper size. From here on out it means uploading the machine instructions to the machine’s on-board computer and starting the print. The pens are manually replaced and aligned between each color change. And after some time a print begins to emerge, adding detail with each pass.

If you want to see more, I suggest checking out my Instagram page where post shared posts also contain a video, showing how the actual work is created.

Flexibility by DIY

For me the main reason to design and make all of this myself was to that I could create all the conditions myself. Allowing ultimate flexibility. This means that when you have designed all steps of the process yourself, it’s really easy to add or alter certain functions that the machines, software and algorithms offer.

Perfectionism gets in the way

In total I’ve created three matured drawing machines, I say matured because all machines went through a long process of iteration. The LotusXY is my main machine, it was the first one to work good enough for artworks and has all the bells and whistles I could wish for, and still, I could think of at least five improvements I still want to make to this machine. On the other hand, this can be risky since making new changes could risk damaging the machine, having to replace parts that take a lot of time to recreate. This has happened a lot to me in the past, you want to improve something, and then perfectionism gets in the way and you ruin something that worked well before.

In a way, this shines through from and into my artistic practice. I have learned to accept the imperfections that sometimes occur during the making of a drawing as only I see these imperfections as the creator while I compare the end result with the intentions I had, that ultimately only exists in my own head.

Going out there and showing and selling my work has helped me appreciate the process a lot more, and I hope that you, as visitor, can find a perspective to enjoy my artwork from as well.

There are currently still hundreds of works that are not listed yet in the shop, but most of them are up on my Instagram, if you’d like to order a work that’s not in my shop, send me a message and we can work something out!