Drawing machines have a history dating back to the early 1400’s. They are loosely defined as any device or apparatus that draws or assists a human in the act of drawing.
Drawing machines have been developed to not only assist the rendering of life-like drawings but also to create complex patterns and geometrical drawings impossible for a single human.
They are often comprised of a complex series of pulleys and gears that drag a stylus or pen across the paper to leave a mark. They may be operated by a windup mechanism, weights or levers.
Some drawing machines are ‘deployed’ that is they are set up and then operate for a short time using its mechanism, others are used to assist drawing and are operated by the drawing's illustrator. Some of these machines were invented for commercial purposes, such as enlarging and copying images, others were created more for entertainment purposes.
The most common perhaps being the harmonograph or pendulograph type. These drawing machines work by having a stylus hanging off weight on the end of a string. These were originally developed with scientific application in mind but eventually morphed into a popular drawing toy.
Different types of drawings were produced by instigating different swing paths and addition of complexity was added with the introduction of a moving board to which the paper was taped.The artist, Pablo Garcia has created an incredibly rich archive of drawing machine at the site drawingmachines.org. Dig into the brilliant history of these wonderful machines with high-resolution images available for download.
Contemporary machines combine technology with nostalgia
While Pablo has the historical aspects of drawing machines covered, there has been a comeback of sorts amongst contemporary artists fascinated by these machines. Many new drawing machines have been built for exhibitions in recent years. Among the best example are the solar-powered SADbot (Seasonally Affected Drawing Robot) from Eyebeam, and the bicycle-powered Sharpie-wielding drawing machines of Joseph Griffiths. Artist Harvey Moon created a wall mounted automatic portrait machine and Eske Rex has made a room-sized machine that produces huge mural scale drawings. Rex exhibited this massive machine at the Mindcraft 11 show in Milan in 2011. The machine consists of two 2.7m tall structures. From the center of each is a weighted pendulum. The weight of the pendulums can be adjusted by adding and removing slotted concrete disks. More weight creates smaller circles on the paper, while less weight gives a greater swing of the pendulum and thus larger circles.
Some of the most interesting of these contemporary drawing machines come from artist James Nolan Gandy. Gandy creates his machines from metal and wood, they produce beautiful looped images rendered in pale pastels and deep blacks. Gandy’s drawing machine uses a moving arm with a stylus attached drawing onto a spinning disc where the paper is taped. The results are complex sweeps filled with delicate cross-hatchings. Check out Gandy's Instagram and website for videos of the drawings in progress and the final results which are for sale.