Mechatronic Painting Machine

Mechatronic Painting Table - Live Demo

Sponsor Background:

Stephanie Lie is currently enrolled in UC San Diego’s Visual Arts graduate program.  In 2000, she received degrees in both Computer Science and Art Practice from UC Berkeley, where she also later taught classes in drawing, electronics and new media art.  She wants to integrate these two degrees by infusing embedded systems with art tools such as pens, pencils and paint in order to create a different mechanical aesthetic experience.  Stephanie’s work has been featured at the Nevada Museum of Art, the New Children’s Museum, and San Diego Museum of Art.  Besides working on her own private projects, Stephanie also teaches private art workshops with Jane Rosen.

Review of Existing Solutions:

In the twentieth century, a small number of artists created kinetic drawing machines that challenged their audience to consider hand-made versus machine-made processes as an aesthetic experience. These devices present the mechanical act of drawing as a performative gesture, leaving the drawing as the residue of the mechanical movements of the machine. Last quarter, Lie realized two mechanical drawing devices: an oversized spirograph and a pendulum-based drawing device called a harmonograph.
Last quarter a team created an XY plotter that was able to draw out a design that was hardcoded into an Arduino microcontroller that controlled the x-axis and y-axis motion.  They used a lead screw for the y-action motion, and a timing belt for the x-axis motion.

Mechanical Drawing Machine

Statement of Requirements:

With the help of a group of UC San Diego students in the spring of 2011, Stephanie was able to create an XY plotter that can hold various dry writing materials such as pens, pencils, and markers.  Currently, the drawing machine can only draw one specific pattern that has been hard coded into an Arduino microcontroller, which controls the x-axis and y-axis movement of the machine.  Our team will duplicate the skeleton of this machine and change a few parameters to meet Stephanie’s needs for her upcoming MFA thesis exhibition. 

The project objective is to allow the drawing machine to use wet materials such as paintbrushes instead of dry materials.  Also, instead of drawing only one specific pattern, the machine needs to be programmed to draw an image from a DXF file.


To meet the first need of drawing with wet materials we modified some parameters of the XY plotter.  First, we created a new carriage to hold the paintbrush on the paper without smashing it onto the paper.  We also divided off a section of the drawing machine to allow room for various inkpots and sponge strip used to soak up excess paint after it is dipped.  To allow for dipping, we needed to create a Z-axis of motion for the paintbrushes, and so implemented a rack and pinion to satisfy this functionality.  A spinning carousel, which holds the various thickness paintbrushes, was also created.  The paintbrushes were picked up by and dropped off by the moving carriage with the use of a solenoid.  The carousel also served as a washing station for the paintbrushes after drawings are completed.

To meet the next need of drawing an image from a DXF file, we used two free, open-source programs called AceConverter and LinuxCNC.  AceConverter translated the DXF file, into g-code, and LinuxCNC read the g-code to control the mechanical components of the drawing machine.  To account for the initial dipping and re-dipping of the paintbrushes, wiping of excess paint, and changing of paintbrushes for different layers, we had to extensively modify the LinuxCNC program.

Project Overview:
The aim of this project is to design and build a machine that can draw traditional Chinese pictures with brushes and ink automatically. It will basically have three motions: X and Y motion which control the position of the drawing; Z motion which decides the different type of brushes to be used.

Team Members:
Gregory Jimmie
Eric Tom

Kent Wong