You’re walking through a gallery and stop to take in two seemingly unrelated pieces hanging side-by-side. One of them is a drawing of a bird, rendered with such precision its feathers could easily pop off the paper. The other is a sketch of what seems to be the same bird, however it’s nearly unrecognizable due to inconsistent line quality and parts that are entirely missing.
In staring at the photo-real drawing of the perfect bird, you marvel over the technical ability required to produce it. You also study the sloppy sketch just as long, picking out each one of its flaws, yet decide you like the image of the strange bird because the errors are interesting to you.
When you lean forward to read the title card posted on the wall between them, you’re shocked to learn that the two drastically different images were made by the same artist; not the person them self, but a machine they built to create both drawings in two different styles.
As an illustrator, I’m fascinated by drawing machines because their purpose is to emulate an act which has always been a highly personal form of self expression for me. Drawing machines and their creators are in a sense my peers.
[Sam Van Aken] is working on a long-term project which literally will bear fruit. Forty different kinds, in fact. The Tree of 40 Fruit is a single tree, carefully grafted to produce 40 different varieties of fruit. Growing up on a farm, [Sam] was always fascinated by the grafting process – how one living plant could be attached to another.
In 2008, [Sam] was working as a successful artist and professor in New York when he learned a 200-year-old state-run orchard was about to be demolished. The stone fruit orchard was not only a grove a trees, but a living history of man’s breeding of fruit. Many unique varieties of stone fruit – such as heirloom peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots – only existed in this orchard.
[Sam] bought the orchard and began to document the characteristics of the trees. Color, bloom date, and harvest date were all noted in [Sam’s] books. He then had the idea for a single tree which would bear multiple types of fruit. By using grafting techniques such as chip grafting, [Sam] was able to join the varieties of stone fruit tree. The process was very slow going. Grafts performed one year must survive through the winter before they grow the following spring.
Throughout the process, [Sam] kept careful diagrams of each graft. He planned the tree out so the fruit harvest wouldn’t be boring. Anyone who has a fruit tree tends to give away lots of fruit – because after a couple of weeks, they’re sick of eating one crop themselves! With [Sam’s] tree, It’s possible to have a nectarine with breakfast, a plum with lunch, and snack on almonds before dinner, all from the same tree. The real beauty is in the spring. [Sam’s] tree blossoms into an amazing array of pinks, purples and whites. A living sculpture created by an artist with a bit of help from Mother Nature.
[Ben Grosser] built an interactive painting robot that’s pretty far removed from the LED and Arduino builds we usually see. The robot is adapted from one of the many CNC routers we’ve featured over the years. The control system is written in Python and uses genetic algorithms and a microphone to decide what to paint next.
Robot artists have been around for decades now. When [Harold Cohen] exhibited his robotic artist AARON, gallery patrons lined up to watch a robot paint. The paintings were originally just a monochrome line drawing that was later colored in by [Cohen]. [Ben] made his robot paint directly onto canvas with oil paints, so there’s no question of what the computer intends the final product to be.
[Ben] came up with a really neat build, but we’re wondering about having this robot artist on display inside a cavernous exhibition hall. Surely the echos from the servos and stepper motors would be picked up by the mic and interpreted by the painting algorithm. Barring some control systems, it would probably be the robot’s commentary on its own decent into madness.
Check out a video of the robot in action after the break, followed by a violin/robot duet the shows how the audio is interpreted.