Noctivagous's Physically-Driven Drawing Tool

Noctivagous is a project to produce a physical drawing tool for architectural and graphic drawing, allowing for experimentation in two-dimensional representation of form.

Rather than construct a standalone drawing device, which would require an extensive mechanical system, this is accomplished by re-using the hardware of keyboard and trackpad as controls, having them configured in such a way that they work in tandem to make the desktop computer feel mechanically-driven and physical. The system is programmed to feel like a physical machine because of how the keyboard and trackpad are made to work simultaneously.

To establish that this a physical tool, as if drawing by hand, the process of drawing is demonstrated in this 9-second movie:

Using the same process as what is shown above, the images shown below were machine-drawn by hand on the trackpad in a very rapid period of time, less than 10 minutes each. They are drawn, which means that even though they reside on a computer screen, the computer is re-wired to act like a drawing machine. They are actually drawn images, like on paper. The computer screen is just acting as the paper.

Below is a sketch that took less than 15 minutes, which is an incredibly fast period of time given what the drawing looks like (zoomed out):

We change the color palette to traditional pencil and paper (another drawing accomplished under 10 minutes):

Explanation of the Tool

Because it works differently than other tools and has a different starting point for its development, an introduction is necessary to understand this drawing tool.

We take the example of a spirograph to explain. A spirograph is a drawing machine where a grooved wheel is embedded inside another wheel to produce a precise, curved drawing. This device originated with a mathematician for calculating the area of curves. It was later made into a novelty kit in the 1960's for children. A person places the tip of a pencil into the spirograph's inner wheel and then moves it in a circular motion to make a drawing.

The result is a complex set of curves that would be unfeasible to draw by hand alone. The spirograph is an intriguing device for this reason; with a mechanical setup, a drawing can be made that goes beyond what ordinary tools and methods of drawing can normally do.

The major limitation of the spirograph is that it provides no controls in relation to its output. There is no easy way to know what will emerge from using it and there is also no way to take what the spirograph does and make something of sophisticated artistic value. This situation applies to other types of drawing machines as well. They make interesting outcomes, but provide no effective control over their process of drawing. An example of another type of drawing machine is the harmonograph, which operates by way of pendulums to control the movement of a drawing point.

A harmonograph drawing machine (left). Example drawing (right).

The principle of a drawing machine has potential. If a drawing machine is devised that allows for dexterous control over its drawing outcome, the device can form the basis for a truly useful tool, one that a person actively uses in the studio. This is what we have done— we have built a truly useful machine for drawing that provides an actual set of effective controls, to produce natural drawings for everyday purposes.

Our machine accomplishes this by using straight lines as its method of drawing, having the person place them consecutively, in a flow, so as to draw on the paper. The controls of the machine adjust the placement of the line being drawn and when many lines are put together an entire drawing is made. Key to what makes this a useful setup is that the feel of using it is very much like natural drawing, to the extent that a person can forget that he is not drawing by freehand.

This device could be constructed as a mechanical system, with moving parts, but instead we have digitally re-wired the computer's hardware input to act in a physical way: the keyboard and trackpad work as the physical controls of a machine, the computer screen acts as the moving page. The mouse pointer no longer serves as a pointer for clicking, but instead serves as physical input. The keyboard and trackpad serve a mechanical role, in other words. On top of this, indicator lights that would exist on a mechanical system are also placed in the computer window. The hardware of the computer becomes re-oriented physically in order to make drawing any type of linear figure a fluid process.

The keyboard and trackpad are actually the center of what makes this setup work and they are the starting point for what it does. Other parts of the system a person expects will be available, such as importing digital images, placing text, and changing palettes quickly, are integrated as well. The computer is the ideal machine medium for the job.

Our drawing tool can draw straight lines so quickly that it permits traditional architectural drafting to take place in real-time, something unknown before. Many noted works of contemporary architecture are a trivial thing to sketch using this machine.