Pyrography – or – Burning Pretty Pictures

Spending sometime at home over Christmas left me with plenty of spare time (once the seasonal panic and preparations were all done and dusted) ad so I dug out my old pyrography kit which hadn’t seen any use in years. I began playing with mark making and exploring the effects at different temperature ranges, such as high temperature allowing faster movements whilst lower ones more accommodating for more precise shapes and tones. After some experiments on some scrap wood I burned my name onto my new pencil box (which needs some internal modification). The wood of the box was much nice to work on than the coarse pine wood I practised on. One the pine the softer wood between the narrow, harder growth lines burnt away very quickly creating small pits – this made a nice consistent straight line very difficult. So from that I learnt quite quickly that quality of material is important, as it is in most things I suppose – it just hadn’t initially occurred to me with the pyrography.

After the box I then found some plywood which had a fairly even and consistent grain on its surface layer and decided to do an illustration, for inspiration I popped onto Pinterest and quickly found a simplistic fish design I fancied. I made a quick preliminary sketch and then set to roughing it out in pencil on the wood and then started burning!

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It went well an I was pleased with the result. Some of the lines are pretty deep and this got me thinking about making printing blocks with super fine details for making prints. I could use ply-wood and perhaps MDF? Or LDF? Some Light Density Fibre Boards have less of the nasty chemicals and can be worked to super fine details…. (Or at least I heard so off an Adam Savage pod-cast)  I think I will need to set up a small fan or minor scale extraction as I keep blinding myself with smoke and inhaling MDF smoke is most probably not much of a great idea. So I can see a couple of projects out of this, some experimental printing ideas, some general decorative work (like turned woodwork and wooden jewellery) and maybe a pyrography image etcher/CNC ?


Some Inspiration For Steel Bowls Project

These are some photos of frozen puddles and sand patterns that I took on a local beach. They are some of my own photos of inspiration I have found in the physical world myself. I will be posting a collection of images of online inspiration at a later date.

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Raspberry Pi Christmas Present!

For Christmas this year I was a very lucky fella. I was given a Raspberry Pi ! The small computer kind not the delicious PIE kind. My next module at university is centred arround the raspberry pie as a way to learn to programme and code and also as a path way into exploring and contributing to the internet of things. The module is titled ‘Real and Virtual Internet of Things’ (IOT). Its focus is to “explore how bridges can be formed between the physical and digital domains through the use of augmented reality and the IOT. The outcomes would lead to interactive art works and artefacts, or the design of interconected products.”

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I hooked up my pie to the living room TV with a mouse and keyboard and loaded up Raspberian. Im  now ready to start coding! Im trying to decide on whether to learn Python, C++ or to focus on using the RPi in conjunction with my Arduino.

Enamel Bowl Preperations Video

A sort video of me in action cleaning away the stumps left by the foot-ring that was on the gas bottle bottom.

I intend to use video (time-lapse in particular) more often in the future for this blog, short and concise I think.

It’s a great way to convey plenty of information, processes and detail….and hopefully would mean a little less writing haha!

Slowly Building a Distance Sensitive Motor Bot

This morning I had some problems with my code for the ultra-sound module. Even just getting the LED to light up at a certain distance proved difficult. After some internet help and a few key inputs from Paul Granjon on the coding (proper use of  if and else statements) we managed to get it working. Next to work on a motor circuit and then replace the LED in my circuit with a motor and then tweak the code appropriately.

Now I am better versed in motor control Paul introduced me to a dual motor control chip (although I only use one motor with the chip) called l293d.

This is an extract from the Adafruit website.

This is a very useful chip. It can actually control two motors independently. We are just using half the chip in this lesson, most of the pins on the right hand side of the chip are for controlling a second motor.

A second motor would be attached between OUT3 and OUT4. You will also need three more control pins.

  • EN2 is connected to a PWM enabled output pin on the Arduino
  • IN3 and IN4 are connected to digital outputs on the Arduino

The L293D has two +V pins (8 and 16). The pin ‘+Vmotor (8) provides the power for the motors, and +V (16) for the chip’s logic. We have connected both of these to the Arduino 5V pin. However, if you were using a more powerful motor, or a higher voltage motor, you would provide the motor with a separate power supply using pin 8 connected to the positive power supply and the ground of the second power supply is connected to the ground of the Arduino.

Example code:

  1. int enablePin = 11;
  2. int in1Pin = 10;
  3. int in2Pin = 9;
  4. int switchPin = 7;
  5. int potPin = 0;
  7. void setup()
  8. {
  9. pinMode(in1Pin, OUTPUT);
  10. pinMode(in2Pin, OUTPUT);
  11. pinMode(enablePin, OUTPUT);
  12. pinMode(switchPin, INPUT_PULLUP);
  13. }
  15. void loop()
  16. {
  17. int speed = analogRead(potPin) / 4;
  18. boolean reverse = digitalRead(switchPin);
  19. setMotor(speed, reverse);
  20. }
  22. void setMotor(int speed, boolean reverse)
  23. {
  24. analogWrite(enablePin, speed);
  25. digitalWrite(in1Pin, ! reverse);
  26. digitalWrite(in2Pin, reverse);
  27. }

Firstly, the speed is set, by using an analogWrite to the enable pin. The enable pin of the L293 just turns the motor on or off irrespective of what the in1 and in2 pins of the L293 are set to.

To control the direction of the motor, the pins in1 and in2 must be set to opposite values.

If in1 is HIGH and in2 is LOW, the motor will spin one way, if on the other hand in1 is HIGH and in2 LOW then the motor will spin in the opposite direction.

The ‘!’ command means ‘not’. So the first digitalWrite command for in1 sets it to the opposite of whatever the value of ‘reverse’ is, so if reverse is HIGH it sets it to LOW and vice versa.

The second digitalWrite for ‘in2’ sets the pin to whatever the value of ‘reverse’ is. This means that it will always be the opposite of whatever in1 is.

– Adafruit.


First I got the Ultrasonic distance sensor working with an LED, the motor pictured is the one I sapped out the LED for.


Andy with his Arduino Lillypad.


Andy made a soft fabric cube.


Arduino Lillypad with sound sensor, so that cube reacts to approaching footsteps, talking and general noises.

DIY Bend Sensor

Today in Field Mali wanted a sensor that would fit inside her cube and would sense when the fluffy cube she is making is being squeezed and then carry-out an action such as light up or make sounds etc. After asking Paul whether he had any and discovering he did not I set about trying to make one, I found several tutorials on-line and chose what seemed like a pretty well written Instructables. It’s at the link below. 

I gave it a go. I managed to get all the materials fine, except the copper foil laminate. I got some copper foil, but it was SUPER thin and had adhesive on one side (sticky back foil). I assembled the whole thing and fit it snugly into the  heat shrink tubing, all wired up.


When I took a reading with the volt metre it was conducting current really well, but when I bent the strip gently or severely the value either changed erratically, fluctuating up and down wildly or did not change at all. So it didn’t work. I’v put it down too :

  • a) the copper being adhesive coated on one side
  • b) there was much spring in the sensor, it was built around a resistive material that did not have enough spring and (yes, rather stupidly) much “bend”.

I shall return to the drawing board and have another go. I had fun though, I think I may experiment with making more of my own sensors in the future…

Socially Engaged Art

Today’s constellation lecture discussed socially engaged art and its artists. We began by exploring what socially engaged art is, how it manifests itself and whether it is effective as art or not.

Socially engaged art “depends upon the relationships that develop between artists, communities, community organisers and the organisations who deliver services within communities.The creative collaborations that result are socially engaged because they deliver locally specific and community led outcomes for and with communities. Socially engaged art is situated within the wider arena of Public Art and is defined by Miwon Kwon in, One Place After Another: Site Specificity and Locational Identity, as art- in-the-public-interest, as it foregrounds social issues, political activism and community collaborations. –

Some further research from the website provided a better break down of what socially engaged art could be. Suzanne Lucy describes the new genre of public art work to be:

  • Engaging with Culture
  • To be seeking a relationship with its audience
  • Aiming to influence social strategy

I looked into what sort of questions socially engaged art (SEG) rises and fond a guardian article discussing just this.

“Does art get in the way of social change? Is an artist’s role in working with disenfranchised communities to make art or to fix problems? Is an outreach project with excluded individuals legitimate art or a worthy cause? Who is the author of a collaborative, participatory artwork? These are just a few of the many questions raised in a panel debate last week as part of Chelsea Theatre‘s Sacred season which is focusing on participatory practices and features a range of artists, such as Lois Weaver, Leibniz, and Curious, who are collaborating with disempowered communities and “non-artists” through socially engaged projects.” – The ethics of socially engaged art.

One extract from this article I found particularly interesting is pasted below, while I feel Jordan’s view is pessimistic and disagree with art getting in the way with social change, I feel he has a point. That making works of ‘art’ that are geared towards collaboration and social change can never quite be taken seriously enough or implement any real change but instead just bring to light a problem or point.

On his good days John Jordan sees himself as a militant optimist who believes radical practices can change the world. But the Sacred debate came on a bad day. John expressed his feeling that artists are merely sticking plasters and that art gets in the way of social change precisely because it’s called art. John has chosen to operate outside of the constraints of the art world which he believes has lost its belief in the utopian vision and radical transformation. He believes rebellion is the spark and if we find different ways to open up creativity rather than playing it safe, the sparks will lead to more change than an art project ever could.

Some further reading and links later I found the SSRU or Social Sculpture Research Unit.

“The SSRU encourages and explores transdisciplinary creativity and vision towards the shaping of a humane and ecologically viable society. It engages with Beuys thinking and work, as well as those before and after him – making available some of the insights, inquiries and explorations in this multidimensional field.”

“Our work as agents of change includes a focus on connective practices, which explore the role of imagination and other modes of thought in transformative process. Informed by an expanded conception of art, we are active both within and beyond the sphere of art.”

This find after my internet forage neatly linked my own research back to the lecture with Beuys, were the lecture started. It was at this point I also realised how this topic links back to my own practise. The lighting brief I received from SEDNA lighting company for one of my Seed projects for Subject requires that I make a socio/political work of art that uses their product. One of the ideas I had concerned growing food in disused buildings and public spaces hydroponicly with LED lights, in low energy, chemical free, low cost methods. This idea transformed into public sculpture with a function – sculptures, or installations that grow food which is free to the public. The concept behind these sculptures would be to address food consumption, food wastage, land destruction and transformation, food miles, food growth energy consumption and pollution and the emergence of agri-tech. This lecture has made me realise that perhaps my idea is to make a socially engaged artwork? Maybe it is maybe it isn’t, time will tell. This has given me a boost of motivation for the project and some artists and collaborations to look at for inspiration, such as Vetch Veg – the urban utopia growing revolution, a community veg garden by artist Owen Griffiths and the movement for turning suburban garden lawns into useful veg growing space. I’ve been given a lot of projects, artists and ideas to explore in relation to my work.

This is the first time I have really tied my constellation studies back to my discipline. It is exciting me quite a bit as I feel that my work may perhaps take on a more academical tone which will not only help me progress with it quicker (I hope), but is something that has been slightly lacking in my work until now. I think…

I feel happy to be feeling more of a connection between my constellation studies and my practise.

Also this gives me a topic to write my 500 words on for this term and also ties into some of my ideas for a dissertation theme that I am considering.

Getting back to the lecture, after looking at the work of Joseph Beuys we considered Activity and Passivity in art, which asks us to examine how we interact with art. Are we mearly a passive outside obsever, standing in the gallery, thinking and questioning, experiencing the work passively. Or are we integral to the work? Do our actions as part of a group of people actively involved in a works creation or exhibition some how give us a better or just different perception of a work?

Another one of the artists and works I liked from the lecture was Ayse Erman and her work Plan B , 2011. Plan B consisted of a water purification plant as an installation. Its brightly coloured pipes pumped canal water of Venice ,where it was displayed at the Biennial, though a purification system creating clean drinking water and pumps it straight out again in to the…canal. I think this is trying to get us to consider our relationship to water and some of the problems we can find when we look hard at the present and future state of issues surrounding water pollution and security. Another way to look at it is that its a complete waste of energy, effort and time and serves little purpose to anyone even as an artwork. This is a little extreme perhaps, but it does highlight the question of should a socially engaged art work have any more to it substance to it other than being something to look at or be contemplated? Should it actuate some real world outcome with a goal to instigate change, striving to connect people, communicate ideas and create a positive real world thing.

Ayse Erman’s work Plan B also connects to some of my work. Another brief of mine is to make a medal with a theme open to the artist. I decided I would like to investigate water sustainability and its problems, a topic that has interested me since A-Level Geography. Ayse Erman’s work shall appear in my research to come of artists that inspire my project.