Computer Art and Non-Traditional Printing

2020-02-03 (Last edited 2020-03-04)
artsoftware olincantp

For my final 4 credits of general Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHS) that Olin requires, I’ve decided to partake in an independent study that connects several threads from the past four years.

  • The summer after my first year, the Olin Library funded a trip to NYC for myself and three other students to participate in a workshop by Rune Madsen on Programming Design Systems, where I learned p5 and paperjs.
  • My final project for the Principles of Engineering course was a whiteboard-drawing robot.
  • I worked on a drum-based plotting robot for Olin’s Remaking Education conference.
  • Over the 2019 summer I went to Plotter People NYC and met a variety of artists working in the space of robots and art.
  • Last semester I bought a massive HP DraftMaster Pro on Craigslist.

Five other people will be joining me on the journey: Adam Novotny, Dieter Brehm, Colin Takeda, Charlie Weiss, and Alex Hindelang.

We’ll be advised by the wonderful Robert Wechsler and Tim Sauder.

I couldn’t resist printing my copy of the plan of study on my dot-matrix printer.

What follows is the submitted plan of study:

Computer Art and Non-Traditional Printing

Spring 2020 Independent Study

We’ve got one of these (image from the HP Computer Museum).
We’re inspired by works like this (K-002-090 by Carl Lostritto).


When someone wants to learn how to paint, they might start by learning the history of the practice through art history. At the same time, they dive into the tools and supplies of the craft—Watercolors, inks, oils, and more. To bring skill and confidence under their belts, they study and imitate the works of the masters to explore how they experienced art. At the end of their studies, they experience a point of deviation, where the skills and context they’ve accumulated allows them to rough out an unexplored path for themselves.

In the vein of an amateur painter, we want to take a semester to study within the space of visual computer art. Broadly, this is any work of art where a computer plays some role in the work’s lifetime. Based on my (Evan’s) previous experience and abilities, I’m most interested in 2D vector-based computer art, and various methods of creating physical media from it. I got an old HP pen plotter off of Craigslist last semester and I’ve been dying to work with it ever since. Printing pieces with it will take a fair bit of programming work, which I’ve been building up to over the past two semesters.

Computer art touches elements of design, engineering, and the inherent meaning of connecting those topics. We will also consider methods, hacks, and techniques for printing and reproducing art works in the physical world.

As a historical motivation for our studies, we will look back at the history and context of rule-based, generative, art works. By reflecting on readings focusing on the philosophy of machine-made art and design, we hope to expand our literacy in the form. This will include consuming and recreating the works of masters in the field. We will also research and reach out to contemporary artists in this sphere, to learn about the current motivations and explorations that others are doing.

Faculty Support

Robert Wechsler and Tim Sauder

Learning Outcomes

  • Acquire Knowledge, Skills, and Approaches
    Through our model of going through weekly cycles, we will approach different submediums within generative art with a goal of learning new ways to express ourselves theoretically and technically.

  • Develop and Apply Creativity
    At its heart, this study is built around expressing our discoveries and ideas in new ways. The study is a testing ground for alternative ways to think and to create, and along the way we hope it will synthesize new modes of thought.

  • Communicate Effectively
    On a weekly basis, we will come together and share out our sketches, results, and how we feel about the process of creating. We are also excited to thoroughly document our experiments, in the form of an anthology or gallery show at the end of the semester which represents our journey.

  • Collaborate Successfully
    As much as this study is about exploring the self, it is also about learning to share that with others and have that discussion lead to new avenues of art. We will meet weekly to inspire each other, perform critiques, and question how we can push our new craft further.

  • Become Self-Directed Learners
    There is no guidebook or definitive textbook when it comes to traditional visual art, and the same is true for generative art. By coming together, imagining what a course in generative art could be, and then testing implementations of it, we carve our own self-directed paths.

  • Develop Personal and Professional Identity
    By exploring our aesthetic tastes through creating and analyzing artwork and texts, we will develop our personal styles. Creating a portfolio of artwork will allow us to demonstrate our interests and skills to the rest of the world.


Evan Lloyd New-Schmidt, Adam Novotny, Dieter Brehm, Charlie Weiss, Colin Takeda, Alex Hindelang

Assessment Plan

Progress will be demonstrated through the weekly cycle:

  • Artworks - bringing creations to share/crit/review (multiple pieces per week)

  • Blog Posts - Discussing group readings and researching the historical and contemporary context of computer art. (1 blog post per week)

  • Notebook/Sketchbook - documenting process, ideas, inspirations

  • Group collaborative final efforts and presentation


On a weekly basis, we’ll dive into a topic, style, or practice and make something. Individuals may or may not choose the same pursuit, and may continue the same pursuit across multiple weeks. Throughout the week, we’ll discuss and work with each other, culminating in a share-out and critique of our work as a group at the end of the week.


Following our cycle critiques, we’ll discuss new topics and readings and start the week anew. Everyone is bringing their own background and interests to this study, and we see a wide variety of topics to cover.


We will work as a studio to both iterate and variate through a series of creative “cycles” on a weekly basis.


  • Draft of Plan of Study

  • Consult with Faculty, Registrar, and other students

  • Initial sets of readings, works, and techniques

  • Get the plotter up and running


  • Discussion:

  • Introduction to mediums, frameworks


  • Discussion:

  • Kickoff first cycle

2/16, 2/23, 3/1

  • Discussions and cycles


  • Mid-semester check-in and reflection

3/15 - Spring Break

3/22, 3/29, 4/5, 4/12, 4/19

  • Discussions and cycles


  • Presentation/gallery in library? In MH corridor? Or AC?

5/3 - Finals Week

  • Nothing


  • Expo - presentation?

Initial Resources





Preliminary Cycle Topics

Recursive Shapes

Blender (shading & export to svg)


Spirograph Theory



Recreate Paintings and other Artworks

Modulation of human input

Bezier Curves


We want to explore a variety of methods for creating art with our computers, but there are some common frameworks and technologies that we’ll be using throughout the independent study.

HTML5 Canvas API

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)

Machine-Control Languages (G-code, HP-GL)


(Somewhat sorted by best to least likely)

HP DraftPro Plus

Dot Matrix Printers

Hairy Plotter

Receipt Printer

Stencil+Spray Paint

Laser cut 3d models

Animated on Old TV

Screen Print


Projections and Projection Mapping

Paint a mural with generated (human-readable) rules

Print a jigsaw puzzle


Carl Lostritto, Computational Drawing Book. This will be the primary resource http://lostritto.com/book

October Art Magazine

Who else has written about generative art?

Generative Art for All @ MIT: https://el.media.mit.edu/logo-foundation/services/pdf/genart.pdf

Another interesting piece of work done by a studio class @ MIT Studio Center for Art, Science, and Technology: https://arts.mit.edu/transcending-the-algorithm-generative-art/

Tiling software: https://github.com/johnalexandergreene/Geom_Kisrhombille/blob/master/README.md

Generative Art: Contemporary papers on methods and philosophy http://www.generativeart.com/