Make masterpieces with a homemade CNC painting machine
Longtime artist Jeff Leonard has built a pair of Arduino-driven CNC painting machines with the motivation to grow his toolbox and expand the kinds of marks he could make simply by hand. By pairing the formal elements of painting with modern-day computing, the Brooklyn-based Maker now has the ability to create things that otherwise would’ve never been possible.
Machine #1 consists of a 5’ x 7’ table and is capable of producing pieces of art up to 4’ x 5’ in size. The device features a variety of tools, including a Beugler pinstriping paint wheel, a brush with a peristaltic pump syringe feed, an airbrush with a five-color paint feed system and five peristaltic pumps from Adafruit, a squeegee, and pencils, pens, markers and other utensils.
In terms of hardware, it’s equipped with three NEMA 23 stepper motors, three Big Easy Drivers, as well as an Arduino Mega and an Uno. There are two servos and five peristaltic pumps on the carriage–the first servo raises and lowers the tool, while the second presses the trigger on the airbrush. An Adafruit motor shield on the Uno controls the pumps, and the AccelStepper library is used for the Big Easy Drivers.
According to Leonard:
I am coding directly into the Arduino. There are many different codes that I call and overlap and use as a painter overlaps techniques and ideas. There is a lot of random built into the code, I don’t know what the end result will be when I start. Typically on any kind of CNC machining the end result has been made in the computer and the machine executes the instructions. I am building a kind of visual synthesizer that I can control in real-time. There are many buttons and potentiometers that I am controlling while the routines are running. I take any marks or accidents that happen and learn how to incorporate them into a painting.
I am learning Processing now and how to incorporate it into the image making.
Machine #2, however, is a bit different. This one is actually a standup XY unit that was made as a concept project. It paints using water on magic paper that becomes black when wet and disappears as it dries, used mainly as a way to practice calligraphy or Chinese brush painting. Not only does it look great, there’s no clean up either!
In terms of tools, the machine has a brush and an airbrush. Two NEMA 17 stepper motors are tasked with the XY motion. There are also three servos–one servo lifts and lowers the armature away from the paper since there is no Z-axis, another controls the angle of the brush, and the third presses the trigger of the airbrush. A peristaltic pump helps to refill the water cup, along with a small fan. The system is powered by an Arduino Uno with an Adafruit Motor Shield using the Adafruit Motor Shield Library v2.
As awesome as it all sounds, you really have to see these gadgets in action and their finished works (many of which can be found on Instagram).
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