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These interactive drawing machines are inspired by Japanese zen gardens

Arduino TeamAugust 27th, 2019

Artist Jo Fairfax has created automated drawing machines inspired by carefully manicured Japanese rock gardens, AKA zen gardens. The mesmerizing artwork uses magnets and motors that move underneath a bed of iron filings, generating soothing shapes as viewers come near via a motion sensor.  

An Arduino Uno is utilized for the device, or rather devices, and you can see a square “magnet garden” in the first video below, automatically producing a circular pattern. A (non-square) rectangular garden sketches a sort of snake/wave pattern in the second clip. 

The build is reminiscent of sand drawing machines that rotate a metal marble through magnetic force, but does away with a visible source of movement as the filings react directly to the magnetic field as it’s applied.

An Arduino Uno is programmed to set off a mechanism with integrated magnets below the platform of iron filings. each time a viewer approaches the machine, it starts to ‘draw’ and agitate the black particles, moving them around the platforms. Slowly the drawings become three dimensional and the sense of the magnets’ tracing becomes visible. 
The charged iron filings create varying geometric clusters that shape the zen gardens. The drawing machines reveal the forces acting on them, imitating grass and sand that react to the natural force of the wind. the gesture of the viewer’s movement that activates the machine coupled with the magnetic power makes the artwork become a dialogue of forces… elegant and subtle, just like a zen garden.