Tag Archives: drawing machine

Variable grid single lines

In 1969 when I was selling prints in the Merrion Centre art exhibition in Leeds, some one asked “Are your drawings done by computer ? ”   At the time computers were rubbish regarding any form of drawing, so I eventually made my own “drawing machine”. 

In 1973 I built a box with 8 perspex rulers lying in one direction and 8 more perspex rulers lying on top at 90 degrees to the lower ones.  Each ruler had alternate inches marked (or not marked)  with a thickish black line.  Any ruler could be pushed in or out one inch to change the whole pattern of single lines displayed by looking down through the rulers (the box could be lit from underneath). 

I could keep altering various rulers until an interesting pattern of lines appeared.  I call these “variable grid single lines”.  One seemed to represent a church and I applied a colour sequence to the picture.  Recently I have modified some of the sky colours and stretched the picture to a rectangle on canvas and here is the result.

Church with Red Sky. Variable grid single line drawing. Mick Burton, 2014

Church with Red Sky. Variable grid single continuous line drawing. Mick Burton, 2014


I did many larger drawings on large square graph paper but found that you can’t vary the lines without a lot of rubbing out.  What you can do is look for smaller areas within the grid which provides a good picture in its own right and replicate that.  The single lines can go out at the sides of the picture, but it is possible to create a continuous line within the picture and then any lines within that are all closed lines as well. 

Both these methods are,  of course, stepping off points for putting these sorts of designs onto a modern computer and generating loads of possibilities in the twinkle of an eye.  I try not to cross that line and feel that it is important for me to keep in the pre-computer art sphere, so that any of my drawings can be created using the mind and the hand with minimal use of technology.   Some latitude is allowed, for as  David Hockney has said, “a pencil is technology”.

I am interested in what computers produce, even though I do not want to use their creative expertise myself,  and was amused when I read about an artist who programmed his computer to generate hundreds of his pictures overnight, whilst he was asleep, and then in the morning he would wade through the results and pick out a few good ones.

The brick wall, as far as my interest in computer pictures or animation is concerned, is when I cannot tell whether what I am seeing is a photograph or film sequence of the real world or a clever computer animation.  That is where art dies.