An Overview of Randall Technologies
There are many ways to express artistry by almost anyone in any profession. An artist is a puzzle creator, puzzle solver. We get an idea in our head and through imagination, knowledge, and experience, we find a way to create it or to solve it. Picasso loved rummaging around in junk yards looking for pieces to create his next sculpture. A painter is solving a puzzle by making hundreds or thousands of brush strokes. Just like there are craftsmen and artists in the field of painting, there are engineers, scientists, chemists, writers and architects who exercise their creativity, their artistry in the process of invention. When John built this robotic tool, he took the parts I supplied him and, with his knowledge of robotics and technology, found the other parts he needed. He fused them into a working tool that revolutionized my process of painting. He was, in this process, being a world class artist. He is no less an artist than Rembrandt or Pollock. Through creativity and knowledge, he created something new and innovative. In my case, he not only gave me back the freedom to paint, he opened the doors to the most creative and productive period of my career. It brought about a radical change in the way I envisioned a painting, how I could construct it. It even opened doors to a broader range of styles and subjects that would eventually trickle down as subjects for my art.
In this image you can see that I am painting with pigments using a large syringe devised with a pressure cap that is attached to a compressor. I can control the pressure to put out the exact amount of paint I require. This is the same tool I place into the robotic plotter, steering the tip to the precise location I want to dispense the proper amount of paint.
Everything we used to create our robotic system was ‘off the shelf’ technology. This tool is called the EFD dispenser, normally used to put flux on motherboards or to control the exact amount of medication being given to patients in the hospital. With its capacity to push thick pigments through a selection of dispensing tips, it was the perfect tool to adopt for our robotic system.
The image to the left show an EFD tube full of a blue pigment attached to the plotter. The plotter is controlled by an attached computer along with hot buttons to start, stop, adjust, pause, backward and forward. These buttons can be seen in the lower part of the image.
In this image, you see the tips that are attached to the tubes of paint. In the styles of Pointillism and Matricism, I use the green needle tip most frequently, however the size of the dots can call for different tips. The three tips that have fibers are actually capable of laying down a brush stroke instead of a dot, if so desired. Each tip produces a different result in the texture and volume of paint. I am still looking to design brushes with softer fibers for better control of the application of brush strokes. It is also an old tradition for an artist to create their own brushes and tools. An old instructor of mine once said, “If a stick makes a better brush, then use the damn stick!”
In this image you can see the basic controls of the stepper motors that move the plotter arms and the EFD pneumatic control system.
In setting up the plotter for work in a painting knife format, the machine must be calibrated. In the process, the paint dispensing needle must stop on an etched mark on the setup table as seen in image 1.
Once over the calibration mark, the height of the needle is set according to the volume of paint and dot size required.
In the two following images, you see the needle produce four dots of paint in the shape of a candy kiss. In this routine, if the four dots touch each other just on their rim, they represent the size dots you have programmed for this painting.
In applying the pigment by hand, a small dab of paint was scrapped off the palette with the tip of a clean painting knife and applied to the canvas.
The goal was to replicate this utilizing our robotics, the exact types of dots I created by hand with my knives.
In this final image, you can see a set of dots created by hand on the left and dots created with our robotics on the right. When executed in the painting process, the shaping of the dots becomes increasingly irregular because of the surface texture created by earlier applied dots and from the movement of the armature. As you can see from this image, the dots done by hand and those done with robotics are almost identical. With a little tweaking, I can make them indistinguishable from each other.
The shape of a dot can also be altered by the direction and angle of the air coming from the dispensing tip, seen here on the left side of the pigment tip. The shape and size of the blasting tips can be adjusted for tight focus or a wider softer movement of air. Though I am using robotics, I did not want the art to be noticeably different from my older works done by hand. My philosophy is that a tool should help the artist do a job better and more efficiently. It should not place a signature of its own onto your work.
It is important to point out that my first goal was to recreate my exact ‘hand-done’ dotting style in Matricism, having perfectly round dots. My second challenge was to see if our tool could work in the style of different artists. Since there are so few, I had to turn to George Seurat who invented painting in dots and who introduced the first pointillist painting in art history. Arguably, the most famous painting done utilizing dots of paint is Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, 1884-1886 (below. This took him nearly two years to complete. One could not even attempt to count the dots of paint used to create this painting, but an educated guess would be well over a half a million dots of paint. One of the first questions about this new painting tool was – ‘could it have been used by Seurat to create his most famous paintings?’ This set the goal to be able to use the same colors, the same volume of pigment, and to recreate the same dot texture of Seurat’s own technique.
Below left you can see an image of the dotting texture created by Seurat in “Island of La Grande”, using his brushes to place rich thick dots of pigment on the canvas. On the right, you can see my dotting style achieved for my landscape work using the robotics in “Blue Heron.”
As you can see from the above detail images, after eight years of working with this revolutionary painting tool I had achieved the ability to work in the same textural style as Seurat down to the abstract nature of each dot. He used brushes and I used air to achieve the same look of texture and color saturation.
(<) Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884
(>) Blue Heron on Caddo Lake, Texas, by Christian Seidler, 2009
After a quick overview of how our robotics can apply paint to the canvas in a deliberate and controlled way, the issue of pigment for such a device was an interesting challenge. Above you can see the volumes of paint I have to mix. Needless to say you are looking at thousands of dollars of the finest art pigments made on the planet. No one said it would be cheap to work with robotics. The issue goes directly to the process through which you design and execute your paintings. When you do a painting by hand the traditional way you mix your pigments as you need them in small amounts. Depending on the artist’s personal style, you often discover what colors and how much you need as you slowly build your painting. When you mix color as you need it, you make all the decisions required to get it right, continually throughout the process. In robotics, this isn’t efficient.
In this new process of designing and executing a painting, I still start with a black and white under painting as in the earlier examples. For execution with my robotics, I then photograph my under painting and scan it into a computer. This gives me the ability, through the use of Photoshop, to dissect the entire image into values, hues, light and shade, or segregate the forms into their relative pictorial depth. Then, by isolating the different components into layers, I can then program the hue, value, intensity, size, volume and location of every dot of color I need for my painting. The layers isolate the dots I am concerned with, much like the mental process as done in the art of silk screen painting.
The magic, the bridge to technology, is represented in the software John created. It is in the software you see where he fused my painting language of Matricism with the language of technology through binary code. The questions I would be asking myself as I would create a painting by hand were now being asked by my computer. I could simply tell it what I wanted. This is not a simple process. I’ve spent eight years learning all the possibilities of programming thousands of individual dots into a design. It too, is an interesting and creative phenomenon that still has years of exploration within it. It is not a plug and play process!
This method of marking color decisions in a graphic world is completely different in the world of paint and pigment. The terminology and physics of color in the technology world is also dissimilar. For instance, in the computer world, the primary colors are blue, green and magenta. However in painting the primary colors are yellow, red and blue. To create a yellow in the computer, you mix magenta and green. The point is that you have to understand the difference in working mediums for it takes a graphic language to make the robotic arm perform to go where and when you want it to get there. It takes days working at a computer to plan the application of thousands of dots and then segregate them into files that I use to control the plotter. As of this writing, the substance of my paintings has been just under 126 different tones. That represents 126 individual tubes of pigment that are premixed before I start painting. Once everything is ready, the files are loaded one at a time into the plotter. Over a few days, I work my way through all the individual files matched up with their right color. This may take a few weeks but consider what I am completing. By hand it would have taken several months.
When you paint using a technique like Pointillism placing hundreds and thousand of dots onto a canvas in a repetitive motion, your movements tend to get into a rhythm. At my fastest rate, I could place one dot of paint on the canvas every thirty seconds. Now that John built a new robotic arm, I can now lay down 2.5 dots per second on the canvas. The result is 75 dots of paint in the same amount of time it took me to do just one with a painting knife. I now have the robotic arm of the 6 Million Dollar Man! The paintings I create in a couple weeks would have taken Seurat or myself months to have executed by hand. With such efficiency, I can paint with the productivity that makes Pointillism and Matricism a viable world to explore. This style offers the most brilliant minds a challenging form of expression and the possibilities are endless. It opened a Pandora's box of ideas. With this technology, the physical hurdles have been removed and painting with dots is now an experience with enjoyment and intellectual challenge.