Category Archives: Art

Featured artist: Sash Zats

Sash Zats is a designer and generative artist working with AxiDraw. You can find him on instagram and twitter. One of the things about Sash’s work that I enjoy is his choices of materials. He often uses bold papers and subtle pen colors to bring his designs to life.

The sun and the moon

The Sun and the Moon are a compelling pair of drawings with gold and silver ink on black. The rich texture of the overlapping lines almost looks like textile work rather than ink.

maps on white

In describing these map drawings, Sash says:

For my dad’s 65th birthday I plotted places that are significant for our family.

maps on black

Continuing in the tradition of tool sharing that we have seen in generative artists, Sash included information about how he created the drawings, starting with calculating tile indices from coordinate bounds, parsing vector tiles protocol buffers, and converting to vectors before plotting with the AxiDraw.

Manhattan drawing

In a similar vein, this drawing of Manhattan buildings, blocks and neighborhood used data from NYC OpenData. Sash outlined his process for this one:

• data from NYC OpenData using httpie to filter unrelated data with
• process using #swift Xcode Playgrounds
• generate 3D geometry using #SceneKit
• export to .stl (.dae crashes #blender)
• export to SVG using Freestyle SVG to maintain occlusion
Svg Spatial Sort to optimise SVG for faster plotting
• plot using #axidraw v3 plotter

He published his Manhattan model as well.

Penrose tiling

Sash posted this Interrupted Penrose tiling with a link to Penrose’s lecture on tiling.

Anatomical heart of triangles

Delaunay triangulation is a familiar tool for generative artists, and is used in a series of drawings, including this anatomical heart drawn in white on bold red paper.

Drawing of a protein

The last picture I want to share is of the protein 5B0R, which Sash says, “when plotted looks like a badass graffiti.” I enjoy seeing science as an inspiration for art, and while I’ve seen a couple of artists plot proteins, the combination of the teal paper and light ink on this one give it a completely different perspective.

Thank you, Sash, for sharing your photos and processes! You can find more of his work, including videos of the drawing process on instagram and twitter.

Coffee tools

Not long ago, I posted about roasting coffee. As a follow up, I’d like to share about the various coffee tools we use. I talked about some of these tools when I was a guest on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools podcast. We’ve learned about some of them from other Cool Tools posts and a variety of other sources, including Sweet Maria’s. I’ve included links for items I have sources for, but some items are relatively generic or from brick and mortar shops. I’ve sorted them into Roasting, Espresso, Home, and Travel sections below.

Note that these are not necessarily recommendations for everyone: they are what work for us. We have a pretty committed relationship with our coffee, and we understand that each coffee lover will have their own preferences and methods. Just because we do it one way doesn’t mean that we think the way you are doing it is wrong. Feel free to share your favorite tools in the comments!

—Roasting—

The Behmor 1600 roaster: this model is no longer in production, but continues to work well for us. You can get the newer version from Sweet Maria’s.

Wooden handled natural bristle pastry/basting brush: this is basically just a broom. After blowing the chaff out of the roaster, I sweep the interior walls and the surfaces of the chaff tray to remove remaining dust. You can get these from any cooking store or restaurant supply.

Quart sized plastic canisters: these are from Smart & Final, but could be obtained at any restaurant supply store. I use them for weighing green beans and storing roasted beans. They seal well and you can see what’s inside. I have two to make it easy to roast a new batch when I still have some in the previous canister.

Five gallon food service bucket: again from a restaurant supply shop. It holds about 25 pounds of green coffee beans, which is much more manageable than the 50 pound bag our coffee arrives in. The rest of the 50 pound bag gets sealed up and stored until the bucket is ready to be refilled. It seals well and has a nice handle for ease of moving it around.

Stool: lifts the roaster far enough off of the ground to make cleanup easy after roasting finishes, and I don’t have to bend over as far to pick up the roaster to carry it back inside when I’m done roasting.

—Espresso—

Quick Mill Silvano Espresso Machine: PID control, separate steam and coffee boiler, beautiful stainless exterior, generously deep drip tray. It has a lot of excellent features for the price. Fits four full-sized mugs on top for warming. Switching from a low end home espresso machine to this was like switching from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR.

Rancilio Rocky Doserless Burr Grinder: one of the most important tools for espresso is the grinder. If you don’t get an even grind, it will be nearly impossible to make good espresso. Available from Sweet Maria’s and Chris’ Coffee.

Small cup and measuring spoon: the Rocky grinder is known for dispensing clumpy grounds. To combat this we grind into a cup and then scoop it out into the portafilter basket, which lets us break up the clumps.

Stainless portafilter: most portafilters are made of chrome plated brass and the plating can wear down over time. Stainless portafilters are easy to clean and you never run the risk of exposing your espresso to the lead in the brass. The handle of ours is tilted downward slightly, which means the basket is conveniently nearly level when the portafilter is resting on the spouts and handle.

Coffee distributor/leveler: we saw an OCD branded one of these in use at our favorite coffee shop and wanted one immediately. It evenly spreads the grounds across the top of your basket when you spin it. Such a beautiful design. The OCD price tag was a bit steep, so we went off-brand and got one that was much less expensive and is still very effective.

Tamper: ours has a nice handle and good heft.

Tamping mat: we have a very small counter for our setup, so this one works really well. It props up the portafilter while you fill it, gives you a solid surface for tapping to settle the grounds as well as for tamping.

Bottomless portafilter: a bottomless portafilter is useful for learning better espresso technique, but can make a ridiculous mess if your grounds aren’t perfectly distributed or tamped. I got one and used it consistently for a while, but now use the stainless portafilter all the time. I keep my backflushing basket in my bottomless portafilter so that it is easy to do my routine cleaning and backflushing of the espresso machine. The bottomless has a lower profile than ones with spouts and fits neatly in the utensils drawer below the espresso machine.

Steaming pitcher: we have a medium sized steaming pitcher. It works well for us since we don’t have much counter space and because we are usually only making coffee for one or two people.

Dishrags: I keep a stack of dishrags handy for wiping down the steam wand.

Cafelat knockbox: this one is easy to clean, sturdy and doesn’t slide around. It’s also easy to empty.

—Home—

Bodum French press: we drink cappuccinos during the week, but on the weekend, we use a French press for coffee at home. It’s reliable, low cost, and makes really good coffee.

Glass stirring rod: rather than use a metal spoon which might scratch the glass of the French press, or a wooden spoon, which can be unpleasant to clean, we use a glass stirrer. We have some candy striped ones from the post-holiday sale section of Williams-Sonoma, and we have some intended for chemistry lab use that aren’t as decorative but are just as useful. In addition to an initial stir, it’s helpful to fluidize the grounds before you press the coffee.

Capresso grinder: French press coffee isn’t as demanding on the grinder as espresso is. The Capresso is a much lower cost (and lighter weight) burr grinder, and it works fine for this job. Coffee grounds sometimes get caught behind the drawer, which gradually works its way out from the vibration of the grinder. So long as you clean it out regularly, it doesn’t cause a problem.

Electric kettle: you can get very fancy ones with different heat settings for that precise just below boiling temperature that is perfect for French press. Or you can get a simple one like ours.

—Travel—

Aeropress: we don’t often travel where there isn’t coffee, but for things like camping, we still need coffee. The aeropress can be tedious for making more than one cup, but the cleanup is easy, and other than a way to heat water, you don’t need anything else. If we know we’ll have electricity, we’ll bring along our electric kettle.

Plastic bags: A zipper bag is convenient for storing the filter rounds so they don’t get wet. I also bring along an extra zipper bag for ejecting the Aeropress puck into after brewing, especially if we’re camping and there aren’t nearby trash facilities.

Vacuum sealer: I pre-grind, measure and vacuum seal our coffee grounds when we travel. This keeps the grounds fresh, tidy, and compact for packing, as well as convenient for brewing.

Travel mugs: We have some Aladdin brand stainless steel vacuum insulated mugs that we’ve had for approximately forever. The plastic lid screws into the metal mug firmly and prevents spills. They keep warm for a very long time. They have a wide enough top to hold the Aeropress. They are also narrow enough to fit into almost any cup holder, including the ones in our Prius that are inline rather than side by side. A bonus is that one has a pattern of raised bumps and the other has gently recessed striped swirl pattern so even if you are driving and don’t want to look down, you can tell that you’re picking up the correct mug.

Featured artist: Sam Norton

There is a lively community of plotter enthusiasts in the drawingbots discord channel. One of those is Sam Norton, who goes by hurtle there.

Sam has been using the AxiDraw to paint with acrylics using WaterColorBot software.

a useful, but fairly unsuccessful little sunday morning plot to see how much detail would come across on a small picture.

tried again but a bit bigger, and possibly chose a better range of paint colours.

The discord has channels for works in progress, process discussions, as well as a gallery. This encourages the community to share works at various stages as well as early drafts or versions. These two paintings of the same subject have different palettes and sizes and give insight into the process.

Sam’s website features many of his hand paintings, and it is fascinating to see that he has taken some of the same subject matter and revisited it with the AxiDraw.

He has taken the same set of glasses and experimented both with paints and dipped india ink.

It’s fun to see how the same subject looks, not just with hand painted vs. AxiDraw, but also with different media. The ink behaves differently and the dipping process is so much fun to watch.

This chair is another example. The scale of these is quite different as well. The original is about 70 x 80 cm and the AxiDraw version is 25 x 35 cm. I enjoy the contrast in texture, precision and technique.

I will look forward to seeing more of Sam’s work, as the textures are fascinating, and the process of converting photographs to vector art is complicated by the added dimension of the paint palette. I’ll leave you with this closeup of the piece from the top of this article, which was taken by our previously featured artist, Bleeptrack, who received the piece through the drawingbots plotswap.

Thank you to Sam for generously sharing your photos and video clips!

Coffee Roasting for Fun

When we first started roasting coffee, we used the air popcorn popper method. We learned about it from Sweet Maria’s, which in addition to selling green coffee beans, has a wealth of resources for home coffee roasters. We gradually refined our method, even making a DIY coffee bean cooler. We also tried out a lot of different types of beans, buying samplers from Sweet Maria’s and making notes on which flavor profiles we enjoyed. Eventually we outgrew the batch size limitations of the popper method and we purchased what is the gold standard of home coffee roasting: a Behmor 1600.

The Behmor can roast up to a pound of coffee at a time, and does so reliably without fuss. Newer models are programmable, but this one has a few preset roasting profiles. I use the default one pound setting and normally roast about 0.9 pounds of coffee at a time. The canister I use for coffee weighs about 0.2 pounds, so when I put it on the scale (it’s handy having a shipping scale nearby) I aim for 1.1 pounds. This smaller quantity roasts a little faster than a full pound would, and I have a wider time window to stop the roast when it gets to the stage I like.

The green coffee beans (which smell grassy, a bit like fresh hay) go in the roasting cage which gets put into the motor socket so that it can be rotated to toss the beans around for even roasting. After putting in the chaff catching tray, I start the roasting process.

The chaff is the papery membrane around the bean that comes off during the roasting process. Roasting creates quite a bit of smoke, and even though the Behmor has a smoke-suppression afterburner to reduce the amount of smoke, I prefer to roast outside.

Roasting takes about 20 minutes and the cooling cycle takes another 12 minutes. Because this is basically a toaster oven and fire hazard, it should be monitored during the roast. I take advantage of this half an hour in the sun to call my dad or catch up with friends. It’s an enforced break in my usual routine when I get to listen to the local birds and enjoy the changes in the sky through the seasons. When the roaster is done, I pull out the chaff tray and it’s quite a mess.

Most of the chaff is collected in the tray, but there’s some still mixed in with the beans, and it gets pretty much everywhere when you bring the roasting cage out. This is another good reason to roast outside. The chaff will just blow away in the breeze and joins the leaf litter below the shrubs that line our little parking lot.

I shake the roasting cage repeatedly until the amount of chaff dwindles, and then I can put the roasted beans into the canister for storage until I need need them.

There’s still chaff in the roaster in spite of the chaff catching tray. I blow it out of the roaster and sweep it out with a small clean basting brush.

Once the roaster is cleared of chaff I put it away for the next time.

The coffee loses a lot of its moisture during the roasting process, and reduces in weight by about 10% or so. It also increases in volume.

We have two to three people drinking coffee and use about two to three pounds of coffee a week. The flavor of roasted coffee starts to deteriorate about six or seven days after roasting. Since I’m roasting as needed two to three times a week, it never gets past about four days old.

As our coffee bean usage increased, we started buying our coffee 20 pounds at a time, but eventually realized that even that was seeming to be a little frequent. We had settled on the flavor profiles we enjoyed most, so we started purchasing 50 pound bags from Sweet Maria’s wholesale site, the Coffee Shrub. Green coffee has a long shelf life when stored well, so this means we don’t have to think about it very often. When you buy for several months at a time, you need to be confident that you will be happy with it. When we first got started, we didn’t know what we liked well enough to commit to purchasing at that scale, but we’re pretty set in our ways now.

Occasionally someone will really enjoy a cup of coffee I make for them and will say that I should start a coffee shop. It’s a well-intended sentiment, and I take it as a compliment. However, starting a coffee roasting business or coffee shop would take away many of the things that I love about coffee roasting. I only roast the kind of beans that we like, and I only roast as much as we need. And I get to use roasting as an excuse to take a break from my other responsibilities and enjoy being outside in our beautiful weather here.

I still enjoy trying other coffees. I love going to my favorite coffee shops and having someone else make me coffee. I love trying new coffee shops. And I get a lot of satisfaction from the coffee that I roast, grind, and brew myself.

If you’re interested in home roasting, I highly recommend Sweet Maria’s resources. In addition to working with farmers around the world to source beans equitably, they share their deep knowledge freely. They have articles, tutorials, and videos. They hold workshops at their warehouse in Oakland, and will be presenting at Maker Faire as they often have in the past.

AxiDraw in the Classroom

One of the places we love to see the AxiDraw is in educational settings. It can be used as an introductory tool for digital fabrication, it can be used for learning to code, and it can be used for exploring design or mathematics.

Saskia Freeke posted a beautiful series of 3D cube plots as well as link to her published processing sketches. She’ll be teaching with the School of Machines, Making and Make-Believe in Berlin this summer.

Julien Gachadoat also posted about using Processing. Shown above are
“Prints made by design students (L2) at Université Bordeaux Montaigne for the last course of the year on generative systems.”

Kris Swanson posted about using a Tinkercad to Inkscape workflow for AxiDraw for student projects.

Andrew Carle posted yet another workflow, using Beetle Blocks to AxiDraw. The plots above were made by his g10 math students.

If you’re using AxiDraw in the classroom or know of other resources for educators using AxiDraw, please post in the comments or send us a note! We’d love to hear how you’re using it and what tools you use.

Bike bells with AxiDraw

Alexandre wrote in to share how Guna is using the AxiDraw for making their collection of vibrantly decorated bicycle bells.

The top part of the bells is screwed on a purposely made acrylic fixture. I have some risers so that the AxiDraw sits just above the bells. They are painted with Posca pens and then receive two coats of clear varnish.

We love to see how AxiDraw gets used, especially when we get to see the fixtures people make for drawing on unusually shaped objects.

Thank you to Alexandre for sharing these process pictures with us! Their beautiful bells are available through Etsy as well as in select bike stores in Portugal.

Number Systems Plotter Art

Arjan van der Meij recently got an AxiDraw and has been exploring binary and ternary numbers as a plotting subject. It has been fascinating to watch his iterations on twitter and instagram. One of his earliest posts represented eight bit binary numbers as rotated squares.

He started a plot of twelve bit binary circles, but didn’t complete it due to lack of clarity. It is not too often that you get to see this type of artistic decision making in progress– many artists only post the “keepers.”

Speaking of keepers, this one involving six bit binary crossed lines was liked well enough to be replotted on notebook cover. In a further exploration of this style, he also made a 1024 grid of ten bit binary crossed lines.

This post of eight bit binary triangles explored order as well as form with a sequenced as well as a shuffled version. Nested binary shapes, like these triangles and six bit binary hexagons seem to have provoked a jump to a slightly different plotter format: laser cutter.

Some of the forms tried in wood were binary squares, eight bit binary triangles, and the seven bit binary hexagons shown above.

The jump to wood gives rise to a form that seems a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, especially when you see the individual pieces before they’ve been arranged for display.

He explores rounded shapes his series of binary flowers, including six bit binary flowers, ten bit binary flowers, and eight bit binary flowers made of ellipses.

Moving beyond binary, ternary digits have three possible values. I found the nested ternary rectangles/squares and ternary elipses (above) to be straightforward to decipher. Another method explored includes line segments, either straight or with indents or protrusions to express the values as in these ternary squares, ternary hexagon/star/circle, and ternary triangles. Other shapes are harder to describe, like folded ternary hexagons, or ternary squares with their segments folded inwards or outwards in triangles.

It is fun to compare how different number systems can be visualized using similar structures. The eight bit binary “stick figures” are not dissimilar from these six trit ternary arcs on a sticks: bits are displayed on both halves of the figure, whereas the trits are shown inline. Similarly, this set of ternary flowers bring to mind some of the the binary flowers mentioned before but have a different character for carrying more information.

One interesting diversion from the geometric forms he pursued was the text of binary numbers plotted in sequence, creating geometric patterns in the repetition of the letters. He has continued exploring various ways of visualizing and arranging numeric representations, and I’ll look forward to his continued works. If you’ve enjoyed these tastes of what he’s doing, he also posts timelapses and short videos of the process, and is making his plots available for sale on his website.


If you liked this post and have other plotter artists you’d like us to feature, please comment below or drop us a line!

Names Dress

The Names Dress is a compostable 3D printed conceptual art piece celebrating women in STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) by Sylvia Heisel. It will be on display at Museo Salvatore Ferragamo’s Sustainable Thinking exhibition in Florence, Italy through March 8, 2020.

While there are increasing numbers of women embarking on careers in STEAM (including inventors, mathematicians, scientists, artists using technology and others), the achievements of women in these fields are not always widely known or celebrated. The Names Dress is a tribute to women, known and unknown, historic and contemporary, in these interconnected and evolving fields. The Dress is also an exploration of the use of sustainable materials and techniques in creating innovative textiles and garments.

The Names Dress website includes a list of the women named, along with biographic information and links to their work. As a starting place for learning about women in STEAM, it is a thought-provoking resource. I’m honored to have my name included on the dress.