Design Preview: Mechanical Drawing Machine


I want to build a mechanical drawing machine that produces spirograph style images. My inspiration comes from various artists doing this, but in particular James Gandy:

Mr. Gandy produces beautiful artwork with his drawing machines. His primary machine has a clean looking, industrial aesthetic using intricate machinery.

I think there’s something nice about being able to produce artwork that people can hang on their walls, but I also like the idea of producing impermanent art with these sorts of mechanisms as well. Originally I was drawn to a machine that produces permanent results with an industrial or steam punk aesthetic, and I’ve started to model and specify such a machine. The most complicated element of this for me is figuring out how to electrify the base of the machine, and the least expensive option  I’ve found is this positioner on amazon.

I’ve started a preliminary CAD layout using COTS components available from mcmaster, encorporating HVAC belt drives to rotate two arm platforms similar to Mr. Gandy’s machine. However, the cost of all of this machining, despite having sources a handful of components from recycling at a local lab is looking to be very high.

There are a variety of aesthetics I can apply to this design, something like a Jetsons building design could be interesting

Or, as mentioned, an industrial or steam punk aesthetic could work well.

More recently, I’ve been drawn to more of a Zen aesthetic, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Japan, and have always thought that Zen gardens are really beautiful. I’ve also thought “buddah boards” where you write with water, are really cool and have an interesting zen aspect to them as the water evaporates.

Another option for a transient art product would be doing something with sand, Ie have some sort of pendulum that pours sand or paint out over time to create these shapes. So, either sand or a fluid.

I think for simplicity’s sake, I will take the zen approach as I’m currently tight on funds and cannot afford to go much further than the original ~$150 that was mentioned for this project. This means I can avoid a complicated rotary mechanism that will be hundreds of dollars.


I think I will first pursue sourcing the buddah board and some sort of syringe that I can try to get the flow rate correct, and then I’ll move on to modelling the pendulum mechanism, and likely fabricate this out of either bamboo, or black anodized aluminum.


Please note:

  • I’m still trying to get my video link from my group!
  • This post is still being worked on! I need to further detail my fabrication process after having my review with my team!
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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Michael Dailey
    April 9, 2023 11:39 pm

    I think this idea is very ambitious but certainly doable. I would be interested to see how bamboo plays into the design. It sounds like you know what you’re doing so good luck, I can’t wait to see it.

  • Really cool idea. Do you think you would pursue the original design on your own time or outside of class?

  • Aidan Shelburne
    April 9, 2023 11:27 am

    It does seem like the fabrication of all the components for this could be pretty intensive. Love the idea though, can’t wait to see it come to fruition.


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