Physical Expressions

Physical Expressions Overview

Often our first impressions of something digital or interactive is a screen-based outcome. This two-week project aims to encourage thinking beyond the screen and what can be communicated in physical, tangible outputs. This will involve exploring the possibilities of kinetic outputs such as motors, spacial outputs such as large scale lighting and the digital control of analog devices. 

Consider how you can succinctly express numerical changes, interaction and responses via physical means. We’ll discuss methods of mapping, conversing and articulation through physical forms alongside considering modes of presentation that open a dialogue within our work to discuss our critical ideas. 

What your physical expression is be driven by is entirely up to you. The brief is open to inputs being numerical, random, time, data, audio or visual narratives. Think about how both the input and output relates to each other expressing the meaning behind the work in tandem.


This project explores what can be expressed via physical forms and as such you are required to create a piece of work that utilises an expressive, physical output. Part of your submission includes documentation of this piece in video form. Consider using the documentation to tell the story of the piece rather than only documenting its technical process.


Workshop notes and tips for Arduino and motors:

Steps to take before starting:Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 11.22.17.pngScreen Shot 2019-11-05 at 11.23.18.png

ON and OFF output example Arduino code:

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 11.34.07

Mapping varied speeds:

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 11.53.38

How to use Servo and the sweep example for the spinning motor.


My idea is based around a question; ‘Can robots paint’. Painting is known to be a human talent that expresses emotion through colours and shapes. So for a robot to paint they would be required to feel right? Not necessarily. Art is subjective therefore people have their own reactions and interpratations of art meaning if it moves someones even just one person it should be considered art, according to me. Therefore, I aim to create a ‘robot’ that created a painting. I hope to experiment with different tools and colours throughout this project. I am also considering what kind of data would be driving the movement and right now I think it would be interesting to keep the values ‘random’ driven by the computer so that it is literally the robot’s output.


For this project I have many inspirations ranging from artists to popular internet trends.

The sand example shown below portrays how physics can create mesmerising patterns simply using sand, a plastic bottle and a diagonal push. This made me consider having a motor hang upside down and distributing paint to the surface below.

Jackson Pollock is another inspiration as his famous style of drip abstract paintings is what I would hope for as an outcome for this project. His technique involved dipping large brushes into buckets of paint and dripping them down onto a large canvas. For my robot dripping a brush in and out of a bucket is impossible as I am using a servo motor to spin and distribute the paint but I do enjoy these paintings and it is giving me an idea of overlaying the paint and maybe having the robot paint over the same paper a few times.

Screen Shot 2019-11-08 at 13.19.53.png

I was also informed about spin art which is a toy that allowed for a canvas to rotate while someone dripped paint onto it from above creating swirls and interesting drips. I found this youtube video on how to build one of  your own from a shoebox which made me consider rotating the canvas instead of the having the paint spin and splash from the top.

This next example was one of my first inspirations for this project and it is a painting trend called “Acrylic Pour”. I enjoyed how this could provide a contrast to motors being something loud and destructive like in blenders and washing machines, if a motor created a mesmerising pouring of paint like these hypnotising videos it could add a whole new dimension of relaxation and calmness to motors.

Another inspiration was Patrick Tresset’s portrait drawing robots. This work consisted of a robot ‘hand’ holding a pencil and using a camera drawing the person sat across the robot. I really enjoyed this work as seeing Patrick Tresset’s presentation in real life I remember it being the first time I questioned if ‘art’ created by a robot is really art. I still couldn’t really answer that question with assertiveness, which is why I am excited to start my own work to explore this idea further. I also enjoy that Tresset’s project involves real life data and requires the robot to visualise and input of a human face. This might be something I wish to explore further down the line and incorporate something the robot can maybe learn from or visualise.

During this project and my research to see if anyone has created something like what I am trying to achieve, I found out about Joanne Hastie who had created a painting robot. I really enjoy the aesthetic of the work produced by her robot and I believe this is a very interesting and fascinating piece. Joanne Hastie is still developing her project and I will be sure to follow her along this journey, she also posts helpful videos about coding and programming robots.


I am considering using a model I made in First Year Design Domain for this project. This is a smaller version of my exhibition jelly box I created by myself in the workshop, I needed help with the bigger box because I wasn’t allowed to use some of the machinery which is why I created this cube from scraps to make sure I could follow the process step by step by myself. Since then I haven’t found a use for it but I think it’ll be perfect for this project. I like that the material is clear as the painting process of the ‘robot’ will be visible, as well as the enclosed space being a good ‘shield’ for the paint splatter limiting the spread of the paint. I also like the size of it as I am very keen on creating mini paintings, I feel like this is unusual and since I have worked on a larger scale in the past I would love to try something new and work on a smaller scale. At the beginning of this project I was worried I would be expected to create a cover to hide all the wires and equipment but then I realised that my concept will only be clear to the viewer if I make the machinery visible, after all it’s meant to be a miniature robot. And from a personal perspective I enjoy that my final piece will have visible machinery as this project isn’t something I’ve ever done before and I myself find it fascinating to find out how things work, therefore I believe it will be much more effective to show the viewer the whole circuit in clear perspex instead of hiding the process away.


Prototyping with wire. I think this is how I’ll secure the motor and hang small containers from it by string.


Design Ideas exploration and diagrams in sketchbook portraying initial approach to the build of the robot.

Workshop 03

Two motor control code by mouse:


Friday night I set up my first experiment with a small plastic cup attached to the servo motor with wire. Right now there are many issues like the motor being extremely small but I have ordered a slightly bigger one, therefore these tests are just to determine which technique of painting is my desired effect. I am also using very cheap watercolours for these tests which I will probably be swapping out for acrylics later on.

This first experiment consisted of the paint splattering from the top of the small cup once the motor starts rotating.

Dried test paintings from above example:


For my second experiment I attached wool soaked in paint to the motor. I first tried to make a hole at the bottom of the cup to put the wool through but this failed as the cup shattered on the bottom and leaked a lot of the paint.

Balloon trial, I originally wanted there to be a pin or needle located inside of the cube and once the motor started rotating it would put a small hole in the ballon that would then leak. This turned to be quite difficult as the pin wasn’t secured well enough so I finally pierced the ballon myself and this still didn’t work as the hole was to small to leak the paint. In the end I held the ballon up and cut a small hole with scissors and once I turned on the motor I let the ballon go at the same time and the balloon slowly distributed the paint while the motor turned and spread it across the paper.

Balloon trial outcome


Grove – Servo

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Week 2

I was wondering what would determine which colours the robot would paint or draw in and I decided to re-visit mobile sensors a project from earlier this year. I changed the code in my magic 8 ball application to select random colours when the phone is shaken. In the end this idea wasn’t used for my current final but it may be something I come back to in the future when I have built an attachment to the robot that allows me to swap pens easily.

Since I wanted to start experimenting with different tools like paint brushes and pens I needed to create a new structure to sport this. I made this first prototype out of cardboard after testing measurements with a paper cutout.

I changed the final structure a little to provide more support, its almost like the robot has its own working space and is boxed in. I made the structure out of 4mm MDF in the wood workshop.

I then had to test the robot and adjust the pen attachment to the right height. Below are some tests and different loops portraying how the robot draws so far.

I then carried out measured experiments with the different code variations written below each drawing. Depending on the delay and the angle of rotation the drawings changed a lot visually, the robot would also make different sound patterns with each different loop.



Final annotated code:

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 22.37.32.png

Documentation video:



Final Evaluation

Overall, I am happy with the outcome of this project. I really enjoyed learning about motors and the possibilities they provide for physical outputs. I am happy I managed to create a resolved outcome within such a small time scale. I also enjoyed the silent crit at the start of the presentations as it allowed me to hear what other people thought of my work and how they interpreted it. I really pushed myself in this project to research,create and improve on each mistake. I believe this is a project I could take into 4th and develop further. Right now the main focus would be to create a device which holds any type of tool and is adjustable. This would allow for the robot to work with different mediums like paint, pencil and maybe even oil pastel to create even more interesting and varied outputs.


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