The realm of printmaking has been revolutionized by the advent of creative technologies. As part of the Drawing from Machines symposium, we embarked on a captivating journey into the world of printmaking by hosting a hands-on workshop at the renowned Print Room in Arts University Bournemouth. The workshop highlighted the immense potential of the terraPen plotter, a innovative device that seamlessly merges traditional craftsmanship with digital innovation
Scribing plates using the plotter
Immersed in a studio with four terraPen A2 pen plotters, participants had the opportunity to engage with these remarkable machines under the expert guidance of the terraPen team. Leading the day's proceedings was the talented Preeti Sood, who introduced us to the intriguing dry-point approach of Intaglio printmaking. Our objective for the day was twofold: to produce plates using this unique method and to gather valuable feedback from users about their experience, all while exploring the limitless possibilities of this hybrid approach to printing—where ideas evolve from concept to code to tangible art.
Flexibility in file formats
Each terraPen machine was equipped with a solenoid tool head featuring a small pen holder. Within the holder resided a ground and sharpened metal punch, its fine point responsible for etching exquisite marks onto aluminum plates. Through numerous tests conducted before the workshop, we confirmed the suitability of this method, as it consistently delivered outstanding prints. Over the course of the day, we delved into the process of idea generation, file preparation, and familiarized ourselves with the intricacies of the machine setup, enabling us to complete several plots and prints.
Participants brought an array of artwork from various sources—ranging from illustrator files and JPGs to generated scripts as vectors. The gcode was generated using Lightburn, our preferred path generator. The entire workflow, from conceptualization to execution, unfolded seamlessly throughout the day, thanks to the simplicity of the terraPen’s approach. Once the gcode was generated, it was a matter of uploading the files wirelessly to terraPen's onboard SD card, aligning the zero point with the mounted aluminum plate, and pressing the start button.
A performative process
The spectacle of the terraPen plotter in action left us mesmerized. With each stroke, intricate and meticulous marks were etched across the aluminum surface, gradually giving birth to novel, and defining artworks. The resulting collection of reflective scratches draws out the discussion of digital craftsmanship, around tools and processes undertaken, and if the tool or artist drives the creation of the print. The tonality and depth achieved in these prints owed their magic to the density and proximity of the lines. As we observed the outcome, we were captivated by the warmth and character that characterizes each print, highlighting the uniqueness of the intaglio and dry-point techniques.
A hybrid space of digital & craft
The plotting process typically took around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the complexity of the artwork. Once completed, we proceeded to the inking stage at the benches, swiftly followed by the pressing of the plates. The skilled print room technicians worked tirelessly, ensuring a smooth and efficient process without compromising the quality. Each plate was meticulously inked with black, meticulously wiped down using newsprint paper. The grain of the aluminum plates lent a distinctive grey tone to the resulting prints, adding a captivating background to the artwork.
The initial press yielded the strongest image, while subsequent prints resulted in what is known as the ghost print—a softer rendition with its own unique qualities. The performative nature of the terraPen opened doors for artistic interaction during the creative process. One striking example is Sam Winston's collaboration with the machine, where he mirrored and echoed its movements to create a companion artwork. Witnessing such interactions during the Drawing from Machine symposium left us inspired, as we realized that the terraPen provides a distinctive platform for artists to transcend the digital realm and breathe life into their creations on paper. The machine becomes a collaborator, facilitating a captivating dance between tool and medium.
New findings and understandings
Through open-minded collaborations and a transdisciplinary approach, we have ventured into uncharted territories, forging new tools and embracing innovative mark-making approaches in playful ways. By introducing these tools and workflows to established disciplines, artists and makers can push the boundaries of traditional processes, challenging assumptions and creating new artistic legacies while honoring the ones that came before.
The terraPen plotter has undoubtedly proven itself to be a groundbreaking force in the world of printmaking. Its integration of technology and craftsmanship has opened doors to endless possibilities, inviting artists to reimagine the creative process and explore the untapped depths of their artistic visions. As we continue on this path of discovery, we look forward to witnessing the emergence of new techniques, collaborations, and artistic expressions that redefine the future of printmaking.