While a graduate student, I often wanted to turn my digital creations into something analog. A course on digital fabrication gave a broad overview of the options available (CNC, laser cutting, and 3D printing, to name a few!) but it wasn't until I bought an Axidraw pen plotter a few years after graduating that I found a fascinating creative outlet.
A pen plotter is a great tool for turning generative designs into print artwork because the pen plotter is able to smoothly and beautifully "draw" highly precise mathematical designs, while the choice of inks, pens and paper allows for endless interpretations. You can also pen plot using a CNC or 3D printer!
One of my favorite "printing" methods is CMYK where the overlap of cyan, magenta and yellow ink results in all the colors of the rainbow!
By the way, if you are new to pen plotting and need a pen plotter, you can take 10% off an AxiDraw pen plotter and accessories with discount code DIRTALLEY10 when you buy directly from Evil Mad Scientist, the makers of the AxiDraw!
From Pen Plotting to Riso
Unfortunately, it can take many hours of pen plotting to draw a design, so I recently decided to have riso prints of my generative artwork made. A riso machine is a "copy" machine that works a little differently. The machine creates a stencil of the design (much like how screen printing works), to "print" the design.
A variety of beautiful, plant based inks are available and where the inks overlap creates additional colors, much like the CMYK process. Artists can play with the overlap of inks and the opacity of the design for varying effects!
However, riso machines are not highly precise because they are copy machines! Some machines can print two colors at once. By changing the speed the paper is fed, one can line up a design very closely (although nowhere near as precise as a pen plotter!) on these machines.
When printing artwork with 3+ more colors, the printed design will need to be fed back into the machine, creating a higher likelihood the final artwork will not be properly aligned. This lends a handmade quality to the final prints, as each one will vary in how much ink is laid down and the placement of the design graphics.
In June, I will be adding three different riso prints to my shop! My Diamond Star design printed using fluorescent pink, yellow and aqua riso inks.
Also, my wind-waves-cloud design available in 2 colorways - pink, and sky blue.
There is lovely paper texture and varying ink density in the wind-waves-clouds prints that I especially love, and the fluorescent pink ink will glow under UV light! You can join my riso print waitlist for first dibs on these prints (all limited editions!)
Given the challenges of trying to have a precise design printed with riso machines, I ended up going to the studio of a local artist to oversee the printing of my wind-waves-clouds design and to further my understanding of the print process. Thanks Chute Studio and Amy Burek in Berkeley for printing these beautiful prints for me!
Dirt Alley Design was founded just off a dirt alley in San Francisco in December of 2016 by artist Michelle Chandra. Inspired by the beauty of street grids, Michelle invented maze maps in which she transforms street grids into mazes. In 2019, she began a new project - generative prints created with code and drawn with a pen plotter. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @dirtalleydesign where she posts new designs daily