Polargraph Stockholm

Patrick Wagner designed, organised and ran a workshop at the Royal Institute of Art Stockholm, using Polargraph machines to create beautiful marks on flat surfaces. Two brand new PolargraphSD v3.0 machines joined their lineup, and it was co-hosted by Christian Bazant-Hegemark.

You’ll know Chris from the Polargraph forum and also from his documentary series On Doubt. Patrick is a printmaker and has ran workshops with the Polargraph at the Royal Institute of Art Stockholm a couple of times already, but this was the most focussed so far. They are both creative visual artists in their own right.

Explaining the magic

This was a session for an international crowd of people who are practicing artists or also educators in the fine art field, to learn about what a drawing machine could bring to their process, and they had a great time making some wonderful marks. I was so pleased and excited to see the pictures coming out of that week long session, and glad to see that two fresh PolargraphSD v3.0s worked great, alongside a cast of existing machines. Seeing what happens when the tool is recognised for what it is, and put into the hands of people who value the act and the process as well as the outcome is absolutely thrilling!

Drawing with bleach onto fabric

Discussing the workshop with Chris and Patrick was also seriously enlightening, it collapsed a lot of waves and really clarifies my thinking. When I don’t talk to people much, my mind runs away into little cul-de-sacs where I’m making decisions without much information. I used to be the customer myself, after all, I built the machine for myself to do my own work as part of my own process. Now however, I don’t use the machine much for creative work, and so I’m easily disconnected from “the user”. Workshops like this, along with the advocacy from experts like Patrick and Chris are so useful. I had ideas for a bunch of features that I’m not going to take further, and learned ideas for a bunch I will. Unglamorous stuff like “longer power cables” or “a pause button that works”.

One of the things that often introduces a tension into my thought is imagining that buyers just want a plotter, or just want something quick, or just want something easy to understand. It’s easy to get into that thought pattern, but it does you all a disservice, and it runs quite counter to the ethos of the Polargraph. It’s a luxury to have an principled stance in commerce, but I think that’s really one of the things that makes Polargraph different to other kits. I’m simply not that interested in Polargraph being a general-purpose, high volume, fast and perfect machine that does repeatable, sharp, registered editions. It’s never going to be that. It is simply the wrong process if that’s your goal.

The lines in between are the interesting bit

While this sounds like making excuses for sloppy engineering, it isn’t. Entirely. The truth is that the quintessential Polargraph artwork is full of characteristic squiggles, blobs and patterns. It doesn’t need to be brilliantly engineered. Like Chris wonderfully summarised:

“… these artists are OK with a process taking time, with fine-tuning sometimes going wrong, with stuff not working right away. While it can be frustrating as well, artists also often benefit from such mistakes (a pen drying up during an overnight print; a badly-positioned gondola resulting in the drawing not being perfect on the paper, etc).
So I think that while every artist would always say “make the tool perfect!”, this isn’t actually what would benefit them.”

Getting news of this workshop was such a terrific validation and a glorious piece of news that really helped my bring my full enthusiasm to the launch of the new PolargraphSD v3, which I’m finally getting some reliable stock on (see here for that: https://polargraph.bigcartel.com/product/polargraphsd-v3-0-full-assembled-kit).

Patrick Wagner is blackheartpress on most social media sites:

Christian Bazant-Hegemark just has his own name across the internet:

Chris also creates the On Doubt series of interviews and vlogs, which I love, they look at the process and background for a load of really interesting and exciting creative people:

Thank you very much to Patrick and Chris for running such a good event, and thank you extra very much for the folks who attended and helped inspire me to keep building the Polargraph.

3 thoughts on “Polargraph Stockholm

  1. A lot of impressive and inspiring creativity on display there.
    Great to see

    In addition to stuff like “longer power cables” and “a pause button that works” – are there any other takeaways about the kit/software?

    And are there any learnings about the creative process they’d be willing to share?

    • Quality-of-life issues around running big plots; more feedback while loading files into the controller; run the queue optimiser from the controller; able to change size of machine from the touchUI.

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