Jeff Leonard
June 2016

Thoughts on Machine Aided Painting / Building a Visual Synthesizer

The motivation to build my machines was the need to expand my tool base and the kind of marks I could make to add to what I could make by hand. The formal elements of painting are used to build any kind of painting. Growing the toolbox gives more options in the kind of works that can be created. The computer, being the most powerful tool man has ever created, gives the artist an ability to make things that could never be made without it.

I've been painting in an abstract mode for about 25 years, using the tools available to a painter and some homemade tools. The idea to use computation and algorithms with physical tools started to form after I made a track system to drop resin in a grid pattern with a PVC pipe with small holes drilled in a line that I poured resin then capped it and pressurized it. I manually pulled it along a track system and got some results that I liked. I used another track system with a carriage that held a pin stripping paint tool that I manually moved across the panel making lines. I knew I needed to add computational controls because of the unlimited possibilities. After a little research I found the Arduino platform. Now I am growing my toolbox of physical tools and learning other programing tools.

I started with this about two and a half years ago and I’ve been happy with a lot of the results along the way, but really in the last few months I feel like I am using the machine in real time controlling it to make paintings just like I would be using a tool by hand. The same thought process with another tool. I use a lot of random. Spills drips and accidents all play into making work. I don't know what a piece will look like before its finished so it is a journey of exploration to find the end, and finding the end is that thing in art that's hard to put your finger on.

I am using my machines in realtime to paint as opposed to using it as a printout system for work that has been created in the computer. It is like a visual synthesizer where I have some programmed elements built in to control routines that I work and overlap just as I would with traditional painting tools.

I like the idea of using all kinds of input to control the machine. A goal I have with my machine is to control with thoughts or meditations, brainwaves. As a biofeedback machine to watch your controlling through what the machine is painting. It could be used as a tool to let many people be able to paint that might never be able to. I think using the painting machine for art therapy has a lot to offer, as I said as a biofeedback type of device but with the big advantage over most systems of having a pleasant physical output that can be calming to try to control. All art making is a therapy. It organizes thoughts through the physical world (images for painters). The struggles to express yourself as a human will always be there but adding new ways and tools can help a lot of people by giving new forms of expression.

Jeff Leonard
September 2015

My paintings are an exploration of the natural world, A place to search and discover new ways of seeing the world. In nature and in abstract painting there are elements that have rules as to how the elements fit together. Finding the rules and playing with them or trying to bend or break them is where the work starts. The elements of my paintings come from working with the materials to find out how it best creates space, forms, lines and color along with weight, gravity, movement and time.

I am working with a two-part resin combined with pigments. It is a pouring, spreading and self-leveling process. I have been drawn to this material because of the way it spreads and makes shapes and spaces, the depth and brilliance of color that can be attained and the speed that is sets. Time is an important part of the process because the material has a set time that it remains liquid. It will react to manipulations in various ways depending on what stage of setting it's in. I use many techniques and a variety of tools and processes to manipulate the resin as it sets. The speed that it sets pushes the creative process. It stills the mind so another deeper level can guide the piece.

I work the entire painting at the same time. In the painting as in nature everything is in constant movement; nothing is still and making a painting on one level seams to still it for a short time, the discovery moment. But, it also is moving, and that is what pushes the art on. It is the record of the path traveled. In abstraction all the elements are initially free from associations and as a work progresses combinations of elements will pull the piece in many directions but it finds a natural balance between its many states of non-representation. In this current body of work I am building on past works with an emphasis on the shape. Shapes can create space or they can be the central focus. Some works are using a clear two level background foreground setup to emphasize the character of the individual shape element.

Painting to me is like any kind of inventing, and just like other fields, to create something new is the ultimate goal. It is absorbing the history and growing or contributing to it. There is the combination of personal growth and the collective growth that moves the field along.