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Sketch Intricate Designs with A Hand-Cranked Drawing Machine

Joe Freedman combines art and geometry in his multi-gear drawing machines.
March 20, 2016, 7:05pm
Image courtesy of Joe Freedman

Almost all of us played with some kind of rinky-dink Spirograph toy at one point in our childhoods. The concept was simple—you stuck your pencil into one of the holes in a gear-shaped disc and dragged the disc around the perimeter of the toy’s circular frame—but the math was not. The shapes we generated were roulettes, or the curves "traced by a fixed point on a closed convex curve as that curve rolls without slipping along a second curve.” Portland-based toymaker and designer Joe Freedman takes the concept of these sketching toys to an entirely new level with his Cycloid and PrimoGraf drawing machines.


"The PrimoGraf was my first drawing machine,” Freedman tells The Creators Project. "It was based loosely on the work of Alfred Hoehn, a wonderful Swiss artist who builds huge linkage harmonographs. I wanted something smaller and easy for a person to enjoy on a desk.” Freedman’s drawing machines are made of wood and brass, and operated via a hand crank. Though the Cycloid and PrimoGraf are machines, the fact that they are operated by hand forges a connection between the drawings and their creator. Earlier work building Mutoscopes convinced Freedman that "hand cranking was key to the user feeling connected to the magic of the toy.”

"One of our users tried to speed things up by installing a motor,” he writes. "He found that he was less connected to the pattern when the motor produced the drawing. When you crank it by hand you can stop to inspect the pattern and then continue."

Freedman is currently sold out of his elegant machines, but you can get your fix online. Jim Bumgardner created a digital version of the Cycloid drawing machine that anyone can play with. "I sent off my laser cutting files and he created an amazing digital version of the Cycloid. Its been great to compare the two experiences,” says Freedman. You can take your time with it, and watch the drawings slowly emerge almost as if you were pumping the real Cycloid’s crank, but for the impatient there’s also a fast-forward button that creates a stunningly complex pattern in just a few seconds.

And if you’ve just got to get your hands on the real thing, you don’t have long to wait. "I've just started making a new batch of four Cycloids but I hope to move on to the DuoGraph—[an] updated PrimoGraf—soon,” Freedman says.

To find more of Joe Freedman's work, click here.


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