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Sketches to conceptualize and organize

You can evolve your ideas and design in successive drawings and visualizations, which will save you important time and materials in the end. At first, though, do not worry about refining your drawings and just let your imagination and hand wander. The conceptualization stage is not the stage to be self-critical--save this for later in the process. If you can use a 3D program to visualize your idea, you will already be far ahead in this process but 3D visualizations can also slow you down so it is best to rely on paper and pencil in the early stages.

When you have settled on an idea to pursue, then think of looking at your idea with a magnifier. Magnify each point of your project and make detailed drawings of how things are connected, powered, disconnected, what material they are made of, and the compatibility of each material in relation to the other. Work to smaller more detailed sketches until the design is complete. A design, however, is never complete until the project is complete, and even after this, you may need to consider that the work could be just a prototype of a later more refined work. I would recommend using Illustrator and Photoshop to work out details and keep a sketchbook of your ideas.

There is an important relationship between the drawings and the way the work evolves both conceptually and actually. During the process, you should begin to create drawings, which are more about the overall look, and other drawings for indications of electronic systems and how they are integrated. By doing these early plans you will be able to eliminate many possible formal, mechanical, and electronic paths that may not work.

Once you have finished your visualization stage, you should ask artistic friends what they think. Ask them if your concept works with the way the piece looks. Can you state your concept in one paragraph or less?

This is a sign that the work is consumable and will be easily understood. If you must go on and on about your work then perhaps the idea is not yet fully worked out, or perhaps it just takes a long description? Ask your peers to comment, but ultimately, you must trust the uniqueness of your artistic vision and be willing to take the psychic risk.

When someone asked Picasso how he made so much great work he said he made a lot and threw out the bad ones. As an artist/inventor, you must accept this as part of the process, and you should expect failed attempts before you will be completely satisfied. Still, asking trusted art inventor friends is an important source of critical feedback.

Expect that your invention artwork may not function the first time. Expect that your project will have to go through much testing and failure before it does what you expect. Edison invented the light bulb but not before creating 1000’s of light bulbs that did not function. Learn from your mistakes and evolve your idea and approaches.

The group Dead Chickens always does extensive drawings before committing their works to the material. They work with rubber muscles, which allow their works to move. Here the drawings are artworks themselves.


Drawings by Hannes Heiner

Drawings by Hannes Heiner


Dead Chickens Group. 2004. Lille France Julie Loi, Hannes Heiner, Bodo Albrand, Ole Rocholl (in the JM from his backside), Nils Peters. Photo by Henryk Weiffenbach.


I recommend making paper and cardboard mock-ups before committing metal and expensive materials to your design. It is easier to work stiff cardboard and test mechanical ideas and you can use them as templates to commit your design to more permanent materials.