Drawing with harmonic motion at Moore Library

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NEWFANE — When New Hampshire artist Don Fitzpatrick was setting up his harmonograph recently at Moore Library a person walked up to him and asked, "Where is the motor?"

Fitzpatrick replied, "There is no motor. The pendulum works with kinetic energy, friction and gravity to create the art." The person was amazed!

From now until May 30, the exhibit, "Pendulum Autographs - Drawing with Harmonic Motion" is on display at the Crowell Art Gallery of the Moore Free Library in Newfane. A harmonograph will be set up in the gallery throughout the month of May.

The drawings in the exhibit were produced using three different machines Fitzpatrick designed: a three pendulum rotary harmonograph, a two pendulum lateral harmonograph and an electro- mechanical drawing machine called a pintograph. Fitzpatrick explained that a harmonograph is a mechanical device that creates geometric images by moving a pen in relation to a drawing surface and is propelled by the movement of pendulums. The drawings it creates are called Lissajous curves. Harmonographs combine the motion of two oscillations or dual oscillation.

He says, "I have used these machines to make thousands of images and never bore of the mesmerizing motion and endless variety of images they create."

His initial interest began about four years ago when he was volunteering with the Claremont MakerSpace, in Claremont, N.H. They were tabling at an event when he thought about wanting to have something interactive, sort of like an ice breaker, so that people would be able to make some sort of art or craft. He found some drawing machines online which were motorized and while researching those he found the pendulum driven ones. He has built four harmonographs so far. They are roughly 3' x 3' x 3'. One of them actually lets you create a painting.

Fitzpatrick notes that the harmonograph was invented in 1844 by Hugh Blackburn, a professor of mathematics at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. What Blackburn put together was called a compound pendulum, a way to demonstrate a dual oscillation movement. In the late 1800s you could buy a harmonograph as a scientific instrument which might have been used by physics professors. Fitzpatrick said it caught on with the art crowd in Victorian times and they used it as parlor entertainment.

With the harmonograph you can't make the same pattern twice. How you start the movement of the pendulum gives you the patterns you will get. You start a drawing with one pen color and then put in a new color pen and start a new drawing over the old drawing. Pens that work the best are very thin ball point pen, gel varieties. Fitzpatrick uses pretty heavy 12 x 12 stock paper for the drawings. Fitzpatrick sells his original drawings from $50 to $150 and he has mixed media laser etched acrylic on sale for $2,000.

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His passion lies in being creative and doing something which he finds very rewarding and satisfying. He sees his work as a creative artistic outlet for people in the community and drives 40 minutes each way to get to the MakerSpace in Claremont, N.H., about three times per week. A harmonograph is set up in the public space there and anyone can use it to create their own drawings for free.

When asked about the relationship of artist and machine, he says, "In some ways it's the analogy of an artist's paint brush; most artists don't build their own paint brushes. Here you have to build your own machine to create the art, and then you have to give the machine motion to get the kind of pattern you want. It's a symbiotic relationship." After that, it's the machine that creates the art without any more interaction. It takes about four minutes to create one drawing.

Fitzpatrick was born and raised in Michigan and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Eastern Michigan University. He worked as a chemist for the Environmental Protection Agency after college. He moved to New Hampshire in 1995 and currently works at Dartmouth College as an IT Specialist for the Biomedical Libraries.

"I love combining art with science," he said. "That goes back to early on in my undergraduate studies, taking core biology classes, zoology and cell biology. We had to do detailed drawings of cell structures and animals physiology." He said that science drawings seemed more natural and easier to do, so it was that type of art which he gravitated to. "There is art in science and art in nature. I sort of found that intersection. The patterns which the harmonograph machine creates are similar to patterns we see in nature, i.e. the snail shell or the path of particles and sub atomic structures."

Fitzpatrick learned a lot about the subject from a book, "Harmonograph: A Visual Guide to the Mathematics of Music," by Anthony Ashton (Bloomsbury, 2003). He says, "For me this book really illustrates the original intention of the inventor of the harmonograph: to demonstrate how the simple motion of pendulums can reveal the invisible patterns of sound waves." He adds,

"Ashton explains how the movement or oscillations of a pendulum is similar to the oscillations of sound waves, and shows what a powerful tool the harmonograph can be in modern STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, & math) education."

He learned at the age of 12 to use power tools by watching his father and grandfather work around the house. He's a self-taught artist, having never taken any formal art classes except for during high school, when he enjoyed metal and wood shop classes.

He lives in Grantham, N.H. with his girlfriend Heather and a cat named Nupur.

The public is invited to a Harmonograph demonstration with the artist this Saturday, May 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Crowell Art Gallery, at the Moore Free Library, 25 West Street, in Newfane. For more information visit www.harmonograms.com or call 802-365-7948.


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