DIY: Homemade drawing charcoal

I wanted to test using drawing charcoal with my drawing machines, and decided to try to make my own instead of buying from eBay.

Charcoal is made by burning (cooking?) wood in an oxygen-starved environment.

I took a tea-leaf tin (bought in Tokyo many years ago, sad to see it go), and punched a small hole in the lid. For my first test I used cuttings from a blackcurrant bush that has been left to dry outside for a few seasons. I looked for fairly straight pieces, cut them with garden shears to fit in the thin, and put the lid on. In the evening, I made a fire in the wood stove, and placed the tin in the flames. I just left it there until the next morning.

The result turned out really great, and I especially liked that all the fine delicate details of the twigs stayed intact, even most of the bark stayed in place. I was also surprised that none of the twigs snapped. Even the thinnest came out perfect!

What’s next? You can see my first test drawing towards the bottom of this page, and I’ll update this page with other drawings later. I’m especially looking forward to testing charcoal made from different trees and shrubs, to see if there are differences.

Update: If you are an artist and want to test my charcoals I’d be happy to send you some. Send an email to I’d love to get your feedback on how they work compared to commercial drawing charcoals.

Green tea leaf tin

Punching a small hole in the lid with an awl.

Twigs cut to size with garden shears

Snug as a bug.

Pretty pieces!

Charcoals pensils in all shapes and sizes.

Elise, Charcoal
First test using charcoal with my drawing machine.

We must be kind. Original artwork drawing in charcoal.
We must be kind. Original artwork drawing in charcoal.

Drawing machine #1

This has been on the todolist for a few years, but today I finally got around to building my first drawbot using Arduino. I wanted to make something that was light, minimal and portable, that can be added to any flat surface with a gluegun. I use small steppermotors with bobbins (from eBay) and thread from a sewing machine to lift a coin with a sharpened charcoal-stick though the center, and a solid metal picture frame as a base.

Version 0.1: Drawing spirals

Hvorfor tegne selv når man kan lage en maskin til å gjøre jobben :)

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Arduino: Duemilanove arduino board or similar, from eBay.
2 x Stepper motors: 28BYJ48, from eBay
2 x stepper drivers: ULN2003, from eBay
Gondola: Coin with center hole. Charcoal is sharpened and fitted, and fastened with a few dots of glue.
2 x Sewing machine bobbins, from eBay with thread
Charcoal stick, from eBay
Hot glue gun, from eBay

Code (based on this):
By changing the speed and number of steps it draws asymetric paths. 2048 steps = 1 revolution on these stepper motors.

Charcoal Timelapse:

Pen plotter #1 timelapsei 12x hastighet. #hyperlapse #drawbot #arduino

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Ink Test
I cut a piece of sponge and used a pipette to add ink while the machine is running.

Arduino + steppermotorer + svamp = kunst! #arduino #drawbot #art #diy

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Version 1.0: Running Polargraph Controller software

The machine is now running the Polargraph firmware, controlled via serial from a Processing app on my laptop. It took a bit of tinkering to get the firmware to run with my steppers and drivers, but once it was up and running it worked pretty well.

Drawing machine #1 is taking shape!

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#wip #drawbot #polargraph #art

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Next steps
Run the machine on grbl firmware and test other controllers.
Testing a variations of pens and paper.
Build more machines! Some of the motives I’m working on takes up to 12 hours to draw, so to increase the learning curve I would love to have at least a few more up and running.

Useful tutorials:
Wire and run one stepper and driver.
BYJ48 stepper motor on Instructables
Code for running two stepper motors in opposite directions
Polargraph Drawing Machine on Instructables




Cardboard project box, spot glued to the back of the frame for easy removal.  

Test, running unicode.h library

Write L, R, U or D in the Serial Monitor to control the motor. (see also: Youtube Tutorial)


Serial Monitor


DIY: Upcycling a childrens bathrobe into a cuddly bear

I had a small soft, fluffy pink bathrope that my daughter had outgrown, and some stuffing from a cheap ikea pillow that got torn apart during washing.

I cut off the seams, and tried to get the most I could out of the material, and and ended up with two cute Japan-inspired teddybears and a little pillow.

I chose the shape, and my daughter the buttons for the face.

All hand stiched, using only left over materials. The fluffy material is very forgiving, so even if your sewing skills are pretty bad, you can’t really notice.


I made the second one for the daughter of a friend. She is younger, so instead of buttons the eyes are made with cloth from a pair of pants, sewn on, to make safer for a toddler. It also has a tiny picket for hiding candy from mom and dad :)

The tail and ears are made from the bathrobe belt.


Tiny Eco Warriors #1-5

Upcycled tyke # 4 : Elton

This is a good project to do with kids. Just start gathering bits and pieces of junk in a box, or clean out a few drawers, and you soon have enough raw material to create your own little eco warrior tribe!

Any material can be used. On the creature above we have a wine cork body, milk bottle cap feet, Elton John glasses made from a piece of balsa from a broken 3d puzzle, some feathers, a thumbtack nose, and eyes made from nuts. Oh, and the mouth was cut from a newspaper.

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