Eye Can Draw at DCA

Dawson Murray and assistant Marie Beth Quigley proofing 4 colour test

Print Studio Co-ordinator Robert Jackson set up the Eye Can Draw research project in 2012 at Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) to develop, explore and publicise how self-built, low-cost eye-tracking technology can enable artists with physical disabilities to maintain and develop their printmaking practice. In this short feature he explains the positive impact the technology has had on the two visual artists who took part in the initial research. 

About the studio 

The DCA Print Studio is one of the only open access studios in the world where artists can utilise computer numerical control (CNC) machinery to further explore their fine art printmaking practice.

We provide artists with access to mark-making equipment including laser cutters, digital routers and engravers that can all be used in combination with traditional printmaking processes to enhance printmaking possibilities. However, these technologies primarily rely on computer interface devices such as mice, digital drawing tablets and keyboards to use the machinery and these touch-based devices are not always suitable for artists with disabilities.

Eye Can Draw focused on exploring the use of self-built, low-cost eye-tracking devices within a contemporary print studio environment to increase accessibility for artists with disabilities to processes that would have previously been inaccessible or only accessible with the assistance of skilled intermediaries.    

New ways of working

  • Jackie Smith's eye-tracker drawing for 'The Blob'  
  • Jackie Smith cutting out the woodblock using a laser cutter  
  • The woodblock after laser cutting  
  • Inking the woodblock shapes  
  • Jackie Smith - The Blob, tow-colour woodblock on fabriano artistico  
  • Jackie Smith preparing to print  
  • Cutting the separations for the 'Amaze' screenprint  
  • Katie Morrison preparing the screen  
  • Checking the colours  
  • Amazed version 2, Jackie Smith screenprint  
  • Dawson Murray drawing experiment using the eye-tracking device  
  • Dawson Murray initial drawing plan for etching  
  • Dawson Murray drawing curves using the eye tracking device  
  • Dawson Murray main drawing study with eye-tracker  
  • Dawson Murray first test using eye-tracker drawings to create sugar-lift etching plate  
  • Dawson Murray test etching proof  
  • Dawson Murray preparing the main etching plates  
  • Dawson Murray and assistant Marie Beth Quigley proofing 4 colour test  
  • Dawson Murray printing the entire image  
  • Dawson Murray etching state proof from eye-tracker drawings  

    The two artists chosen to put the new technology through its paces were established printmakers Jackie Smith and Dawson Murray - both long-term users of DCA Print Studio. Jackie and Dawson have MS and as their dexterity has decreased they have continuously sought innovative methods of maintaining their practice. 

    Before using the eye-tracking device, Jackie spoke about the frustration surrounding the fact that she could no longer doodle or draw as she did prior to contracting MS. Using the eye-tracking device connected to a digital projector, she was able to re-explore large scale, intricate drawings.

    Combining these drawings with the CNC technologies at DCA, she succeeded in producing a series of large woodblocks and screen prints. Woodblock cutting, especially on a large scale, is physically demanding and it's ground-breaking to enable an artist with limited dexterity to re-access this process. Assistance was required for the inking and printing of these blocks, but the drawing and cutting was directly controlled using Smith's eye-drawings.

    It means that I am in control of the shape that I am trying to describe, if I am asking a helper to tear a piece of paper they are not doing it by telepathy, so I now [using the eye-tracker] have no real excuse if they are not correct.- Dawson Murray, Visual Artist

    Dawson Murray is quadriplegic, and as a result, he has established patient, controlled working methods that rely on human intermediaries to undertake drawing for him under his guidance and observation. The use of the eye-tracking device has limited this need for an intermediary at the drawing stage and has returned control of the line to Dawson, giving him direct control over the production of new shapes and images.

    Showcasing the project

    In order to increase awareness of how technology can enhance access and engagement within fine art printmaking practice, Eye Can Draw is holding a series public-facing exhibitions showcasing both the developmental stages of the project and the creative output of the artists involved.

    An exhibition of Dawson Murray’s recent work opens at the DCA on 28 June and runs until 15 August and coinciding with this will be an exhibition of Jackie Smith's Eye Can Draw prints at the Multiple Sclerosis Centre in Dundee.

    More Info 

    Eye Can Draw was joint-funded by Creative Scotland and Dundee Contemporary Arts.

    This article was published on 23 Jun 2014