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This artist had a robot print his selfie with ink made from his blood

By Liz Stinson, Wired
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Thu October 9, 2014
Ted Lawson made a selfie out of blood. Ted Lawson made a selfie out of blood.
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Ted Lawson's blood selfie
Ted Lawson's blood selfie
Ted Lawson's blood selfie
Ted Lawson's blood selfie
Ted Lawson's blood selfie
Ted Lawson's blood selfie
Ted Lawson's blood selfie
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ted Lawson uses a robot to print selfies -- using his blood in place of ink
  • The Brooklyn-based artist uses a computer-controlled arm to paint his blood onto a canvas
  • He calls the new technique a "logical progression"

(Wired) -- This is a selfie made of blood. Yes, real, straight-from-veins-of-a-human blood. The human you're looking at is Ted Lawson, an artist living in Brooklyn. These are his first blood paintings. Lawson created the works for an upcoming exhibition, The Map Is Not the Territory, opening September 11 at the Joseph Gross Gallery in NYC, and it should be noted that he didn't originally set out to paint with his vital fluids. Then again, who does?

The whole weird thing came about as a larger investigation into how Lawson could use a CNC milling machine in new ways to create his artworks. You'll notice the blood is actually dispensed onto a brush controlled by the CNC's robotic arm.

One day as an experiment, Lawson hooked up a pen to the CNC machine's arm to see how it might draw. It drew really well! "I was doing a drawing of the moon and thought, 'Oh, this could be really cool to do in my own blood," he recalls. "It was a logical progression." Any logicality involving drawing with your own blood is debatable, but Lawson persisted and adapted his process to replace traditional ink with body ink.

To make his selfie, Lawson began by taking a photo of himself in the nude. In Illustrator he rendered the photo into vectors then used Rhino to turn the art into code that the CNC machine could read. Lawson hooked himself up to a needle and funneled his blood into the machine like one might do with ink. The machine dispensed lines of blood, creating a pixelated version of Lawson's original photo. "If you're right up close to it, you can almost see the lines of code," he says of the artwork.

Blood Isn't an Easy Medium

The issue with blood, or any other liquid for that matter, is that it tends to pool on paper. To combat this, Lawson constructed a completely flat table and used a vacuum to suck the paper against it as tightly as possible. This allowed the blood to dispense evenly onto the paper, reducing the risk of globbing. After the paintings were finished, Lawson sprayed them with an acrylic fixative—"So they don't rot," he notes.

There's a trick to making a good blood painting. Lawson's involves lots of water and a pre blood-letting cheeseburger. "I found that fatty foods make for a nicer flow," he explains. Lots of practice helps, too. Lawson experimented with making two full-sized selfies before he finished the final painting. The selfie painting took around three hours to complete, but Lawson says the total blood used is probably less than what you'd regularly donate.

Despite describing himself as squeamish when it comes to blood and needles, the artist has found that if you stick a needle in your arm enough times, it gets easier to ignore. "Blood is just a medium," he says. "When you focus on something other than yourself, like making a drawing, it becomes ink and stops being blood."

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