This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.
Martin Fitzpatrick is a self-taught programmer and the author of Two Bit Arcade, a website for retro and lo-fi hacking. Fitzpatrick finds a creative outlet in programming, always wondering what he can make a device do. Inspired by the pictures rendered on the beloved childhood Etch A Sketch, he recently turned one into a digital camera.
The Pocket Etch A Sketch “screen” is mounted to the back of the camera. The camera is powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero that captures digital photos and processes them down to a 240x144 pixel 1-bit black-and-white line drawing. The drawing, generated by Pillow and OpenCV, is then translated into plotter commands by creating a network graph with NetworkX. The plotter commands are carried out on the Etch A Sketch by moving its wheels with two 5V stepper motors built into a custom 3D-printed frame. The photos are processed and sketched onto the screen within an hour, depending on the complexity of the image.
The timelapse video below shows the shooting-to-sketching process. Early tests of the Etch-A-Snap ran at two pixels per second before Fitzpatrick achieved the current 20 pixels per second. To make the next picture, the first must be deleted by shaking the screen. The resulting images have the signature warbly and ephemeral quality of the Etch A Sketch pictures of our youth.