Here’s How to Draw With 400,000 Volts of Electricity

Credit: Xero-Edit-3

The powers of the Xerox machine extend well beyond butt selfies and copies of your face smashed against the glass. In fact, it can make for some mesmerizing artwork. In his Xero series, Luke Evans uses the principles of xerography to paint with electricity to gorgeous effect.

Evans’ pieces look like charcoal drawings of microbes, irises and snake-like organisms, but they’re really just the result of deconstructing the xerography process, which is used in machines like laser printers and photocopiers. Modern-day xerography requires a drum to be charged with an image, then oppositely-charged toner powder is applied. This powdered drum is pressed onto paper and heat sealed, creating a photo copy. “Hence why freshly photocopied paper is so warm,” says Evans.

Evans’ process is similar to this, albeit much more manual. Using a high-voltage Van Der Graaf generator, Evans zaps a piece of acrylic with 400,000 volts of electricity. A static discharge is left on the acrylic. “If you ever put your hand on top of an old TV and it crackles and feels really weird, that’s essentially what has happened on the acrylic,” he explains. To visualize what that looks like, Evans sprinkles toner from a photo copier machine onto the acrylic and a pattern appears like fingerprints at a crime scene. He then presses it onto a sheet of paper and heat seals the print with an iron.

Some are circular, others are sprawling tendrils. The shape is impacted by variables like humidity (the drier the air, the more erratic the shape), how long he keeps the generator running, the shape of the electrode (pins make a web-like pattern while using a metal ball creates circles) and polarity (positive fields have more tendrils than negatively charged fields).

The prints are fascinatingly strange looking, but they come with a painful caveat. “I got shocked loads,” says Evans. “But there’s a certain amount of—in order for it to work, I have to get shocked.”

-Luke Evans