Heart Calligraphy

Let the Mind Lead the Brush.

In traditional Chinese culture, calligraphy is seen as a silent reflection of the mind. A Chinese calligrapher believes that the mind leads the brush, and his goal is to vividly and honestly convey his mind on paper. Inspired by this philosophy, we research how bio-data can be translated into a sensitive visual language in order to enhance self-awareness. Heart Calligraphy is a biofeedback installation in which the heart leads the brush. Participants explore the physical, cognitive and emotional influences on their physiology, and the resulting prints are abstract portraits depicting the subconscious processes of the human body.

This work is created in collaboration with Rogier Arents

Yu, B., Arents, R., Funk, M., Hu, J., & Feijs, L.,. Heart Calligraphy: an Abstract Portrait Inside the Body In Proc. International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction (TEI 2016 ), Eindhoven, the Netherlands


The plotter is in working state


Heartbeat data is measured by a pulse sensor

As a preliminary exploration with pen plotter, in the design of Heart Calligraphy, we do not intend to draw sophisticated graphics. Instead, we make the plotter draw the basic elements in Chinese calligraphy, namely lines and dots. In this study, four mapping methods have been implemented to discover the possibilities of interaction and the aesthetic impact: (1) position of the pen, (2) pressure of the pen, (3) speed of the pen and (4) the time of pen down. Besides, we experimented with different types of pens and papers such as the fiber-tip pen (i.e. black marker), rotting pen, brush pen, tilt-tip brush pen, rollerball pen and charcoal.





Each dot indicates one heartbeat. Heart rate data is mapped to pen-down time. The intensity of dots reflects the heart rate.


Heart rate data is mapped to pen pressure. The size and thickness of dots reflect the heart rate


The biofeedback paintings were inspired by the idea of Let the mind leads the brush, which is an old saying from Chinese calligraphy. As heartbeat activities are closely associated with human experiences and feelings, these biofeedback paintings in some way reflect ‘the state of mind’. With biofeedback techniques, the bio-data measured from the body make an art form of inside out. The biofeedback paintings portray the human body from the inside, with a ‘first-person’ view and as a new form of self-representation. Materialising bio-data into a physical painting may encourage self-reflection. As a self-portrait, biofeedback drawings and paintings value in the uniqueness of each body and every individual moment.


In Heart Calligraphy #1,  the heart rate rhythm is reflected by the dots of different size and darkness.



In Heart Calligraphy #2,  the heart rate rhythm is reflected by the dots of different size and



In Heart Calligraphy #3,  the heart rate rhythm was reflected by several grey blocks
of different size and shade.