Wheeltrails mark making workshop

Joseph Wilk d[-_-]b
4 min readJul 12, 2021

We worked with UK based wheelchair users to explore different physical & digital ways of mark making using the motion of wheels. Each technique was introduced with work by artists who experience disability.

We were interested in the drawing experience and how it might be used by participants. The tension of the unintentional markings on the external world through use of a wheelchair. Using this as an intentional, disruptive and creative act of challenging the barriers that create disability

Physical mark making

To start physical mark making we explored the work of artist Sue Austin and her project leaving wheel trails through the city of Plymouth.

To record the wheel markings we tried paper and fabric taped to the floor. Fabric dried too quickly and paper ripped very easily. In the end the best surface was the slightly shiny and rubbery floor already present.


Water: Applied through spray bottles to front and rear wheels.

  • Left strong marks.
  • Marks faded quickly.
  • Hard to photograph under normal lighting conditions.
  • No way to distinguish between different users markings.

Chalk and water: Applied children’s drawing chalk to the wheels and then went through a small water puddle.

  • Strong tire imprints
  • Limited drawing/release time
  • Supported color and distinction between users.
  • Did not fade.

Two participants drawing using different colored chalk cordinating between themselves.

An office floor with chalk tire marks in two perfect circles. The artist is visible in his powered wheelchair.
Wheeltrails with chalk and water.
View of a floor with tire tread pink chalk marks. They create eyes and a mouth of a smiley face.
Wheeltrails smiley

The contrast with the floor and the markings made it difficult to capture on camera.

A floor with only slightly visible water tire marks and chalk marks.
A mix of water and chalk swirls.

Ripping trails

Powered wheelchair with wet wheels caused tire patterned rips in paper.

Two long pieces of brown paper stuck to the floor with black duct tape. There is a rip that has tire markings across the paper.
Rips recording motion.
Close up of the paper with a tire tread rip. The rip has a castellated like edge
Powered wheel rip

The riping was not intentional and initially participants were apologising for the damage. It was clear this ripping was similar to the core idea behind wheeltrails, turning accidental markings (and the tension they can create) into intentional self expression. So we encouraged participants to start ripping the paper with their wheels. It turned out to add a satisfying dimensionality to the trails while expressing some of the joy of using wheels to be creative and disruptive.

Two brown, long pieces of paper duct tapped to the floor. The paper has been ripped a lot, with pieces removed and strewn over the floor.
Intentionally maximising ripping.

Digital mark making

We introduced Augmented Reality through the project “Unfolding Shrines” which collects a series of AR experiences by artist who experience disability: https://www.shapearts.org.uk/unfolding-shrines

To draw in augmented reality we used Weird Type by Zach Liberman using a mobile device either held or resting on the lap. Using assistive touch on the device allowing hands free motion recording. Participants were asked to choose what words they wanted to use. It was helpful to have an audio to text mode on the app to enter the words.

Drawing with Weird type in Augmented Reality.

For video drawing we introduced Aaron Wheels who is the creator of extreme wheelchair sports and his examples of redefining what movement is possible with a wheelchair.

We used a GoPro attached to the chair with duct tape to draw with video.

Drawing with a GoPro attached to the wheels of a powered wheelchair.

Alt description: Video shows movement presented at a low ground level, around an office space, weaving between chairs and tables and doors.

The wheelchair as a creative device

One participant described how the workshop had helped them see their wheelchair in a new way and they had never thought of it as a creative tool. All participants were interested in how this could be used for advocacy, especially with the digital as this freed up the legal worries of graffiti and mark making.

One worry with digital marking was that it might feel empty if you could not always see what you are drawing. One participant described how they did not mind as the creative seeing was happening in their imagination and they enjoyed this.

The idea of community drawing and working together to draw was very strong among the participants. A way of community building with people who understand the disabled experience while being a creative and political act.


Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from SouthBank Centre and Arts Council England.

Workshop space was provided by The Studio, Bath, UK : https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/research-and-enterprise/the-studio

Thanks to all workshop participants for their engagement and creativity.



Joseph Wilk d[-_-]b

Artist working with code, creativity and computation. Performs as @repl_electric