Going back to basics: part 4

By Rebecca Franks. Posted

Box frame LED art is one creative way to get making!

Originally published in Hello World Issue 19: Sustainability and Computing, June 2022. All information true at the time of original publishing.

Rebecca Franks shares her final experiences of taking a group of beginner digital makers through their first physical computing projects

Over the last year, I have been leading sessions with a group of beginner digital makers who wanted to learn how to use LEDs to make an art project. This group had no prior experience with electronics, and I wanted to provide them with the right scaffolding to develop the confidence to make something they could be really proud of.

In issue 18 of Hello World, I described the third session of four, which involved the makers creating a circuit that blinked an LED using a classic electronics component called the 555 timer. In this article, I will let you know what happened next, in the final session with my makers.

Go make a thing!

By this session, my makers had a really good understanding of how to create a series and parallel circuit to light LEDs with the use of a switch. They could also blink an LED by creating the 555 timer circuit. By having this foundational understanding, they could now work on embedding their electronics into an object to ‘make a thing’.

There is a lot of inspiration online for embedding LEDs into art pieces, and I encouraged my makers to explore these and develop their own ideas. One maker was interested in traditional printmaking and wanted to add LEDs to one of her prints; another had some old glass bottles that she decided to light up with LEDs. Continuing with the upcycling theme, another maker had some used gift boxes that she wasn’t sure what to do with, so she decided to practise her skills and embed some LEDs into them.

The last session with my makers was really enjoyable for everyone. It was great to have a session where we could all sit and make our own projects together. It is so nice to have something creative that you can just fully absorb yourself in. Once you have removed those initial barriers, you can really let your imagination go wild.

What happened next?

Taking a group of beginner makers through an electronics project was also a great opportunity for me to increase my own knowledge of how circuits worked and how they can be embedded into projects. I used this new knowledge as motivation to explore other types of media that can be used to make circuits. For example, we can replace a jumper wire with kitchen foil, copper tape, conductive thread, conductive paint, and much more! This provides so much inspiration, and options for a wide range of projects.

A paper circuit template for lighting up the Raspberry Pi logo

I used this motivation to run a paper circuits maker challenge over a conference call with all the staff at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. We used copper tape and a coin battery to light up the Raspberry Pi logo, before moving on to making other circuits using the tape. Ideas ranged from adding lights to photographs and drawings, to making the headlights of a toy bus light up. It was some much-needed fun for everyone and they all enjoyed sharing their creations.

How can you get started?

I decided to write this series to help other people who might be a bit unsure of where they should start with their digital-making projects. After learning so much over the past year, I would absolutely say that the hardest thing to do is start. The next hardest thing to do is to keep going. I’ve overcome these hurdles by taking the pressure off myself to make something perfect that has a purpose. You really don’t need to do that at all. Just make a thing — any thing.

Start small and try to place some time in your calendar each month to remind you to keep going. We all get carried away with work and life commitments, but the escapism of digital making is a perfect antidote to the pressures of everyday life. You will be amazed at how much time passes as you get stuck into your creations.

If you fancy having a go at something and you aren’t quite sure where to start, then I recommend the new ‘Introduction to Raspberry Pi Pico’ path, which is available on the Raspberry Pi projects site. You can see the first lesson activity from this path on page 86 of this issue of Hello World. Happy making!

Box frame LED art

Alongside my makers, I wanted to have a go at something myself, so I used my paper- cutting machine to layer images. I then placed these into a box frame and added three LEDs behind to add a shadow effect. I added a switch to the side so that I could easily turn the lights on and off. See the photo at the top!



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