LEDs, storytelling, and what to do if you can’t draw

One of the good things about closing in on 40 is the self-awareness that comes with experience.  One of the bad things is the worsening eye sight that makes it incredibly frustrating to play with teeny tiny LEDs or solder.  But that’s a story for another time.

I don’t draw well.  I’m ok with that.  I could’ve let that non-skill keep me from paper circuits.  I didn’t.

Instead, I borrowed and remixed the intellectual property of others.  Thanks, Creative Commons!

Richmond is home to many wonderful people, places, and things including the C.F. Sauer Company.  Perhaps you use some of their spices in your Jamaican Jerk Salmon or Sweet Potato casserole.  The Sauer sign is a Richmond landmark and a sight to behold once the sun sets.

Sauer's sign a twilight

Sauer’s sign a twilight

I found Matt Carman’s image of the sign on Photo Pin and decided to have a little LED fun.

First, I placed my Sauer’s picture over the notebook paper and poked tiny holes where I wanted to place my LEDs.  Next, using copper tape, a battery, and a couple of white LEDs, I built this circuit for the Sauer’s sign.

Circuit for the Sauer project

Circuit for the Sauer project

I then placed the Sauer’s sign picture over the circuit, lining up the LEDs with the small holes.

Sauer's sign -- lit

Sauer’s sign — lit

There’s an LED in the upper left hand corner (obviously) and one over the “i” in “Vanilla.”  A red LED would’ve bee nice there, but I didn’t have one on hand.

Also, I’m a terrible smart phone photographer, so the majority of my photos with LEDs are blown out around the light, but you get the picture, right?

After experimenting with the Sauer sign, I decided to try my hand at a bastardized version of 5 Card Flickr.  Rather than relying on random Flickr images (which could be fun), I just went out and found three that somehow related to the apocalypse in my mind.

A photo by Timm Suess

photo credit: Timm Suess via photopin cc

Timm Suess photo

photo credit: Timm Suess via photopin cc


photo credit: ( kurtz ) via photopin cc

I made a few changes in PhotoShop, printed the images, cut them out, and started on my mini, two-page story.

Page one sets the scene.  A apocalyptic wasteland so fashionable in today’s literature.

Here’s the circuit for the first part of the setting: abandoned apartments with a bleak landscape behind.

Wasteland circuit pt. 1

Wasteland circuit pt. 1

And with the image over the circuit.  There’s a light on in the window.

circuit 2I wanted to add a second picture to set the scene.  The old bumper cars.  I worked out a circuit for the two images and two LEDs.

circuit for two LEDs

circuit for two LEDs

And here are the lights (sorry about the bad photo):

Two LEDs in the wasteland

Two LEDs in the wasteland

On page two, I introduce the characters.

Sword circuit

Sword circuit

With a light:

Sword lights up

Sword lights up

And the two-page spread:

Unlit, because I can't hold the paper down and take a pic at the same time.

Unlit, because I can’t hold the paper down and take a pic at the same time.

The text, by the way, is mainly from John Roderick.  The conversation about being good at something can be found in Roderick on the Line, episode 114, “The Gentleman’s B Party.”  Somewhere around the 15 minute mark, I think.

Other thoughts:

The LEDs were often finicky.  I’d like to try soldering them.  I ended up using a knitting needle to really press the tape down around the LED leads.  Illuminate Your Thinking documentation suggests bending the tape rather than cutting it since cutting and placing tape on top of copper tape can sometimes cause a bad connection.

I also used the knitting needle as a bone folder to smooth out the copper tape.  That seemed to help.

I understand that there’s no real narrative in the story above.  I didn’t dedicate that much time to thinking about the story I wanted to tell.  Don’t judge the “story” too harshly.

I want to sit down and look at more of Jie Qi’s work.  Her popables are especially artful and whimsical.  And not at all clunky.

Work by Jie Qi.

That’s what I have for now.  I’m moving back to the Finch and Snap!  I hope to dedicate some time to Python as well.

4 thoughts on “LEDs, storytelling, and what to do if you can’t draw


    Before you solder your lights, try soldering any places where two pieces of copper tape connect. Sometimes that will do the trick. Soldering those little LEDs is a huge, giant, ridiculous pain. I never could make it work–trying to line it up right and avoid burning through the paper. If you figure out a way to do it, please share!!

  2. Oh wait! Are you taping the LED down with the end of the copper tape? That might be your problem? Use a piece of Scotch tape–attach the LED to the tape and then you tape it down in the right place. Is this what you did? You always want the copper tape to be non-sticky when it connects (some kinds are conductive on both sides, but it’s still best to use the non-sticky), so that might be what the folding instead of cutting was about, and if you are connecting to LED with sticky, that might be the issue since it’s not as conductive even when it is conductive.

    I might be totally off track here in misunderstanding the problem, though.

  3. Pingback: A big day for SEW for SOS | Librarian in the Middle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *