How to put a little science in your art

Polar Bear and Aurora Lightbox I'm interested in combining my technical background as an experimental physicist with my artistic practice. While I am very much an applied physicist, accustomed to building and working with electronics, I am not an electrical engineer, so my knowlegde of electronics is far from comprehensive, and I have very little training in designing circuits (just building, testing, using and debugging). Luckily, there is more and more open source material available to help artists and makers with absolutely no background in electronics whatsoever. There is also a whole movement to create electronic devices with non-traditional media (for instance conductive paints, fabrics, yarns and threads). Here, I'm gathering some of the resources I've found, which may be of use to you too!

Places where you'll find projects, tutorials and resources:

Instructables is a site to find out how to make things and share what you make. Their technology section is huge. They are likely to have step-by-step instructions on what you may want to build... but the content is user generated so there's no guaruntee that it will be elegant or logical. However, it's easy to ask questions and creators of instructions are likely to reply.

High-Low Tech Group at MIT Media Labs
Leah Buechley's High-Low Tech research group has great projects for inspiration, tutorials, explanations about materials, information on workshops and what they are up to. She is the creator of the Lily Pad, a version of the popular, open-source Arduino microcontroller, which is specically designed for textile projects and for laypeople (designers, artists, young people, and those without any sort of background in electronics). See the Lilypond for projects and forums by users. The syllabus of and webpages of the courses she teaches are also quite useful. The students and post-docs in her group have produced a number of resources to help you produce interactive art, including the next few links.

Kit-of-No-Parts is an attempt to develop "a series of techniques that allow us to build electronics using a variety of craft materials and tools." Very useful examples, tutorials and information on sourcing materials. Projects are everything from colour changing, electrically triggered, thermochromic images to paper speakers, to 3D sculpted electro-plated circuits.

Pulsea or Hannah Perner Wilson is the source of the above site and a great place to see some fascinating projects, with links to other useful sites and kits.

Kokokant 'How to get what you want' is a DIY Wearable Technology Documentation site. It's got great resources on materials, tutorials, product reviews, example projects, info on workshops, and techniques. This information is equally useful whether you want to make electronic textiles (including clothing) or art on paper or any sort of multi-media. This database is maintained by KOBAKANT, a collaboration between Mika Satomi and Hannah Perner-Wilson.

Fashioning Technology is Syuzi Pakhchyan's site to compliment her nifty and useful book "Fashioning Technology: A DIY Intro to Smart Crafting" about soft circuits and soft technologies (things like clothing, textiles, works made with paper, and media other than circuit boards). Her focus is more on fashion and new technology, but again, the information is equally useful for artists working in other media. The site includes a great blog, tutorials, information on materials and perhaps most importantly a forum. She maintains the forum actively and it's a great place to get answers to questions

Moondial is Dr. Sabine Seymour's New York and Vienna-based wearable tech company. This is the source of the books Fashionable Technology and Functional Aesthetics, Visions in Fashionable Technology. There are links to their projects and some very thorough materials information.

eTextile Lounge offers tutorials, a YouTube channel of videos about encorporating circuits in textiles, and information on classes by Lynne Bruning "the textile enchantress" (see also her eTextile page). The eTextile Lounge is billed as a 'global hackspace' which could be a great online resource for anyone outside of cities with their own hackspace.

Soft Circuits Archive on CRAFT magazine. This is Becky Sterne's archive of 'soft circuit' projects including videos of her or others' projects and tutorials. She's now moved on to Adafruit Industries.

Soft Circuit Saturdays "Hi, I’m Angela and I’m a maker. I’m interested in digital arts, wearable and physical computing, crafts and how all these things can combine. I’ve decided to start compiling my favorite links/research and document some experiments and prototypes to share every weekend here at Soft Circuit Saturdays."

open softwear Open Softwear is a book about fashion and technology. More precisely it is a book about Arduino boards, conductive fabric, resistive thread, soft buttons, LEDs, and some other things. You can download the first edition of their book or buy the more recent one on paper.

Open Circuits A wiki-style resource for open source electronics

ITP Physical Computing "ITP is a two-year graduate program located in the Tisch School of the Arts whose mission is to explore the imaginative use of communications technologies — how they might augment, improve, and bring delight and art into people's lives. Perhaps the best way to describe us is as a Center for the Recently Possible. " Their physical computing page has tutorials, circuit diagrams, wiki pages, and all the resources you might need for building electronics for artistic purposes.

LAB: Fashion + Technology Margarita Benitez at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago maintains a great list of resources, particularly how to find materials.

talk2myshirt is a blog about nifty wearables with a nice list of resources.

buildr this is the place to get reliable tutorials on what you might want to do. They often have the best tutorial on easily available parts, because they test things fully and debug them. The tutorials further, are nifty and can inspire ideas. The drawback is that they are organized as a blog, so you either need to know what it is you're looking for (and use the search), or you browse in a linear fashion. They also have a forum and wiki pages.

Electronic Crafts has some interesting projects and tutorials.

Adafruit is a supplier of electronics specifically with makers of all ages and skills in mind. They have great customer service to help build your own skills (and debugging techniques), excellent tutorials, a great blog and forums. This is a great place to get started!

Sparkfun likewise supplies electronics with the makers and hobbyists in mind. It is less geared towards less experienced makers - you'll find more engineers and fewer textile artists here, but they also have support, tutorials, and user projects, and similar, but distinct stock.

Aniomagic "make tiny bits of e-textile magic that are easy to use, so you can: put them in anything, program them anywhere, finish your design, quickly." This is without a doubt the easiest approach to incorporating programmable coloured LEDs in your projects. They supply parts, an on-line tool which allows you to visually program your LEDs, tutorials, examples and tutorials. You can combine your LEDs with various sensors to make an interactive device. If all you want is light, and you want to avoid dealing with or having a largish microcontroller, this may be the way to go.

RobotShop is a supplier of nifty electronics, and of course, robots. They have kits and educational products, but best of all, they are in Canada (they do ship to the US and Europe, for those of you who aren't).

Maker Shed has electronics, tools, books and kits form MAKE magazine.

Bare conductive make electrically conductive paint and body paint. It can be screenprinted. They say they plan block printing ink too... so I check their site regularly, waiting, impatiently. They also do tutorial videos and have community project pages which are all quite useful.

Arduino - it's an open source microcontroller, which has become very popular for a large range of applications. "Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It's intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments. " Though designed for non-engineers and non-scientists, because it works, and is open source, affordable and readily available, it's even the microcontroller of choice for the latest courses on microcontroller interfacing in a University physics department I know very well. The site has information on the large number of flavours of Arduino, free software, tutorials and examples. There are other similar devices out there, but this is the most popular, and hence it has the most resources.

Transmaterial is a blog about what is out there. Find out what exists.


Adafruit - electronics and kits (see above)

Sparkfun - electronics and kits (see above)

RobotShop - electronics and robot stuff (See above)

electonics123 "Your electronic hobby store"

Aniomagic - kits for programmable LEDs on your art or textile (see above)

Bare conductive make electrically conductive paint and body paint (see above).

Lamé Lifesaver is a source of electrically conductive thread in Canada.

Solar Color Dust supplies thermochromic and photochromic powders. I have used these, combined with block printing ink, to make inks which change colour when heated, or when exposed to UV light (i.e. that found in direct sunlight). You can combine these powders with other media too.

E-Luminates is a source of electoluminescent paper, kits, stickers and inverters to drive them.

If you have a resource you want to suggest, leave a comment below.

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