Monday, May 22, 2017

Glowing Pendant - First Enamel Experiment

Trying to create a pendant necklace that glows during the day as well as at night. Finally found some basic techniques that work with my 3d printer and regular filament. It's far from perfect, but the first, quickly printed piece looks good enough that I will continue to experiment and refine the idea.

This is what the pendant looks like during the day. The NeoPixels light up the thinner areas quite well and show up even in bright, outdoor light. The "stringing" doesn't show up as much in real life, but it is present. I printed this at high speed with a thick layer height. If I print a more hi-rez version the stripes should be a lot less noticeable.

This first piece has a lot of experiments built in: How does thickness affect the amount of light transmitted, how does thinning the front, back or both affect the look, can I "trap" the light in the thinned areas, and how do two lights show up within one thinned recess?

I learned a lot on this first iteration. I won't bore you with the details, but I will note that the difference between a nice glow, a stringy mess and nearly opaque can be a matter of 0.01 mm. That's a pretty tight tolerance.

As you can see below, even at night, the thicker areas block the light quickly.

I will need to try out other filaments to see if they give me more latitude in thicknesses while maintaining the diffuse look.

Glowing pendant with Adafruit Circuit Playground inside a E-sun PLA cover
And here is what the pendant looks like at night with the LEDs at full strength. I think it's pretty, but you can also dim the lights easily. And since these LEDs are on board the Circuit Playground board, you could also get the lights to react to sound, movement, heat or just randomly.

You might have noticed the curving incised lines. They are very deeply cut, so they transmit more of the light. I wanted to see what they looked like. I had hoped they would create a gradient as they carried the colored light from multiple LEDs. It kind of works.

But there was also a second reason for them. I wanted to try embedding wire in them, then pour enamel paint (okay, cheap nail polish - same thing) in between the wires like a cheap, faux cloisonné.

I did a first, tentative experiment with the nail polish. I selected different colors, styles and brands to see how they affected the light. I did not select the colors for a pleasing composition - and boy, did it turn out ugly in the daylight.

But the nail polish does affect the quality of the transmitted light. Once again, the results didn't adhere to my predictions. Chalky does not block more light and sparkly daylight posihs does not sparkle at night, even when lit.

This shows the pendant at night after I added some enamel paint (aka nail polish). It does affect the colors and somewhat smooth's out the stripes. Some colors and thickness kills a lot of the light, so I will have to learn which brands of nail polish work for this project. Even though it's the dimmest area, the red dot at the lower left is closest to the affect I wanted to achieve.

The thickness of the nail polish does affect how much light gets through. But I was happy to see that almost all the paint can be applied thickly with no significant negative affects. That's great, because I really want to just pour the paint into the recesses and not have to struggle to get an even coat with a brush.

All in all, I'm very happy with this first try. Expect to see more about this technique in the near future.

Also find me on:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How I Spent $250 to Dim a Lightbulb

Maybe that's a slight exaggeration - I could do it for pennies, or free using salvaged parts. But I really have spent hundreds of dollars over the last few years learning how. Along the way I also learned how to make the hardware and write software to control them with sensors, timers and all types of remote controls. By now I can recreate most Dollar Store electronic gadgets for less than $100 each.

Go ahead and laugh... you're supposed to, it's kind of silly. Most hobbies are.

12v incandescent light bulb powered by Arduino Uno and Adafruit motor driver
This is a 12v incandescent light bulb powered with an Arduino Uno and an Adafruit Motor Shield over the microcontroller's I2C bus. I have run massive motors and steppers off this same board, so I knew the shield's TB6612 H-bridges could easily handle the voltage. A quick guestimate said I would be nowhere near the 3 amp max for the board. There are three more 12v channels left to power a cold cathode tube, an old fluorescent and LEDs. And there are tons of other inputs and outputs that I can hook up to sensors and displays.

Like most hobbies there is an initial cost to buy the basic equipment and a huge investment in time. Eventually you get to a point where it becomes cheaper and the process becomes really fun and mostly pain free.

Per hour of fun, this electronics hobby has turned out to be one of the cheapest and most rewarding hobbies I've ever tried - and probably not for the reasons that you think.

All this tinkering and making and studying electronics - it's really just a way to gain access to other creative people. All these projects are eventually supposed to be put into other projects. That makes a great excuse to meet new people and get them to share their creativity.

Jewelry, clothing, furniture, cars, sculpture... doesn't matter to me. Can I help another creative bring their projects to life? Being able to add movement and lights and sounds to other people's projects is a great way to connect with other hobbyists.

So far, this simple hobby has allowed me to meet and befriend quilters and welders, fashion designers, models and photographers, jewelry makers, graphic designers and gear heads and... well, you get the picture.

I've helped a few of them with their projects, and they have all taught me something about their chosen medium. We can share our successes and our failures, our passion and pain. We don't use the same materials, but we all understand the creative drive. Every creator needs friends who not only tolerate your $250 lightbulb dimmer, but help you along the way.

This particular lightbulb dimming is part of an attempt to create a Steampunk style lamp with multiple light sources. I wanted that old time glow that only incandescent and fluorescents can provide.

I know I will need help from other makers to get this working. And it will probably turn out much better and more attractive thanks to their help.

All in all, I think this newest hobby has been a total bargain and a complete blessing.

Also find me on: FACEBOOK

Sunday, May 14, 2017

(Cheap!!!) Grab-Bag Challenge: The Setup

Got this totally random (yet epic) challenge from a friend:
"Make something cool from this $4 grab-bag of Michaels store discards, then blog about your results."

Now how could I turn down a offer like that, especially considering they both bought and delivered the bag of odd goodies for me?

I say it was "random" because the grab-bag was pre-made and sealed by the store employees. You couldn't tell what was inside the bag, but it weighed at least four pounds, so at $4 that works out to about a buck per pound of craft-store goodness.

The rules for the challenge are simple:---  Just make something, anything. As long as it uses stuff from the grab-bag. I accepted because, well, I am creative and artsy and all that... at least that's what I tell myself.

So I tore into the bag (literally, because I couldn't untie the knots) and discovered something shocking!!!

It was all... paper!!! Seriously, what can I make with paper products? There were no electronics, jewelry findings, metal, clay or anything else I usually work with. Oh, now I'm totally screwed, a failure, my feeble excuse for creativity exposed by the simplest of materials.

Luckily, my friend saw the look of dismay (terror?) on my face and, out of kindness, immediately amended the rules and added a clause that said I could add Electronics, 3d printing, CNC, lights, motors etc. - as long as I based the project on something from the grab-bag.

Whew, good save --- maybe I can do this after all.

As you can see, there was a lot, and I mean A LOT of stuff inside that bag. After the initial terror subsided, I even began to see some items I could use ---- maybe, sort of --- even if they were made of paper.

Within five minutes or so I had pretty much recovered and gleefully started sorting my free loot into separate piles for the projects that were vaguely starting to form in my brain.

I'm not ready to commit to any specific project(s) yet, but are the items I've set aside for the first round of play. I would say I've got more of a "good feeling" than any real "plans" for these items - like I can see an idea shaping around them, it's just not fully formed yet.

Stay tuned to see what I come up with. I'm seeing some goth black, some burlesque, several lanterns and lights, and a superhero saga. I will be as surprised as anyone if even one of the projects turn out okay.

Feel free to drop me ideas about projects. That's not really cheating, and all my ideas come about paper projects comes off Pinterest anyways.

AND!!! If I can get some of you folks to take the challenge (you know you have some scraps laying around) then my friend might join in and post her projects from her own grab-bag. I think that's only fair since this is much closer to their traditional medium than mine. So grab those boxes and bags of discards and start creating.

Till next time, keep on making.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Throwing Light #3 - Masks and Gobos

Now that I know some basic ways to "throw" light (see Part 1 and Part 2 of the series), I wanted to explore how to shape the rays into specific patterns. To find out, I printed a quick (and sloppy) series of masks to test how they affected the shape and quality of light.

Like the previous experiments, I used the Circuit Playground board from Adafruit. I used the larger, deeper version of the 3D printed medallion I created in Part 2. The masks fit over the front of the openings in the light channels. I did not realize how much light would leak out from around the masks (as you can see in the photos) but the masks are enough to test some basic techniques.

The version of the medallion with a reflective interior (at right in the photo above) was not affected by the masks; it's almost useless. But the masks do have a pronounced affect on the raw black PLA version at the left.

The 3D printed set of masks (in red) sits under Circuit Playground board. The Medallion slips over the top of this assembly.
Surprises and Successes

I have played with masks and gobos for photography and stage lighting, so I sort of knew what to expect from the different shape. But the sizes and distances are so much smaller here that I expected some slight differences.

Most of the masks gave the expected results, but there were a few surprises:

The biggest surprise came with the "posts" mask. I printed one set of 1x1mm posts and a second set that was also 1mm wide but 4mm deep. I expected the deeper posts to cast the stronger shadow like it does in a large scale mask. Instead, the skinny 1x1 posts yielded the more precise shadows. I think this might be because of the small scale. The sides of the larger posts may reflect so much light that the shadow gets diffused from all the scattered light.

I was also hoping that the masks might be strong enough to shape the light from the reflectively painted version of the medallion. Unfortunately, the scattering overpowered the masks and there was negligible shaping from the masks.

SURPRISE!!! The skinny 1x1 posts actually created a stronger shadow that the deeper posts. I think the sides of the deep posts reflect and scatter too much light and negate the mask's shadow making. This is true even with the reflective version.

Bigger is better - sometimes. I wanted to see if a pinhole was large enough to create a visible ray -it was NOT!!! However, the larger round hole did emit a slightly shaped ray.

The vertical slot worked as expected, The diagonal slot worked sort of like I expected (a slight gradient) but it is the only shape that actually worked better with the reflective interior (see comparison photo above)

Aha, these worked exactly as expected. The "high slot" caused the beam to appear at a distance from the opening of the light channel.

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the series

Also find me on:

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

All Colors, Shapes and Sizes - 3D is Going Mainstream

Sure thing... you can print in any color you want. You can also resize it, change the shapes or mix and match to form a unique texture. And most printers can handle a variety of material types. With some, you can even print in multiple colors on the same object.

I think I've confused people because I always print the first experimental run in the cheapest black PLA I can find. It's also one of the easiest, fastest and most reliable materials to work with - perfect for prototyping.

But the 3d filament market is becoming like the interior paint market. It's not just black and white anymore. Now you have ecru and cream and frost and fog and cool vs warm whites. Or midnight and coal and dark-heart. Let's not even talk about the reds and blues and greens and all shades in between.

Some filament brands are shiny, some are matte. The black I am currently using is so shiny and reflective that it can be difficult to photograph. The white is so chalky and matte that you think you will get a powdery residue on your hands if you touch it (you don't).

And every filament manufacturer is different, and each is constantly changing their formulas and color palette. They are all trying to find the new "it color" for this season. I am just now beginning to know enough to have favorites.

Each manufacturer also has a different formula for the material. So you might like the look of their red, but not like the way it prints, or how brittle it is. And as far as I know, there is no "master palette" or overall brand look like there is with paints. Every color is sort of unique, not necessarily part of a family meant to work together.

That is changing however, as the 3D printing world moves from the purely techno-geek world into the wider, more fashion and design oriented world. Martha Stewart had her own 3d filament line, so the big paint manufacturers can't be far behind.

One last thing to add to the confusion, there are also translucent and transparent materials. There are super flexible and semi-flexible materials. There are copper and bronze and iron filaments that you can polish and even pre-rust for the authentic look. Let's not forget wood and bamboo filaments, or the glow-in-the-dark, the heat sensitive, UV sensitive and color changing filaments.

It's a fun time to get into 3d printing, and your possible color selections just keep getting better.

Also find me on: FACEBOOK 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Painting the Terrarium - So Far So Good

Always imagined an antique bronze or copper finish for the terrarium frame, and I'm getting close to the look I wanted - using good old-fashioned acrylic craft-paint.

Metallic spray paint looked too perfect, not antique and weathered enough. So I hauled out my paint-box and went to my favorite colors used in other projects. I wasn't sure how acrylic paints would work with this 3D-printed model, but they adhered well and gave me the texture and imperfect finish I was after. (see it unpainted straight off the 3d-printer here)

Sometimes the oldest and simplest techniques are the best. I brushed on the paint them wiped off portions of it to reveal the black wrought iron, er... the black PLA plastic underneath. I did not smooth it down again, so clumps formed along the edge like something that had been painted and repainted for decades.

I plan to add some more weathering - if I can remember how to do that. The technique is simple, but getting it to look right at this scale can be tricky. This is the first coat of paint, and as I remember I need to add some darker patches, some light and dark greens in the corners, then some bright patches in the "worn" areas.

And I really want to try the two-part instant patina paint systems. Apparently, the two paints interact chemically and give a very realistic antique verdigris without all the multi-layer painting. I'm all for adapting new technology, especially if it saves me time.

Also find me on: FACEBOOK 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Well... So My Jewlery is For Sale

Some of my jewelry pieces are now officially for sale in a friend's online shop: Vintage Viewpoints. Check it out, and be sure to visit their Facebook page to see their newest pieces.

You all know that I don't normally sell my personal projects - for a variety of reasons.

Washer with dark blue and reddish purple enamel paints and metal filigree applied. Center is a lavender rose and traditional bells hung from beneath.

Usually, my projects are total experiments, really only meant to solve a specific problem or learn a technique that I can use in commercial projects. The jewelry pieces were simply proof-of-concept experiments for a totally different type of project.

However, when I shared them with a friend, they claimed to like them - and even offered to put them in their shop. Luckily, the shop owner creates in almost as many styles as I do. They understood that there will probably never be anything similar coming out of my studio ever again. and were okay with that. They finally convinced me to put some of these oddball pieces into their shop.

Another piece with a washer base. Tis one has a gradient spray painted undersurface of rose and new stem colors. I used a Silhouette Cameo craft cutter to make some rings out of Victorian scrapbook paper. A turquoise lozenge is applied to the back and peeks out from the center. A narrow metal decoration caps the piece. 

Wanted a tribal boho look for this, so I tried a few new items and techniques. The enamel paint is applied in raised dots. The filigree is bent and only present on the lower half to give it a little visual interest. The cross is upcycled from and old computer drive. But it still didn't look finished, so I added some scruffed multi-hue twine for a dramatic tail.

Since I don't do jewelry design commercially, I figured there would be no harm in letting these trinkets out into the wild.

And now that I've moved on to new problems, I'm can see them as standalone objects. I'm still somewhat underwhelmed, but there are certainly a variety of styles in this batch.

Got to have some Steampunk in your life. This is a mix of store-bought Tim Holts style gears with parts actually scavenged from old electronics for the authentic upcycled look. I popped a couple jewels and metallic shafts to add a little texture. All of it applied to a 70s era belt buckle.

I had solved the design problems I was addressing, and I had no more real use for the projects. They sort of worked for their intended purpose, and I understood how to change them to make them more effective the next time.

And I have to admit, having another creator say they like your work enough to sell it - well it was a real ego boost. I still see the projects as experiments, works in progress - but to hear that someone who creates objects that I admire actually likes the projects just as they are, well that was even better than solving an abstract problem.

Another semi-Steampunk piece featuring copper parts upcycled from an old electric motor. The jewels were mostly from various sets of broken earrings. The wings were bought new, failed at their original purpose, but found a new home in this project.

While it's unlikely I will put more projects up for sale, it's always nice when a fellow creator asks to feature some of my work. So support your local makers and crafters and artists, especially if you also create something.

And don't forget to visit the Vintage Viewpoints shop for all kinds of beautiful jewelry from a real crafter - the shop owner.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Make a $20 G-Force Gauge

How many Gs did you pull in that last curve? Find out with this handy board and some simple code.

So I post mostly artsy/craftsy stuff here with a smattering of technology. I do all kinds of projects, but it's hard to take a good, entertaining photo of clean code or a well planned PCB, so I stick to the visually interesting objects for most of my posts.

But a buddy of mine likes to read this blog, and he always says, "Hahaha can't turn no wheels with that...  I'm a gear head. You will have to forgive me."

Well here you go dude - something specifically made for high performance motor sports.

BTW, the detailed tutorial is over on Instructables. Check it out for all the info you need to build your own version.

The project features a multicolor LED display that shows you the G forces you're pulling - live and interactively.  It shows forces left/right for turning, braking and acceleration, and even vertical movement for bumps and humps.

It can also record the forces for you to display on a graph. Just upload the data to a computer to see how all the forces interact.

Heck, if you want to, you can even hook up the board to your laptop and watch the G-forces change as the car moves. Or hook up your webcam and sync the graph with the recorded video of your drive. The possibilities are endless.

Building the project is super simple, just download the code into the board, plug it into a battery pack or your car's cigarette lighter and put it on your dashboard. The board is the Circuit Playground board from

This little beauty is one of the best of the new "all-in-one" Arduino boards. It has accelerometers, light and sound sensors, a heat sensor, a microphone and speakers, buttons and lots and lots of bright RGB LEDs to play with. And it only costs about $20 USD.

You don't even really need a case, but you can build one easily. I built a case out of layered panels and a plastic bezel. But you can get as fancy as you want. Since it fits in a standard 2" gauge frame, almost any of the aftermarket cases will work, There's tons of them on the market.

Don't worry about writing any code. The tutorial has a pre-written program and lots of notes about how to customize it. But it really is as simple as installing an app on your phone. On the other hand, this is a great way to learn about how to program an Arduino. Once you learn, you can creat thousands of fun projects of all types. Just check it out and give it a try.

For example, you can take this exact same board and, with some changes to the code, turn it into a playable piano that changes pitch and speed depending on how you tilt it. Go ahead and pick up one of these wonderful boards. You'll have hours of fun for a very small investment.