In this post, we’ll be crafting an eye-catching painting that incorporates LEDs. This project is easily customizable to suit any decor theme, making it a great group activity.
My journey with this project began when I created it for Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, using Nate Larson’s guide designed for in-person activities. During my live stream sponsored by Digi-Key, I had a great time working on the project and interacting with some of my favorite makers. If you missed the live stream, you can check out the replay!
To make this project, you will need:
- Canvas on a hollow frame
- Black paint and paintbrush
- LED strips, rings, jewels, and/or individual pixels
- Stranded wire
- Soldering tools and supplies
- Soldering iron DK #1691-1083-ND
- Solder DK #2260-WBNCC633731-2OZ-ND
- Wire strippers DK #1691-1281-ND
- Flush cutters DK #1691-1037-ND
- Pliers DK #1691-1422-ND or tweezers DK #1597-1536-ND
- Eye protection DK #3M158306-ND
- Workholding tool (often called a third hand) DK #1568-1077-ND
- Multimeter DK #MN35-ND
- Heat shrink tubing DK #1528-4559-ND
- Heat gun (or a lighter) DK #1568-1602-ND
- Solder wick DK #315-SOLDERWICK2.0-ND or a desoldering pump DK #243-1183-ND for fixing mistakes
- A microcontroller (I’m using an Arduino Micro)
- Solder-type breadboard for building the circuit (not strictly necessary, but handy)
- Hot glue gun
- Canned air (optional but handy)
- USB power adapter
You’ll need a canvas that’s stretched, so you have direct access to the back of the fabric, which will diffuse the light. Other solid types of painting surfaces won’t let the light through.
You’ll also need some acrylic paint, brushes, something to protect your work surface, and your choice of addressable LED pixels, whether it be a strip, rings, singles, or whatever your preference.
To design your painting, you can arrange the canvas pixels and sketch the outline around them. For my artwork, I am sketching flowers.
After sketching the outline, I’m using black paint to fill in the design. It’s important to let the paint dry thoroughly before adding any electronics.
In the live stream, I connected the first NeoPixel ring to a microcontroller and attached it to the back of the canvas using hot glue. My cohost, Allie Weber, crafted her own adorable version of the painting project.
Following the live stream, I created a more stable version of the circuit using a solder-type breadboard. I connected the pixel’s power, ground, and data input to a microcontroller (in my case, an Arduino Micro).
Afterwards, I proceeded to attach more pixels to the chain using small gauge stranded wire, and then powered up the pixels using some library sample code uploaded to the Arduino. I flipped over the painting to align the pixels with the artwork before securing them in place with hot glue. To speed up the cooling process, I used canned air before repeating the procedure with additional pixels.
You can see the circuit diagram for my painting below.
Once the circuit is fully assembled, you can touch up the artwork using a little more paint if necessary. To power the circuit, I am using an old USB phone charger.
In Nate’s original guide, he demonstrates how to use pixel strip by folding it in half and positioning it upright and perpendicular to the painting. The hot glue is used as light pipes to achieve nicely diffused light and allow for two different colored regions to be placed in close proximity to each other.
The finished painting makes a great night light that’s totally unique. Give this one a try, and please share what you made!