Category Archives: Art

Art design developer making Projects technical

What I did with Lightning data,a Raspberry Pi and Anti-static bags

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night when there is a thunderstorm happening and think "I wonder if its possible to make a digital sculpture that visualises lightning data using LEDs"?
must just be me then.

That was back in March and after lots of faffing around with wire, plastic metal and code I have made it happen, here's how.

The first thing was to see if it was actually possible and for that I had to see if the data was available, I also had to make sure they used the cloud to back up their data. There are commercial services that provide the information but they tend to be quite expensive as it is valuable for I think Insurance and similar services. I found an amateur network of people who run detectors and upload the data but they don't publish the data unless you have one of the detectors. I tried the Met office but they only publish data for lightning data for around the U.K, they publish an image file not actual data I could do anything with and there isn't enough lightning happening around the U.K for it to be interesting.

After finding lots of Flash based sites that would be either difficult or impossible to extract the Data I found the University Of Washington global map of Lightning data    A bit of poking around and it was possible to find the underlying data to work with 

Next was the technology choice.  It would be powered by a Raspberry pi and use Neopixel strips for the LEDs.  I considered  both Python and NodeJS for writing the code. Python would probably have been the better choice and I think it would have been faster and easier but I hadn't done any NodeJS for a while and I wanted to dip my toes in again so that's want I plumped for.

First part of the development was to control the Neopixels from the Raspberry Pi.  I used this Library and set to work playing with the Neopixels.

It was around this time I had the idea of using metallic anti-static bags.

The eagle eyed among you might notice that I'm  actually using an Arduino for that test

I also started to think about what the sculpture would look like.  Not straight and angular like a single fork lightning strike, not a  sphere with dots plotted on it, I wasn't going for an artistic interpretation more than a simple  data visualisation. I began to think about  the swirliness and chaos of clouds and storms and started sketching some ideas.

I eventually settled on four long strips of  Neopixels, intertwined, each strip representing one quadrant of the earth taking the point that the equator and the Greenwich meridian intersect as the centre as that seemed a sensible thing to do.  I fell into a bit of an hole learning about map projections and plotting the data onto images of the Earth using P5JS .  It wasn't really necessary for the final outcome but I wanted to check I was doing everything correctly and it felt the right thing to do.

lightning data plotted onto map of Earth

I did some prototyping in P5JS to get an idea what it would look like and to  start working with the data.

Now I knew I could control the LEDs, had an idea of what I wanted the end result to look like and I was comfortable with the data I began to pull it all together.

To stop the Neopixels just from dangling down limply I came up with the idea of using the waterproof strips that have a clear plastic covering over them, into this I pushed down a thin solid wire that I had inserted into a clear heatshrink sleeving to prevent it electrically  shorting the LEDs strips.  This was a lot harder than I had anticipated and there was a lot more swearing than i thought there would be.

These strips were then covered in sleeves  I had made by cutting and gluing anti static bags. That was also more difficult than i thought it would be,involved burning my fingers with hot glue  and I didn't really work the best way to do it until it was finished. But it kept me amused on twitter for a few evenings.

A few hours were spent wiring it all up, crimping the connectors together, then taking it all apart and doing it again properly so it would actually  work and its now finished.  It can run either with the Raspberry Pi connected to the internet and pull down updates to the data or offline if there is some data loaded.

There are still some bugs in the software that need fixing.  I want to update the code so that it automatically detects if there is a live internet connection and if not will run in offline mode. It has run successfully for several hours per day for five days at an art show for Science Museum staff.


I've already started on getting rid of the breadboard wiring for the chip that converts the output from the Pi to a voltage level suitable for the Neopixels but thats a story for another day.

PCB next to bread board with chip and wires



I'd like to exhibit it further  but don't really know how to go about that. I would love to hear from anyone who could help me with further exhibiting or  knows how I would do that.  Leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter.

So here it is running


Art making Projects

Making a new Skull

Most people would make a papercraft skull  as a Halloween project , but I'm not most people so I made mine in April.  This isn't the first skull I have made.  The first was around two years ago, it was made of paper, cut out with scissors and glued together using Pritt Stick.  It was always my intention to add LEDs to the eye sockets to make it extra spooky but because of  the strength and quality of the build it is  a little fragile and i didn't want to destroy it.

Having gained some more experience from the Oceans Project Little boat, as well as an X-Acto knife, a cutting board and PVA glue I decided to re-visit this project and add those red LEDs. It would also be a good project to control the LEDs from a small microcontroller programmed in C that I was exploring in my last blog post.

The first step was to print the Skull onto card.  I chose 160gsm from Ryman It is thick enough to have the required strength but still easy to work with.    The Skull design is from   As well as the Skull there are a lot of other spooky/monster themed Paper craft projects to make.  It was the design I used the first time.  I looked around again and it was still my favourite to use.

The only slight quirk to this design is that there are no tabs to glue together.  All the joins are made by placing edges next to each other and using sellotape.  This means that it is important that the pieces are cut out accurately.  The only place where i went slightly wrong on this was on the jawline.  The line prints out as a very shallow 'V' but the joining piece is perfectly straight.  It looks to be a slight error caused by the resolution of the printing rather than a mistake in the deisgn.  If I built the model again I would check mating parts before cutting  to make sure they will  line up correctly when joined.

Learning from my first build of the skull I glued re-enforcing strips along the joins as I don't think the sellotape will stay stuck for too long.


Here is build in photographs.

Printed skull design
Getting ready to start


Eye holes cut out of eye sockets
Eye holes cut out of eye sockets


Centre section of face cut out
Centre section of face cut out


Eye sockets cut out
Eye sockets cut out


Eye sockets joined to centre of face
Eye sockets joined to centre of face


Forehead joined to face
Forehead joined to face
Forehead sections joined together
Forehead sections joined together


Jaws cut out and ready to join to face
Jaws cut out and ready to join to face
Jaws joined to face
Jaws joined to face
Joining rest of top of skull
Joining rest of top of skull


Bringing sections togeth to form the finished skull
Bringing sections together  to form the finished skull
Eye sockets cut out
Eye sockets cut out


Eye sockets made up, with LEDs in them
Eye sockets made up, with LEDs in them
The finished skull, also has nose attached
The finished skull, also has nose attached
Finished skull with LED eyes lit up
Finished skull with LED eyes lit up
Original paper skull (left) next to new cardboard skull
Original paper skull (left) next to new cardboard skull


All that is left now is to connect the LEDs up to a microcontroller, so they can be controlled from a switch or a sensor.  I've also downloaded another project from Ravensblight that i'm going to have a go at.

Art developer Projects thoughts

More Ellipses, lots of Ellipses

If you saw my last post where i showed I'd been playing with drawing ellipses in P5JS I mentioned that I'd been trying to create  a simple animation of circles of continually decreasing circles. The result of my first attempt was interesting and I think quite beautiful, so here is is again.

See the Pen NxBJdy by Catherine Jones (@m-fkill) on CodePen.

Well after that I carried on. I thought making the circles as individual objects and then repeatedly drawing them at different sizes might be the way to go.

It wasn't but after playing with the parameters it gave an interesting effect

See the Pen QyZmpM by Catherine Jones (@m-fkill) on CodePen.

The third attempt to the object orientated approach further.  Each circle would be an individual object and I would give them a start radius, reduce the radius on each frame. Then when the radius reached zero, reset it back to the original size.

This sort of worked but it tended to create batches of circles with different gaps to other circles.  I think I could have made it work by working out the number of circles I needed for a particular canvas size and gap between the circles.  But it felt that it was starting to get complicated.

Of all the attempts though I think the result I ended with here is my favourite. Seeing the Circle pattern appear to grow, stay steady for a while then it sort of implodes on itself before finding its actual final pattern after around one minute was sort of cool, I couldn't have predicted that. If I had wanted to come up with that sort of effect I certainly wouldn't have gone about it that way.

See the Pen OMBvmR by Catherine Jones (@m-fkill) on CodePen.

After rethinking what I was trying to achieve and looking back at my previous attempts and what I had learned. Finally coming up with the working circle pattern was a lot easier and the simplest code of all the previous attempts. But i couldn't have done it without the others.

See the Pen BjqrZp by Catherine Jones (@m-fkill) on CodePen.

Art developer thoughts

Playing with ellipses

Have been playing with P5JS a lot recently.  Was wanting to create an animation of continual decreasing circles.  It didn't really come out like I intended but I like what did happen.

Also trying out using for putting the Javascript experiments online

See the Pen NxBJdy by Catherine Jones (@m-fkill) on CodePen.

Art developer Projects

Making a Game

For the last eleven weeks i've been taking a online course introduction to programming for the visual arts with p5 js .P5 is a  Javascript library that makes creating art and interactive web experiences simple and accessible. I want to creat a game because I love videogames so much, my favorite videogame is LOL.

As well as introducing P5 the course has looked at different aspects of art created through software and shown historical examples to put the course into a wider context.

The last assignment was to write a simple game.  P5 isn't really intended for writing games but the course has covered enough to make a simple game possible.

I'm actually pleased with the outcome of my game and have had some good and positive feedback from my course mates.  Its not fully polished and finished but has the basic mechanic of the game.  It took me around seven hours on Sunday starting from scratch.

I'll probably update a few things and get it working on mobile devices. I've not tested it yet but think the canvas size might be a problem.

It doesn't have a proper name yet, the best i've got at the moment is Super Circle Colour match. It can be played at Super Circle Colour Match.

I've noticed it runs faster on Chrome making it harder than it does on Firefox, so thats a tip if you aren't good at this sort of thing like me.

Anyway have fun and let me know what you think,either in the comments or on Twitter 

Art Projects

Selling the Mona Lisa

A few months ago I went to Paris for work. I had hoped to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre after i had finished but it was a Tuesday and everything is closed in Paris on a Tuesday,no one told me that.  I came home with only a blurry picture of the Eifell tower as a souvenir.

blurry Eiffel tower
Eiffel Tower, told you it was blurry

Oddly I know exactly what the Mona Lisa looks like having seen many pictures of it in books when I was younger and now on the internet.  This has left me wondering what exactly are those reproductions that we see on the internet. Is it the Mona Lisa or is it something else? Can I have an opinion on that famous smile or thoughts about Da Vinci's genius of being a master of both art and engineering without ever actually seeing the original?

To help me try and understand what digital images are i decided to see what would happed if I base64 encode the Mona Lisa and other images of artworks.

If you are not familiar with it base64 encoding is a method of representing digital data for when it needs to be transmitted over a medium that only supports sending textual data. If want to know more have a look at the Base64 Wikipedia page

I wrote a short Python script to convert a binary file to a based64 encoded text file.  Opening this text file in a text editor was odd.  The data wasn't recognisable as the original Mona Lisa in any way. There is no way of telling what parts are the background or the different colours that are present.

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa image file  I  used was taken from Wiki Media commons and according to Wikimedia the image is in the public domain so I could use it without fear of anyone demanding money for its use.  That doesn't go for all images of the Mona Lisa.  Corbis a company owned by Bill Gates sell licenses to images of the Mona Lisa.  Is there's a better image of the Mona Lisa because its the official licensed version.  Would I get more please or a better understanding of the work if I looked at the Corbis image over the Wikimedia Image?

Girl with a Peal Earring



As well as Base64 encoding a mona Lisa image I did the same with The Girl with a Pearl Earring and Sunflowers  Both of these I used the smallest image size that was available.  For sunflowers I decided to make it smaller still. When I base64 Encoded that tiny picture which became pixelated and distorted when zooming into it there was a odd string of text in roughly the centre of the file




Not sure if that has any meaning or if its just a strange human thing that we give meaning to something without any meaning, after all that string represents some digital data.


To complete this exercise I decided I would take these text files and create digital images from them and put them up for sale.  Maybe in a few years time these images are what robots will hang on their walls of the homes.

The images are available from Redbubble as everything from a hoodies to iPhone covers.  Not sure Van Gogh,Vermeer and Da Vinci would ever have imagined that their paintings would be transformed into a series of  text characters adorning mugs and iPad covers when they painted them.

Red bubble

I'm not quite sure If i've satisfied my own curiosity about what these images actually mean, if anything i'm even more intrigued now

I'll put the Python script and Base64 Encoded text files on to git hub later on for anyone interested


Art Projects thoughts

Making a Twitter Art

I make lots of things, If you want you can have a look at the ones i've wrote about on this blog now that i've organised them all onto one page at 

Some of them are for a real good cause like the little boat, I made for Oceans Project . Others are to learn about something new like the Unofficial guide to the Natural History Museum

Sometimes I just want to make things that don't exist  or turn a tweet into something real  and sometimes I just want to make statues fart 

What i've never called any of the things I make is art, to me all the things I've made are just things i've made. But my latest project I think it is art simply because I can't think of anything else it could be.

When I was working on the Tweeting Satellite  project for work last year i became fascinated with twitter bots and how metronomic they are,  sending out tweets regularly, not needing something funny to happen to them on the way to work or to be frustrated that the milk in the fridge has gone off for them to tweet.  The Tweeting Satellite was only a short project but I wanted to create something whose entire point was that it would tweet regularly for a long time.

Its taken a while since I wrote it but @ColoursAll is now live, it will tweet every hex colour from 0x000000 to 0xFFFFFF in order. The reason its taken so long is that rather than just sign up to an hosting service I wanted it to actually physically exist.  For this I took advantage of Colocker offering a free hosting to a Raspberry Pi for members of London Hackspace.  This was most of the delay, getting around to setting up the Raspberry Pi.

At around  the same time as writing @ColoursAll I wrote @TickTockBot which ran over New Years Eve.  I always find New year a bit strange, its seems such an arbitary celebration that I don't understand  and every year now I just tend to hide under my duvet. @TickTockBot was my way of dealing with it last year.

Anyway @ColoursAll is running and is due to complete in approximately 1915 years time.   It feels odd making something that has the potential to last so long. I'm guessing that in actual fact it won't last that long. Something will happen  first. Twitter will shut down,Colocker will shut down or the world will just end.

I should probably have  put a message to be tweeted at the end but I haven't, or have I?  You'll just have to wait and see.