This is a post from Tinkerer-in-Residence: Celeste Moreno. For more about Celeste, check out her profile on our Tinkerer's Page.
As a tinkerer-in-residence at the Exploratorium I’ve been playing with putting a computational spin on tinkering activities like light painting. When I started to tinker with light painting, I kept thinking about traditional painting tools: What sort of brushes or stamps could I make? Could I finger paint with light? How do you make a paint palette using light?
I decided to go the fingerpainting route and to make a glove with a light attached to the fingertip. Here’s where the magic of code and computation comes in; by attaching a micro:bit (a programmable microcontroller that can connect to lots of inputs and outputs) to the light on my fingertip I can control the color of the light, the pattern and timing of the light, and I can use different inputs like button presses or the movement of my hand to control the light. Now I have my own fully customizable finger painting, light painting tool. Here are some tips if you want to make a light painting glove:
Materials I Used
☐ 1 glove
☐ 1 small piece of fabric or elastic
☐ 2 Velcro dots
☐ 1 micro:bit
☐ 1 micro:bit battery pack
☐ 3 pieces of wire
☐ 1 neopixel (a programmable RGB LED light)
☐ Some thread and a needle or fabric glue
Making the Glove
First I glued a strip of fabric to the glove to secure the micro:bit to my glove. I only glued down the left and right sides of the strip. The top and bottom need to be open so that wires for the light and battery can be attached to the micro:bit.
Next I cut one neopixel light off of a longer strip of lights and glued that neopixel to the tip of the glove finger using hot glue. I had to make sure that the neopixel was facing the right direction, the little arrow on the neopixel should point away from the micro:bit, or away from the rest of the glove.
Then I measured and cut three wires to connect the neopixel to the micro:bit. After I double checked to make sure they were the right size I soldered the wires. I chose to solder because I knew I would be using this glove more than once. Later, I’ll share an example of a light glove made without soldering.
After that I found my battery pack and attached two velcro dots to the pack and two velcro dots to the back of the glove. I could’ve made another pocket like I did for the micro:bit but I found that this works really well and that the battery pack stays put when I move my hand around.
Finally I downloaded a test program to the micro:bit and plugged in the battery pack to make sure that the light and the micro:bit were working like I expected.
Programming the Glove
To make the light change colors based on a button press or the movement of my hand, I programmed the micro:bit using MakeCode, a coding website for micro:bit. I tested lots of different light programs before I found my favorites. My final glove had 4 “modes” that I can switch between by pressing the “A” button on the micro:bit.
Mode 1: change the light color to red if my hand is tilted to the right and change the light color to blue if my hand is tilted to the left
Mode 2: turn the light yellow
Mode 3: turn the light green
Mode 4: show warm colors like yellow, orange, and red when my hand is moving slowly. Show cool colors like blue, green, and purple when my hand is moving fast.
If you want to see more of the code here is the whole program.
Here are some test paintings I made with this glove. I used a digital camera on a tripod to take these photos.
This red and blue flower was made using “Mode 1”, I started with red for the center of the flower and then I tilted my hand to change the color to blue to make the petals.
I also tried pointing my light at objects in my room (like this door) instead of pointing the light directly at the camera. This painting was also made with “Mode 1”, I think it has a nice space or galaxy effect.
This scribble shows how fast my hand was moving. I used “Mode 4” to make this painting, so the yellows and oranges mean that my hand was moving slow, the purples and blues mean that my hand was moving fast.
Take It Further
This is just one way to make a light painting glove. Cate Heroman made a light painting glove that uses a tricolor LED, alligator clips, and the micro:bit (no soldering required).
My version of @CeMoCreates ET light painting glove with #microbit & RGB LED. Tilt left - red; tilt right- blue; screen down- green. #LEDitglow @TinkeringStudio @wonderfulideaco @KnockKnockCM pic.twitter.com/Ct4dVDPY7N
— Cate Heroman (@cateheroman) December 22, 2020
You could add extra parts to your glove like a buzzer and use it for another activity. Or you could add a whole strip of lights to your glove.
And maybe, it doesn’t need to be a glove at all. What would it look like to make a light painting tool that you wear on your head? Or that you attach to your shoelaces?