Painting a wall with light using water as ink

This art installation uses a fantastic concept. The wall can be painted using water as ink which lights up a huge grid of white LEDs. This offers a very wide range of interactive possibilities since water can be applied in so many ways. Grab a paint brush, wet your finger, use a squirt gun, or mist with a spray bottle and the lights will tell you where you hit the wall.

We’re hoping a reader who speaks both French and English might help out by posting a translation as a comment on the prototyping video. In it, [Antonin Fourneau] shows off the various prototypes that led to the final product and we’d love to know what he’s saying. But by seeing the prototypes, then watching the English promo video after the break we can make a pretty good guess.  The boards have a hole that fits the flat-lens LEDs perfectly. This creates a mostly water tight seal to keep the liquid on one side while the leads are safe on the other. The water side has squiggly pads which allow droplets of water to complete an electrical connection.

[Thanks Jake]

19 thoughts on “Painting a wall with light using water as ink

  1. Yes, this is cool. Nice idea, well executed, it looks really fun as well.

    I do wonder how they ‘clear’ the screen once it is all lit, could you use compressed air or something, or would it just be a case of waiting for the water to trickle away and break the circuit?

    1. Instead of compressed air (might be too noisy) I immediately thought of using distilled water afterwards…

    2. Water trickling away, probably.

      I’d think something like a hairdryer or other way of making the water evaporate off would work better for clearing the screen…

  2. I speak french and english… but am currently firewalled so can’t view vids. The text comment on the side-by-side board pic in their stream (pic 4 of the assembly) reads:

    The Water Light Graffiti boards, before and after (installing?) the LEDs. The electrically conductive trace “flowers” on the face allow connection of the LED to the (light? power?) source via water. (literal translation of the last: The LED lights up a return path on contact with ground – french is full of idioms you have to translate as well as the words)

  3. 0:07 Then I’m Antonin Fourneau, I’m at DigitalArtist, I’m artist, teacher. In other schools I animate workshops manly about digital themes.
    0:20 Lately, a project that I try to lead at home is the water wall graffiti. The main idea is to use water as ink (switching on and off medium). What pleases me in this project is water, it’s ephemeral, it’s not definitive. Not as a graff where we’ll leave the message for a long time. We’ll leave a message and with evaporation, the message will disappear. A little like the example of today’s social media message, the messages have a short period of time to appear.
    1:04 This thing can be completely autonomous, i.e. when it rains there is no need for a human to add water it’s simply water that flows on the wall and we’ll clearly see water drops going down because where there is more water would be brighter.
    1:23 This is one of the early prototypes, that is simply made on a pcb board. I try to cut down the costs.
    1:34 I have a low tech alternative, this is a cardboard, adhesive tape and copper adhesive tape. It will be at the digital night at Reims. It will be the first big prototype.
    2:08 The ideal of this project is to make a pcb at first a low tech but then to make of it an architectural material. The idea is to make it of copper covered acrylic.
    2:36 I’m actually experimenting with a CNC carving the copper sheet(adhesive copper), or the most probable solution is etching adhesive copper on acrylic using the same technique as to make a printed circuit board using tonner transfer. Then it costs less per square meter.
    3:46 At the begining I had a more complicated motif with multi elements and tryed to make it simpler to reach this where the leds arn’t too visible as in the first prototypes.

    This was what is almost said in the video.

    Then my explanation, a simple etched board where water droplets come fill the gaps and make the electrical link to light up the leds.


  4. here’s a transcript, i tryed to really stick to was was said.

    0:10-My name’s Antonin Fourneaux, i’m currently in residency at digitalarti,
    i’m an artist, teacher (i teach at the Paris’ school for decorative arts and lead workshops in other schools mainly regarding numeric arts).
    0:20-The main project i tryed to complete within my residency is
    the “Water Graffiti Wall”. The main idea is to hijack an activity,graffiti and simply to use water as the led lightning mean.
    0:38-What i like in this projet is the fact that water is only temporary, and hence the message too, not like a graff[iti] where the message lasts, here, with evaporation, it wont stay,a bit like the messages on facebook where availability of the messages is time limited, they’re not intended to stay for years.
    1:00-It can be completely autonomous, when it’s raining for exemple, a situation where a human intervention (adding water) is unnecessary, with drops running down a wall you’ll really clearly see the drops running down, when the water drop’s actually running down the light will be intense while it’s tarce will only leave the led dimly lit.
    1:23-My first proto board, relly simply done with copper clad but i’m looking to reduce cost (copper clad is expensive after all), i have here something done, very d-i-y, very low tech : with cardboard, black vinyl tape and copper tape, it’s almost the same process (than copper clad) but i use low cost material.
    1:55-It’ll be for numeric night in Reims, that’s called “do it yourself”, let’s say that it will be the first upscaled prototype of the projet and we will try to only make it with this kind of this kind [the low cost’s ones]. Ideally we’d like to start with a really low tech DIY version but to get to make almost like an architectural material,
    2:16-so we could have, like in a city, in a lasting kind of material (the principle is simple, leds, alimentation), that you could do yourself, like that, with plexiglas and a copper cladding,
    2:30-a part of the work is to experiment with plexi covered with copper sheet and cnc’ing the motif on it, here are tries i’ve done. here is with scotch and with a mill. Here is certainly the more effective, a bit trashy now but working ok,that’s the copper tape, i use the same technology as with regular copper clad etching, putting the material in iron perchlorate
    3:10 which eats the copper that i have to remove to create the circuitry, that’s really simple, the technique is putting toner on magazine paper and transfering it to the copper by heating it, the toner protects the copper and you put it in perchlorate,
    3:35 after you get a etched board on plexiglass, i have a lower cost per square meter with this method. i had a really complex cellular-like design at the beginning with a lot of elements and wanted to see if, by comming back to a simpler design it was still working ok.
    3:50 i tryed something like that, it’s a little bit looking like something you can find on castle gate or something like that, tried to give a patine, a bit like Cortane, i think i’ll go along this kind of research now, at least for the next prototypes to have both aesthetic qualities by night and by day
    4:15 so people can ask themselves what are this little elements and have a bit of a misterious aspect since you don’t clearly see the led and to have the surprise to see it react to moisture. By night or dim light, it starts to be visible when the sun is down

  5. Great idea, excellent execution.(totally off-the-cuff)I’m curious whether a similar effect would be possible using refracting qualities of water if the LEDs were angled correctly. Then the artist could squeegee the surface to start over and water wouldn’t get into the electronics.

    1. If it were using capacitive sensing that idea is good, but based on the translations above “allow connection of the LED to the (light? power?) source via water” which makes it the medium, or the switch itself.

  6. i thought it used polarized glass and a counter polarized peace behind it (or using the camera) than the water drops would have scattered the lights polarity making a light like graffiti or something XP

  7. Couple of questions.
    What happens if someone puts something metal on the pads. Will either blow the led or the power supply.
    Is there a problem with electrolysis eating away the copper tracks. I tried it quickly running at about 20v and you could see the water start bubbling and the tracks are starting to corrode pretty quickly.

    1. Johnh,
      metal on the tracks would have the same effect as the water, there would have to be an in line resistor to control the current in both instances. water and metal act the same as short circuiting the switch, as for electrolysis I cant see it being too much of a problem as copper is the least reactive metal, what you’re most likely seeing with the bubbling is the other minerals starting to coat the copper, after time i guess it would eventually build up and cause a higher resistance (or even open circuit) so the LED’s wont be as bright. giving it a good clean every now and then depending on how often the wall is used would prevent any problems

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