“Arduino Borealis” Combines LEDs and Paint

[Stef Cohen] decided to combine three different artistic mediums for her latest project. Those are painting, electronics, and software. The end goal was to recreate the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, in a painting.

The first step was to make the painting. [Stef] began with a shadow box. A shadow box is sort of like a picture frame that is extra deep. A snowy scene was painted directly onto the front side of the glass plate of the shadow box using acrylic paint. [Stef] painted the white, snowy ground along with some pine trees. The sky was left unpainted, in order to allow light to shine through from inside of the shadow box. A sheet of vellum paper was fixed to the inside of the glass pane. This serves to diffuse the light from the LEDs that would eventually be placed inside the box.

Next it was time to install the electronics. [Stef] used an off-the-shelf RGB LED matrix from Adafruit. The matrix is configured with 16 rows of 32 LEDs each. This was controlled with an Arduino Uno. The LED matrix was mounted inside the shadow box, behind the vellum paper. The Arduino code was easily written using Adafruit’s RGB Matrix Panel library.

To get the aurora effect just right, [Stef] used a clever trick. She took real world photographs of the aurora and pixelated them using Photoshop. She could then sample the color of each pixel to ensure that each LED was the appropriate color. Various functions from the Adafruit library were used to digitally paint the aurora into the LED matrix. Some subtle animations were also included to give it an extra kick.

6 thoughts on ““Arduino Borealis” Combines LEDs and Paint

  1. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler even if my life depends on it, so I won’t be doing this, but I like the trick about pixelating a photo before emulating the colours with a LED matrix panel. That could come handy some day.

    Nice work!

    P.S.: You can definitely pick up Python in a month.

    1. I think if you could pick up python in a month, you could make this. Apparently you know how to follow directions, and that’s all that’s really required. BTW, I think pixelating a photo before emulating the colors is what a monitor does nicely! XD It does come in handy!

    1. Maybe it is better than the real..

      You wouldnt know – yet you make such proclamations.

      Having seen your posts all over the blog – it isn’t surprising.

      Please evaluate what this repeated behavior says about you as a person.

      1. having lived in alaska for years and having actually seen some auroras id have to say id need to see a video to make a judgement. from the still images it looks a little flat. but as an art piece its still pretty cool.

        actual auroras can be pretty intricate, sometimes they are static and sometimes they ‘dance’. the most recent display was out in the woods with zero light pollution and a clear sky a few years ago (they happen all the time,but because of light pollution and cloud cover its rare to actually see them). plasma chasing the flux lines, the patters are so intricate i dont think you could duplicate them even if you had some really high resolution projector in the thing.

  2. Let’s get real; I’ve seen photos from the top of a mountain, I’ve seen IMAX videos taken from the top of mountains, and I’ve been on top of mountains. Nothing can compare to the real thing under ideal conditions; but, IMAX is pretty amazing, and pretty damn close especially in 3D, and pictures are still worth a thousand words especially in 3D. Anything other than the real thing is emotive in that it invokes the memory of the real thing, if one has that memory; and as art, that’s good enough for me barring the other senses. The question of which is better is a non-sequitur. Beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder, and the value of that is a state of mind. I’ve never seen the Auroras, and 512 leds may not have the resolution or the beauty of the real thing. But, in the eye of a beholder, far from viewing the actual thing, in my eye it beats the expense of travel, and freezing one’s ass off. With proper brightness control, it would make a great night light, and use little power. Just my take, meaningful only to those who find meaning in it.

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