Circuit Art Brings Out The Lifelike Qualities Of Electricity

Functional circuit sculptures have been gaining popularity with adventuring electronic artists who dare attempt the finicky art form of balancing structure and wire routing. [Kelly Heaton’s] sculptures however are on a whole other creative level.

Not only does she use the circuits powering her works as part of their physical component, there are no controllers or firmware to be seen anywhere; everything is discrete and analog. In her own words, she tries to balance the “logical planning” of the engineering side with the “unfettered expression” of artworks. The way she does this is by giving her circuits a lifelike quality, with disorganized circuit structures and trills and chirps that mimic those of wildlife.

One of her works, “Birds at My Feeder”, builds up on another previous work, the analog “pretty bird”. On their own, each one of the birds uses a photoresistor to affect its analog-generated chirps, providing both realistic and synthetic qualities to their calls. What the full work expands on is a sizable breadboard-mounted sequencer using only discrete components, controlling how each of the connected birds sing in a pleasing chorus. Additionally, the messy nature of the wires gives off the impression of the sequencer doubling as the birds’ nest.

There are other works as well in this project, such as the “Moth Electrolier”, in which she takes great care to keep structural integrity in mind in the design of the flexible board used there. Suffice to say, her work is nothing short of brilliant engineering and artistic prowess, and you can check one more example of it after the break. However, if you’re looking for something more methodical and clean, you can check out the entries on the circuit sculpture contest we ran last year.

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Non-standard Circuits: Jazz For Electrons

How creative are you when you make your circuit boards? Do you hunt around for different materials to use for the board? As long as it’s an insulator and can handle the heat of a soldering iron, then anything’s fair game. Or do you use a board at all? Let’s explore some options, both old favorites and some you may not have seen before, and see if we can get our creative juices flowing.

Transparent Circuit Boards

Let’s start with the desire to show more circuit and less board. For that we can start with [CNLohr]’s circuits on glass, usually microscope slides. What’s especially nice about his is that he provides detailed videos of the whole process, including all the failed things he tried along the way. Since he didn’t start with copper clad board, he instead glued his copper sheet to the glass using Loctite 3301. That was followed by the usual etching process, though with plenty of gotchas along the way.

In the end, he made a number of circuits, including an LED clock with the LEDs on the glass itself, and even attempted leading the community in making a glass keytar. The latter didn’t work out, but the resulting glass circuits are a work of art anyway.

What about making a transparent circuit board out of acrylic? [Frank Zhao] attempted just that by laser cutting troughs into the acrylic for the traces, and then drawing in nickel ink. But something in the ink ate into the acrylic, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, the voltage drop across the nickel was too high for his circuit. Suggestions were made in the comments for how to solve these problems, but unless we missed it, we haven’t seen another attempt yet.

But we’ve only just begun. What if you wanted even more transparency?

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‘Nutclough’ Circuit Board Design Is Stylishly Amplified

Though there is nothing wrong with the raw functionality of a plain rectangular PCB, boards that work an edge of aesthetic flare into their layout leave a lasting impression on those who see them. This is the philosophy of circuit artist [Saar Drimer] of Boldport, and the reason why he was commissioned by Calrec Audio to create the look for their anniversary edition amplifier kit. We’ve seen project’s by [Saar] before and this ‘Nutclough18’ amplifier is another great example of his artistic handy work.

nutclough2For the special occasion of their 50th anniversary, Calrec Audio contacted [Saar] requesting he create something a bit more enticing than their standard rectangular design from previous years. With their schematic as a starting point, [Saar] used cardboard to mock-up a few of his ideas in order to get a feel for the placement of the components. Several renditions later, [Saar] decided to implement the exact proportions of the company’s iconic Apollo desk into the heart of the design as an added nod back to the company itself. In the negative space between the lines of the Apollo desk there is a small perforated piece depicting the mill where the Calrec offices are located. The image of the mill makes use of different combinations of copper, silk and solder mask either absent or present to create shading and depth as the light passes through the board. This small piece that would have otherwise been removed as scrap can be snapped off from the body of the PCB and used as a commemorative keychain.

With the battery and speaker mounted behind the completed circuit board, [Saar’s] design succeeds in being a unique memento with a stylish appeal. There is a complete case study with detailed documentation on the Nutclough from cardboard to product on the Boldport website. Here you can also see some other examples of their gorgeous circuit art, or checkout their opensource software to help in designing your own alternative PCBs.