Introduction: Sound-Responsive LED Painting (on the Relatively Cheap)

Picture of Sound-Responsive LED Painting (on the Relatively Cheap)
This instructable will show you how to make a triptych painting with LED lights that respond to music. I will be honest and say that this isn't the first project like this, but this is how I made this one and it's relatively cheaper than other projects I've seen like this, which ended up with an overall cost of $2000+ or something. This project cost me maybe $60 total, if that, although I did have some of the required items already on hand and the two major components were on sale on Amazon at the time of my purchase.

I didn't take pictures as I went, so I apologize that all the photos were created in MS Paint.

Here's my final end result:

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Materials Needed:
-Muslin (fairly thin or see through for the lights)
-Square wooden dowel rods, ¾ in, straight (make sure they are not too warped or bent). Use a lightweight wood but not a “fake” wood which would split. I got mine at Home Depot
-freezer paper (for the stencil)
-acrylic paint
-iron
-paint brushes
-wood glue
-staple gun (optional)
-hot glue/hot glue gun
-This LED light set
-This IR controller (This company has other IR controllers but they may not have three ports. I’m sure there are other IR controllers that work the same way; just make sure that there’s a correct number of ports for the number of panels you are making. This is the one I used)
- extra connectors
-printer/paper
-tape
-solder and soldering gun

Step 2: Make the Frames

Picture of Make the Frames

Cut the dowel rods into pieces, four 2 ft. pieces, four ½ ft. pieces, and two 1 ft. pieces. Make three frames with wood glue – two ½ by 2 and one 1 by 2. Make sure the glue is completely dry before moving on. You can reinforce the frame with staples if you want, but the wood may split depending on what type of wood it is. I didn’t use staples.

Step 3: Stretch the Muslin

Picture of Stretch the Muslin

Stretch the muslin on the frames using hot glue. Muslin frays fairly easily and you don’t want to “prime” it with gesso or anything. It would probably eventually fray and fall off if you used staples like on a regular canvas. Hot glue works well to secure it and stop any future fraying. Be careful not to burn yourself. You may need one of the bigger glue guns instead of the small ones.

Step 4: Stencil the Painting

Picture of Stencil the Painting

When the frames are done, it’s time to stencil or paint your design. You want to pick something relatively simple and long (landscape) with a lot of white space so the lights will come through. I used one of Roy Lichtenstein’s brush strokes since it complemented other art in my bf’s apartment and wouldn’t take up too much space on the canvas. I also didn’t want it to be super detailed so that when the lights were on they would complement each other and one wouldn’t take away from the other. I painted the black layer thinly so the light could shine through and hand painted the yellow. After choosing your design and cutting out the stencil from freezer paper, line up the frames so that they are touching (like one big canvas). Lay down the stencil and iron it on all three panels at once. Then paint it and let it dry before peeling off the freezer paper.

Step 5: Attach the LED Ribbon Lights and Connectors

Picture of Attach the LED Ribbon Lights and Connectors

Wait until your painting is completely dry before attaching the lights. The ribbon LED lights are attached along the inside frame of the canvas. If you purchased the specific lights in the set above, there should be a 3M adhesive already on the back of them. However, before you do anything, you’ll want to run the strip along the inside (without taking the adhesive off) to make sure you are cutting the right length to fit along the inside. You could also measure this with measuring tape or use math and cut out an appropriate length of the ribbon lights. Make sure you are cutting the lights at the correct point. Every few lights there should be a cut point which is like a connector area. (sorry for the lack of technical terms) On the set I’ve linked to above, you can cut them every three lights.

The lights I linked to have two connectors already attached, so if you measure from the two ends you’ll only have to solder one connector. On the strip that doesn’t have a connector, line up the wires correctly and solder them to the gold connector pieces, making sure to connect the proper wire to the proper connector and make sure the soldering lines don’t cross or mix.

Once the solder is dry, you can attach the lights. Take off the back of the adhesive and stick the strips to the inside of the frame. Try to make sure they don’t touch the fabric. It probably wouldn’t catch fire but if you are transporting them, it’s more likely that the light strips may tear the fabric. Attach them so that the connectors all come out as close to the center of the piece (not each panel) as possible (as seen in the picture).

Step 6: Plug Everything Up!

Picture of Plug Everything Up!

Plug extra connectors into the music IR controller, again matching up the proper wires to the proper ports. You may need to strip them a bit. Then plug up the panels, making sure the connections are secure (otherwise the colors will not sync up and you may have some weird, asymmetrical coloring). Also make sure that the little 'arrows' on the connectors match up. My bf secured the connections with painter’s tape. He mounted it on the wall by securing each frame with a screw above and below and then screwed the IR controller to the wall as well. Plug up the power cord and the connections. Using the remote that came with the IR controller, you can turn it on. You can choose a single color, a simple flash/fade, or you can have it react to music.

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