Introduction: Conductive Poetry

About: I am a multimedia maker and STEAM educator living in Los Angeles. There are few things more satisfying to me than acquiring and exploring a new skillset, so you'll find a wide variety of materials in my projec…

All these conductive materials! There's thread, fabric, copper tape, paint, graphite, etc. But what to do with it?

One thing to do with conductive paint (such as Bare Conductive) is to incorporate literature and create poetry that lights up! In this Instructable, I'll show you how.

See the last step for a video of conductive poetry in action! With amateur ukulele accompaniment!

Step 1: Materials

Bare Conductive Paint (pen or bottle)

Cardstock (heavy paper)

Printer Paper (or similarly thin paper)

10mm LEDs (You can use smaller if you like)

Alligator Clips

2xAA Battery Pack



Hot Glue or Tape

Step 2: Poetry

First thing you'll want to do is to choose a short poem or sentence, ideally one that can easily be modified by changing a few words. I picked e.e. cummings' "i carry your heart with me, i carry it in my heart," because it leaves a ton of options.

Using a pencil, sketch out the sentence on a piece of heavy paper, omitting your changeable words. Make sure to leave a blank space (no writing) in place of the missing words so there is room for the picture pieces you'll create later. At the edges of the blank spaces, make large circles as landing pads for the legs of the word blocks to rest on. They should be roughly 1/2-1" apart.

It's important to have all of the letters connect so that the circuit can be completed by the inserted words. You can do this by writing in cursive and connecting the words, or by writing along a base line. Or innovate a different method (Decorative vines? Copper tape that goes through slits beneath the paper and connects the words?)

Draw a line from either end of the poem to the edge of the paper and make a circle there too. This is where you will attach your alligator clips.

Step 3: Paint It

Time to bust out the paint pen. Use the paint to trace over your pencil lines. Make sure there are no gaps or super thin sections in your paint lines, or the circuit won't work.

The conductive paint won't actually conduct electricity while it's still wet, so at this point we'll let it dry while we pop over to make the replacement words. It should be dry in a couple hours. Placing it under a heat lamp can help it dry a little quicker if you're in a rush.

Step 4: The Light-Up Word Blocks

For the replacement words, we'll make little blocks using LEDs, paper, and hot glue. You can use clear tape in place of glue if that's all you have available, but hot glue helps hold things in place more securely, especially the LED.

Cut a circle from your thinner paper, about an inch in diameter, on which to draw or write your word, and a strip of your heavier paper, a bit wider than the circumference of the circle and just longer than the head of the LED.

Why the different weights of paper? Heavier weight for the sides means that it will be more sturdy, and lighter weight that covers the LED will let more light through. You can experiment with different kinds of paper.

Using markers (or paint, or pencil, or berry juice), draw or write the original and alternate words on different circles. You can make as many as you like, limited only by the number of LEDs you have. For my poem, I made two hearts (because it's the original in both my blank spots), a hand, a pocket watch, a shoe, a fish, a horse, and a TARDIS.

Make a circle from the strip of paper that matches the circumference of the circle (slightly smaller is alright too), and glue or tape it together. Use hot glue to attach the strip to the circle like a little cup.

Step 5: Prepping the LEDs

To make the word pieces stand, I used pliers to bend the LED legs to look a bit like they were kneeling. See the pictures for how to create this shape. Bend the kneeling legs out far enough to bridge the gap between the omitted word circle pads; this is how the circuit will be closed and what will make the LEDs light up.

Important: LEDs have polarity; current only flows in one direction. What this means for us here is that it's important which side of the word block has the positive LED leg when you assemble them in the next step. It can be either, just so long as all of your blocks are consistent. On most LEDs, the legs are different lengths, and the longer one is positive, shorter is negative. 5mm LEDs also often have a little flat side at the base of the plastic that identifies the negative side. This can be helpful identifying the polarity after you have bent up the legs.

I like to solve this problem by, before messing with the legs, marking the top of the negative leg with a black sharpie. That way it's easy to identify which leg is which. (If all else fails, inserting a coin cell battery between the legs will show you which side is positive and negative)

Step 6: Assemble Light-Up Blocks

Put a glob of hot glue at the bottom of your paper cup, on the back side of the picture circle, and then press the bent-legged LED into it, always making sure the negative leg goes in the same direction, and holding it in place til it cools. Hot glue diffuses light nicely, so adding more inside there won't hurt you.

Step 7: Completing the Circuit

Once you've created your word blocks and your poem paint is dry, you can try it out. Use alligator clips to attach one side of a battery pack to either end of the poem (positive side of the battery goes toward the positive end of the LEDs), and then place a word block on each blank spot, making sure both legs are in contact with the circles. The word blocks should light up!


- Most Common: Are the legs definitely touching both of the circles? Sometimes they take a little tweaking to make sure they both rest where they're meant to.

- Is your writing continuous? Are there any super thin spots? (you can check a lot of these circuit problems by bypassing the site in question with another alligator cable)

- Try swapping the battery pack alligator cables where they connect to the paper. It's possible that you have the current trying to go the wrong direction (which won't work).

- Is it super bright where you are? Try in a dimmer location.

Have fun with it and post pictures of your poetry!

Make it Glow!

Participated in the
Make it Glow!