Bring good fortune to your work or home by making your own special animatronic beckoning cat figure. Maneki-neko is originally from Japanese tradition but you will see it commonly displayed in many Asian shops.
Although the upcoming Chinese New Year is the Year of the Dog, this one is for the cat.
Create the figure from simple paper mache and make the arm/paw move with an easy setup of an Arduino driving a small servo…and Neopixel LED lights!
While you’re at it waiting for the glue to dry, you could try your luck with a KITT Cat Plushie!
Step 1: Paperwork Ain't Done Until the Glue Dries...
Paper mache or papier mache with your pinky up, is just creating a sculpture with layers of paper glued together.
Use torn up pieces of newspaper or anything else in the paper recycling bin. Glossy paper doesn't soak up the glue so avoid using that. The rough torn edges make the pieces blend together for a better look.
The glue is just regular white glue mixed equally with water to thin it out. There are many recipes out there on what to use for the glue from wheat paste wallpaper glue to concrete cement like I used for my Totoro Garden Statue.
The process really lends itself to making whatever your imagination desires.
You need a rough form that will act as the support structure until the glue dries and your paper mache becomes a hard shell.
I cut out some box cardboard in the shape of the feet for the base. I then glued in some uprights that I could form the rest of the cat. Build up the volume with more scrunched up paper.
Apply many pieces of torn paper that have been dunked in the vat of glue. You can gently squeeze or squeegee off the excess glue solution before you apply the soaked piece to the form. You should overlap the edge of one piece with another so that it all becomes a single strong piece when completed. The wet sculpture can be further worked with your hands or tools to get it in the final shape. You will get the feel for how many layers you need to apply.
Set aside for a day or two or more to completely dry. Inspect and glue down any edges that may have lifted or did not adhere well.
Step 2: Lights, Camera, Action...
I had an Adafruit Circuit Playground and a small servo to use.
I loaded up the Ticoservo library to use since I knew the timing signals for servos and Neopixels sometimes don't work right together. Well, I was using a Circuit Playground board which is slightly different than a generic Arduino UNO so the servo did not operate as I expected.
I switched back to the generic servo library and servo demo code for Arduino. That worked fine and then I added back in code to make the Neopixel LEDs light up on the board. When the code is running for a bit, you might see the servo get out of sync with the Neopixels running and it will seem to stutter.
The servo itself is press fit into a slot on the side of the paper mache cat. The servo horn is also press fit into the separate paper mache arm.There was a lot of experimentation to home in on the best range of motion for the arm. I had to figure out where home position was and see how to orient the servo for mounting.
I guess I could have routed all the wires internally but since I was running this off of USB power, everything was draped around to fit. I had a wiring header connector I soldered on previously from another project which I left on the board so that is just tucked away.
Step 3: Fancy Cat...
I painted the paper mache cat black with some acrylic craft paint.
Googly eyes are always fun. I hot glued on a set.
I cut small pieces of felt to make the ears, nose, mouth, whiskers and claws. Those were attached with regular glue.
The collar and medallion were also crafted with felt.
So go out and make your own Maneki Neko Lucky Cat.