Immortalize Deceased Electronics As Wall Art





Introduction: Immortalize Deceased Electronics As Wall Art

About: Always making something....

If you're like me, you occasionally get attached to some sort of electronic device. In my case, it was my Mac LCII, which finally died after only 12 years of trusty service. Honestly, I used it until the end - the printer kept working and it was super for word processing. When the hard drive finally whirred to a halt and the time came to put in the dumpster I just couldn't - it was the first computer I'd ever had and it felt wrong to throw it away when I could probably re-use some of it. So I brought it back into the house and took it apart. Then put the pieces in a box for a couple years.

After moving the box for the millionth time it instantly became clear to me that it NEEDED to be art. If your tastes are similar to mine you'll hang random electronics on your walls as well.

Heavy collage style art like this needs a heavy medium to hold it, so I used encaustic. Encaustic is a wax based paint that is one of the oldest paints around. For your reading pleasure:

I've documented all of the steps I took to go from box of parts to wall art. Make any changes you want, because as with any art it's all about what looks best to you.

Step 1: Supplies and Equipment

This list looks long, but you probably have a lot of it around the house already.

You'll need:

- encaustic medium/paint
You can either make some or purchase some. I make my own, but my materials come from Daniel Smith and you can buy medium/paint from them as well. I mostly use clear medium, but you can use any color(s) of paint you want. You'll probably want some clear medium either way.
- electronics parts (or other collageable parts) In my opinion you should take apart your electronics down to the pretty basic components. Be smart - there's probably sharp parts, possible electrocution risk (if I have to tell you to unplug it before taking it apart you should probably stop now), and any number of other dangerous elements to this. You've probably already done more dangerous stuff, but don't say I didn't warn you.
- a board
Mine is a chunk of plywood that I got from a local cabinet maker. They (apparently) make mistakes all the time and have an outlet to sell off their random pieces. I paid 50 cents for this piece. It is important that the material you work on is very rigid and porous - if it flexes the wax can pop off of it, especially if it's very cold.
- an assortment of brushes
Natural fibers are best because you'll be working with hot wax and synthetic brushes can melt. I like Japanese watercolor brushes because they hold a lot of wax and are cheap (which is nice because encaustic tends to shorten the life of brushes.) Two inches is the widest brush I ever use.
- an electric skillet
You basically need some sort of heat source to warm the wax. Candle warmers/coffee warmers can work, I prefer the skillet because I can adjust the temperature. Be sure to keep the cord protected and accessible - you don't want anyone tripping over it and spilling the wax, and in the unlikely event of a fire you'll want to unplug your heating element.
- a heat gun
The less air it blows around the better. You'll use this to fuse your layers of wax together and give the whole thing a nice smooth finish.
- small metal containers
For melting the wax in. Muffin tins, individual pie pans and condiment cups are just a few of the things that will work. You can also cut down soda cans, but be careful about sharp edges.
- wood lath
I picked this up in the moldings and rails department at the home improvement store.
- small nails
For framing it.
- hammer (and pliers)
For framing it.
- obvious art making things
Newspaper or tablecloth to protect your table, paper towels for cleanup, masking tape, surface you can cut on, water, that sort of thing.

I included a few optional steps at the beginning, and these require:
- canvas
Any cotton canvas will do - you can get it at art stores and fabric stores. DO NOT get pre-gessoed canvas for this project. Cut it 2 inches longer than the board (so there's a 1 inch or so margin on each side. This is not an exact science, just make sure it's bigger.)
- gesso
White acrylic gesso. Basic art store stuff, but avoid the student grade - the artist grade is a lot better and usually minimally more expensive.
- pigment
Dry pigment is a must to tint encaustic medium (though oil paint will also do the job.) If you choose to color you canvas as I did you'll need either dry pigments plus water or water based pigments.
- rotary cutter or knife
To trim the canvas after applying it to your board.


It's always a good idea to use safety glasses. You'll want oven mitts for sure, but I prefer the 'ove glove' for it's increased mobility. Breathing protection is important when using powdered pigments, and encaustic can create unpleasant fumes so you'll want some ventilation. It's possible to overheat the wax and cause a fire. You'll need to smother a fire like this rather than using water - it's like a grease fire. Anything that touches encaustic or pigments should never, ever touch food again.

Step 2: Preparing the Surface (Optional)

I wanted a bright white background for my painting so that all of the colors were clear. I cut my canvas (with an inch or so margin on each side) and laid it out on a waterproof surface (vinyl tablecloth). I used liquid pigments in pthalo blue, pthalo green and black. It's just a matter of mixing a drop of pigment out with water and brushing it on. You can also mix dry pigment with water to achieve the same effect. Work over it until it's a background you like.

DO NOT use paint for this step. Pigment contains no binder and really isn't permanent on the surface at this point. Paints do contain binders, and those binders will seal the canvas and prevent the wax from adhering to the canvas.

When you like how it looks let it dry completely.

Attaching the Canvas (Optional)

Decide where you want your canvas to line up on the board. You can adjust it out toward any edge. This is completely aesthetic.

Brush an even coat of gesso over the entire surface of the board. Gesso dries quickly, so work as quickly as is reasonable, and brush over the outer edges last.

Immediately press your canvas onto the board where you planned to put it. Rub over it with your hands to be sure it's completely adhered. No gesso should be bleeding up through the canvas. If a little comes through you'll probably be okay.

Allow to dry completely (this will probably take overnight.)

Flip it over onto a cutting approved surface and trim the excess canvas. Trim as close to the board and as neatly as possible.

Step 3: Attaching the Canvas (Optional)

Decide where you want your canvas to line up on the board. You can adjust it out toward any edge. This is completely aesthetic.

Brush an even coat of gesso over the entire surface of the board. Gesso dries quickly, so work as quickly as is reasonable, and brush over the outer edges last.

Immediately press your canvas onto the board where you planned to put it. Rub over it with your hands to be sure it's completely adhered. No gesso should be bleeding up through the canvas. If a little comes through you'll probably be okay.

Allow to dry completely (this will probably take overnight.)

Flip it over onto a cutting approved surface and trim the excess canvas. Trim as close to the board and as neatly as possible.

Step 4: Planning

Lay out your parts on the surface. Rearrange them until you're happy with how they look. Take a picture, make a sketch or do something else to remember this arrangement.

Step 5: First Coat

Whether you've applied canvas or not you need to brush a layer of encaustic medium over your board. Put a cup with some encaustic in it onto your skillet. Turn it on to warm up. Do not leave this unattended again until it's cool.

Once your encaustic is completely melted use a brush (1 inch wide or so is good) to pick up some wax and brush it across the board. Keep the board as close to the paint as you can because of the dripping potential. Keep doing this until you have a pretty good coat over all of it. It won't be consistent, but that's okay.

My first coat is a sheer metallic silver. The silver blends into the clear as I work through all the coats of wax.

Step 6: Fuse the First Layer

Pull out the heat gun. Mine has a dial and I set it at about mid-range or a bit above. My old heat gun had high and low, and I always used low (unless I was really trying to move a lot of wax around.

Start at one corner. Blow heat there until it re-melts. You'll know because it will go clear (or very clearly the paint color). Work your way across the board this way until you've re-melted it all and it's smoother. It probably won't be perfectly smooth at this point.

This step insures that the wax has bonded to the canvas/board you're working on.

I chose to apply a layer of clear and fuse it at this point, but how many layers you apply is up to you.

Use care with the heat gun as the end will get very hot and can burn whatever you set it on. It can also burn you if you brush it. Heat gun burns tend to blister badly and hurt for a while (not that I would have any way of knowing this.)

I've included a video of the fusing process so you know what you're trying to achieve and what speed it happens at:

Step 7: Apply Collage Elements

Choose a collage piece to start with. I started in the upper right hand corner.

Apply a liberal amount of medium to that area with a brush. I probably applied 2 or 3 coats.

Use the heat gun to re-melt this area.

Just as the wax starts to harden back up push your piece into it. You want the wax to catch around the edges and flow up through any holes.

At this point you can CAREFULLY use the heat gun to soften up the wax around it and set it better. You can brush in more wax where needed to help with this. I've seen an instructable about 'unsoldering' with a heat gun, so keep that in mind.

Repeat this step with everything you choose to attach. If you have something very heavy that you think the wax can't hold (it really will hold a lot of weight) you can screw or nail it in place. That's one of the benefits to using a board. You can always put some wax over the fasteners to hide them. I didn't use any fasteners on my piece.

I built up wax to tack down the wires as well.

Step 8: Last Layer of Wax

I chose to make my finish as smooth as possible. To do this I built up additional wax anywhere the texture of the canvas was coming through. I continued to brush on wax until I was content with the consistency of it over the entire piece.

Give it one final all over fuse. Add wax and re-fuse as necessary. Stop when you're happy with how it looks.

Step 9: Prepare the Frame Pieces

Cut two pieces of lath the length of the long side of the board.

Cut two pieces of lath the length of the short side of the board PLUS the thickness of the lath on the long sides. This is to make the corners fit up properly.

Sand as necessary to make them fit up as well as possible.

I chose to paint my black with spray paint. Give them a good coat of black paint on all sides.

Step 10: Attach the Frame

You'll want a gap between the back of the board and the wall so that when you hang it it will be flush with the wall.

Grab a book or similar object that's about 1/4 inch thick.

I used masking tape to hold the lath in place. Use a few nails to attach it to the panel. It's great to have help for this step. I used a pair of pliers to keep the nail from angling as I tapped it in. Use a light touch to reduce the chance that you'll dent the wood frame.

Nail on the other long side.

Tape the short sides in place and nail them as well.

Step 11: Finishing, Care and Feeding

If you've nudged any wax loose while nailing (unlikely, but possible) use the heat gun to melt it back into place.

Attach your favorite style of painting hanger to the back of it and put it on the wall.

If you've got a very dusty/smoky/petsy household you may want to attach a piece of glass over the front of the frame.

This kind of painting usually lasts forever, but there are a few environmental risks. If it gets hot enough it will (obviously) melt. The wax has been combined with damar varnish to prevent this, but if you leave it in a hot car or similar situation for long enough you could probably ruin it. Similarly, there is a chance that the wax will break free of the substrate if it is left in very, very cold conditions. If it is allowed to get cold handle it carefully until it returns to room temperature. This will reduce the chances of damage.

Being that this is one of the oldest kinds of painting around it should last without much trouble. Proof....

It seems to me that with the methods used and the gap on the back there would be a lot of potential for adding LEDs (especially run from batteries). You can collage almost anything into the wax, this is just one project. You also have a pretty good chance of removing what you add if you change your mind.

If you have any questions at all (I know this isn't a very common medium) post them and I'll do my best to answer them!



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    20 Discussions

    Some of these old boards glow really nicely under black light. The colours are not always quite what you expect either.

    This is cool. I was wondering what to do with the leftovers of a hack that I have been working on. I feel badly about throwing stuff away.

    I like this. There's beauty in the complexities of circuits. There's also sadness and pain in the potential of its component molecules.

    I guess art truly is in the eye of the beholder. Then again I have yet to see a PCB that inspired me. I was however prepared to purchase both an early Chrysler Hemi and a flat head V12 at an auction for purely display purposes outside my garage. For that reason I understand varying tastes. Unfortunately it was the sort of auction that attracted deeper pockets than mine, the only thing I went home with was a sunburned scalp.

    My brother did something like this, but he made a working computer on the wall. it was kind of cool to see (and use)

    1 reply

    That would be cool - it reminds me of some of the great science center exhibits I've seen over the years. There would be SO much room for an art/tech overlap doing that...

    Awesome idea But you might want to be careful about what you have hanging around because most old circuit boards use lead solder, which isn't exactly good for you're health.

    1 reply

    Thanks! As far as lead goes, I'm not really planning on licking it, and considering the amount of lead paint that's still around (school bus yellow still has lead in it, at least as of a few years ago) I'm not too worried about living with it. As an artist I do think about keeping my health protected, but I worry a lot more about the solvents and resins I use. It is a good thing to keep in mind, though, especially if you were making something that encouraged touching more (like some sort of sculpture).

    I have a neighbor who is a painter, and uses that fused wax technique...he has a giant ball of wax in his studio about a foot and a half across--he says it was baseball sized when he moved there... Utterly random ramblings aside, nice Instructable! The trash-rescued Apple Performa 630CD sitting beside me on my desk still works fine, which is amazing, considering that it's spent the last 10 years or so in a fifth grade classroom (my mom's), and who knows where before that.

    1 reply

    Those old Apples were built like tanks - I think they were really aware of how much they were used in classrooms. I think it's kind of nice to stay aware of technology past in a world where there's so much emphasis on 'the next big thing'. And I can't imagine how creepy a giant ball of wax like that could get... _

    i have my wall of nerdiness.... a wall with like 20 oldschool motherboards hung with ...picture-hanging-nails.... it works for me, though i like the abstract artsy look you have with the background on them.... nice work

    1 reply

    I was tempted to do what you did and just nail some parts to the wall but I'm glad I did this instead. I'm really working on doing a bunch of them in different sizes to put together on a wall together. The wall it's intended for is a blue/green color (similar to the background on this one) and very, very tall. I thought it could be a nice, updated version of the 'Victorian picture wall' idea. And thanks for the compliment ;-)

    I like it. I remember I have somewhere the Chipset of my first Linux Server, "Vectra Sama" and thought about enbedding it in a ceramic sculpture. Would be nice :)

    2 replies

    That would be tricky - it wouldn't (probably) hold up to firing, and clay shrinks about 10 to 15 percent when it's fired so you'd have to make a place for it, then expand that space by 15 percent, then attach it after firing. Or just use polymer clay, because it would likely hold up to 275 degrees. It would probably look awesome if you could pull it off, though ;-)

    It does indeed, but actually my idea was to fire up the clay to have the clay kilned right ( reduced and all) and only after that put the glazes on it and do a Raku jamming the chip in a prepared space on the sculpture. I have two major comcerns, one I do not know if the feet would hold the temperature and not melt, two if the chip can hold 900 degree C. Hummm

    That looks sweet! I've got lots of old electronics lying around, I might try it.

    1 reply