Wednesday, 24 February 2010

You light up my life

So the light up crane was a go-ahead, but I needed better lights now I knew what the cranes would be made of.

I thought that someone had probably already done something similar, though I’d already googled variations on “light up cranes” to make sure I wasn’t copying someone else’s work, so I spent a while googling “make your own fairy lights”, “make your own LED art installation” etc. Turns out, the information superhighway is deficit in light up stuff with clear and easy instructions on how to Do It Yourself.

I googled LEDs, thinking that I was pretty au fait with them already, and it would be a doddle to figure it out, which led me on to realise that despite doing electronics at school, being responsible for the lighting rig at college, and making my own light-up tiara for my wedding, I haven’t the faintest idea how electricity works. Now I’ve spent hours reading up on it, I know less than before.

Since when did I let that stop me?

First task was to find the easiest thing that lights up that I could make. Google yielded an LED throwie. Okay, that looks pretty simple, and I don’t even need the magnet that it’s attached to, so basically I’m looking at taping an LED to a battery, and that’s it. Easy.

Off I went to the local cheap shop to buy:
- one of everything with an LED in it (I wasn’t sure which would be easiest to dismantle)
- a shed load of extra coin batteries (no idea what the difference is in batteries bar size, and don’t really understand the whole voltage thing, but I’m guessing it’s not going to be high enough to cause me any permanent harm) and
- lots and lots of insulation tape. I pretty much live by the “if in doubt, stick tape on it” mantra.

Here’s (part of) my haul:

The LED tealights seemed to be the flimsiest, so I started by trying to take one apart. I actually did this before I even got home, so there’s no pictures, but it was really simple – prise off the bottom and the electric bit falls out, then you can wiggle the LED until the bit soldered to the rest of the mechanism (probably not the right word, but the switch and battery pack and stuff) snaps off. Et voila! You have an empty casing, a load of now useless electric mahgumbo and an LED bulb. They even came with batteries included, so I popped those out to experiment with.

The batteries were teeny-tiny, and there were three of them, which when I finally managed to juggle them into line and put the LED sticks (what do you call the bits that come off the bulb?) onto them made the LED light up! Hurrah, I am a bona fide electronic genius!

Next was to stick a load of tape around this to keep it all together, and then I quickly folded up a crane out of the paper I’d decided to use, and then proceeded to gut it to slide the LED contraption into the middle of it. Finally, I had my very first LED prototype (I decided that the Christmas light one was a test, not a prototype, okay?) of my light up cranes:

The picture isn’t very good, mainly because I’m not a very good photographer. Plus, using a flickering candle LED meant that much like the Christmas light I used when testing out papers, the light was dimmer than I’ll want it for the proper installation, flickery (great for simulating candles, rubbish for cranes) and yellow, whereas I’m planning on using superbright white LEDs. I used the night-vision setting on my camera to show the crane up a bit more:

So, it’s possible. There’s still a million things to sort out, like how do you wire up 1000 LEDs and put them inside the cranes, and string it all up before the LED starts to run out? But, it’s looking properly possible now, and I’m getting rather excited!

A brief interlude

I just want to say thank you for reading so far. I’ve been trying to post fairly quickly and intensely in order to bring the blog up to where I am at the moment, so then I can update in real time with what is happening, and at this point, I’m just about there. The first few posts were short and hadn’t really got any pictures of interest, but hopefully from now on there’ll be a bit more depth to my posts, and I’m trying to take pictures of all the stages so you can see what I mean, rather than just read what I mean.

Crane vs. Crane

How could I get my cranes to glow? The answer was obvious. Ask John.

John works in my office, and is a PhD in physics-ey stuff. Not particularly in electronics, but he’s a pretty good person to go to if you want to ask about how anything works. Plus, he watches the Discovery Channel a lot, and that’s good enough for me.

We came up with a couple of ideas, which were much better than my rather over-excited “tie them all to fairy lights!” suggestion. Next up were discussions on the actual cranes – we had to know what we’d be lighting before we could decide on how to do it.

Last time I made 1000 cranes I’d used everything from scrapbooking card to takeaway menus. There were even pages from books and stickers in there. This time round, I wanted plain white (the installation is supposed to represent peace and hope, so all pure white reinforced that), and something that was easy to fold (folding card over and over is hard on the hands, and this time, I had a deadline). It also had to be fairly cheap and easy to obtain, and as the cranes would be strung up, weight had to be a factor.

I narrowed it down to two main options for the paper to make the cranes out of:

- Printer paper. The pros of this are that it’s cheap, plentiful, and easy to fold with. Cons are that it doesn’t come in squares, so I’d have to make larger cranes (I’d originally been planning cranes made from 6”x6” paper, which is the standard size of the origami paper I usually use) to square it off easily, or I’d be stuck fiddling with it for a while making sure I was cutting out a perfect square. It’s also fairly thick, so I wasn’t sure if the light would shine through it enough.

- Origami paper. Standard origami paper is pretty easy to come by around here. It’s lightweight, thin (so light shines through easily), and obviously by its very nature easy to fold. It also comes in a standard square, so I could fold straight out of the packet. However, it’s much more expensive than printer paper (around £1 for a 100 sheet pack) and it comes in lots of colours, so even if I fold it “inside out” (so the white on the back of the paper is on the outside, and the colour on the inside) the colour will still glow through if it is lit from inside, and there will be some colours in a pack I can’t use (brown and black, and possibly other darker colours, as they’d swallow up the light inside), which again would make it more expensive.

After lots of test runs of making cranes of different sizes and different colours, and shoving a handy Christmas light into it to assess light distribution, I decided that the printer paper was a better choice all round, as the larger cranes didn’t detract from the effect so I could square it off easily, and I preferred the all-white as it was a clearer connotation (can you have a clear connotation?) of the peace message I was trying to put across. The Christmas light didn’t shine through brilliantly, but it was a small yellow old-style bulb rather than the LEDs we’d been looking at, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

I’d just made my first prototype light-up crane!

Monday, 22 February 2010

From a tiny acorn...

So I had the seed of an idea, but how would I make it special enough for Light Night? 1000 cranes, though impressive, is barely an installation.

First I thought about stringing them up in trees individually, so it looked like a flock of paper birds had landed in Leeds. Unfortunately, paper birds outdoors in October is pretty much guaranteeing that you'll end up with wet paper falling on people's heads. The idea of having paper birds overhead like a flock appealed to me though, so I thought about having a ceiling festooned with them, rather than the traditional strings. Plus, it would look more exciting.

I like what the senbazuru stands for, and I liked the idea of people walking amongst a symbol of peace and hope. I decided that the cranes should be white, to make it appear more peaceful. If only I could get them to glow with a "holy light"...

I really should stop thinking. It only leads to trouble.

The Senbazuru

The senbazuru, as lifted straight from Wikipedia:

"Thousand Origami Cranes (千羽鶴, Senbazuru or Zenbazuru) is a group of one thousand origami paper cranes held together by strings.

An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury...

The Thousand Origami Cranes has become a symbol of world peace through the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who tried to stave off her death from leukemia as a result of radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II by making one thousand origami cranes, having folded only 644 before her death, and that her friends completed and buried them all with her."

In 2008 I folded 1000 cranes, which took around 3 months to do. It looks like this:

The crane isn't a particularly hard model to fold, and I'm by no means the best origami person ever, but I do get a lot of people asking me about my origami (particularly as it is something I tend to do on the train/bus to keep me busy during journeys) and a lot of people are surprised when I tell them about the senbazuru, because they can't imagine 1000 cranes all together at once.

Only recently I'd been talking to my husband about getting rid of them, because they take up a lot of room and we'd just moved house. I'd been talking about making another, out of smaller paper; but what if I made another, especially for Light Night?

My life as an artist

I started thinking about what I actually could do in terms of art or performance, and what people would want to see at Light Night.

I do have experience of theatre, but backstage work, so acting was out.

I look like a hippo on acid when i try to dance, so that was out.

I can't draw, so that type of artwork was out.

I've got a qualification in photography, but it was only a short Open University course, and I'm no David Bailey.

In fact, the only thing I've ever completed which I would say is crafty is my senbazuru...

Friday, 19 February 2010

Let's start at the very beginning

Last year I went to my very first Light Night. Some of the contributors were great, some...weren't; but they all seemed to be having so much fun, and everything seemed like such an achievement, which made every one we visited a complete success.

A few months later, and I mentioned to an artist friend of mine that she should apply for 2010. When she replied that she didn't think she would, I thought it was such a wasted opportunity. Then I thought it was a wasted opportunity if I didn't apply.

I'm not an artist. Give me a pencil and a piece of paper and I'll draw something you wouldn't give your child credit for. I was politely asked to leave my art class at school, and I haven't studied it since - even my doodles are relegated to boxes and scribbled-out stars. So what gives me the right to think I could apply for Light Night? Well, I'm enthusiastic. I have "genius" ideas, but don't have the skills to carry them through. I like, even if I'm not very good at it, attempting photography, and origami, and theatre.

So I decided all I needed was an idea, and then I'd somehow figure out how to make it work...