Clay skull figure with electronics inside! Part 1

You know I love simple electronics.

Unfortunately the biggest dilemma faced with these projects is about the case, at least for me. Seeing my girlfriend make very nice artistic clay figures I wondered how I could give them a little bit of life, alas the idea of embedding electronics emerged!

I included some LEDs, a potentiometer and a small pushbutton within this clay figure to make cool effects and to serve as an unusual control device for something.

wpid-wp-1434664781733.jpeg

 

Ingredients:

  • air drying modelling clay
  • 2 orange LEDs
  • 1 mini pushbutton
  • 1 potentiometer (I got mine from the infinite servo post)
  • female pin header
  • scrap ethernet cable (available at your nearest System Administrator)

Directions:

  1. Solder all the electronics to the female pin header
    “Why the header?” You may ask.
    It is very simple. It can be cumbersome to realise that your wiring was wrong or could have been more awesome done in a different way, also at this stage you still don’t need to have an idea about what effect or precise functionality you will want to add to your skullpture (nice joke eh?) later on. This way the first step is an action rather than planning. Keep moving with the idea.
    As a pro DIY tip, I always use scrap ethernet cables to scavenge wire from. They are a reliable and available sources of good quality wire.IMG_20150608_084940685
  2. Seal off and strengthen the wire connections with hot glue or heat shrink tubing. I’m not entirely sure how humid it can get inside the clay but it is better to seal it for water as well as to make sure that you won’t break a fragile solder joint while embedding your electronics in the sculpture.
    IMG_20150614_140931469_k
  3. Prepare the clay to be formed. Make it a bit damp so it is easier to shape. My weapons of choice were a bowl of water with a brush, a toothpick and a popsicle stick. Make sure you put some foil under the whole project to avoid ruining the table. I also used a smaller piece of wood just because it felt better to work on it and be able to rotate the piece without actually touching it.
  4. It seems that working with primitive shapes helps those of us less talented in this field of art.
    I started off with a ball, and a brick. Put one on top of the other creating something already pretty close to a skull shape, I just needed to add a small amount of extra clay to form a face.
    montage1_kAs you may see I already have a sexy orange skull which I used to get a good feel of proportions when starting off but then I put it aside. Make a sketchy version of the skull shape, but pay attention to the eye sockets. This is where the LEDs will go, therefore their location should be rather final.
  5. Once you are happy with the general shape of the sculpture, it is time to embed the good stuff!
    I made a tiny stand for the skull which also serves as the basis of the header, button and potentiometer.
    Now the electronics! Make sure that no clay gets inside any of the components since that will likely ruin them. To keep the most open component – the female header – safe, I plugged a male one into it, so after the clay dries it will be simple to reveal from under the clay. Before any cut is made, I recommend damping the figures a bit so it is less likely to stick to surfaces and also easier to cut.
    montage2Press the components firmly into the base, then make sure that the cables are secured. Close the clay sandwich over the components, after the LEDs have been pushed through the top layer. Again, use wet surfaces where clay meets clay, it joins better.
    IMG_20150614_170715958_k
    Realising that pushing the LEDs through clay in a controlled manner is far from convenient, I split the skull again, so that they can be inserted with a straight line, and the 90 degree angle will be where the front and back half of the skull meet.
    montage3Making a curved push to reach the eyes with the LEDs would have probably messed up the face.
  6. Finishing all these surfaces is mostly easy with a wet brush. Watch out for the bottom of your figure, it may get quite wet due to all the water you apply to the top which then runs down.
  7. To add some extra touch to it, I scratched/etched some pattern into the skull that are common in Mexican folk art or similar to it. This scratched pattern can also be extended later to house some fine inlay such as copper, dyed clay or even epoxy.
  8. See some close-ups for yourself in the gallery.

     

References

  1. Vacuum formed mask by Jimmy Diresta https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDOH8NnVKAM
  2. Infinite servo hack https://fleshandmachines.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/to-infinity-and-beyond-with-rc-servos/
  3. Mexican skulls for inspiration with decoration: mexican skull
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