Tag Archives: clouds

Revisiting and Refining

This semester I had the opportunity to revisit the cloud project that fellow Artist-Educator Ainsley Buckner and I piloted last year.  The LED cloud residencies have been one of our most successful projects. In fact, the cloud project has been so successful that Progressive Arts Alliance will be traveling to the SXSWedu conference to exhibit and build clouds with conference goers.

Student at Mound STEM school building an armature.

Student at Mound STEM School building an armature.

Student Soldering a Neopixel LED light.

Student soldering a Neopixel LED light.


John Marshall students covering cloud armature to support cotton exterior.

This semester we refined our project objectives which led to the use of new materials and the opportunity to engage more students in the work.

First, we decided that the groups of students would focus on making three different types of clouds, cumulus, stratus, or cirrus, where as last year’s groups focused primarily on creating cumulus clouds. We also decided that instead of using slow rotating RGB and standard white LEDs, we used Adafruit’s Neopixels with Through-Hole connectors which made for a different soldering process, allowing me to cover both series and parallel circuits and how they can work together.

Following are some of my reflections on what went well and what could be improved.

What went well:

Each school (Mound STEM School, Hannah Gibbons STEM School, and John Marshall School of Information Technology) completed several clouds. This might sound like a simple objective, but it can be a tall order to have groups of students building sculptural forms, soldering LED lights, and combining the two into a functioning and stable sculptural object in only ten class periods.

The schools each completed clouds of several different types. Last time, most clouds ended up resembling cumulus clouds. This time around, each school has distinctly different clouds that still complement each other aesthetically.

The clouds are now powered by a wall outlet and an Arduino. The previous versions of the clouds were battery-powered which are expensive to replace and a little more unwieldy. The wall power ultimately cuts down on cost and overall hassle.

As mentioned above, an Arduino now powers the lights in the clouds. This allows us to make the lights actually look like lightning, and in the future if we choose, we could add sound or any other features, without having to start the project over. Click below to see a video of the Arduino-powered cloud:

What could be refined in the future:

As I mentioned earlier, it is hard to get all that we’d like done in ten sessions. Keeping this in mind, I think that finding ways to have students work on a project outside of PAA being there could be beneficial in several ways:

  1. It would give more responsibility and ownership of the project to the students.
  2. Provide an opportunity for classroom teachers to be just as involved in the project, better preparing them help in future projects or more elaborate/extended projects.
  3.  It would allow more time for scaffolding the project. Currently students haven’t had the opportunity to actually install the clouds with the PAA team. I feel like this is a large disconnect between the completion of the objects, and the overall goal of a public installation piece, which I think is an important part of the artistic process.

The individually addressable RGB LEDs that we chose for this project were difficult to work with.  Due to excessive wear and tear, the pins were more likely to snap off, and the pixels themselves can blow or not work properly if any large number of things goes wrong. In the future, I’d like to experiment with discovering a more fluid method of soldering the lights together to improve efficiency.

This project is always changing and moving. There are never any two classes that are the same, and that’s a good thing. It just means that the Artist-Educators need to be prepared with multiple solutions to multiple problems that could arise in any combination. The ultimate goal is to prepare students to be able to work through the steps of the design process enabling them to identify and solve a wide variety of challenges.

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A Mound of Clouds

During my first residency with Progressive Arts Alliance during the fall 2014 semester, I had the pleasure to work alongside Miss Ainsley (“Paisley” according to some of the more affectionate 7th graders) Buckner and the Mound STEM School 7th graders to develop, make, and install LED lit “clouds”.

cloud first

The 7th graders formed small teams to accomplish this project. Each team had to construct an acrylic armature that would be covered with gauze and poly-fill (the stuff that is inside of pillows) and build two circuits of LED lights.

To build the clouds accurately, the students looked at and identified different types of cloud formations. They drafted what the armature might have to look like for each type of cloud. An armature is the framework on which a sculpture is molded. Ainsley and I emphasized the importance of planning before making.


Each group then began to build their specific clouds, if someone was having trouble, the groups would work together, or combine themselves to make the process smoother. For the most part, Ainsley led the construction of the armatures and showed the students the proper way to use hot glue and a heat gun. The heat gun was used to add curvature to acrylic rods, allowing more natural looking forms to be built.


While some groups worked on their armatures, I took the rest of the students and showed them how circuits work, and how to effectively build them. Each student had the opportunity to build their own circuit in series, which would later be attached to the interior of the cloud for illumination. Continue reading


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A Bit of Wonder


There is something wonderful about the natural world. I believe that all people have the ability to experience this wonder. As an artist, and as of recently, an artist educator, I know that this wonder is something people have long tried to capture through the creation of art. There are no bounds to this attempt to capture wonder. From the earliest drawings, to the most contemporary art, humans have been engrossed with bringing natural wonder to a place closer to home. Our project with the 7th graders at Mound STEM School is another attempt at bringing the natural world into a stable and controlled environment, to enhance their space, and to constantly exude some of the wonder that the outside world does. The students are creating ever changing man-made clouds. Through research, illusion, and of course, artistic creation, the students will pull visual elements directly from nature, and employ them in a large scale installation that will seemingly float, ever illuminated, in the lofty spaces at Mound. We hope that, and as it seems so far they are, the students will experience wonder not only in the final installation of these objects, but in the creation process. Whether this wonder comes from the “magic” of electrical circuits, or from re-purposing stuffing and medical gauze to create natural looking forms, the entirety of the project will give insight into how a little bit of creative thinking and hard collaborative work can transform a space into something wondrous.

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