Tag Archives: ledmatrix

Hex Light Prototype1 - Brad Ormand

12.15.2015 – Hex Light and Animation Controller

Recently, I have been making a light animation controller.  The prototype is on a breadboard and combined with a separate little 2 x 3 RGB LED matrix module I built last month.  I have the system running on 3.3v with a few test animations programmed in C on a 16-bit Pic24.

I’m excited about this project and I’m continually making it better – both in features and in the kinds of animations I’m writing.  It’s pretty wonderful to see it all come together!

I still need to mount the pieces together and stain them, but it’s taking shape.  I’m also going to carve the pieces with some more detail and perhaps put in some metal inlays – I’m still messin’ with it.  In the end, it’ll all be one piece, but I just have it sitting on the BB for the time being, to get a bearing.

Got some stills here:

Hex Light Prototype - Brad Ormand

Hex Light Prototype - Brad Ormand

I cut and sanded some wood last night and put a cut sheet of coated mylar underneath to let the colors diffuse and shine through a bit.  I thought of this design while falling asleep a few nights ago and got back up to draw it out on the wood.  So, it was nice to see it come to life.

Mainly, my workstation has been my pool table (lol), and it’s a pretty awesome little surface.  I clean it off and play pool in between projects, but yeah, it’s central and in the main room and it’s a great place to work.  Also, I have some of my other in-progress projects in the background there that I brought out to be inspired by 🙂  This captures the scene for the end of 2015, for me to look back on…

Hex Light Circuit - Brad Ormand

Hex Light Breadboard - Brad Ormand

The pins talk to multiplexer-inverter chip pairs that gives each anode and cathode of the matrix a 3-bit address that I take advantage of when I control the sequence in code.  I like this way of doing things – the complexity has been offloaded to the hardware.  I handle the current load by never having two or more LEDs on at the same time – it’s just very fast switching that makes it look “on”.  I have a rotary encoder switching the animations, properly debounced, feels great, and integrated into the user event loop to provide more features.

As I go along this month, I’ll be closer to deciding on an arrangement for a reproducible product.  I’m currently investigating putting in an OLED or Chip-on-Glass display to show the current animation and battery state, etc.  Some smaller products won’t have this, but I want other, larger ones, to have that visual piece in there.

All-in-all, I have been busy with software engineering at my day job, but when I have the time, I like to work most on this project – it’s an offshoot, or simplification, of the honeycomb light I worked on earlier this year.

I have been doing a little painting lately using a “crackle” technique, and I have been drawing and carving more human faces, too – gettin’ better with both.  One day, I’ll integrate all of them into my professional projects as well.  The practice in those other disciplines, though, also helps me come up with designs like this to do this project:

Hex Light Prototype1 - Brad Ormand

And, the next step on this Hex Light project is to design the SMD boards and get those etched and tested.  Once they work and I have the kinks worked out, I’ll send off for some properly solder-masked, dark green and gold boards (fancy), and drop my logo on it for a real nice-looking internal product.  And, yeah, I’m going to make the board a hex shape, too. 🙂   Until next time…

Comparing SMD Components

04.16.2015 – SMD In-House PCB Test & Truncated Icosahedron Paint

I painted the Truncated Icosahedron (I’ll call it by it’s shape name cuz I can’t think of anything else fancy to call it yet).  Yep – I got a supply of Metallic Blue, which glistens in the sunlight, for the outside, and painted the inside Titanium White.  What’s the result?  Well, it looks cool as hell, but now I gotta think what to do with it….

I wanna light it up soon, but I’m into 3 projects simultaneously right now and have a job, but, I’m thinking I’ll light this one up with those Philips Lumileds in series with a small dimmer control board.  We’ll see…  More thinking required.  Or, more appropriately, when I get the idea, I’ll start implementing it freely.

Truncated Icosahedron Brad Ormand


I’m trying to see if I can get the precision necessary to etch these micro-trace circuit boards with Ferric-Chloride, in-house.  I have a small lab set up for that, but I have no idea if the resolution from the etching phase will be sufficient.  In the past, I have had a hard time with small traces washing right away.  But, I think that’s an error in my photo-exposure process, not the chem bath.  That’s why I’m gonna try with this test.  I have my AD 654 Adapter (so I can breadboard with it), the RGB LED headers, and the MCU SMD board for my Honeycomb light all put onto a sheet that I’ll run through the process.  I might fail.

However it turns out, I’ll find out what capabilities I *do* have after it’s done.  And, perhaps, I’ll see where the bottleneck is and be able to overcome, we’ll see.  But, it could be awesome and hold electrical integrity just fine!  I hope that’ll be the case.  Then, I’ll be able to pump out usable products from this run.

Comparing Circuit PCB Components

At the top of this pic, I put in my old RGB LED header for comparison which is twice as big as the ones I have slated to make.  That’s good.  These will be nice and tidy.  Also, you can see in the pic, next to the quarter, the tiny TQFP chip that I have to be able to make precision traces for and be able to solder onto it.  And, then there are the SOIC-8 parts at the top left to go onto the other boards.  Most of the passives are 1206, but a few are 0805’s.  I bunched the rest of the packaging next to it because it sets the scene 🙂 .

I’m glad I did a test print on paper because the first one was crappy resolution @ 72 DPI (fixed it), and also, in this one, I left one of the soldermask layers on the design (fixed that, too).   BTW, the moisture test (Cobalt Dichloride Free) turned pink in a matter of minutes taking it out of the package, but was blue just before.  I’m not going to reflow these, but it’s interesting to see the effects, especially here in Texas.  Shipped from Mouser, also here in Texas.  It’s humid today – 89%, reported.

Comparing SMD Components

Anyeeewayees… We’ll see how everything comes together.  I see it like this: If I’m able to fabricate these SMD boards here, more power to me for testing prototypes with small surface-mount components – mainly the chip leads.  But, if I cannot get consistent results, then I’ll either go back to prototyping with through-hole parts, improve my fab process, or just get them made when I need ’em.  But, I *do* wanna find out if I have the resolution necessary, in-house.  Exciting!  I’ll report on what I find.

Brad Ormand HoneycombLight Main MCU Board

03.25.2015 – Main MCU Board & ComCath RGB LED MaTRIX

After hours and hours of taxing my brain for what approach to use to streamline the “guts” of the HoneycombLight (for real – it deadened me for a bit from getting stuck several times and trying to overcome these obstacles.  I lost sleep.), I finally came to a conclusion for the architecture of the matrix routing (and then I was ok).


So, I figured, I’ll just place daughter boards, matrix mixer boards, every 4 pixels and let the pixel driver boards run straight to it, 4 at a time, raw, (R, G, B, and cathode) instead of “mixing upstream” by soldering wires together right on the drivers (like I did last time).  Mix as I go – 4 times downstream to the final MCU – it’ll all be prepared once it arrives there.   …Because the entire thing is really messy if done with twisting or soldering wires together onto connectors at the pixels, believe me.  It’s a “grid”, a Matrix, a mess.  I really needed the double-sided planes, here.  I did it in two “phases” (those 9 via holes in the center), alternating top and bottom copper.  Reminds me of the butterflies in Fast Fourier Transforms, but physical.

This allows the entire path to the MCU boards to be nice and clean with dedicated plugs for easy service and replacement, and I admit, also for the cleanliness of the way it looks – fresh, not cluttered.  I like that. 🙂  That was one of the tradeoffs I made.  The way that “under the hood” looks is important to me.

Brad Ormand RGB LED Matrix1x4 MixerBoard


And, as for the MCU board, most of its architecture is the same as the first through-hole rendition, but it’s just double-sided, solder-masked, and silk-screened, now.  Loads of improvement!  But, the concept is the same…  However, I can’t have it looking like it’s still a prototype.  (I have already built that and it worked (with wires all over the place), so now it’s time to do it for real).  So, every component is now surface-mount, minus the row and column connectors (for rigidity).  It’s not the *final*, final version – I have already thought of things that I’ll have to do to revise it, but it’s a good start.

I am yet to send it off to be manufactured, so I haven’t tested it yet, but I’m really excited to get a small batch back and run it through the ringer!  I mean, I’m almost as excited about how it’s going to *look* as I am about how it’s going to work!  Haha – to me, it’s like a work of art!  Especially with that ground plane in there surrounding the traces – looks dope.

Brad Ormand HoneycombLight Main MCU Board

I don’t know if putting “BradOrmand.com” on there is “forced” or not, actually.  I want a “maker’s mark” on there, but am still deciding if that’s the direction I wanna go or not.  I might put in a bitmap with my logo or even transfer it over to the company name I’m thinking about using for the marketing of the lights, etc.  I don’t know, yet.  Decisions, decisions.

All-in-all, though, this board was weeks in the making and took a lot out of me.  I didn’t think I could do it there for a while…  But, I was also kind of stressed out with all of the Portfolio and job stuff, recently.  But, I have it quite in-hand, now.  Let’s hope the electrical connections all check out and that those tiny-ass traces can handle the current I’ll give it.  It’ll be multiplexed, but still only milliseconds between blasts.  We’ll see.  This is all part of the learning.  I’m determined to do this.


Last thing…  The main thing I am concerned about right now with this is soldering the central ground pad underneath the 0.8mm pin pitch TQPF without a reflow oven or a good heat station.  I don’t know how that’ll work.  I’ll be thinking about it.  In fact, I think it has solder-mask under it right now.  I’m going to have to investigate, but the datasheet *does* recommend tying it to ground.  Onward we go…


Hex Light - Stills Of Animation 2 - Brad Ormand

02.12.2015 – Lights & Devices

During the last few days, I have written several animations for the Hex Light, improved the animation library and software utilities I have going for all of my lights, and have swapped animations one after another trying to find the right sequence.  I also got blended colors going.  **I really need to start producing video to go with these log entries…

And, in the interim, I’ve been doing a lot of research into prices of parts, chips, and supplies to make the boards and art.  Basically, I’m trying to design REV B of the board and enable part- and code-sharing among as many of them as possible.  Actually, it’s pretty exciting.  I like doing it.  It’s like a little game.  🙂

Hex Light - Stills Of Animation 3 - Brad Ormand

I showed the Hex Light and other projects to friends and family this weekend and it was a hit, I think!  And, plus, we talked about all kinds of possibilities for the future, such as limited editions, knotted wood, inset screws, and wall-sized art.   Plus, I got advice from some business veterans about marketing and product design.  That gets me excited for the future.  I like this.

But, for now, I want to focus on making a good selection of the lights – large, medium, and small – all price ranges, and making the prototypes as cool as they can be 🙂  Also, I’ll be in business with the Dodecahedrons and my paintings, as well.  I’ll have an album and a synth instrument, as well, upcoming.  It’s thrilling to me to design these and come up with stuff that people get excited about!  I get excited about them, too!

Hex Light - Stills Of Animation 2 - Brad Ormand

That being said, there’s only so much I can do at a time.  Plus, I have a full-time engineering job.  But, every night and on the weekends (if I’m not venturing out), I chip a piece of the shroud away from the form of the dream.  Right now, as I said, I’m designing products.  I’m implementing the ideas that inspire me.  I did a Hex Light prototype all the way from an idea to done and working.  This REV B board for it is going to be what I’ll try to put into production.  I’ll keep working on it as I continue to get the other lights caught up to the “working prototype” stage.  As I said, they’ll all share some common parts and production methods.

For instance, I’ll probably go with a 44-pin TQFP MCU, get them in bulk and flash the appropriate program on them for the application.  It seems like I could save money by getting 3 or 4 different processors, specific for each application (like if I only needed 2 full ports and 2 ADC’s for one thing, instead of 4 full ports and 6 ADC’s), but really, I can’t save that much, because getting bulk means that I already save cash on the one model, in bulk.  If an MCU costs $8 each for under quantity 10 and $5 each for 500 or more, I get the discount, overall.  And, as for the labor, I’d like to work with a common port pinout and register layout for the common libraries I’m writing.  That’s the kind of thing I’m spending the most time on now.  Haha – who knows what will end up being “the right thing”, but I’ll learn as I go along.

REV B for the board will halve the size and be labeled much better with a proper soldermask, silkscreen, and two layers – plus it will use SMD parts.  Mounting it on the art will be much easier, and I can use that same board in a few products.  I’ll have to make other boards, say, for the Tri-Light and single hex “mini” lights, but my direction now is to get the more complex board settled and then use the techniques learned from that to create the mini ones.

Hex Light - Stills Of Animation 1 - Brad Ormand

Anyway…  I could go on and on…  It’s fun to try to get these pieces going for production.  It’s not stressful, but it’s not easy, either.  I want to see these pieces come alive and be in good form, so I’ll do what I have to and just see what I got after they’re done.  Then, I can move on to other projects, like the synth and metal dodecahedron.

Hex Light - First Colors - Brad Ormand

01.29.2015 – Hex Light

Alright.  I got the first animation loaded into the piece after fixing the critical circuit board layout problem.  I’m glad I did it this way.  For REV B, I’ll connect the board up in the way I modified it to be just now.

I got red, green, and blue coming through on all pixels, with the 200 millisecond PWM test pattern at 3.3 volts.  So, now, it’s time for testing it to the max.  There’ll never be two pixels on at a time, but…  will the RMS voltage be so high as to drain the battery too quickly when I increase the pulse frequency? Or, even make the device heat up?  I don’t know.  Damn, I’d like this to be a portable app, but my upcoming tests will determine if that’ll be feasible. May have to reconsider my 2200mWh power supply, then, but let’s see.  I’d like to run it as quickly as possible – for video / photography, and for getting the max out of the chip.  I’ll get stats / test data and then go from there… I think it’ll be ok.

Hex Light - First Colors 2 - Brad Ormand

So, what I’m doing now is writing a few killer animations (ha, maybe a bit dramatic, but I *hope* so lol) that will shift ani’s after a given time frame or a user button press, whichever is first.  I’m thinking…  maybe…  8 animations.  Just thought of that now.  Good round number.  I’d like to implement my touch sensors with this, but I don’t feel they’re ready for prime time right now.  More testing needed.  So, I’ll drop in a few momentaries and do it like that right now.

Hex Light - First Colors - Brad Ormand

This will be similar to what I did with the SSD1306 in the programming, in a way, and similar to what I do with any animated display / canvas, but just with a 4 x 4 pixel “screen”.  I’ll abstract out the display, then write useful particle effects, but with an added dimension from the 1306 – Color.  I’m thinking…  slow fades in 4 quadrants, separately, with all of the colors in my power deliberately, slowly cycling through…   I’m thinking – perimeter tracing with trails.  I’m thinking… something smart…  like, maybe using virtual gravity as if you dropped a penny through the top and it found it’s way down – and a flash bang when one “hits” at the bottom.  Stuff like that.  Can’t wait to hit it up.

Hex Light - Front Assembly - Brad Ormand

01.18.2015 – Hex Light Wiring

I made some progress with the wiring for the Hex Light.  I have ’em set up in Common-Cathode-Column configuration, with RGB rows, and started the wiring on the art itself (like I said before, instead of routing all of this on the circuit board 🙂 ).  There are 16 mini-PCBs mounted to house the light, the passives, and the connector headers.

Hex Light - Mini-PCBs on the art - Brad Ormand


After a few days of work, and with some in-situation design, I got the whole board wired and connected up to the main MCU board.  I continuity tested all of the connections, and lit each up with voltage at their respective addresses. I found a short and some mechanical failure, fixed those, and then it tested out perfectly.  I think it’s go for a test with the MCU!   But, that’ll be for another day – Whew!  I’m beat…

Once I test it out with the whole system, I’ll get the wires all harnessed correctly, mount the main PCB, put some standoffs on there, clean it up a bit, and start experimenting with writing nice animation programs.  I programmed a test pattern, flashing each on and off individually every 200ms, but I’m yet to hook it up to the real system –  I did that from a breadboard with a sub-sample of 12 lights.  On the system, there are 48.  We’ll, see if it scales up…

By doing all of this, I clearly see that I could optimize several things – from wire routes, to PCB size and routing, to channels for each harness, etc.  Just had to set this prototype up first to see where I’m gonna have to take it in the future.  Gonna make a lot more. 😉

Hex Light - Initial Wiring - Brad Ormand

But, yeah – despite the ideas for optimization and all of the underlying engineering stuff – I don’t get too hung up on it… I just want to create awesome art and programs and fun products!  In the end, the kinks will work themselves out if I just treat it all with love, care, and patience.

… And, the front view…  ( looks a lot better than the back – Haha )

Hex Light - Front Assembly - Brad Ormand


Hex Light Chassis and PCB Transparency - Brad Ormand

01.13.2015 – Hex Light

The Hex Light is in the spotlight today.  I mentioned that I ran the RGB LED CC boards through and that I had fun doing it.  And now, I have assembled 12 of 16.  It takes a bit of time.  Plus I have job stuff all day to do…

Hex Light Chassis and PCB Transparency - Brad Ormand

Hex Light RGB LED CC PCBs - Brad Ormand

I cut ’em and drilled them.  My smallest drill was actually too big to accommodate what I needed.  It was about a millimeter and a half, but I’m gonna need about a millimeter.  I did have a circular end bit that was about a half mm, but that was too small.  So, I’ll need to reconfigure my tooling.  I need the precise size because soldering to holes with no copper pads is horrible (because the too-big drill bit cut right through the pads), and not being able to get the component leads through is also horrible because.. well, they can’t get mounted at all! 😉

So, another trip to the Depot is warranted.  I have a list.  Plus, I love my trips there. Just wanted to say…  It’s probably my favorite place to go (And, then I hit up the grocery store next door for that grubbbz, yum – tacos, lettuce, noodles, sparkling water, pears, beef jerky – all an essential part of the dev process for damn sure 🙂 ).

Soldering the RGB LED CC Boards - Brad Ormand

And then, I soldered these small boards – 12 of them of 16, and stuck them on the Hex Light.  Next will be getting the remaining 4 (when I get the time) and then testing the shit out of all of them.  And then, then next step would be, of course, applying the main board that I fabricated a few days ago to the entire install.

I have almost got the firmware written already, but I’ll need a few more tests and tweaks.  It builds on everything I have ever done before of this nature.  I’m going to make it sing and, yeah, of course, shine. 😉 (light)

I’ll get the remaining boards and apply them to the chassis in the coming days.  I’ll be nearly 80% there.  Once I get all of this rolling, I’ll have the beta to move on to determining a good way to smooth out the entire process for future builds.  But, for now, it’s going intensely well, and I’m lovin’ it, mon.  Irie!  Life is good in the shop.


Brad Ormand Circuit Board Panel

01.12.2015 – Philosophy & Hex Light

What a great deal this is.  I mean: The deal of life.  I was just realizing the angle of the heater vent in my bathroom and how it pointed toward the shower.   And, that it warms people up when they get out of the shower.  Maybe it’s because I don’t know anything about housing architecture and that that is the “standard way” that people do it.  But, I gotta say… I am really fortunate to live in such a time that we have automatic hot air blowing towards you when you might be at your coldest.

I mean, it’s really cold outside.  In January.  And, heat when it is cold is like gold for the poor;  sugar for the hungry; a relief of no compare.  It’s just:  In doing all of this engineering and trying to bring something pleasurable to human life in my ventures, sometimes I forget that we already have it pretty damn great right now.  The winter especially spells that out.  We got luxury.  Cars to go far in a quick time, even over ice, the internet gets fast facts, and phones provide quick communication to the peeps we care about, and even emergency services.  Damn.  It’s worth it to reflect on these little details – the depth of it all.  The converse is jadedness or apathy, I guess – Not being able to recognize our disposition as raw, vulnerable human beings.  The flip side, being pretty grateful for it all.

Sure, I have been watching some sci-fi movies of the ridden future and have been experiencing heat in the freezing cold, and maybe I got some perspective on matters recently, and yeah, I have been making some pretty great progress in my projects…  But, wow.  I’m grateful for all of this.  We don’t have hyperdrives to take us to alternate galaxies yet, or have super-ultra clothes to make one temperature all year long, but damn, when we do, will we appreciate that on a daily basis – It’s human nature, I guess.  All good.  It’s just…  I felt really blessed, just now.

I thought of this concept as I was driving to my parking space at work this morning (in the freezing, raining cold).  I park on the roof every day.  I like the sun hitting my face when I get out of the car, and I like looking at the landscape around me – trees, hills, colors….  And, I was thinking:  Why don’t I park on a lower floor where I’d be “covered”?  Well, it’s just that… If I park on a lower floor, I’d be “covered”…

Yeah…. I’d be covered… Covered over.  For better or for worse.  No sun, no landscape views.  Sure, I could park there on rainy days, and not on sunny days, but nah – I have a tendency to park there every day.  And, there’s a great view of downtown from 6 floors up, and I get to see it in it’s various forms..  Habit, I guess.  But, a habit that has benefits, I think.  I can see the way the landscape looks for miles and miles around, not just downtown.  And, on rainy, freezing, cloudy days, it look absolutely awesome, too!  The planet is doing something in this region and it’s doing *this*, what it’s doing now.  Cool!  So yeah, rock on.  I want to see it all from the best vantage point that I can.

But, anyway, to cap this off before I talk about the Hex Light….  It’s just a reminder to me that we have vulnerabilities as humans, as organisms on this planet (like to cold temperatures and to the taste of food / water-like substances), and that most of those things have been solved.  We can relax.  Haha.  I mean, if I (or you) get worked up about other things in life, welll…  Chill.  Go back to the basics and love it!  Right down to it, it’s being grateful for what we have.  Basically, working with whatever we have (even, have *left*) in life to work with and using it well.  It’s an attitude, a perspective…  a centering.  I just felt that today.

And, now…   The Hex Light.  For the Hex Light, I created the circuit layout, printed the transparency, exposed the photoresist to it, etched it, cut it, drilled it, and busted out 25 little circuit boards!  Haha.  I loved it.  It’s done.  Finally.  Now, I can assemble them and set them up on the light.

Brad Ormand Circuit Board Panel

I only needed 16 of them for this project (I amended it from 18), but I’ll use them to fill the light out and wire up the matrix.  I am choosing to wire the matrix part of it on the installation instead of the circuit board itself.  I went through great pains to decide which way I wanted to do it.  But, I think the modular board wins, instead of the installation itself.  Any installation can have alternate wirings, but the board will remain the same.  Plus, you’re talking 16 inputs as opposed to 48.  So, quite a bit of board savings there.  I might change it later, but REV A has it at 16 inputs, and already wired matrix inputs.

I’ll post the rest tomorrow.  I’ll have a little more room from my philosophy speakings, and the Hex Light will have its own spotlight.  🙂


Brad Ormand PCB Fab REV A for the Hex Light

01.11.2015 – Hex Light & PCB Fab

Wow – I have done quite a lot of work on the Hex Light since the 6th.  I’ve managed to cut and assemble the top pieces, paint the backing board, I designed circuit boards for the whole thing, started manufacturing them, and then testing and assembling them.

I spent a few days designing the main board as I wanted to get as close to production values as possible.  I still have a few things to work out (like drill bit size and some trace widths ), but I had to go through it to see what errors would pop up.  Now I know, and now I can move forward.

Brad Ormand Designing a Circuit

Next, I went ahead and set up the manufacturing process in the workshop.  I have always had all of the parts and chemistry for it, but haven’t set it all up in years.  But, now it’s rolling again for board fab.  I printed the traces and pads out to a transparency,  exposed the photo-sensitive board to fluorescent light through the traces, removed the resist with the photo-developer, and etched the copper right off the fiberglass with ease.  Went very smoothly.  All of the techniques I used to do are coming back to me – like how long to agitate the board in the Ferric Chloride bath and how crucial it is for the transparent ink to lay *exactly* flat when being exposed.

Brad Ormand Circuit Board PCB Fabrication

Then, I drilled and populated the board with the components I specified.  There were a few complications along the way, but I was prepared and I adapted.  I tested that board up and down, with and without power.  And, in the coming days, I’ll take the rest of the daughter boards through the exact same process and test and populate them as well.  Then, it’ll be system hook-up time.  The moments of truth.  🙂

I also managed to put a hex design on the PCB and experimented with a few trace widths and logos and labeling.

Brad Ormand PCB Fab REV A for the Hex Light


The breadboard had all of that clutter on it, hooked up in a small space (+the 1×4 Matrix), and so half of that clutter was reduced to the clean board, half the size – Haha.  Cool to see a comparison and nice clean header connectors instead of a nest of wires.

Brad Ormand - Circuit Comparison


Sure, there are a few things I am going to do differently for the final version, but this setup is functional and will allow me to test the system in-situ.  And, when I go back to design the next one, I’ll know just what to do.  I know I can get a little closer with the traces, I can go bigger on some of the labeling, and I have to get a smaller drill bit for some of those holes- whew! I’m already drilling pretty small.  And, of course, down the road, I can start on some of the SMD versions, single-sided, for now.  If I get a really rocking design, I’ll double side it and send them off for fab with silkscreen and everything.  But, that’ll be when I come up with a rock solid REV A or REV B.

So, stepping back a few hundred meters….  I’m making this piece of art (that happens to have electronics in it).  And, I want it to look and feel and act right, first and foremost.  So, that’s a “project requirement”, but also, the engineering side of me wants the parts to be replaceable and serviceable and modular, too.  I’m trying to make the craftsmanship very tidy and tight, but while also making it cost-effective and modular.  Haha – I’m feeling the pull between the two.  But…  That’s the game.  That’s what I like about it.  It’s engaging and requires some thought, over time.  And, it’s something I want to become as expert as possible in.  But, all-in-all, I’m delighted to switch back and forth between roles and processes – getting both the art stuff and the tech stuff in.  I require them both.  It has really been a great exercise in balancing those points.

Until next time…

Hexagon Light - Early Stages - Brad Ormand

01.02.2015 – New Year & Hexagon Light

Well, it’s the New Year, and I have had time to spend with friends and family, and enjoy the fireworks and winter weather.  It’s an awesome time of year.  And, well, yeah – I have also had some more time off to do projects! (yesss)

Last Wednesday (or so), I woke up just after dreaming about some hexagon patterns and reflecting backlights.   And, also I have traditionally always loved hexagons in art.  My favorite shape has got to be the truncated icosahedron (maybe I’ll do one of those next 😉 )… But, I remember, that day was a day I had completely off and so I started trying to chase the idea.  It was inspired by the Tri-Wing light I did a few weeks ago (and will still implement more of).  But, this time, I wanted a modern hexagon design that had several of those under-lit standoffs on it.  I went around with the ruler and triangle and drew a pattern down and started working out the details of how I’d implement it.  I went to the Home Depot for parts and put in an order to Jameco.

Brad Ormand - Hexagon Light - Early Stages

It was going well.  So, the next couple of days, I started measuring and cutting and planning and making this thing happen.  I plan to make a animated light that hangs on the wall or sits up on a desk.  Each hex will have an RGB LED implanted in it’s center and a cover, stained and painted, on top, shielding direct view.  My hope is that it will glow gladly and gracefully underneath, illuminating the back of the board onto the painting finish I give it.  Also, I’m wanting to see the mix of colors that occur when one mixes with the next.  That’ll be when I decide on the final animations.  Lots of programming and matriX logistiX to figure out, coming up, but it’s actually the fun part – as long as you don’t try to hurry through it and just enjoy the process.

For the electronics, I have already started designing and building the tiny 2 cm^2 circuit boards that will be wired behind each.  18 boards for the lights and drivers, one for the matrix wiring, one for the  MCU, and one for the menu display (or I might combine the last 3, we’ll see, depending on how modular and reusable I wanna get…).  At this moment, I am testing resistor values for even brightness, testing bypass cap values, and deciding on manageable harnesses and connectors.

I’m not yet set up to easily manage an SMD project, in-house – no oven, old school iron, my printers are being tweaked, and I haven’t done an SMD run with the fiberglass, copper, photo-developer, and etchant, yet. But, all of that is getting set up as we go.  I’m making an SMD run of this board (once I finalize it) pretty soon (with a SMD RGB LED, too).  So… it’s all through-hole design, right now.  I’m comfortable with it, and I have all of the parts in stock.

This schematic and board aren’t my final design.  I’m still setting values and designing the system, but I drew some basic stuff up and made a few prototypes of the driver mechanism.

LED PNP Driver Schematic and Layout - Brad Ormand

RGB LED PNP Driver Prototype - Brad Ormand

Then, I started cutting out the overlays, sanding them, and tacking them on.  That birch has excellent grain!  I tried bolts and glue and aluminum standoffs and wood standoffs and just really tried to see what looked and felt best.  I painted the inside a flat white just to see the design more clearly, but the final painting will hopefully be “art” instead of a “guide”.

Hexagon Light - Early Stages - Brad Ormand

All-in-all, I am really enjoying this!  It’s something I feel I have to do.  I have quite a number of projects going right now, and that’s okay.  It’s just how it is.  Everything will get done.  I’m trying to get a batch of the Tri-Wing light, the Arrow light, and this Hexagon light all ready for about March 1st to do some shows and put up for sale.  I think I’ll have 10 of the first two and maybe 5 of the Hex Light going, plus about 20 additional single hex lights.  But, right now, I am firmly in R&D mode, and just making them happen, learning by failing and iterating again and again.

I did, however, work on the synth project over the holidays, and came up with some pretty awesome outcomes.  I’ll have to write another post on that once I solidify some circuitry and take some media.  But, the entire project is going to be secondary until I complete a first batch of these animated lights, for the reasons that #1) it’s much more complex, and #2) I need some knowledge from the success/failure of these light projects to see what I’m going to go into production with for the synths.  But, it will hopefully be a spectacular project!   Happy New YEar. 🙂

Brad Ormand - Light Painting

12.20.2014 – Light Painting & Wood UI

Yesterday and today, I have been working on two particular projects – my LED matrix demo painting and a wood/plexiglass/aluminum UI project.

I wired a 3×3 LED martrix “snake” onto a quick painting I did as a proof-of-concept for what I was thinking of doing with the moon painting.  I’m using a little ATTiny MCU to drive it.  As it was the first time I had actually implemented this on a painting, I just started running wire to the Philips Lumileds that I had set out on to the painting, I didn’t really have a plan.  Once I got ’em all in place and tested them, I glued them down and started the hub PCB for it all.  Red for anode, white for cathode.

The Lumiled lights are SMT devices and are very, very brittle!  I mean, just a  very minor shear/twist force on the two small 24AWG wires soldered to the leads will crack and split them.  I must have broken 6 of them before actually getting a good batch installed onto the art!  One even broke while I was gluing it down.  Had to do some surgery – ha.  …But, I made do.  However, they are sooooper bright for being just ~1mm x 3mm!  Incredible technology.  I’m considering about 5 or 10k of resistance per row of 3 just to keep it to where you can actually look at them and not hurt your eyes!  They pack a punch.

It’s things like this – actually testing, or proving the concept, and having the experience of working with things that lead to deciding what I’ll do for production.  Maybe they’re too much for this install?  Also, maybe SMT parts are useless if it’s gonna have wires all over the place?  I don’t know.  Finding out…

Brad Ormand - Painting Proof-of-Concept

Later in the week, once I get the system up and running and the MCU programmed, I’ll plaster over the wires and just make it a part of history – and a pretty cool, usable part of art!  However, once I decide to do these for production, a few things will have to be worked out, such as the repairability / maintenance of the LEDs and harness, the brittle SMD stuff that I’m using in weird ways, a way to test them (for instance, battery life, LED heat/hazards, and drop/shock/shipping testing), and where to mount all of this control stuff.  I plan to offer a warranty and repair for this stuff if they break down.  And, the best repair is no repair at all 😉 – both for my customers and for me, as well.  Furthermore, I plan on making the board as small as possible for mounting on the back (using 0805 parts, minimum – I don’t wanna have to mess with anything smaller than that right now, I already have to use tweezers for those – lol).


And, in other news, I bought some sheet aluminum, some birch plywood, and a routing tool at the Home Depot today for a project that I thought of while doing the Light Painting – taking into consideration the things I learned there.  This one is a different art idea entirely, but the electronic concepts are basically the same, and I think I can solve those with this.

Anyway, the idea is to use a wood substrate, and backlight it somehow for certain parts, using transparent light filters, and route out different heights for additional lighting.  It’ll be an art piece, but where the animations can be controlled by the user touching and interacting with the painting.

I just started, so more details and pics and video will follow, I’m sure 🙂

Brad Ormand - UI Drawing on Wood

Brad Ormand - Rooftop Work 2

12.13.2014 – Construction & LEDs

I went to work at a construction site today.  I worked on laying and bolting down ~20-foot tin panels on a rooftop with a team of 4 – about 40 feet up, where most of the roof was just empty space (don’t fall through!).  We were bridging those gaps between the steel beams.  A little dangerous, but we were careful.

Brad Ormand - Roof Work 1

Actually, it was my Dad’s site.  He needed a few extra men, and I agreed to come.  He know’s I’m down for this stuff, too.  And, damn, I’m reminded – that guy’s a tough and smart dude.  The site was at the adjacent auto yard to where I grew up working and going to work with my dad in my youth.  I also scored a ruined (but still reverse-engineer-able) Ford speedometer cluster that they let me have.  I’m always on the lookout for these type of things when I’m on the job with Dad or his crew, and he knows it, and sometimes points things out to me or saves stuff for me.  I’ll tear it down pretty soon to see how it works (as much as possible).  Feel like a kid again  lol.

Brad Ormand - Ford Speedometer Cluster

But, back to the job… We worked a full day driving metal self-tapping screws into iron beams through tin roofing.  But, for each big-ass sheet that took two people to carry, we had to line it up and seal, with reel tape, the edges to get it in position.  I knew all but one of the guys, and I met him well, and one of them was my brother.  I get along with my brothers well – we all do similar things in one way or another, and even if we didn’t, we’d still hang out together and have fun and laugh.  Pretty soon, we all had a really good system rolling – switching off at just the right times to fill gaps, and were very efficient.  Brings men together, work like this.

I look a bit funky in that cap, and I guess it was fighting the wind that explains my stance, but there you have it.  Man standing on a roof of his work. Haha.

Brad Ormand - Rooftop Work


Brad Ormand - Rooftop Work 2

And, now… The LEDs…  So, I bought a shitload of 1mm by 3mm Lumileds from Phillips.  Well, about 200 or so.  And, these are SMT 20 – 30mA standard LEDs that I’m putting to work for me for my painting and craft illumination projects.  They come on a convenient tape reel leader tape (or whatever they’re called).  So far, I have a design that I have been making – with those LED snakes I have been talking about and drawing, and now I have a prototype painting that I’m going to try them out on – I got it painted and drying.  Now, I’ll prototype it out with wire, program a chip, and see where it goes.

I tried so many things with the moon painting to get it to accept those other LEDs that I got in gracefully, but they just aren’t going to take, and the light pipe idea went south, and so, I’m going to wire up a 16-light demo and see if I think I can make that work with the moon painting, afterward.  It’s all part of of my ideas coming together.  I have to do preliminary steps that I discover *while* on the journey, and have to step back and do those first.  Or, at least, that’s the way I do it – where moving forward leads to discovery, and then that discovery leads to more re-adjustment.  “Follow the plan”  usually never happens, because I have already, and voluntarily, let go of the idea of “a plan”.  What I do is much more R&D than implementing procedures, pre-defined.  Usually for me, there is always a steady, directional *light* that shines the way, from my internal “sensors”.  That’s what to rely on, instead.  I keep constantly recognizing where it’s pointing, and I compare it with the real world project’s direction and make the adjustment.   But, there is no full plan that I know of. 🙂

I’m just about ready to start development on this thing…  as soon as…  hopefully this is the last time I say it…  as soon as I launch the site!  Haha.

Brad Ormand - 4 x 4 LED Matrix Snake

11.19.2014 – Moon Painting & LEDs

I drew up a temporary wiring diagram for the LED matrix to go into the moon painting installation.  It was a good exercise to do – to put a matrix layout onto a strip.  I have seen it done, and then have always wanted to do one.  So, here’s my chance.


I had to use colored pens so I wouldn’t confuse myself.  The lines accumulate at the end of the strip, and it’s gets to be a little hard to follow.  I’ll use different colored wires when I wrap ’em all up for the install.  The pattern will make it so I can cascade the turn-on delay from the top left, zig-zagging towards the bottom left.  You can see the ridges pattern in the “schematic”, as I was trying to plan out the spacing.  It’s 4×4, but the sequence will share 3 groups of 3, 9, and 6, in order.  So…. It’s coming along, little by little.  Nice and relaxed and as I have time. 🙂