Raspberry Pi powered interactive digital art? Absolutely!

One of my favorite pieces at the show is Being Present – an interactive digital piece that aims to show people the benefits of mindfulness – of being present, even if only for 2 minutes.

I have loved watching everyone try it out – not everyone sees it to the end but those that do (and it’s only 2 mins!) say it’s very restful and calming.

Here is the technical spec followed by a gallery of shots from the last few weeks:

Being Present

  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • Adafruit 64 x 32 RGB LED Matrix x 2 (giving 12,288 controllable points of red, green and blue, each with 255 levels of brightness)
  • Adafruit RGB Matrix HAT & Real Time Clock
  • WaveShare 5″ Touch Screen Display
  • Mini Keyboard with Mouse Mat
  • Custom electronics for control
  • Pressure sensitive mat
  • Raspbian Jessie Operating System running Python programs
  • IBM Node Red for Internet of Things

The installation is a collaboration between myself and technical expert Bradley Hawkins who has spent a great deal of time programming in order to get the effect I wanted.   Each time the process runs it is unique for each viewer and if they step away the work closes down.   The colours, shapes and effects have been carefully chosen to show chaos and then peace.

You can try the innovative work yourself at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Action Stations, first floor) daily until 2nd September 2015.  It’s free to enter, just mention us at the gate.


Day 3 – ups and downs :)

Day 3 – hanging day – I was awake at 5.30 I was so excited!   Everything went really well, there were a few hiccups, but there always are.   I changed my hanging order when I saw the work in-situ, Victoria suddenly started moving entire walls around (to great effect!) and the health and safety woman from Uni had a few changes we had to make but otherwise it’s good to go and it all looks amazing!

I had my good camera with me today so the quality of the images has improved too!


Can mindfulness be communicated through art?

As I come close to the end of my MA Fine Art course, I am preparing to exhibit the pieces I have made in response to the proposal I wrote at the end of 2015.

Over the course of 2016 I have read widely about mindfulness and mental illness and it began to influence the work I was doing.   An artists work is very often autobiographical and provides a theraputic outlet for the practitioner and so it is with me.   But as well as working through my own issues, I wanted to illustrate the benefits I have felt from learning mindfulness and learning to be fully present in my life.

“It is only when we are awakened that we realise how much of our lives we’ve actually slept through” – Ellen Langer (Dhiman, 2012)

The project started with an exploration of the liminal – liminal spaces in our environments and our minds.   Liminal spaces are places of change and can be dangerous; hence, they are an apt metaphor for the spaces in our minds we are scared to cross.   As part of the first tranche of research, I was interested in these scary places; the ideas and thoughts we avoid and use displacement activities to continue to avoid thinking about.    I wanted to explore and convey what this felt like, using a range of media.

As the project progressed, the main question moved from ‘what does liminality feel like?’  To ‘what does mindfulness feel like?’    Mindfulness a fashionable concept, but what is it and can it help calm our frantic minds?    Eventually, having experienced the benefits of being more mindful myself, the question became “How can the benefits of mindfulness be conveyed to an audience via the medium of artistic practice?“.

As someone who sees feelings and experiences as colours and images (I am synesthetic in some areas), I was keen to encapsulate the colour, shape, feel and benefits of being present.

My art is aimed at anyone who has a curiosity to learn more about themselves and is open to ideas of how they could alleviate some of their angst.   I hope that the audience will take from it a willingness to learn more and perhaps to explore further themselves.   Mindfulness is in a strange position, at one mainstream and yet still considered alternative and ‘weird’.   My aim is to demystify some of that weirdness and show that being present is essential to our mental well-being.

Through my work, in varying genres, I aim to illustrate the feeling of; and opportunities for; being mindful.

Below is a gallery of shots of some of my work.   The exhibition ran at Action Stations, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard from 20th August to 2nd September 2016.

Pieces that were exhibited included digital art, photography, painting, video and an electronic, interactive artwork (run using Raspberry Pi’s) which was awarded a special commendation for the John Barable New Media Award, University of Portsmouth.

Learn more

A previous post of mine from February 2016 and from Tara Brach – brilliant talks and meditations.


First prototype digital piece – Being Present

Just shown a prototype of my digital art piece to some people who had very little background in what I was trying to achieve.

“It’s just like thoughts rushing through my head!”

Excellent!  Exactly what I was trying to convey.

“I liked the colours”

Not quite as profound but at least it’s aesthetically pleasing as well as thought provoking!

I am pleased that most people seem to ‘get it’ – our brains do not all work the same and with this art piece I am showing how my brain works, so I have to expect that other people will just say “Huh?” to it and that’s OK.

It is called “Being Present” and aims to show what mindfulness can do to calm the brain.  I am very excited about showing this in August.

It’s taken a great deal of work to get it this far – I can only claim the artistic inspiration, the hard work has been done by a lovely programmer, who has been very patient getting the lights to do what I want them to!

The next job is to make it interactive using motion sensors.  Watch this space for updates.

(The featured image above is a screenshot from a test video I took yesterday, it’s not easy to capture!)


Audience participation – but how?

Had a great talk from artist Bruce Williams last week – it was (as all these talks are proving to be) very inspirational and thought provoking.

Bruce Williams – art in the real world

Bruce makes impossibly huge pieces of art – and it was so interesting to hear the mammoth research that goes into each piece.   I am guessing that most people will pass his pieces in Brighton, Portsmouth, Havant, Wimbledon or Swindon (to name a few) and not even notice them, let alone realise the great care that went into the sculptures’ conception.

I think the piece that struck me the most was the new school.   Bruce went to the empty field before it was even built and took photographs of the flora and fauna there.   He then abstracted and pixelated those plants and made huge colourful windows for the school.  The windows are incredibly beautiful, enough for some, but how much more to realise that the colours and patterns are based on plants that once grew in that field?


I also loved his curvy fences from Havant – I almost want to drive over there and have a look!


Bruce puts in so much effort into each proposal – I put a great deal of thought into my first one at Portsmouth Guildhall, and hearing his methodology confirmed to me why I won that exhibition.   Keep it local and relevant.  Care.

See more of Bruces work here: http://www.brucewilliams.net/

Being present

I was lucky enough to discuss my MA project with Bruce and he had some very pertinent input.   My project is about liminal spaces and about using mindfulness to cross those difficult spaces in our minds.    He pointed out that firstly I wasn’t being very imaginative with my hanging plan (and I wasn’t!) and that it would be so much better if I could have some participation.    He said that:

“Something should happen when your audience are present”

I loved this idea immediately – the pun on being present is superb (I am only miffed I didn’t think of it myself) so I have been thinking about how I can achieve this.

I have been researching pressure sensitive mats and infra red motion detectors, looking at Raspberry Pis and LED screens.  A whole new world but I think I have the kernel of a good idea that I am taking forward (with the assistance of a very kind Geeky Husband!).

Mindful painting

I also had an idea that I would like to do a painting performance and spent a fun couple of days playing with pouring acrylic paints.    I love this idea, but it is not proving practical.   I will continue and see if I can get one good painting for the exhibition but I have given up on the idea of doing one a day – that would have been 15 paintings!  The cost of that would have been astronomic and it would have been messy too, they take too long to dry.  But still, the effects are gorgeous and really speak to me.   There is something very mindful about setting out your paints carefully, mixing each one methodically and then setting about pouring the colours and seeing them mix.   To me it was a little like a Japanese Tea Ceremony, something that was done with reverence and love.

The featured image above and the one below was done in one of my pouring sessions.  More to follow I hope!




A raspberry pi digital clock! Creativity at it’s geekiest.

I thought I would dedicate this post to creativity of a different kind, electronic geeky stuff.  No less creative than more artistic endeavors and sometimes a little more useful.

A few weeks ago, I was bemoaning the fact that in the night I often find it hard to read my clock if I wake up.   For some reason my brain may be a few % awake, my eyes may be open but the numbers on the clock become gibberish and ‘swim’ in front of my eyes.   Sometimes I really have to concentrate to work out what the time is.   Sounds rather pathetic now I have written that down!

In addition, surely all we really need to know, a bit like a kid on a long journey is “Are we nearly there yet?”   ie “Is it time to get up or can I go back to sleep?”.

My husband is a bit of a geek and into programming Raspberry Pis and he took this problem and ran with it.

A few days later a Raspberry Pi appeared on the bedside table complete with a simple display.

What he had created is genius (I may be biased!) – a simple clock that shows the time remaining (you set a getting up time) as a series of light bars (or should that be bars of light?).   If there is a lot of time to go till morning, there are a lot of bars.  If you wake up and there is just one light left on the last bar, you have less than 15 mins to go before the alarm (so you might as well not go back to sleep).  Genius!    It is such a simple idea, but I use it every night when I wake up.  Instead of straining my few awake brain cells to look at digital numbers, all I have to do is think “is there a lot of red left?”.   And fall back to sleep having not really woken up much.

He did also go the extra geeky mile and add a binary clock – and to my utter dismay I have learnt to read it in a rudimentary fashion (although not in the middle of the night!).

And that is another form of creativity, see a problem, create a solution.  Beautiful.    I can’t say the execution is totally beautiful, I guess it’s pared down electronic chic though!   It is a lot smaller than the picture above suggests, just a few inches square.

(During the day, the clock displays a random generation of lights, together with the binary clock – it’s quite sweet to look at but don’t tell him I said that).  The picture above is daytime mode,  because I am not getting my phone out at 2am to take a picture of it at night!  Can you tell what the time is?!   (The blue lights).


Whilst ‘researching’ this blog I came across a blog about a man who has used his Raspberry Pi to allow his dog to tweet.   Proving, I think beyond reasonable doubt, that all Raspberry Pi owners are bonkers 🙂   Or just very very creative thinkers!