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Light-Up Artwork with Paper Circuits

“Art history is littered with work that involves light.” –  James Turrell, Artist

Following the lead of artist, James Turrell, in the early days of April, we worked on drawings with oil pastel to which we added LED lights, by creating Paper Circuits. We used multi-colored LED lights, copper tape, a battery and a piece of transparent packing tape.

One thing I’ve learned about paper circuits is that the best, most economical solution is creating a circuit that is the shortest distance between two points. In other words, although the simple paper circuit templates show beautifully straight lines parallel to either the top or side of the page, they work absolutely fine when the lines are slanted and non-parallel. This will cut the amount of copper tape in half, which is important with large numbers of kids as with my 250.

Some great resources can be found at, and there’s a pretty great tutorial on YouTube here, as well as many others there.

In my classes, students created the artwork using oil pastels on beautiful textured cover stock. Subject matter was completely open to choice. Creative constraints include paper size, medium, and the inclusion of an LED light. It is important to finish up the work ahead of time, because the copper tape, light, and battery make the surface rough and hard to work on. Here are a couple of demos I shared with the classes to show them the possibilities for the project:

And then we went over the best way to position the light (near a corner) and how to draw a path from the light to the corner. Below are the examples I created when going over the process with my classes. 

Once the art was complete, students brought their work to me and we determined where the light was going:

I folded the corner and used a ceramics needle tool poke a hole through the corner to where the battery will be placed.

And then drew the paths and indicators where the components should be placed.

The kids selected their supplies and took it from there.

I’d say about 90% of all of the students had immediate success, others had to push down the prongs for the LED or wiggle the LED a little in order to light up the LED. As long as they are cautioned about this, it works out fine. Here are a few interviews I conducted with the early finishers:

As the paper circuit art was completed, students worked with a partner to make a video about the project to upload to FlipGrid. You can see them here, and to follow are a few examples:

Noah P: 

Lilia Y:

Emily R.

Cade A:

Paper circuits are a terrific way to add some STEAM to art instruction and to add an exciting element to traditional artwork.

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