Generative Dance in the Wild and EEG Sonification.

Part One:

How do movements couple to sounds in the natural environment, and can paired dance communication by improvised both in the movements and musical composition realms? I used SonicPi to generatively sample sound recorded from nature to make musical beats and rhythms. These beats will couple to pair dance metaphors in paradigms in salsa and zouk, which are popular dances in Panama. Specifically the project consists of the following phases.

1. Record sounds in the natural environment of Panama and use them to construct simple phrases in SonicPi, choosing the right envelopes to synthesize beat sounds which, when live-looped together, produces Latin-like rhythms.

2. Begin recruiting conference attendees for a performance which involves dancing in sync to the collected beats. I will train those who are not familiar with simple steps of salsa and bachata latin dancing so that all can practice together even without formal training.

3. We will construct a wearable interface for switching between different SoniPi sketches for generating different sounds. We will prototype a teensy-based device that can use accelerometer data to switch between beats. The choice will depend on the leader in the dance pair.

4. We will user test a pair of dancers, one of whom (leader) can switch between rhythms and music that inspires different dance forms and speeds. The leader can choose both her steps and the musical rhythms being generated. For example, she can choose to dance bachata rather than salsa, or to have a dip in the salsa, and can choose the musical motifs appropriate to these specific actions.

5. If time permits, we will organize a Casino Rueda performance using pairs of dancers who can all control the music in different ways. If the technology does not permit it, we can prototype the process using calls much like in Casino Rueda, giving our DJ a cue to change the music.

The project investigates whether improvisation in dance can be coupled also to improvisation in music. Can we create a system for both changing the musicality and the movements in dance? We aim to investigate this in a natural context where Latin rhythms and natural sounds can be used as samples to create a performance of higher order improvisation.

Part Two:

Can EEG be used as a source of sound and can this sound be used to harmonize with the environment? This project generates a work of symphonic sound using human EEG attention data and EEG data in the wild. I use a MindWave Mobile headset to get attention data from humans and translates that scale to pitch for the melody. I use plant electrical data to recorded using plant electrodes (thanks to Seamus) to generate the tonic portion for the work. Combining the phasic EEG music with the tonic plant environmental music gives a voice to the way we operate in the universe. We humans make a lot of phasic noise, but the plant and environment of the world embody the tone and mood that form the substance of a work. We co-create with electrical recordings from the brain and the plant to make a symphony of Gamboa.

MindWave Mobile data is piped to BrainWaveOSC app, which sends the data to Unity. Unity uses an AudioSource to generate the pitch as mapped from attention data. On the plant side, Arduino is used to record and log plant electrical values. These two sources of EEG are part of the environment we exist in. Human EEG as you can see in the video demo, is used to generate pitch, making directed musical phrases using attention, so humans can control to come extent (but not all). Plant EEG will be used to generate the subtext of the symphony, forming the chords that the human EEG will play on top of. Both have a life of its own, so that the final form of the work is as much part of the environment of Gamboa as to any conscious control by any party.

Ray LC’s artistic practice incorporates cutting-edge neuroscience research for building bonds between humans and between humans and machines. He studied AI (Cal) and neuroscience (UCLA), building interactive art in Tokyo while publishing papers on PTSD. He’s Visiting Professor, Northeastern University College of Art, Media, Design. He was artist-in-residence at BankArt, 1_Wall_Tokyo, Brooklyn Fashion BFDA, Process Space LMCC, NYSCI, Saari Residence. He exhibited at Kiyoshi Saito Museum, Tokyo GoldenEgg, Columbia University Macy Gallery, Java Studios, CUHK, Elektra, NYSCI, Happieee Place ArtLab. He was awarded by Japan JSPS, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, Microsoft Imagine Cup, Adobe Design Achievement Award.

Janne Nora Kummer

16. August – 31. August 2019

I am Janne. I am a director, a performance and multimedia artist. I am a member of the artist group VT ( and a researcher within the masters program “Spiel && Objekt¨ at the HfS Ernst Busch Berlin, where I met Leoni Voegelin, Tomas Montes Massa, Lena Maria Eickenbusch. As a group, we share the desire to develop an ecologic & non-anthropocentric view of arts. Our research motivation drives us to explore the interaction between the biodiversity of the rainforest with the behaviour of light, using these local biosolar entanglements as inspiration to create a techno-vegetal monster. Relevant milestones for us are monstrous & cyborg thinking, kinetic sculptures and object-oriented theatrical narratives. We imagine a solar-powered, Arduino-motored, light-searching hybrid creature, a wired-photosynthetic robot that aesthetically condenses our research and friendly coexists in the jungle. Speculating on the fusion of organic material and new technologies is for us an artistic urgency, and therefore we are eager to prototype and meet this critter!

Doodles and Sketches


By Xindi Kang

University of California Santa Barbara, Media Arts and Technology

Some sketches and doodles made in Gamboa. Just some observations of the beautiful place and the beautiful peoplez.

I like sloths.

They move really slowly, and they seem to be smiling all the time.

I was really lucky to see at least two sloths every day during my 5 days there. They hang out in Cecropia trees and on fences.

I arrived in Panama in a state of panic. I had been stranded in SF for 31 hours before getting there … didn’t get much sleep at all during that 31 hours.


Leaf cutter ants are great. They’re always really busy, moving their pieces of leaves. If you try to block their highway with a stick, they’ll figure out how to work around it, and keep going.

Some times you just got to keep going.

My good friend and roommate Michal, who I met on my first night in Gamboa, was making some decorations for trees. She’s great. I like her a lot. We talked about buddhism, meditation, and … boys. Susan, our other roommate and good friend later joined the discussion. I liked staying in our little barrack when it’s raining outside. The rain sound gives me a sense of peace and comfort.

The little men on the roadsigns all have great butts.

Agoutis are a type of strange and cute animal native to Gamboa. They jump around places and seem to eat grass.

The Mimosa plants respond to touch rapidly. I’ve seen them in stores for sale when I was a child. Back then they didn’t respond as quickly. In China we call them “Shy Grass”, because they shy away the moment you touch them.

Michal used some power tools to drill holes in coconut shells. Some of them have rotten parts that are easy to break. She said “It’s funny how hard it is to penetrate it, but so easy to break it”. I though that was really interesting. Humans are like that too, especially their hearts.

Jen used a motion sensor for her project. I thought she said “emotion sensor”. I’d be down to have an “emotion sensor”. I can hold it in my hand and it’ll tell me how I’m feeling.

Peter gave a really great tour at Pipeline road. We walked through the rainforest and swam in a waterhole full of “kissy fish” (Red garra), at least that’s what they called it when I first heard of them. I’ve never seen them in the wild before. They come up and eat your dead skin, and they also bite on other stuff floating on the surface of the water.

Peter does research on Cecropia Trees. He told us about the the symbiotic relationship between the plant and the ants (leaf cutters if I remember correctly). The ants eat the tree, but they also protect the tree from animals. That’s why the sloths are so itchy all the time. It’s because the ants are bothering the sloths so they wouldn’t harm the tree. If you knock on the tree a few times the ants will come out of the hollow trunk and try to find where you were knocking, and get ready to attack.

On our last day we went on a tour to the native villages. A local guide gave another nice tour. There was a type of tree called the “Water Tree”. When you hit it you can hear the water inside of the trunk. The guide told us this type of tree grow really fast by sucking up all the water they can get. They grow to the size shown in my sketch in only a few years.

I bought a little sloth pendant made from Tagua seed, which is also called Vegetable Ivory. A little Israeli girl also wanted it … but she let me have it. She’s very nice. She also gave me a kitten to pet when we were in front of the field station.

Laser frogs are great. I forgot what they’re called scientifically. They make these laser sounds like “pew pew”, in the storm drains at night. I never saw what they looked like. But I enjoyed their little techno music sessions.

Shedding one’s skin in a new era

by Päivi Maunu

Shedding one’s skin in a new era is an artistic and bio- metamorphological project that I implemented at the Digital Naturalism Conference 2019 in Gamboa, Panama. It is a visual work with tropical rainforest plants, their shadows, and animals such as ants.

Drawing with ants,
with hungry ants.
Disappearing art

I used Performental Art, a combination of performance, environmental, and community art. The purpose of the method is to instigate a deep understanding of one’s own role in the ecosystem by observing, studying, analyzing, imitating, and blurring the distinction between the human animal and other natural beings and systems. In meditative work, I reflect on the possibilities of Posthumanism. How would I thank the earthworm that aerates the soil? What position do I adopt in relation to interactive technology? A critical examination of one’s lifestyle forces one to live one’s own art.

By a new era, I am referring to the Anthropocene, and humankind’s profound geological effect on a changing world. My work with the Biomimeticx2 team responds to these changes via research that attempts to discover in the nano-world biomimetic solutions to the management of eco-catastrophe. Macrocosmic photographic material shared by the DiNaCon community is analyzed, interpreted and combined with microcosmic material from biologists and other experts in various fields.

Through art, the project aims to bring us closer to a realization of our existence as part of a whole and to the recognition that, by destroying our environment, we are perpetuating a process of self-annihilation. The methods the project uses include artistic and biological metamorphoses – transformations – that have been implemented in performance and environmental art works. Openness to interpretation as well as tolerance of chance and contingency open the project up to wonder and the restoration of seasonal change.

Heartfelt thanks,

Andy for all possible reasons

Hannah Marti & ants, Jorge & camera, Daniella & 360°camera

Supported by Frame Contemporary Art Finland

Transubstantiation – Radiophonic Sculpture Installations | living documentary

Rabía Williams (ACA)

Radiophonic seed pod pictured: pod, copper wire 22, screws, AM radio receiver circuit (detail below), pill bottle coil, and telephone receiver.

Through the telephone headset you can hear the AM long-wave radio, recognizable as radio with help of the diode.

AM receiver consists of:

  • Two coils (copper wire 22): 1st band of 40 turns and 2nd band 30 turns
  • 1N34A Germanium diode
  • 47k Capacitor
  • Variable Capacitor
  • Telephone headset – headphones
  • Insulated wire: 50ft for antenna / 25ft for grounding cable
My working corner in the Dinacon with AM radio transmitter.

Pulling radio waves, tapping in, circuiting, a translation,   somehow nothing feels so present as working with radio waves. But it is rather an act of presence.  Distance is compressed.  There is a leap in time. Wrapping the coil around the object keeps one present. If you are counting the turns, as any good crystal radio aficionado is supposed to, you cannot lose yourself in the action fully. I sometimes did this canal-side. It feels like a mantra.

During my time at Dinacon I was making radiophonic objects to create kinds of living documentary installations working with radio waves, found and archive objects and sound – the
so-called inanimate, the man-made and the natural.  They are something like witness objects.

I brought the pill bottle at the center of this pod from my grandmother’s house. Both my grandmother´s parents lived for a time in Panama, individually emigrating from the West Indies to Panama before coming to the States and eventually meeting each other in a church in Bedford–Stuyvesant, over 100 years ago. This pill bottle is for thyroid medication. My Grandmother´s thyroid was damaged as a child, burned through iodide painting, an experimental practice of the time. This left her with a permanent thyroid condition that she has been taking medicine for ever since.

I spend time in Gamboa´s Soberanía rainforest, sometimes recording alone and others times with Dina colleagues who made exploring a much more curious experience…

On the Laguna trail, Lisa Schonberg demonstrating the many sonic layers heard and unheard in this jungle – recorded with an ultrasonic mic.

Mostly the village of Gamboa seems like a ghost town, abandoned structures and houses.  You could easily walk the loop of the town without crossing another pedestrian.

But it does not sound like you are alone! Two sonar worlds seemed to rule here, the balance unknown:  

1) That of the jungle, which the town is carved and shaved into. These are sounds from inside the trees, the dirt, and grass, and the sky above.  As I rendered these sounds into words I think of my childhood books, a collection of descriptions: roaring, picking, tweeting, buzzing…, amongst my first words practiced just after Moma and Dada and no, no, Rabía no!   

2) The other sonar world sounds from the bordering canal. “Canal” is quite appropriate: a vibrating, tremble, something like a “horn blows low”.   It is a recognizable machine-at-work sound. And water

Does the nature remember, what? 

The people remember the territory occupied.  They remember who lived on which side of town.  Pastor Wilbur explains: “The Black West Indians lived on this side…” 

This town exists as an important drenching point.  Here in the town of Gamboa the land is always sliding into the canal and must constantly be dredged.

I  often wander around Gamboa town and I sometimes go to  Panama city for supplies. I record folks I meet, not on the street but along the way: a young man who is the son of Panamanian canal engineer- one of the only in his position during those times when Americans ran everything to do with the Canal; an American pastor recruited to preach in English over 40 years ago; and the local sign builder.  And I collect sound archives.  

The Americans came up with the locks as a solution for the canal project the French gave up on. 

Matthew Parker:
“[The canal] did not so much impact on the environment as change it forever. Mountains were moved, the land bridge between the north and south American continents was severed, and more than 150 sq miles of jungle was submerged under a new man-made lake. To defeat deadly mosquitoes, hundreds of square miles of what we would now call “vital wetlands” were drained and filled, and vast areas poisoned or smothered in thousands of gallons of crude oil.”
– Changing Course, The Guardian

 Many lives have been lost in the building of the canal, most to accidents and others to yellow fever.   The majority of lives lost were black men from the West Indies. Thousands died drenching the canal – over 20,000. 

I recover items from the River Charge:  flip-flops, obviously modern, so many types and sizes of flip-flops -there is something about shoes that are haunting – and find lots of pesticide containers and bottles of many different sorts. 

The Americans made there own little universe in Panama. The archives are astounding – and some shameless. ...”it was a provincially ordained world empire domination that the U.S. was meant to enjoy” – Jackson Lear
Pastor Wilbur shows me where one of the last standoffs happen of Noregas troops happened during in 1989.
By RA conversation across-time. Testing a mix at Dinalab space, live, working with archives American Propaganda film and a testimonial documentary about the 1989 Panama invasion.

Rabía Williams
salvaging for radio parts.
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Eco-Digital Survival (Redux) in Extreme Landscapes

by Stephanie Rothenberg

The first time I heard about Andy Q and Digital Naturalism was when I stumbled across a copy of “Hacking the Wild: Madagascar” from 2015 on the internet. I found it to be incredibly thought provoking and inspiring. The hand drawn zine illustrated a 10-day expedition of a small group of folks that included artists, designers, scientists and locals who were exploring the diverse ecosystem of Madagascar through the design of simple electronic hacks. The zine was a collection of photographs, sketches of prototypes and personal and collective deep thoughts. The DIY convergence of nature with analog/digital media as a way to not only experience the wild but to exist within it continued to resonant in my mind. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017 and completely devastated the island, I started thinking more about DIY survivalist technologies — things you can quickly hack together in an emergency situation that could provide communication, power, food (especially things you can create with paper towel rolls).

Over the next year, I developed a project around this theme titled “Trading Systems: Bio-Economic Fairy Tales” that looked at the failures and inequities of human designed systems. It raised the question — what might it look like if non-humans were put in the driver’s seat of Puerto Rico’s reconstruction? The project engaged rather whimsical solutions to underscore the severity of the destruction and lack of support from the US government. Some of the design hacks included lemon batteries as a solution to the island’s non-functioning power grid and leveraging the earth’s own electromagnetic waves for communication through self-powered crystal/fox hole radios made out of household items such as lead pencils and razor blades .   

So when the opportunity emerged this summer to participate in a Dinacon I was more than excited! I had big project ambitions for my 2 weeks in Gamboa but as it happened I was so enthralled with the energized, lovely human and non-human community and lascivious landscape that I got just a tiny bit distracted. I will admit that some of my luxurious time was spent attempting the following: #1) impersonating a human laser frog chorus, #2) interspecies communication with agouti on best garbage foraging practices, #3) outracing a supermax ship in a slowly leaking kayak, #4) thinking about harvesting energy from baby crocodiles, and of course #5) swimming at the “tropical palace” every moment possible (you can IM me for details). 

But the majority of my time was spent reflecting on the wonderful hacks the Madagascar team created and seeing if I could recreate them. Although I made headway on a few, the one pictured here was most successful. I call it “Andy’s Ear” — a circuit and speaker made from a leaf, wax, metallic wire and magnets. Other experiments included exploring fiber optic threads to make an insect sensor, organic breadboards with giant mushroom caps, and a tactile way to analyze/collect data through your tongue using wire probes, a leaf and conductive thread. I am continuing to explore these digital-natural hybrids systems to incorporate into larger, future projects and so thankful for the amazing time I had learning and sharing at Dinacon!

Special thanks to the marvelous Jana for her expert modeling skills!


Inaccurate Nomenclature

Originally, the idea was to create a radiophonic journey through Gamboa—exploring the variety of birdsongs on Pipeline Road, lingering in the marshes of the Chagres and simply strolling around the neighborhood, capturing sound bites of both human and nonhuman residents.

The first time I ventured out alone to Pipeline Road, I brought along my bamboo flute. Back in the city, when I would play inside my room behind paper shoji screens, occasionally a brazen bird would perch outside on the balcony and vividly respond to my shrill notes with rhapsodic chirps.

In the jungle, however, it was a different story. The sheer immensity of the rainforest was humbling enough, but it was the symphonic richness of its soundscape that stopped me in my tracks: the competitive chatter of mealy parrots, the percussive taps of a woodpecker on a hollow tree trunk, rhythmically improvised clicks and chuckles counterpointed by cicada crescendi and glissandi, the four piercingly pure notes of an ant-thrush, clearly heard but never seen, always on cue with metronomic precision. Out there in the wild, the human arrogance of “music” produced by blowing through a lacquered reed of polished bamboo seemed extraneously redundant. So I just listened.

Out on the river, I silently witnessed many creatures both up close and through binoculars: a caiman lurking just under the water’s surface, a creme-colored caracara tearing at its prey, red-headed turkey vultures preening on high branches, white egrets, blue herons, striped jacobins and yellow-winged jacanas. Yet it was the acousmatic motif of a hidden howler monkey that set the tempo adagio from deep within the forest.

The title of the sound piece was inspired by the insistently repetitive cry of what I have since identified as a red-lored parrot on the Río Chagres. “Accurate! Accurate!” it seemed to squawk, as if challenging our inevitably flawed human assessment of its species and its surroundings. I’m projecting, of course, but it’s hard not to associate sounds with signals, phonemes with meaning, utterances with intention.

So I continued to move along the river in a kayak, paddling through the dense marshwater with a splashproof smartphone on my lap recording in low-tech mono, clumsily picking up the rumbles of wind and bumps on the microphone, as well as the buzz of a persistently pesky fly.

“¿Cómo te llamas?” rhetorically asks Jorge, Panamanian avifauna expert who already knows the appellations of every local bird he is seeing or hearing. Returning from my excursions, I search through a handful of field guides, my superficial gateway to the vast database of human scientific knowledge about the resident species of central Panama.

And so I moved on to the naming of birds and other creatures—in learned English, in local Spanish, in scientific nomenclature: variable seedeater / espiguero variable / Sporophila corvina * wattled jacana / jacana carunculada / Jacana jacana * white-necked jacobin / jacobin nuquiblanco / Florisuga mellivora * striated heron / garza listada / Egretta tricolor * mantled howler monkey / mono aullador / Alouatta palliata * yellow-headed caracara / caracara cabeciamarilla / Milvago chimachima * turkey vulture / gallinazo cabecirrojo / Cathartes aura * lineated woodpecker / carpintero lineado / Dryocopus lineatus * mealy parrot / loro harinosa / Amazona farinosa * northern tamandua / hormiguero norteño / Tamandua mexicana * coati / gato solo / Nasua narica * crowned tree frog / rana arbórea coronada / Anotheca spinosa * fer-de-lance / equis / Bothrops asper * black-faced ant-thrush / formicario carinegro / Formicarius analis

This surtitled multilingual nomenclature, with male and female voices uttering very different words to describe essentially the same species, is more a reflection of human cultural perceptions than of the individual encountered in the wild. Juxtaposed with the natural soundscape of the creatures’ respective habitats, are these words disruptive, intrusive, invasive? Or merely indicative of our endless efforts to identify, capture, classify and label through relentless accumulation of data?

Inside a house in Gamboa, the melodic strings of a cello mingle freely with a giggling chorus of parrots in the tree outside. Agoutis roam neighborhood backyards, sloths and owls hang out in the branches above the sidewalk, puddles of túngara frogs turn up the volume after dusk… Humans seem to co-habit seamlessly with our nonhuman neighbors.

“Permanece escuchando” repeats Jorge, reminding us that there is always more to hear, signal after silence: Keep listening.

Cherise Fong

Binaural Audio/Video Recordings – Kristina Dutton + collab with Lisa Schonberg

I wanted to capture what it feels like to wander in the forests of Gamboa during both the sunset and evening choruses. Once I spent a little time on the Rio Charges I decided to weave that into the mix as well.

Binaural recordings imitate the spatial dimensions of human hearing. In other words, they reproduce sound the way we actually hear it. Because of this, listening to binaural recordings works best with headphones.

The microphones I used are designed specifically for quiet environments and I found the noise level of the evening chorus on Laguna Trail was enough to occasionally blow out the mics.

The audio was recorded in tandem with the video, so I moved both camera and mics (since they were attached to my ears) in whatever direction I was looking. This way, when I turn, the viewer hears the sound of the howlers from behind just as I did, whereas a moment before they were to the left, etc.

I wanted to convey the experience of sonic density in contrast to how little we actually see with our eyes in these environments, and to explore the idea that listening would have been important for our ancestors in wildly different ways than it is for us in most situations in modern cities or suburbs. Our relationship to sound has lost much of the meaning it once had and understanding it required. In cities we primarily filter out “noise” whereas, in the forest, we lean in and listen to understand what is around us.

For example, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton found that human hearing range is a perfect match for birdsong – that birds are indicators of a habitat that would be prosperous for human survival. He states that hearing is vital for all animals’ survival, and the bandwidth from 2.5 to 5 kHz are the resonant frequencies where we have super-senstive hearing – which is a perfect match for birdsong.

I’ve only made it through about 25% of what I recorded so I’ll continue to post more to my Vimeo page that will include other parts of Gamboa and the surrounding areas.

This video was taken between 6:30am and 8 am and includes sounds of the red-lored parrot, howler monkey, black-necked stilt, collared plover, ringed kingfisher, green heron, wattled jacana, northern waterthrush, smooth-billed ani, anhinga, and southern lapwing. And the occasional fish splashing around.
This 3rd vid is mostly made up of binaural recordings, but I threw in a moment recorded with a shotgun mic just to demonstrate the difference. Also this vid has a lot of great frog sounds!

The collaborative project I did with Lisa Schonberg involved combining technologies to enable others to experience the ecosystems in Gamboa from new perspectives. We made two videos. The first of leaf-cutter ants combined substrate-borne stridulations and locomotion on Pipeline Road with binaural ambient sound. The second was filmed underwater in the Rio Chagres and uses a combination of hydrophone and iPhone recording above and under water.

In the Rio Charges, while putting my iPhone in the water to film, I discovered that many small fish were interested in sucking at my skin. I ended up playing with them for quite a long time, as the fish didn’t react much to me scooping them into my hand. Playing in the water reminded me a lot what I felt like as a kid when I’d hang out at the edge of the pond near my house. I decided to make the video from that perspective – an intimate, playful view of the world just below the surface of the water.- wonder and curiosity being two of the greatest assets of art/sci/tech folks.

Recording Atta species on Pipeline Road
Wearing binaural headphone miss on Laguna Trail
Lisa Schonberg recording with ultrasonic mic on Laguna Trail
6:30 am on the Rio Charges with fellow Dinasaur Cherise

Bamboo ROV – Jonas Kramer-Dickie

This project was an attempt to make a cheap DIY submarine, there are very few cheap kits for teachers and researchers that give access to the underwater worlds around us. This was designed as a simple wired ROV with a camera lights and a few small DC motors that would be able to dive and maneuver while delivering live camera feed. to the surface.

The body is made out of bamboo because it was abundant and invasive in Gamboa. If I complete this project again I would use a water bottle or another seal-able cylindrical object. The internals seemed to function well but problems arose with the improvised body. It was still fun to play around with all of the electronic bits and learn about circuits, current, and motors. The whole project only cost about 70 dollars and as a kit it could teach basic electronics , and problem solving. It also lets people see the water through different perspectives.

Overall this was a very good first test and prototype, I think with a small amount of tweaking I could have a functional cheap ROV!

Completing this project in a beautiful and different location surrounded by beautiful and different people helped. What an amazing ‘Conference’

Original plans made to use fire extinguisher as body.

Control Panel

control panel rear with wiring diagram

ROV body next to internal camera

ROV body

Sculpting Shadows

By Albert Thrower –


In this project, I created three-dimensional sculptural artworks derived from the shadows cast by found objects.


I began creating 3D prints through unusual processes in 2018, when I used oils to essentially paint a 3D shape. For me, this was a fun way to dip my toes into 3D modeling and printing using the skills I already had (painting) rather than those I didn’t (3D modeling). I was very happy with the output of this process, which I think lent the 3D model a unique texture–it wore its paint-ishness proudly, with bumpy ridges and ravines born from brushstrokes. There was an organic quality that I didn’t often see in 3D models fabricated digitally. I immediately began thinking of other unconventional ways to arrive at 3D shapes, and cyanotype solar prints quickly rose to the top of processes I was excited to try.


My initial goal with this project was simply to test my theory that I could create interesting sculpture through the manipulation of shadow. However, a presentation by Josh Michaels on my first night at Dinacon got me thinking more about shadows and what they represent in the relationships between dimensions. Josh showed Carl Sagan’s famous explanation of the 4th dimension from Cosmos.

Sagan illustrates how a shadow is an imperfect two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional object. I wondered–if all we had was a two-dimensional shadow, what could we theorize about the three-dimensional object? If we were the inhabitants of Plato’s cave, watching the shadows of the world play on the wall, what objects could we fashion from the clay at our feet to reflect what we imagined was out there? What stories could we ascribe to these imperfectly theorized forms? When early humans saw the the night sky, we couldn’t see the three-dimensional reality of space and stars–we saw a two-dimensional tapestry from which we theorized three-dimensional creatures and heroes and villains and conflicts and passions. We looked up and saw our reflection. What does a rambutan shadow become without the knowledge of a rambutan, with instead the innate human impulse to project meaning and personality and story upon that which we cannot fully comprehend? That’s what I became excited to explore with this project. But first, how to make the darn things?


For those who want to try this at home, I have written a detailed How To about the process on my website. But the basic workflow I followed was this:


The areas that are more shaded by our objects stay white, and the areas that the sun hits become a darker blue. Note that the solar print that results from three-dimensional objects like these rambutans have some midtones that follow their curves, because though they cast hard shadows, some light leaks in from the sides. The closer an object gets to the solar paper, the more light it blocks. This effect will make a big difference in how these prints translate to 3D models.

A rambutan print soon after exposure and washing.


For those unfamiliar with depth maps, essentially the software* interprets the luminance data of a pixel (how bright it is) as depth information. Depth maps can be used for a variety of applications, but in this case the lightest parts of the image become the more raised parts of the 3D model, and the darker parts become the more recessed parts. For our solar prints, what this means is that the areas where our objects touched the paper (or at least came very close to it) will be white and therefore raised, the areas that weren’t shaded at all by our objects will become dark and therefore recessed, and the areas that are shaded but which some light can leak into around the objects will by our mid-tones, and will lead to some smooth graded surfaces in the 3D model.

 *I used Photoshop for this process, but if you have a suggestion for a free program that can do the same, please contact me. I’d like for this process to be accessible to as many people as possible.

Below, you can play around with some 3D models alongside the solar prints from which they were derived. Compare them to see how subtle variations in the luminance information from the 2D image has been translated into depth information to create a 3D model.

In the below solar print, I laid a spiralled vine over the top of the other objects being printed. Because it was raised off the paper by the other objects, light leaked in and created a fainter shadow, resulting in a cool background swirl in the 3D model. Manipulating objects’ distance from the paper proved to be an effective method to create foreground/background separation in the final 3D model.

The objects to be solar printed, before I laid the spiralled vine on the other objects and exposed the paper.

Another variable that I manipulated to create different levels in the 3D model was exposure time. The fainter leaves coming into the below solar print weren’t any father from the solar paper than the other leaves, but I placed them after the solar print had been exposed for a couple of minutes. This made their resulting imprint fainter/darker, and therefore more backgrounded than the leaves that had been there for the duration of the exposure. You can also see where some of the leaves moved during the exposure, as they have a faint double image that creates a cool “step” effect in the 3D model. You might also notice that the 3D model has more of a texture than the others on this page. That comes from the paper itself, which is a different brand than I used for the others. The paper texture creates slight variations in luminance which translate as bump patterns in the model. You run into a similar effect with camera grain–even at high ISOs, the slight variation in luminance from pixel to pixel can look very pronounced when translated to 3D. I discuss how to manage this in the How To page for this process.

One more neat thing about this one is that I made the print on top of a folder that had a barcode on it, and that reflected back enough light through the paper that it came out in the solar print and the 3D model (in the bottom right). After I noticed this I started exposing my prints on a solid black surface.

The below solar print was made later in the day–notice the long shadows. It was also in the partial shade of a tree, so the bottom left corner of the print darkens. If you turn the 3D model to its side you’ll see how that light falloff results in a thinning of the model. I also took this photo before the print had fully developed the deep blue it would eventually reach, and that lack of contrast results in the faint seedpod in the bottom left not differentiating itself much from the background in the 3D model. I found that these prints could take a couple days to fully “develop.”


The 3D models that Photoshop spits out through this process can sometimes have structural problems that a 3D printer doesn’t quite know how to deal with. I explain these problems and how to fix them in greater detail in the How To page for this process.


Now we get back to my musings about Plato’s cave. My goal in the painting stage was to find meaning and story in this extrapolation of 3D forms from a 2D projection. As of this writing I have only finished one of these paintings, pictured below.


– Carve the models out of wood with a CNC milling machine to reduce plastic use. I actually used PLA, which is derived from corn starch and is biodegradable under industrial conditions, but is still not ideal. This will also allow me to go BIGGER with the sculptural pieces, which wouldn’t be impossible with 3D printing but would require some tedious labor to bond together multiple prints. 

– Move away from right angles! Though I was attempting to make some unusual “canvasses” for painting, I ended up replicating the rectangular characteristics of traditional painting surfaces, which seems particularly egregious when modeling irregular organic shapes. Creating non-rectangular pieces will require making prints that capture the entire perimeter of the objects’ shadows without cutting them off. I can then tell the software to “drop out” the negative space. I have already made some prints that I think will work well for this, I’ll update this page once I 3D model them.

– Build a custom solar printing rig to allow for more flexibility in constructing interesting prints. A limitation of this process was that I wanted to create complex and delicate compositions of shadows but it was hard to not disturb the three-dimensional objects when moving between the composition and exposure phases. My general process in this iteration of the project was to arrange the objects on a piece of plexiglass on top of an opaque card on top of the solar print. This allowed me time to experiment with arrangements of the objects, but the process of pulling the opaque card out to reveal the print inevitably disrupted the objects and then I would have to scramble to reset them as best I could. Arranging the objects inside wasn’t a good option because I couldn’t see the shadows the sun would cast, which were essentially the medium I was working with. The rig I imagine to solve this would be a frame with a transparent top and a sliding opaque board which could be pulled out to reveal the solar paper below without disrupting the arrangement of objects on top. 

– Solar print living creatures! I attempted this at Dinacon with a centipede, as did Andy Quitmeyer with some leafcutter ants. It’s difficult to do! One reason is that living creatures tend to move around and solar prints require a few minutes of exposure time. I was thinking something like a frog that might hop around a bit, stay still, hop around some more would work, but still you would need to have some kind of clear container that would contain the animal without casting its own shadow. I also thought maybe a busy leafcutter ant “highway” would have dense enough traffic to leave behind ghostly ant trails, but Andy discovered that the ants are not keen to walk over solar paper laid in their path. A custom rig like the one discussed above could maybe be used–place the rig in their path, allow them time to acclimate to its presence and walk over it, then expose the paper underneath them without disturbing their work.

– Projection map visuals onto the 3D prints! These pieces were created to be static paintings, but they could also make for cool three-dimensional animated pieces. Bigger would be better for this purpose.

My project table at the end-of-Dinacon showcase.
This kiddo immediately began matching the objects I had on display to their respective solar prints!