Light it up with Jill Dawson

I recently attended the monthly meeting of the Book Arts Guild of Vermont and we had an awesome presenter for the month of October – Jill Dawson. She introduced us to the world of paper circuitry, which I knew nothing about.

In a nutshell, you use conductive metal tape (instead of wires) to create an electronic circuit. You can use this to add lights to your work. I hope that I do a decent job of explaining what I learned.

Sample paper circuits - Jill Dawson

Examples of different circuits

Paper circuitry handout - Jill Dawson

We received a kit with the following supplies:

Paper circuitry supplies

Jill started off by introducing us to the basics of how the lights operate. The LED light has two wires (leads) coming out of it, one longer than the other. The longer wire is the positive lead and the shorter wire is negative. To get the light to turn on, you have to connect the long wire to the positive side of the battery and the short wire to the negative side.

Battery and LED light

In addition to the traditional bulby looking lights, there are these cool things called circuit stickers. They kind of look like metallic candy corn. The stickers have positive and negative parts, just like the bulbs (it’s marked right on them). They are much less bulky than the other lights and are probably more appropriate for use in books.

Circuit stickers

Jill taught us how to make a parallel circuit. In the example below, the circles indicate where the battery will be placed. The copper tape creates two paths that will lead to both the positive and negative sides of the battery. The two lines of tape have to be in close proximity (parallel) in order to connect to both leads on the light. You can place more than one LED on a parallel circuit.

Sample parallel circuit

It was recommended that we bend the ends of the LEDs in different ways so that we can more easily determine which lead is positive and which is negative. Jill bends the negative wire in a zig-zag shape and the positive wire in a curly shape.

I placed the copper tape on my card so that the two lines were in a close, parallel configuration. The battery is located in the bottom right-hand corner of the card – the binder clip holds it in place underneath the folded corner. I touched the positive and negative leads of the LED to the corresponding strips of tape and voila! We have light!

Parallel paper circuit

We then had time to design the card so that it incorporated the light(s). My drawing skills are somewhat lacking, but I managed to crank out a creepy eye – it looks pretty cool with the red light behind it.

Handmade card with LED light

I think that there’s a lot of potential for using lights in bookmaking. I loved Carol Barton‘s Five Luminous Towers, A Book to be Read in the Dark from the first moment I saw it. I’m starting to understand how something like that can be done.

The thing that has my brain churning is how you choose a location for the battery – I wouldn’t want it to stick out and it would have to be accessible so that it could be replaced as needed. I’m thinking that a book cover could be made from two thicknesses of bookboard, with one layer having a recess cut out for the battery.

I’ll have to play with the technology and see what develops!

4 Responses to “Light it up with Jill Dawson”

By Jill A. - 24 October 2015 Reply

I agree! Jill Dawson’s presentation was awesome – fun, inspiring and a great introduction to basic circuitry and the supplies available to light up our books. What’s even more amazing is how clearly you synopsize and explain everything we learned…that’s why you are such a talented bookbinder and fantastic teacher!

By Elissa - 26 October 2015 Reply

Jill –

You’re so sweet!

I spent a bunch of time doing research on the topic and I’ve got some follow-up posts coming, so stay tuned!


By Jill Dawson - 1 November 2015 Reply

What a nice blog post! Thanks, Elissa!

By elissa - 1 November 2015 Reply

Jill –

Thanks so much for presenting! I learned a lot.


So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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