Sculpey Cat

A couple of weeks ago, I embarked on a weird adventure with Sculpey and simple electronics. The goal had been to make something unique using the basic circuits skills I’ve picked up over the last eight months or so. Given that the final product literally just lights up a couple of LEDs when it’s plugged in, I’d like to disclaim that I didn’t exactly put myself through the paces here, but I did have fun. Here’s what I made.

SculpeyCat, powered by a 9V battery

It’s a bizarre cat, sort of Frankensteined together from a couple of basic sculpey shapes and steeped in all sorts of electronic components. Most of them were ripped out of an old bitchy router I had lying around and don’t do anything, but the LED eyes and the resistor ears are part of a bonafide circuit that light up when you plug in the tail. The black wires are both ground, while the white one is for your positive voltage source (I used a 9v battery but most anything should work just fine). It’s not super complex, but for the curious, here’s how I made it.

The biggest challenge with something like this is making the circuit such that it can be embedded inside the sculpey and still allow your sculpture to keep its shape. You have to be cognizant that you can’t squash the circuit when you roll your sculpey around it, so if you’re used to making sculpey creations by plucking off a measure of clay and rolling it around in your hand to make spheres or cylinders or dodecahedrons (hey, you never know), you’re going to need to adjust your technique. Most of the time, creating your basic shapes, cutting them in half, and stuffing the circuit inside will do just fine.

For the head, I carefully assembled and soldered the LED circuit like so:

Circuit diagram for SculpeyCat

Each of the ear-shaped resistors provides current limiting for the LEDs (else they’d burn up and be sad). It’s a pretty straightforward circuit. Voltage in, light out. Here’s what it looked like pre-sculpification.

SculpeyCat LED circuit

To get the sculpey around it, I rolled a sphere, cut it in half, and placed the flat side against the circuit (forming the back of the head). The front side took a bit more care in order to work the sculpey around the LEDs. I incrementally added more, smoothing it out and making it as round as possible. Once I was satisfied with it, I hooked it up to the battery and made sure it still worked. It’s important to check often that your circuit survived.

SculpeyCat head

With the head done, it was time to form the body. For some reason I decided that the tail should be detachable. This was a terrible decision, as it forced me to use some really bulky and difficult to maneuver jumper wires as the conduit through the body from the head to the tail. I rolled the body clay around them, making a sort of cylinder, and made the female jumper ends flush with the backend of the cat. The other end of the jumper wires is shown below protruding out of the cat’s chest. The positive and negative wires needed to be soldered to their corresponding wire in the cat’s head (though you can’t see it in the photos, I’d marked the head’s negative wire with a black sharpie, because it becomes real difficult to tell negative from positive once the circuit is covered up). This is where the heartache started.

Stripping the jumper wires and soldering them to the head wires while also not destroying the sculpture was a little bit fiddly. Worse though, there was no good way to bend the jumper wires to retain the sculpture’s shape. I ended up having to add more clay to cover up the weird bending and squishing I did. Lesson learned — just use wire wrapping wire for everything. It’s infinitely more bendable and versatile in this context. And when the heck am I really going to remove the tail from this beast, anyway?

SculpeyCat out of the oven, sans caps and other meltable goodies

Last point of note. Before putting it in the oven, I removed the decorative caps, header, and tail wires (because I could). The caps I scavenged are very clearly rated at 150C, which should be fine at the 275F (135C) I baked this at, but better safe than exploded. I super glued them on post-bake and re-added the other components as well.

The finished product? A lovable terror that now sits on my desk.

SculpeyCat, wires all tucked away inside
Some lovely cat anus

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