In Andrew Tuline’s North Delta basement, lanterns are glowing.
Iridescent sea creatures rotate slowly from the ceiling, illuminated in blues that fade to purple and back. Tuline fiddles with one, holding the battery and computer pack that normally hides inside the lanterns’ bamboo frame and paper exterior.
It turns on, LED lights flickering up the side of the abstract form. Tuline moves on to the next lantern, spinning it as he passes.
The 62-year-old looks at the mosaic of colours illuminating the dark room.
“It’s the colour organ from the ’70s that I never had,” he said.
Tuline is a coding hobbyist, building these lanterns to show off the light displays he creates using the coding language C++ and Arduino micro-controllers. Having been in IT as an infrastructure manager for three decades, coding light patterns is a way to let him “try and do a bit of artsy kind of stuff,” he said.
“I’m not an art guy. I can’t even draw stick figures,” Tuline said. “This my way [to have] some form of artistic outlet.”
Tuline makes his lanterns by hand and displays them in different festivals — recently he was featured at North Delta’s Luminary Festival, as well as the Still Moon Festival at Renfrew Park in Vancouver. He uses bamboo frames to support paper-covered exteriors, positioning LEDs on the inside.
One of his lanterns, a seahorse inspired by his wife, has a welded metal frame — the first time Tuline has tried something like that.
“Sean Williams there, who I was working with, he motivated me to get out my welding torch,” Tuline said.
Tuline has never met Williams, an Australian sculptor based out of Brisbane. He’s never even seen the sculpture he helped Williams create in person, the sculpture that won Williams an emerging artist award at the SWELL Sculpture Festival on Sept. 23.
It started, for Tuline, on Aug. 28 with an email from Williams, a complete stranger at the time.
“Hi Andrew,” it began. “I’m currently working on a large metal sculpture of a Black Dragonfish. This is my first exploration into using an Arduino to power some LED strip lighting and my research led me first to WS2812B LEDs, then to the FatsLED library and finally to your code, which is step above everything else I found!”
The email went on to explain that although Williams had managed to use some of Tuline’s code, which he made available on the open source site GitHub, to create light patterns that activate through a motion sensor, he couldn’t make it work completely.
“The only problem is that now I have struggled with it for too long and the exhibition install date is the 6th of September,” Williams wrote. “If you are willing or able to help in this limited time frame I would love to hear from you! I can show you the code I was playing with and the patterns I was hoping to include in the different cycles.”
The email included photos of the sculpture in progress, a menacing, skeletal fish. His follow up email included the code.
“I’m like, oh my god,” Tuline said. “This guy’s a wonderful sculptor, but the code was broken.”
In Williams’ words, after Tuline looked at the code, “he very respectfully said [it] was garbage.”
Tuline spent hours reworking the code, which had errors before Williams’ somewhat inexpertly included it in his sculpture. Tuline left notes in the code so Williams’ could understand what each line meant, and worked to integrate the displays with the motion sensor.
“Eventually I threw together something that would just go nice light blue colours while nobody was around, but when somebody comes anywhere near it, it would turn on and keep going for several minutes,” Tuline said. There were different displays and sequences that moved along the spine of the sculpture as the night wore on.
“When you think about LEDs and LED displays, things are flashing and blinking and stuff like that,” Tuline said. “I like to see — and Sean really appreciates — just pallets of colour moving and flowing around.”
The effect earned Williams’ a $1,500 prize and the Jennie Neumann OAM Emerging Artist award.
It was “nice to have someone like Andrew to bounce ideas off of,” Williams said. He’s now planning to integrate lighting into his future sculptures, and is planning to collaborate with Tuline and his code in the future.
For Tuline, it’s nice to be able to help out someone else, regardless of where their IP address is. It’s the idea behind “open source,” a concept integral to the start of the internet and making a comeback now in online coding communities.
“You know, open source is all about collaboration and sharing and helping each other out,” Tuline said. “They’re all collaborating and providing the stuff for free, which is really cool. So it’s my own way of helping out.”