After all these investigations, and a reluctance to spend silly money I decided to learn to do it myself. It has taken a few weeks to sort it all out. My first effort at making a lightbox using a handheld saw and a mitreblock, nails, screws and spray-paint was not very good. But I learned a lot about neatness, planning, functionality and the importance of having the right tools. The screws occasionally missed their destination, the corners weren’t flush and neat, the paint ran etc.
I have used a 5mm lipped soft wood moulding for the outer frame and straight 30 x 5mm moulding for the inner box which supports the image sheet below the lip of the frame. The base is 6mm plywood. It is necessary to drill into it from the outside to prevent visible fractures of the outer layer. All screw drill holes are countersunk.
The gap between the wall and the base is not lightproof and needs taping. I used black Gorilla Tape. Neither is the cable hole which needs plugging. I used museum putty.
I have learned to use an electric mitre saw, framing clamps and glue. The boxes now look reasonably professional. Leaving the wood unpainted does not provide enough contrast so I have painted it with a colour called Black Ash which leaves the grain visible. I made a jig to support the frame whilst painting to prevent smudging. The cable emerges from the back of the box which is shaped to allow it to go vertically or horizontally whilst flush with a wall. The box can hang on a wall or stand like a photo frame on a shelf or table. The cable is 3m long and plugs into the driver which forms part of the 3 pin plug to the mains. The cable can be concealed by either chasing into the wall or in a cable run.
However, the LED tape placement in the box is fundamental. I bought my tape pre cut and plugged from Wholesale LEDs with the appropriate drivers. 1m tape for the small boxes, 2m for the larger. The tape is only flexible in the dimension along its length, not across its width. So it can’t go round a corner with the LEDs facing up. I discovered this causes irregular illumination of the imaged sheet:
The diagonalcross that is visible on the panel is a shadow caused by the tape twisting as it goes round the corners, with the LEDs facing sideways – as seen in the second image. I thought reflection within the box would average out the light intensity but I was wrong. The solution is to cut the tape and solder it yourself. Another learning curve. My soldering is now competent but ugly.
The process is fiddly and takes about an hour but the outcome much better:
The pictures show the difficulty in photographing the pieces illuminated. When exposed for the box being illuminated the surroundings are not visible.
I think I am now in a position to cut and make my own lengths of LED tape; soldering and insulating as necessary. The whole thing operates at 12 volts for up to 2 metres and 24 volts up to 6 metres. The transformer/driver power supply either forms part of the 3 pin or sits on the floor next to it. I think I can also reduce the depth of the lightbox to about 2 cm because of the flat untwisted tape and the absence of tacks which will make it a less intrusive wall installation, should anyone want to buy one.
The cost of materials for a lightbox is about £25. This includes:
wood, LED tape, cable, male/female plug, LED driver, stand, D hooks and picture wire
The materials cost of a small lightbox (14cmx 14cm) is only £3-4 cheaper than a larger one at 28cm x 28 cm. The making effort is almost indistinguishable.
The size limiting factor for me is kiln shelf size (max 36cm x 30 cm post firing), tho there is a much larger flat bed kiln at UCLan if I wanted to use it.
- Now looks professional
- Striking aesthetic contrast between illuminated and not
- Stand alone pieces
- Reasonably strong. The acrylic varnish on the bone china sheets makes a difference
- Expected life span of LEDs is 15000 hrs
- Future broken LED tape can be removed and replaced since the box is closed by screws and the tape is in short soldered lengths
- The same box could be used for several different displays
- Wall or table/shelf
- Boxes can be designed to link together and work as a larger unit
- The frames can be customised in shape and colour. I fancy fuchsia but my wife is less keen!
- Wiring could be concealed, camouflaged or emphasised (now I can solder) by choice of cable.
- Requires electricity for its effect
- Doesn’t seem very ‘ceramicky’ in a painted wood frame. Without touching it, you might think it was plastic or paper. On the other hand that is part of the attraction of it for me – clay doing what its not really supposed to.
- It is essentially a 2D image, although the double layer does give some sense of depth. I think that can be developed and emphasised
- I originally used tacks to fix the tape but I have realised that the adhesive is strong enough.
- I have to check that I am not breaching any trading standards H&S laws/regulations by selling them
- Takes quite a long time to make (but very satisfying). That time will fall as I become more skilful and make in batches
- A lot of the effort requires skills other than working ceramic
- There is a lot of further work to be done in achieving satisfying and coherent images.
But I now have the technical skills within which to develop and illuminate (8)
I have ideas for dealing with (2) by suspending the tile visibly in a thin frame (?wood, aluminium, steel, acrylic) and illuminating with natural window light or a spotlight (or both).