Technical Light Box Stuff 20/11/17

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.



  1. Now looks professional
  2. Striking aesthetic contrast between illuminated and not
  3. Stand alone pieces
  4. Reasonably strong. The acrylic varnish on the bone china sheets makes a difference
  5. Expected life span of LEDs is 15000 hrs
  6. Future broken LED tape can be removed and replaced since the box is closed by screws and the tape is in short soldered lengths
  7. The same box could be used for several different displays
  8. Wall or table/shelf
  9. Boxes can be designed to link together and work as a larger unit
  10. The frames can be customised in shape and colour. I fancy fuchsia but my wife is less keen!
  11. Wiring could be concealed, camouflaged or emphasised (now I can solder) by choice of cable.


  1. Requires electricity for its effect
  2. 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.
  3. It is essentially a 2D image, although the double layer does give some sense of depth. I think that can be developed and emphasised
  4. I originally used tacks to fix the tape but I have realised that the adhesive is strong enough.
  5. I have to check that I am not breaching any trading standards H&S laws/regulations by selling them
  6. Takes quite a long time to make (but very satisfying). That time will fall as I become more skilful and make in batches
  7. A lot of the effort requires skills other than working ceramic
  8. 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).





Here are the results of my labours so far on the double sheet theme. In pairs – first is top image, 2nd background:

I used a variety of techniques: stencils, stamp with nylon netting, direct painting, stippling, monoprinting with glass/perspex using several tools for shape creation (rubber combs, scrapers), sgraffito, fingers. Well… 1 finger. I have just acquired a gel plate to assist printing on the already fired tiles.

All the “paints” are made with underglaze colours in System 3 acrylic printing medium diluted with water according to need.

And here they are in their pairs, varnished (Newton Matte acrylic) for strength, and glued with cyanoacrylate gel glue, transilluminated with cool white LED light:

All these pieces are 13cm square (15cm pre-fire), black image in front, colour behind, facing forwards. I think the edges of the colour fields in (5) are too stark. I varnished rice paper tissue on to 5 & 6 but it ruined them – the particular tissue, different from the first batch used on (1), didn’t go transparent with the varnish but dried white. I tried to burn it off at 400C but the varnish just left a dark mess stuck to the tile. I binned them – sadly, as I liked both.

I made 2 x 26cm pieces as well:

For the first I chose the background colouring to try to give some sense of structure to what would otherwise be a bit of a jumble. Unfortunately the colour sheet broke in the kiln. I can make another. I don’t like the second colour sheet much and I think I’ll junk it. However, I do like the way the black front image ‘floats’ above the colour field.

The tiles can be placed back to back so that they are attractive from both sides, although the detail of the one behind becomes even more vague.

The next challenge is mounting them on light panels. It isn’t possible to buy such small panels so I am making some myself using LED tape, plywood, timber mouldings, a mitre saw and satin black paint spray. I have ordered the electrical stuff, as cheaply as possible,  online and I am awaiting delivery – probably Monday. The price of materials for a 13 cm square piece is going to be about £35 (LED tape, driver, cable, wood).

I have contacted 2 light panel specialists who make cuttable panels but they are ridiculously expensive –     ~£120 for 30cm x 30cm with driver and cable. Applelec  and Cooledge. Excellent products but really only suitable for expensive commissions. I have had a discussion with our local picture framer about framing a light panel with the tiles. He’s up for it theoretically but wants the actual things in front of him before suggesting a price.

Alternative illumination techniques would be to make varying size flexible panels by linking tiles for hanging in front of windows or roof lights, or mounting them suspended from a metal frame and lit by spotlights. This would obviate the need for a cable running to the tile itself.

29/09/2017 Discussions

I brought in the work I have done so far to show Dave and also Tracy in printing, Dave liked what I have made. Thought some were beautiful. He was highly impressed by the ideas I took from Graham hay about the use of varnish and tissue to strengthen them. Dave felt that the layered pieces I was making towards the end of last year were interesting and aesthetically attractive but perhaps required more work that could be justified by the likely monetary value. I agree with this but wonder whether I have misremembered the actual making and assembly time required.

Dave focussed with extreme prejudice on what I was actually going to do with the sheets I have made. His point was that I now need to construct objects for display. We talked about lit wall pieces, and pieces for illumination by natural light. He picked up on the importance of the attractive outer image being unexpectedly and dramatically transformed by transillumination. I need to give specific thought to support, mounting, framing and power supply. Endless pretty tiles without the rest miss the point of the MA (my words, not his!).

Tracy was more interested in the art component of what I was doing, and thought the tiles have great potential. Both she and Dave like the layered images and the out of focus background which implies a depth the pieces do not physically have. We discussed various mono printing and collagraph techniques that I could use at home. She emphasised the importance of recording processes I use with each experiment so I can reproduce the effects I like.

Both Dave and Tracy preferred the more organic, less geometric work.

It was interesting to meet Jane Bennett who has started this term as a print technician. She, too, is interested in light transmission and printing. It may be that we can collaborate on some stuff.

A Small Byway

I haven’t got anywhere else to record this sequence so I’m putting it here. My birthday present this year from my wife was a 2 day sculpture course at Mount Pleasant Gardens in Cheshire (

The brief I gave myself was to carve something fairly cubic to avoid removing too much limestone. I decided on an elephant and focussed on abstracting it’s main curves.

I am now familiar with the scutch and the bouchard or bush hammer

The big fear was cracking the trunk whilst chiselling the hole.

She is now sanded wet and dry, smooth as a baby’s bottom and called Talulah.

I loved doing this. It was great fun. I look forward to my next birthday.

18 September 2017 (b)

Having decided to reapply to take the exam in Oct 18 I began to experiment with some ideas I have been having over the last few weeks. These were:

  1. Incorporate colour between layers of the bone china using a loom I made and CoCO3 (10%) coloured suspension
  2. Stabilise the tile surface before printing with 5% PVA
  3. Sgraffito of printed surface
  4. Over printing with different colours
  5. Print on fired tile.
  6. Strengthen tiles with artists acrylic varnish +/- varnish soaked rice tissue paper (See Graham Hay)
  7. Fire at lower temp on already fired tile for more stable colours
  8. Superimpose one coloured tile over another for more interesting image.

Images of all this below.

(1) Incorporate colour between layers of the bone china using a loom I made and CoCO3 (10%) coloured suspension

(2) Stabilise the tile surface before printing with 5% PVA

Nothing to see here but works very well. No dust. Good print surface. Burns out leaving no residue.

(3) Sgraffito of printed surface

The colours in the second two burnt to black at 1240:

The following represent (4), (5), (6 no tissue) & (7)

They look awful like that. However, sunlight and cool white look much better:

(8) Superimpose one coloured tile over another

Even though the actual images here are often a bit of a mess the outcome is striking. Although the rear tile is visually unsatisfactory alone, as a background through translucency it achieves something greater. Obviously more careful choice of image, pattern and colour for the 2 tiles would result in more aesthetic outcomes. The tiles could be glued together with cyanoacrylate and mounted and lit in various ways. Strengthening would be via varnish and tissue. Light via spots or light ribbon in wall box. Cool white.

18 Sept 2017 (a)

17 Month gap for family reasons. Now back. Spoken to Dave Binns. Won’t re-register for academic year 2017-18. Just register for degree show Oct 2018.

I did a bit at home whilst I was off. I developed the Japanese inspired stacking tiles with separators technique as outlined in the following pictures