Lightbox #2 Fabrication - Experiments in Modularity (2018)
In January 2018, I was invited to participate in the Chromatic Festival in Montreal after they became interested in my Bushwick Lightbox work. After the experience of exhibiting the first lightbox on the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn in the summer 2017 pop-up shows, I wanted to create a larger LED matrix to convey a greater sense of monumentality. In Fall 2016 I had gone to a Rothko show at Pace Gallery and was very impressed by the scale of Rothko's work, and this left a lasting impression.
I felt the 24"x48" format was a bit limiting to the visual presence I wanted to achieve. I wanted to create something Rothko-like in terms of visual impact -- indeed the patterns that I ended up showing at Chromatic were named Digital Rothko.
Practical considerations and lessons learned from 2017 also drove the design of this new lightbox. These considerations were related to portability, weight, and ease of set up. The 2017 lightbox, made of oak, was heavy and had to be transported via hand truck and/or by car. Ubering the lightbox all over the city for once-a-week street shows added up financially, and wheeling the lightbox by hand truck over several city blocks posed danger to the component of the LED matrix, since vibration from wheeling over the sidewalk could potentially break solder joints. This happened in summer 2017 on at least one occasion.
Thus, I wanted the new design to:
be larger than the 2017 matrix
it had to be transportable by hand or luggage to the Chromatic festival
it had to be light and compact enough for one person to transport it on the subway
NOTE: The majority of the light paintings displayed on this website were created using this 2018 lightbox.
This picture is an early concept drawing of a modular, flexible LED panel. I wanted something that could be rolled up and put into a backpack yet whose connections remained sturdy and reliable.
I based the size of the LED matrix on the size of the roll of projection film that I used, which was 40" wide. I decided upon a 40" x 60" projection surface, which would require a similarly sized LED matrix.
Because of my experiences with power distribution in the original lightbox, and to limit the size of the LED panel
"But why make your own flexible LED panels, when you can just buy them?" you might ask. Fair question. The answer: Cost.
An flexible 8x32 (256 Pixel) WSS2812B panel costs $39.06 on Amazon including taxes. 3,750 desired pixels / 256 pixel panels = about 14 panels x $40 = $560.
Whereas using LED strips, I ordered 15 rolls of WS2812Bs direct from a supplier that I have a prior relationship with for $364 including tax.
(That said, this was for my own usage and is, by definition, a prototype. For professional builds with a budget, I would use pre-made LED panels.)
I prototyped the flexible LED panel using the most cost effective, flexible material that the LED strip could reliably adhere to -- vinyl.
Previously, I found that LED strips stuck better to some surfaces versus others over time. Vinyl happened to be fairly reliable as long as the LEDs were not pulled by any kind of force.
Demonstrating portability through its ability to be roll up.
With the small prototype satisfying expectations, I moved on to making the actual flexible LED panels.
I settled on two panels, the first 37 rows by 50 columns, and the second 37 rows by 50 columns. The panels would be attached by JST connectors, with the first pixel being located on the bottom right.
(The bottom right is just where I settled on starting the matrix from -- not sure why, I just like it.)
For the power buses on each sides of the LED strips, I built upon lessons I learned from constructing the 2017 lightbox.
I decided to avoided the difficulty in soldering 22 AWG to 12 AWG solid core by using 12 AWG stranded and using 22 AWG solid core to thread and intertwine the wires.
I got this idea from Danny Rozin, my professor in Project Development Studio, whose class I made this matrix for. I also learned that NASA engineers used sophisticated wire twisting techniques in order to ensure their electronic devices were fail-safe.
I used this threading & twist method also to increase the stability of electrical connections. While a solder joint could potentially break due to vibration or movement, a twisted connection with ample surface contact would be far less likely to do so.
To further decrease the potential to stress on solder joints at the pads at the ends of the LED strips, I secure a thin piece of plywood at the ends with about an 1" margin so the solder joints would always rest on a flat surface.
This way, even if the LED panels were rolled up, the risk to the solder joints would be minimal.
The 12 AWG power bus lines would run directly into the power supply.
Lookin' good so far...
Of course, an unforeseen problem was the visible gap between the two panels.
This was a nuisance that was solved by using a staple gun or double sided tape to ensure the LEDs on the bottom of the top panel and the top of the bottom panel were properly spaced and aligned.
Since the goal was to make this portable, I designed it so that the projection paper would be rolled into a carrying tube and portable enough for a subway ride.
This mean I could not build a frame, but would have to secure it with other means.
After thinking of different options, the most elegant, cost-effective, and simple solution I settled upon was using strong magnets to secure the paper.
Paper is a difficult surface to work with on a large sheet because it is difficult to keep taut without using some kind of clear board to keep it straight.
However, I found a specific type of powerful magnet that was strong enough to keep the paper taut.
After experimentation, I settled on a system where the paper as sandwiches between two magnets, one of which was attached by epoxy to a screw.
The screw was attached to a spring loaded drywall anchor. I found this to be the most secure.
And yes, that drywall has seen better days...
I was able to successfully transport the entire LED installation by hand luggage from NYC to Montreal for the Chromatic Festival in May-June 2018!
This was my first showing at a new media festival, and I was pleased with the result!
While successful for the festival, I was not able to transition this modular approach to light painting into pop-up street shows, since I was not able to find any situation where the LED panels + diffusion surface could be installed on the streets of NYC.
This was for a variety or reasons including wind conditions, the inability to drill into walls of public buildings, etc.
That said, I was content working on developing light painting images and really exploring the medium during summer 2018. Most of the images from the light painting gallery stem from this very productive time period.