Introduction: Glowing Silhouettes

For my first instructable I’m showing how I’ve made some glowing bird silhouettes for my garden. These are part of a project called Be The Light: Illuminate Hope which is encouraging people to put up lights for midwinter and brighten people’s days in an otherwise dark time. For those in the northern hemisphere thinking “isn’t that Christmas?” here in Australia winter is June-August, and our major holidays are mostly imported from the northern hemisphere. This means seasonal holidays don’t line up with our seasons and we don’t have an major midwinter thing.

These are pretty simple. Mine are intended to go outside so they need an outdoor finish and materials. If you are making them for indoor use you can swap the plywood for MDF if you like.


Plywood (size depends how big you want to make your silhouette)
Glow-in-the-dark paint (I used White Knight glowsafe spraypaint)
LIT pigment and exterior varnish

Safety glasses
Hearing protection. I prefer earplugs, some prefer earmuffs. The best protection is whatever you will reliably use.
Jigsaw, bandsaw, scroll saw or coping saw. Whichever you have access to and can safely operate
Paintbrush (if using a brush on finish)

Step 1: Draw a Shape

Take your pencil and draw your shape on the plywood. I’m doing birds and I have been sketching directly on my plywood, and then tracing around a finished silhouette if I want duplicates.
If you don’t want to design your own that way, you can find a picture you like online and print it the size you want. Use that as a template to draw the outline on your plywood.
Shapes should be simple and distinct for a recognizable silhouette.

Step 2: Cut It Out

Using your chosen cutting tool cut your shape. Use safety glasses and hearing protection. If your workshop is regularly invaded by chickens or other pets evict them before using power tools.
Jigsaws are probably the most commonly accessible tool for free form cutting, but if you have the option a bandsaw or scroll saw will leave you a smoother cut which will need less sanding. You can also use a coping saw if you don’t have power tools available.
When using a jigsaw clamp your plywood securely to a bench or table so that the part you are cutting is overhanging the edge of the table but as well supported as possible. You will probably need to move and re-clamp your piece several times.
If using a bandsaw or scroll saw you will need to cut your plywood to a size you can safely manage and the overall size of your silhouette will be limited by the size of your saw.

Step 3: Sand the Edges

The edges will have a bit of fuzz on the underside of the cut. Take some sandpaper and clean them up so that they are smooth. Round over the edges so they aren’t sharp. Two or three swipes with 80 grit sandpaper should be sufficient.

Step 4: Paint It

Exactly how you do this will depend on your paint and preferences. Read and follow the directions on your paint if they differ to mine.
Clean all the dust off the surface of your shape.
The first one I did was using LIT pigment from Culture Hustle. It comes as a powdered pigment which needs to be added to some sort of medium. Because mine is going to be outdoors I have used an exterior varnish. I sealed the plywood with a coat of plains varnish before giving it two coats of varnish with LIT. Then I painted some black contrast designs over the top. In future I would do the sealing coats of varnish followed by the black contrast and then the LIT mix if I pre-plan a design with large areas of black.
My initial mix was a bit weak so I added a third coat which I think was about 1:1 varnish and LIT pigment and seems much better. Unfortunately I didn’t measure it and just went by feel so I can’t give precise ratios. The mix needs to be mixed thoroughly and stirred frequently as the pigment settles to the bottom. Mine also needed to be painted flat to avoid running.

My second one was sprayed with White Knight glowsafe. I screwed an eye hook into the top so I could hang it and sprayed five coats as per the instructions on the tin. My coats were a little heavy and patchy which does show up as being more intense patches when it glows.

Step 5: Finished Product

Hang it up somewhere light to charge for a while, then take it somewhere dark to see how it looks. My giant wren is pained with LIT, and the crowish bird is sprayed with glowsafe. The LIT is brighter to begin with. I haven’t compared their afterglow yet. In daylight they have a pale greenish-yellow tinge but are still transparent enough to see the woodgrain through, as you can see in the photo with the unfinished bird for comparison. Additional coats would further increase their brightness. Experiment with additional coats until you get a glow you are happy with.