Introduction: Inspirational Paper Light Modulator

In this project, you will learn the steps to turn a single sheet of paper (or cardboard) into a light-modulating piece of art.

"What does a light modulator do exactly!?" You may ask. A light modulator is a sculpture of sorts that is meant to create an interesting pattern of shadows. Modulators make great lamp shades or they can be put on a sunny window to create strange shadows throughout the day.

You don't necessarily need to make your modulator exactly like this one either. The key is to make the modulator relatively intricate so that more light may pass through it to create interesting shadows. Try experimenting with other shapes!

- Stong paper or thin board (Bristol Board is perfect!)
- Straight-edge
- Pencil
- Red pencil
- Steel straight-edge
- X-Acto knife
- Light Source

Optional Tools
- T-square
- Drafting triangle
- Clear tape

Step 1: Grid Your Paper

Using a straight-edge, create a grid across one entire side of the paper. I chose to use "bristol board" because it is a stronger paper that will hold its shape better after being cut.

The grid can be any size you would like, mine was comprised of .25" squares. It also is much quicker and easier to create the grid using a T-square and a triangle, but it is not necessary. Maybe try making a grid that has variations in size for an even more abstract look!

Step 2: Identify Your Edges

Using your red pencil and straight edge, trace over the lines that you would like to cut. The only guideline to this step is to make sure that none of your red-lined shapes are closed shapes. One side of the shape should remain attached to the paper so that it will not fall away.

For example, I chose to make squared U shapes nesting inside of each other. One side of the U is left open so that the designs that we eventually cut into the paper remain as part of the paper. To clarify in one other way, U shapes are good; O shapes are not.

Step 3: Cut Your Modulator

Using the steel straight-edge (not an aluminum one) and the X-Acto knife, cut along the red lines you traced. Be careful to keep your fingers away from the blade, X-Actos are extremely sharp.

Also be cautious of overcutting your lines. If you DO accidentally cut past your line, here's how to fix it.
1. Put a piece of clear tape over the cut on both sides of the paper.
2. Carefully re-cut your edges through the tape
3. Voila! Disaster averted!

Step 4: Fold and Finish

Now that you're done with the hard part, pat yourself on the back and let your hand take a break from all of that cutting.

Fold your cut designs away from the surface of the paper so that light may pass through at various angles.

Turn off all but one light, put on your favorite music, and move your modulator around in the light. Try bending and warping and layering it in various ways for different shadows. Different light sources also provide different shadows, some are more crisp than others, some create double or triple shadows. Play with different combinations until you've found the one you like.

I enjoy these first two images of my modulator's shadows because they look like robot faces.