Intro: Light and Mirror Sculptures
This is a series of small wall-mounted sculptures using water-jet mirror polished steel and LED lights that create compositions of text and images using reflected light. This project is a continuation of the What You Make of It installation I created during my Pier 9 residency in Winter 2014.
Step 1: Tools and Parts
Materials and components used in this project:
- 304 Stainless Steel Sheet #8 Mirror, 20G (.0355")
- thin guage aluminum, or some other thin-gauge sheet metal
- a high-powered Cree LED like this
- Buckblock LED driver
- 12 vdc power supply at 1.5 or more amps
- heat shrink
- thermal paste
- the mattest, blackest paint you can find, such as this camouflage paint
- a waterjet machine to cut the sheet metal
- soldering iron
Step 2: Design and Prototyping Process
The sculpture and base are built using flat pieces of sheetmetal that are cut and bent to form the base and sculptural elements. Designing the vector CNC files so that all the pieces can properly bend, fit together, and fit all the components was by far the most challenging part of this project. It was a long, iterative process where I made several prototypes, failures, redesigned, refinement, and tweaks, until I finally arrived to these forms used in the final pieces.
In the final design, the base of the sculpture is made up of two pieces that functions as a box to house the electronic components, a mount for the built-in LED light, a platform on which the mirrored sculpture sits, and allows the whole thing to be easily mounted on a wall, which then functions as a projection surface for the reflected light.
Here are some photos of the prototyping process I went through. As you can see, I made many paper prototypes first using a laser-cutter. This allowed me to make sure all the measurements and fittings were right, before doing the more costly and time-consuming metal water-jetting.
Step 3: Final Design and Vector Files
The final design is made of pieces of water-jet aluminum that form the base, and one piece of water-jet mirror finish steel that form the sculpture that sits on the top of the base. This sculptural mirror element can be swapped out to make different versions of the sculpture.
Attached here are two Illustrator vector files. One is for the base, the other is for the mirror sculpture, spelling out "THE EYES".
Step 4: Cut It Out
Use the waterjet machine to cut out the parts for the sculpture and base. Make sure that the cuts are programmed to happen on the correct side of the cut lines. This was especially tricky to get right on the text pieces, since they are not whole shapes.
In the example file provided, I've added tabs to the letters manually in Illustrator when designing the file. However, you can also add tabs directly in the waterjet software, which I've had success with as well.
Step 5: Assembly
Now that all the pieces are made, it's time to put them all together. The first step is to fold the base pieces to make a box for the electronic components. The thin-gauge aluminum should be pretty easy to bend by hand. This is what the two pieces should look like when done folding them.
Step 6: Electronics Integration
Now it's time to wire up the electronics into the base. The Buckblock LED driver has 6 cables on it:
- Solder the grey DIM GND cable to the right-most of the outer terminals on the potentiometer.
- Solder the purple DIM cable to the center terminal on the potentiometer. The potentiometer will allow us to control the brightness of the LED.
- The red VIN+ and black VIN- will attach to power and ground of the power supply. I've used a barrel jack with screw terminals to connect the power supply to the Buckblock, this will make it easy to swap out the power supply in the future if it should ever fail.
- The white LED+ and blue LED- cables need to be soldered onto the power and ground pads of the Cree LED.
- Once the LED power is soldered on, carefully cover the front of the LED place with electrical tape, so that it does not short out when attached to the box. The back of the LED, however, needs to remain exposed, as the base will function as a heat sink for the LED, which gets very hot.
- All of the components should fit snuggly into the bottom of the base.
- The potentiometer fits into the hole on the right of the base, use the included washer and nut to screw it into place.
- Put a little thermal paste on the back of the LED to help with dissipating the heat from the LED into the base.
Step 7: Installation
Now that everything is wired up, its time to put it all together and install the work. It is designed to be wall-mounted.
- Put the top part of the base on top of the bottom part, and line up the led so that it fits in the small hole in the center of the base, and line up the mounting holes on the left and right sides.
- Use a few small screws or bold to attach the base to the wall.
- Now it's time to install the mirrored steel sculpture that sits on top of the base.
- Before you do this, bend all of the mirror pieces up about 90 degrees, using your fingers.
- Attach the mirrored piece into the front of the base, so that the two mounting holes line up.
- Use 2 small bolts and nuts to secure the mirror piece to the base.
- Plug it in, and turn the potentiometer to turn the light on. You will notice that the light will bounce off of the mirrors and cast back onto the wall, but it will be completely randomly scattered.
- At this point we need to carefully calibrate all of the mirrors by hand, until the reflections are all aligned to the correct position on the wall, making the intended projected image on the wall. You can do this calibration by hand, or use pliers, but preferably they should have rubber tips so as not to scratch the surface of the mirror.
Side Note: In my case I found that the aluminum base that I was using was reflecting some of the light from the LED, creating a blurry-looking double-image, which was not ideal. To circumvent this issue, I ended up painting the top part of the base with a matte black paint to prevent unwanted reflections.