Shadow Pod: Nightlight




Introduction: Shadow Pod: Nightlight

This shadowpod is the product of a long process of
experimentation with composition, light, and materials. After playing with fibrous material, foam, plumbing material, found objects, and wire skeletons, I came to the conclusion that pretty basic paper mache methodology was the best way to create a hollow volume (pod) for this particular project. The pod encapsulates an industrial landscape smashed with organic utopia, backlit in blue. It represents a window into an imaginary place. Originally, this piece was not made with any function in mind, but I think that it could function as an intriguing nightlight.

Three essential components:

a. interior

b. exterior enclosure

c. lighting mechanism ( I used colored LEDs and a 9V battery, but if you intend yours to be left on all night, it would be a good investment to look into hooking it up to a wall plug.)


cutting pliers, wire strippers, paintbrushes and utensils, large bowl for glue/ glue mixture, sand paper, Camera, Computer, Laser cutter


Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator


Elmer's glue, tacky glue, tracing paper, balloons, guage 24 wire, paint (acrylic, spray, etc), spackle, misc objects, black india ink, bristol board, laser cutter, LEDs, resisters (I used 330 OHMS), electrical tape, Electrical wire, 9V battery, 9V battery snap

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Step 1: Exterior

You will need gauge 24 wire and a package of regular party balloons

Cut a length of wire 2-3 feet. Make a loop 3-4 inches in diameter near the middle of your piece of wire. Twist the wire together to complete the loop. This will be the first segment through which your balloon will expand. Add a second segment using the excess wire extending from the first. Continue adding wire segments until you have 5 or six that together create a volume. Insert an deflated balloon into the wire form and blow air into it. The balloon will expand through the gaps in the wire. The gaps should be relatively uniform in size. Too much variation, and the balloon will want to expand only through the biggest gap. You will notice inconsistencies in the material of the balloon itself. It may want to expand more rapidly in certain areas. The bellybutton (area of balloon opposite of where you blow into) is where the most expansion will occur.

Step 2: Paper Mache

Once you have a shape that you are satisfied with, you’re ready for paper mache.

I used tracing paper and straight Elmer’s glue

Tracing will dry prettily translucent once it is dry and Elmer's glue is incredibly strong when left undiluted. Situate your balloon hanging several inches from the surface of your work area. I attached my balloon to a piece of wire and wrapped it around a pipe on the ceiling so as to have easy access to all sides of the balloon while applying wet paper.

This is messy, so make sure to cover your work area with disposable material or something you're ok with smattering in glue. Prepare a significant pile of really small pieces of tracing paper (1”x1” - 2” x 2”). Pour a substantial amount of glue into a container. (plastic cup or bowl)

Submerge individually pieces of tracing paper into glue and wipe off excess using two fingers. Apply pieces to balloon surface. Smooth them to the contour of the balloon with your fingers. Overlap your pieces so that an even two layers of paper cover the entire form. Set aside to dry. (several hours minimum)

Apply a second layer using the same process over the first layer. Let dry.

Step 3: Opening the Exterior

When the pod is completely dry (will feel brittle), pop the interior balloon using a knife or a needle. Choose a place on the paper form to make a hole and cut using an exacto blade. Mark on the object where you want to cut into it, choosing strategic lines to open it from, to create a dynamic shape, or simply cut a window into it.

Set aside.

Note in the light of experimentation:

Treat exterior surface with:

pigment, what kind of paint will dry translucent

spackle: I applied spackle to the surface of a pod and sanded it when it was dry before painting it

Step 4: Photographing: Generate Silhouettes and Shapes

You will need: tiny misc objects that are aesthetically pleasing to your tastes, a camera, an efficiently white large flat surface, a light source, india ink (optional). You will also need later on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator installed onto a computer, and access to a laser cutter.

Collect objects: contemplate interesting shapes and textures.

Obtain a large white surface, at least 20”x 20”, the whiter the surface, the crispier the images will be.

Lay white surface flat. Determine light source: this component should be experimented with. In flat light with minimal shadows, the images will retain only the forms of the objects. When one or more direct light sources are added, shadows become part of the silhouettes.

Arrange objects into a composition on your white surface. Think about tonal values. Lightly toned objects will blend with the white background while darker objects will contrast and form shapes against it. Consider creating a unified negative and positive space while arranging your objects.

Photograph from directly above without disturbing your light sources.

Notes for the future:

Play with scale: try photographing large objects against a white bed sheet to create a composition.

Step 5: Photoshop

After importing your photographs, bring the one of choice into Adobe photoshop.

Posterize the image to 2 tonal values.

Check the black and white option.

Experiment with exposure, (I used the curves tool) to change the shape and proportion black to white ratio until you are satisfied.

Save file in psd format.

Step 6: Illustrator

Bring your psd file into Adobe Illustrator.

Object > image trace > make and expand

Object > ungroup. (Now each shape (both black and white) will exist as independent objects that can be copied, moved, edited, duplicated, etc.)

At this point, I like to make a new template fitted to the size of the bed of the laser cutter. In my case: width 16”, height 12”.

Copy and paste shapes from the first template to the new one, size and arrange to your contentment.

Select all shapes. Change object fill to empty, and stroke to black, width 0.25. The laser cutter is going to create and cut along a path that follows the outline of your shapes.

When you are finished with the image, export file in a format that is compatible with the laser cutter you will be using. I used dxf format.

Step 7: Cut Your Shapes

I cut my shapes out of bristol board.

Work with your lab technician to help you implement your file for laser cutting.

The settings I use:power: 75, speed 80, PPI, 1000, and Z axis (you will need to measure the thickness of your material): .011.

Step 8: Joining the Interior With the Exterior

You will need: more glue ( for this step I prefer tacky glue over Elmer's because it is thicker and dries more quickly)

Make sure the edges of your cut outs match the contour of the inside of the paper balloon form.

Note in hindsight:

Incorporating tabs into the design of your shapes in the Adobe phases would be a helpful step. This would require more compositional planning ahead and less spontaneity in the final arrangement.

Add tabs to your paper cut ours and attach them to the interior of your pod shell. Fold these away from the opening of the piece, so that when you look into the piece, they are hidden from view. Glue in place (using tacky glue), and then (optional) use tiny pieces of tracing paper coated with Elmer's glue to integrate them into the surface of the paper mache. (The pod shape is in the round, but intended to be viewed frontally.) Begin this process in the back of the object and work your way toward the entrance of the piece, where special attention should be paid to integrating edges.


I played around also with incorporating parts of objects that I used initially to make the photographs into the object itself.

Step 9: LEDS

Get as many as you want colored LED lights. You will need resistors. You can figure out which resistor(s) you need to use here.

Attach them to a 9V battery using battery snaps. Either solder the wires coming out of the battery snap to a wire connecting to the LED, or twist them to bind them and cover with electrical tape. I fastened a battery holder to the back of the pod, using wire to keep it in place.

Note: Battery holder needs to be developed. Invent a solution for this component.

The battery must remain accessible so that you can unplug your lights.

Note for future: would like to try implementing a light switch. Cut holes in the back of the pod and insert LEDs into them.

Step 10: Complete

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