Friday, September 12, 2014

simple, easy, DIY light box substitute

Excerpt from my September 13, 2014 Friday Newsletter, sent out to my Newsletter Group peeps :-)

It has been a week of highlights and being high, high on inspiration that is! My husband and I were in our usual seats on Monday night, front row, center, for Opera Lyra’s production of Puccini’s Tosca. It was spectacular and then some. I could go on and on about how amazing this particular tenor was ( but in case you aren’t a fan of live opera, I will go back to the inspiration bit – excellence of any kind gives me chills.

When I am confronted with what a human can do it fires me up like not much else. These highly trained singers and the members of the National Arts Centre Orchestra have spent years practicing, studying and honing their skills.

We are capable of so much when we dedicate ourselves to something.

I so look forward to events like this as I always come home energized and more motivated to become the best artist I can be. Woo-hoo!

Another highlight of my week (and there have been several unexpected blessings in recent days) is that my tomato plants are ripening! J I declared it quitting time yesterday at 4:00. I couldn’t stay indoors any longer. We had a strong, cool breeze which meant no bugs. I poured a large glass of red wine and headed for the garden.

The abundance of the harvest is enough to make me swoon this time of year. (Could also be all of that wine my husband makes LOL, he has an Autumn ritual of crushing and pressing ripe grapes shipped from California to Ottawa’s “Little Italy” and eventually our root cellar becomes a wine cellar, I rush to add I am drinking last year’s aged wine. J)

In about 10 minutes I had my first large basket picked. All of my plants were started from seed and put under grow lights last February, deep in the midst of winter. Patience is eventually rewarded!
I hope you all have had an incredible week – wasn’t the moonlight a few days ago incredible?! Wow.

Well I could go on but I had better get down to business here and make good on my promise. Last week I shared that this issue would give you instructions on how to make a simple DIY light box – no nails, screws, carpenter’s glue and no power tools.

Backing up a bit, you might remember that a couple of weeks ago I described the various methods used to transfer a drawing to ‘good’ paper. One of the methods, the illumination method, involves using a window or a light box. This is my preferred transfer method.
A window works very well, but tracing a detailed drawing standing up, working completely vertical on your paper, can be tiring for your hands, arms and legs.

Yet a decent sized light box can be difficult to find and they cost quite a bit.
So here is something that is not really a light box, but works very well.

My Light Box Substitute:

You need just two items!

My ‘light box’ (which doesn’t actually have a box) consists of a length of fluorescent tubing and a large sheet of acrylic ‘glass’ (perhaps you are familiar with the brand name Plexiglas, that is the sort of thing I mean).

You can put this together for as little as $25.00 or $30.00, depending on the size of the acrylic you buy. I bought my acrylic sheeting at Home Depot. They have a variety of sizes and I understand they will even cut a size for you. Ask a salesperson at your local hardware store for help.

Please note that some acrylic ‘glass’ is sturdier that others and will cost a bit more. For example I saw some very stiff stuff labeled high impact glass.

I recommend paying a bit more. You don’t want a sheet that is too flexible. Buy one that is stiff enough to take the pressure of you transferring the drawing. Remember that you might be leaning your arms on it while you work. You don’t want it so flexible that it moves up and down easily.

Even though the product is referred to as glass, please note that this is a plastic product. The edges are not sharp like glass, it isn't heavy like glass and it isn't fragile like glass either. Just be mindful that it does scratch pretty easily.
Here is a picture of my set up:

When I want to use the ‘light box’, I place the fluorescent tubing on a table and then I place the sheet of thick acrylic over top of it. I rest the acrylic sheet right on top of the tubing.

My drawing is positioned over the light. I tape my sketch onto the acrylic glass, I cover it with my paper, turn on my light and I am good to go.

Advantages of this light box:
  • This 'light box' is custom made to suit your needs - you choose the length of light tubing and acrylic that works best for you.
  • It is super easy to store as it consists of just two parts and each can be stored upright in a closet.
  • It is much, much cheaper than buying a regular light box.
  • You can use the acrylic glass for other purposes. I use mine as a work surface when I am on the road with my art and also as a lap table for when I leave my studio and choose to work in a chair in the living room...sometimes it is nice to sit by the fire on a cold winter's night. J

Of course if you would like a woodworking project, you could create a frame, i.e. an actual box.

You could also buy another light tube to add further light which would be helpful if your drawings are large. Simply place the acrylic overtop of both tubes. When I worked on large drawing, I simply moved my drawing around.

TIP: Do you know any health care workers, lab technicians or hospital custodians?
It wouldn’t have occurred to me that this might be a source for getting a free light box but here is my story. Last year I was given a proper light box! (Actually I was given two but one has a cord that needs rewiring so it doesn’t work at the moment.)

They were destined for land fill. My sister in law’s husband is a medical photographer and works in a hospital. These old light boxes were used by doctors to view x rays. Photographers also used them to view slides and negatives. Of course technology has changed a lot and these light boxes were no longer being used. They were getting disposed of. Why not get the word out to someone working in a hospital or clinic to see if they have some unwanted light boxes gathering dust in a storage room? You might get very lucky!


The Coloured Pencil Basics course that starts on the 20th is full. In fact registration is now closed on all of my fall courses/workshops. A huge thank you goes out to all of you that signed up!

If you would like to be put on a waiting list, should a cancellation occur, simply email me. Thank you for your interest!


 Go soak up some inspiration of your own this coming week and perhaps pause to enjoy a glass of wine. Ponder growing some tomatoes next summer (they can grow in containers on a patio or balcony). Nothing tastes like ‘em!

But most importantly, make some art, go on an artist’s date, visit an exhibit...

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