Lighting Engine

Andrea Benatar
Nov 6, 2018 · 21 min read

**(For a meal with a few friends)**

As the initial step in our next project, I went around campus exploring different types of lighting that are present and the different effects of each type.

Here is what I found:

On my lap around campus, I made sure to have a mix of indoor lighting and outdoor lighting, as well as daytime and nighttime shots. I found that some of these lights were more pleasant for me than others. In some cases, such as Margaret Morrison (bottom three photos), I found the white light to be a bit cold and too intense, especially at night. However, in the case of Tepper, where the white, fluorescent lights are placed more subtly or in smaller quantities, I found it to be more enjoyable.

On the other hand, I discovered that my dorm building, Morewood Gardens (second and third photos) has very warm, orangey lighting, which in the case of my room, is not very good at providing light, but does make people look relatively good (since it is soft lighting). I also went to the Underground, where I found that the lighting was pretty standard, but the method of lighting was very interesting (fourth and fifth photos).

Lastly, the outdoor locations I explored had a mix of incandescent and florescent lighting, but in images 6, 8 and 9, they are used to provide subtle illumination in a dark setting, while in image 7, the white light creates very dramatic lighting for the “Walking to the Sky” sculpture.

Step 1: Playing with light and paper

After class on Tuesday, our assignment was essentially to play around with light and paper. Thus, I tapped into my inner curiosity and without doing anything too fancy, came up with a couple of experiments, exploring different treatments to the paper, different types of paper, and different forms. I began with a very basic cone (first two images) in order to see how the light went through printer paper and how visible layering of paper is, and then from there, I began folding and cutting the paper in different ways to see how it changes the way light was projected. In these experiments, I only used printer paper, tissue paper, and paper towels, but I’d be curious to continue exploring other types of paper, and, of course, other forms I could make with the paper (and with the paper treated in different ways).

Overall, I found certain strategies to be very interesting and worth further exploration. I am particularly drawn to the simpler forms that give the paper a sense of movement through layering and folding, and I also like the texture created by crumbling up the paper, so in my future experiments, I would like to try combining some of these elements that I find effective.

Step 2: Starting to build (with your context in mind)

In class on Thursday, we picked out our “context” for our lighting engines to exist in, mine being a meal with a few friends.

At first glance, I found this context to be pretty open-ended. We were not given which meal, or where the meal is, which means that there is a certain amount of freedom in this prompt. Right off the bat, some things I knew I had to consider for this context were:

  1. How much light is being emitted?/ How large should the lighting engine be?
  2. Where is the engine positioned? (On the wall? Standing? Hanging? A combination of these?)
  3. What role does the form play in this context?

Because of the freedom in this prompt, I decided to begin my exploration by thinking of the form and the texture of the lighting engine before addressing more technical issues.

Below are some of my initial form explorations, in which I was just playing around with creating interesting shapes and textures with the paper.

Experimenting with strips of paper
Using pleating to create an interesting texture (as I did in my original paper explorations)

I then began observing the different effects of various paper types and treatments of the paper with the lightbulb behind it.

As seen below, I found that the bristol paper I had at hand (300 series) was too thick and, therefore, did not emit very much light. It also made the light appear a bit more red-toned.

However, I also found that the texture created by the rips in the paper and the layering of those rips had a nice visual effect. Hence, I tried the same idea again with tracing paper, which emits more light in a nice, diffused manner.

The issue I found with this model in tracing paper was that the effect became a bit too subtle due to the thinness of the paper. I would probably need multiple layers of tracing paper to make the gradient more evident.

Next, I decide to take some elements from my first Guggenheim- like experiment and also try that with tracing paper and a cubic base for some structure.

With this model, I think the use of tracing paper worked well because it allowed for those interesting overlaps to be seen. I also really liked the abstracted, organic form that a thin paper allowed.

On the other hand, I also tried a similar process of attaching individual strips of paper that did in fact work better with the bristol paper.

Since this sketch model had light being emitted through gaps, the thickness of the bristol paper actually worked to its advantage. In this model, I liked the general form, but I had some concerns with the functionality of it and how to get the lightbulb in and out (see below for current method). I also definitely think this form could be pushed a lot further since this reminds me of many things I have already seen.

The last sketch model I created continued on with this exploration of layering and organic forms using tracing paper.

I generally liked this form and the way that the light is diffused through the layering of the paper. However, this is also still a relatively basic form, but I think I could utilize this paper treatment in a couple different ways.

Things to keep in mind across all of the models:

  • I was very interested in making a lighting engine that could both stand or be hung since I can see both being used in a meal setting (depending on how large the table is/ how many people are there). Thus, all of the above models, with the exception of the ball-like form, can serve both functions.
  • All of the models I have made thus far are a bit too small. Keeping in mind that this engine is meant to illuminate a meal, I would probably have to work larger next time.
  • The tracing paper I used in many of these is a bit too thin and flimsy, so I would probably purchase a better and sturdier Velum paper.

Thinking about bases for the bulb

So far, I had experimented a lot with different forms and textures, but had only been sticking the lightbulb in and holding it. Thus, the next day, I bought some foam core and created a couple of sturdier bases for some of the models, exploring how a base can serve for a hanging light as well as a standing light.

Below is my first attempt at making a base that can be hung and then flipped over to stand.

However, this base was not tall enough to stand (since the cord has to go down a certain amount before curving under the little tunnel I made).

In the next model, I tried a similar base, this time making it taller so that it could stand and have the cord be out of the way. In this one, I also utilized the same form as I had earlier but I redid it with a new 150 bristol, which emits light better than the 300, in order to emphasize the gradient.

Hanging vs. Standing

The issue with the foam core base along with the several layers of bristol is that the bottom of the gradient doesn’t emit any light. This might be fixed by a shorter base or having the layers of paper not going all the way to the bottom. I still am very drawn to the layering and the texture created by the rips in the paper, but I think the tall shape might be too much like a night-light, so other forms with the same treatment would definitely be worth exploring.

Things I still want to try:

  1. Playing with scale: As I said earlier, I still would like to explore larger forms that would be more appropriate for a table.
  2. Geometric forms: All of the forms I have explored so far are very abstract and organic because that tends to be what I am most drawn to, but I can seek out similar effects with geometric forms as well.
  3. Different methods of getting the light bulb in and out: So far, I have only tried having a removable foam core base that is held in the form through friction, but since this isn’t the most stable option, I also want to try having a base that is glued to the actual form and has a removable part, or flap, for the bulb to be placed in.
  4. Alternative adhesives/methods of attachment: I have found that with the translucent tracing paper, a glue stick typically doesn’t show through the light but might create creases in the paper which looks a bit messy. Thus, I want to keep exploring the best adhesives for different types of paper, as well as alternative methods. I bought wire and a thin rope, so in future models, I might try a sewing (or tying) method by incorporating it into the design, rather than trying to hide it.
  5. Type of paper: I am relatively content with the way tracing paper lets light through, as well as the new bristol paper I bought. However, I would still like to investigate other types of paper based on level of thickness and translucency.

Step 3: Reconsidering

In class today, Steve and Stacie gave us some things to think about. A couple of points that resonated with me were; thinking of the light as a whole rather than several parts, and also thinking of the point of view it is being seen from. In the models I have made thus far, I was mainly thinking of the base and shade as separate components, so as I move forward, I should be finding ways to incorporate/integrate the two. Additionally, most of my form elements so far have been meant for a side view, but Stacie brought up a good point, which is that when you are sitting at a table eating a meal, you are looking up at the light. Thus, I also want to find a way to make the bottom and sides of the engine equally engaging.

Below, are some of the other considerations we discussed.

[insert picture]

Thus, moving into the next stage of the project, I feel as if I am still very much in the exploratory phase, trying to determine compositions and treatments of paper that I would like to use. That being said, I would now like to keep in mind some of the more practical elements including making the engine feel like one cohesive piece, making it so that it is interesting to be seen from below, and having it emit enough light to illuminate a meal.

Step 4: More sketch models

Between Tuesday and Thursday, I actually found that I kind of hit a wall with this project. I had so many ideas I wanted to explore at once that my mind seemed to be going in circles a bit. Nonetheless, I did work on two models that utilized some of the elements I had found to be interesting in my previous experiments.

One of the things I was working on this time was scaling my models up a bit since I had been previously working at a very small scale. Thus, these two iterations of a model combined aspects of some other models I had made to try and create an abstracted, organic form that can be interesting to look at from many viewing points. However, because of the scale, I was having trouble making a stable base for the lightbulb to go in, so the picture on the right merely used wire to hang it. While I do like the idea of attaching the pieces with wire, I would definitely want to incorporate an inner structure to hold the lightbulb if I continue exploring this form. Another thing worth mentioning is that in an attempt to preserve my thinner Bristol paper, this was made out of the 300 Bristol, which is too thick and doesn’t really let light through.

The second model I explored a bit further utilized the same ripping and layering technique that I tried before, this time combining two types of paper and trying out a different base shape.

I still really like this effect of layering the ripped papers, but I am not sure about the form of this model. I realized after making it that for this texture, a rounded form might be more effective (although I have yet to really experiment with geometric forms). Additionally, I realized that this model posed the same problem as some of my previous ones, which is that you wouldn’t be looking at much when viewing it from below. Hence, if I were to try this technique again, I might flip the form so that the face with the layering is on the bottom, or even on all of the sides. I would also like to try reverting back to my ovular shape I tried at the beginning, as well as having the rips going at a diagonal, rather than horizontal, to make the texture more dynamic.

In all honesty, I left this round of experiments feeling a bit unaccomplished. However, these explorations did give me a lot of ideas to move forward with. In the first model, I have a large, organic form that is very interesting to look at and (done with the correct paper) could emit light in an interesting manner. On the other hand, the latter model has several form issues, but an interesting texture. Therefore, I might try combining some of these features for a future model (I.e: utilizing the curves and movements of the first model with the texture and paper combination of the second model).

One more thing that dawned upon me as I left studio was that I might be over complicating the form. I think I am so overwhelmed by the ideas and possibilities that paper provides that I am trying to do too many things at once. As I move forward, I should remind myself to not overwork a form or overlook the power of simple things done well.

Step 5: Narrowing down models

During small group critiques on Thursday, Steve and Stacie emphasized again the importance of what you are seeing from below when sitting at a dinner table, as well as considering how the lightbulb is implemented into the form so that the socket isn’t totally visible. However, coming back from critique, I did feel better about the round, layered form I had been working with, but I still had a couple of more things I wanted to fix/try.

I also decided that the gradient light with the ripped paper, while it creates a nice effect, is more of a decorative element, whereas the form doesn’t really give much for the viewer to look at. Additionally, I found the other model to be much more intriguing to look at from a lower point of view, whereas the ripped paper model would be more appropriate for a standing light or side view. Therefore, I wanted to keep exploring my other idea, layering and placing the pieces in different ways.

The first thing I wanted to try was to go back to one of the first ideas I explored that had a similar form to this previous one, only with a square base. I also purchased a 90 vellum tracing paper that is a bit sturdier/less fragile and diffuses light a bit better than regular tracing paper, so I wanted to see if a different paper would create a different effect with the layering.

However, I felt as if the square base constrained the size of the model too much and the result was not as effective as the fully rounded form. Nonetheless, I wanted to keep experimenting with making a model completely out of this tracing paper since the layering can be more easily seen.

Below are two very similar iterations made entirely out of the vellum tracing paper, one where the pieces were attached with wire and the other with hot glue.

The first iteration (top three photos) I made with wire as the attachment method in an attempt to avoid glue being seen through the light (I also tried tape and other types of glue and all were visible through tracing paper). Hence, my initial idea was to incorporate wire in a more intentional manner than tape or glue would be. This model, however, turned out a bit odd because the base I made was too long and narrow so all of the pieces ended up a bit too compressed. I also think I could’ve placed the wire in a more elegant way because the vertical line made it look a bit like stitches.

Thus, in the second model, I tried to make the overall form a bit rounder and I lowered the “base layer” (the one covering the lightbulb) to have the form be more continuous rather than the sort of heart shape that resulted from the first one.

While I found that the use of only tracing paper gives the form a certain softness and it shows through all of the layers in a nice way, I also felt that (for the same reason) the form also ended up being less of a statement than the initial model made out of bristol. So, I went back to the form I showed during critique, but edited some of the things that were problematic in the last model.

The main issues I wanted to tackle when editing this model were the base, having the form be too boat-like, and how intentional the layering was.

First and foremost, I had to make sure that there was a functional way of holding the lightbulb and having a layer of tracing paper at the bottom to diffuse the light. The second image shows the curved base I made attempting to fit in with the general form (this can still be workshopped some more).

Another thing that I didn’t like very much about my initial model was the sides, where all the pieces attached, pointed up so much that it made the entire form dipped downwards, like a boat. Hence, I added a strip at the top, which made the form more circular and, in turn, helped hide the socket of the lightbulb.

The last fix I had to make was trying to get the layering to look as intentional as possible. I still want to revisit the sections with the cross overs since that part still looks a bit random/ unintentional, but I think these subtle changes helped put this model in a better place.

Step 6: Feedback

In class today we did peer reviews and then a whole class critique, both of which gave me a lot of new things to consider, but also helped reassure me that my form was moving in the right direction.

In the peer review, the group that reviewed my light said that they enjoyed the pinkish tone of the light and the general form, but they talked about the light being very concentrated when you look at it from below. Dispersing the light outward more was an interesting point I hadn’t really looked into, but I would now like to explore in my next iteration. That being said, when sitting at a dinner table, no one would be looking directly up at the light, but rather upwards at a diagonal.

Afterwards, during the class discussion, Steve and Stacie also brought up some points that especially stuck out to me. They discussed the hiding of the socket, which is something I was starting to do with this model, but they also mentioned the hiding or integration of the cord so that it is not just hanging down beside the lamp. Additionally, they mentioned how we might consider incorporating a portion of the cord into the design itself (or the use of wire) so that we assure that the pieces hang completely straight. Both of these are things I definitely hadn’t been thinking about thus far, so it gives me some things to brainstorm over Thanksgiving break.

In the next model, I would like to consider the factors I mentioned above, as well as just continue improving my craftsmanship overall so that all the layers and overlaps are intentionally placed and well fitted.

Step 7: Small Revisions

Because I was happy with the general form and functioning of my light, I mainly had to fix some minor issues as I made this final model.

The first edit I made was the repositioning of the layers so that the light could be a bit more dispersed and so that the layering is very intentional, with the side intersections creating a more purposeful pattern. By allowing for more space between the layers, light can flow through all the cracks, rather than just out the center.

I also revised the base in this version (see below), so that it could fit seamlessly onto the top of the lamp. Additionally, I had noticed in the last model that the top two layers were not emitting any light, which looked a bit awkward, so I positioned the base and the lightbulb higher so that the light could be more evenly emitted.

Lastly, I did use a slightly thinner bristol paper this time, which helped with the distribution of light. Overall, I was focused on being very careful with my craft this time around so that I could get rid of the “kinks” in the previous model.

Even though the new model looks similar to the previous one, this step was more about attention to detail and refining the form and function a bit more.

In terms of hiding the cord, I would like to use foam-core as a “ceiling” to cover the cord in the photos. With regards to building something that will hold the cord straight, I am also unsure if it is necessary for this model. Since I measured more carefully this time and the lightbulb is fully centered, the lamp seems to be hanging much straighter now with enough weight from the paper to hold it in that position.

Step 8: Documentation

In class this Tuesday, I spent a large portion of time investigating different on campus locations where I could document my light in context. I knew I needed a large(ish) table and an empty room with an even ceiling to which I could attach my lamp. Additionally, I purchased a bit of food to indicate a meal setting.

After extensive searching of on- campus locations, I discovered that one of the freshman dorms, Stever, has nice study rooms that are completely empty except for a long table. (See below).

Final photos!

In loving memory of the fallen prototypes that went into my final model

Step 9: Take-Aways and Reflection

The main take-aways I got from this project were:

  1. Maintaining the integrity of the material: As Steve mentioned, it is not beneficial to make the paper do something the paper doesn’t want to do, which is something I learned pretty quickly as I started experimenting with form.
  2. On the same note, don’t try to hide some of the weaknesses of the paper (but rather, play off of them): In my model, I quickly noticed that it would be impossible to get a completely seamless curve without a joining point, which is why I chose to incorporate the overlap of the paper into the design rather than trying to hide it.
  3. Craft, craft, craft: As with every project, I am continuously trying to improve my craftsmanship and my attention to detail. In building lighting engines specifically, we had to pay extra careful attention to all of the details that become even more prevalent when the light shines through them. Through the various models I made, I had to experiment with different adhesives and different types of paper to ensure the cleanest possible model (although it could still be pushed further).

All in all, I am happy with my final product. I think the exploration I did at the beginning of the process with different paper textures and treatments helped me to come across a form and manner of using paper that works. As always, with more time, there are a couple of minor craft issues that I would fit, such as perfecting the shape of the top and making sure all of the seams are perfect. Another issue I encountered towards the end of the process was that the top base creates a shadow on the sides, but I was unable to get rid of it since it had to attach to the sides and concave inwards in order for the socket to be hidden when looked at from the sides. However, I do feel as if these issues are rather minor, and overall, the light did accomplish what I wanted it to.

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