Friday, July 25, 2014

Tinkering - Building a Still Life Box

If you've been to this blog before, you know I love to tinker, especially with foam core board. Recently, I was working on a couple still life paintings for an upcoming exhibit. I've always had a rough time getting the lighting the way I'd like for painting still life from life. I did a Google search and found Mark Carder's webpage and videos and thought his idea for building a shadow box was great! Just what I was looking for, although his is pretty large and heavy. If you are a painter, it is well worth your time to check him out. I have learned a lot from him, and still haven't seen all his videos. To understand what I was building, please watch his video about the shadow box, but come back here and see what I came up with!

I have a small bedroom setup for a studio and his shadow box wouldn't work for me, so I have used some of his ideas to create something smaller. I tried a couple setups, but don't have photos available of those but have pics of my final design below. First, I used an upside down parsons table for the framework so I didn't have to build it from lumber. That was still too big to move around easily in the studio, so I then took a small plastic shelving unit apart and used some of those pieces to create some upward "legs" to hold the top. For both designs to make a top, I used a large frame mounted with a piece of black cardboard, with a slot in the middle for the light to shine through. Still, I wasn't satisfied. On to the foam core board.

I built a box out of black foam core and glued it with an Elmer's Board Mate glue pen - I found this at Michael's Crafts near the foam core board, and it works great!

I liked the idea of having the three sides solid to be able to control the light better. I added two cross bars across the top edges to stabilize it. They are glued, but used black masking tape to hold it while it was drying.
 I left a slot near the back bar, so that I could easily add a backdrop of fabric. You could add fabric to the side walls and floor also.

Now to show you the top and the lighting 'slot' - this is the same piece of black cardboard I had used in the frame for the earlier versions. To lighten the weight, I removed it from the frame. It is stiff enough to hold my lightweight lighting setup. Because I wanted the 'slot' to be narrower, I added another piece of cardboard to narrow it. The black side now gets flipped over. The black is best inside to be able to control the light within the box.

 Look at the crazy thing I decided to use as a 'light director" - I found this plastic cone at the thrift shop. It is a gag gift - an 'ear megaphone' for a 'hearing aid'!! It was perfect for threading the wire of my lighting set through, and light weight. I put a small 14 watt mini bulb inside.
 You will notice I have moved it from one side of the slot to the other (or anywhere in between). This is to place the light direction in a pleasing spot on your subject. You can also move the whole board so the slot is closer to the back or front of the box, depending on where you want your light to hit.
 Here you can see, I have added some small pieces of black foam core to block out the unused parts of the slot.
 Here is an overall view of the rig, placed on a rolling cart - easy to move around to get it in the correct viewing spot to paint!
Here are some other shots showing you how the light changes as you move the light fixture.

And finally, if you don't want the light coming from the top, you can easier turn the box on the side and direct your light at a lower level:

Now I feel it will be super easy to get some dramatic lighting on my still life setups! You'll probably see many more still life paintings showing up here. After we plein air painters wrestle with the greens of summer, I can come back to my studio and design my own views!


Liese Sadler said...

Found this while looking for ideas in building a light box. Your slot for the light looks like a great idea, and since no-one else has commented, I wanted you to know that even a year old post has been interesting to someone!

Nancy L. Vance said...

Thanks so much Liese! I love building projects like this! Happy you found my blog.

SN said...

Very helpful! Thanks a lot!

Charlotte Mertz said...

This is exactly what I'm looking for--small, mobile, adaptable, and inexpensive--for my own small bedroom studio. Thanks for the detailed explanation of what you did and how--including the light-weight lighting setup, which I had been concerned about. Terrific arrangement! I'd already used foam core to build myself a drying box, and this should be even easier.

Nancy L. Vance said...

Thanks Charlotte! I did have to change the light later on. The bulb was too hot for the plastic! I ended up getting a cheap lightweight "goose neck" desk lamp and using that to shine into the opening. Please let me know how it works out - with pictures!!

Lois Boudreaux said...

Thank you so much for posting. I got here thru a search for a light box for painting. I did get a cardboard box and cut differen soze holes in differen sizes but left the top edge connected so i can open the one o need at the time. I closed the holes and painted the entire thing with balck spray paint. I have not used as i wanr my GGrands here to set up something. I have several clamp lights i can use. So anxious to use now that i saw yours. Always. Lois M Boudreaux from Louisiana.

Nancy L. Vance said...

Thank you Lois! With the weather changing here in Ohio, it's time for me to hunker down in the studio as it is too cold for plein air! I got my light box out this weekend! I haven't had much time to paint though (I work full time), but I really like this size box as it is lightweight and easy to store. One thing I recently discovered from Carol Marine. She uses different colored paper for the backdrops and base under her items. I was in the craft store in the scrapbook painting aisle and found big books of a variety of colors/textures of card stock and bought some with their 40% off coupons. This will give me lots of options, and again, easy to store instead of fabrics. You probably have some construction paper you could use, if you have grand-babies! Happy painting!!

Pamela said...

Late to the party. I'm going to build a shadow box and I like your idea of having a slit at the top. I like your website also...motivates me to build my own.

Nancy L. Vance said...

Thanks Pamela!!