Final Project/Documentation

Charlie Brooks

My finished work, titled “Suspended Paradise”, was a composition using light, colored acrylic, wood, and monofilament line:

“Suspended Paradise”

The work consists of a number of laser-cut acrylic shapes suspended inside of a wooden base. There is a flashlight located behind the shapes that casts a “shadow” on the wall, creating an image of a tropical beach, complete with a sunset and palm tree.

View showing light passing thru the hanging acrylic

My work was intended to be viewed from behind, aiming to capture both the acrylic and the resulting image in one frame. My goal from the beginning was for the hanging acrylic to be visually pleasing on its own, meaning that the work could be appreciated with or without the light. As a part of this objective, I wanted to use a clear acrylic base so that the acrylic could be seen, but the acrylic sheet was too flimsy to be a viable option. The height/relationship/positioning of the acrylic pieces was vital to the quality of the resulting image.

I maintained the position of the wooden base on the table by taping it down. There is a groove in the table top that perfectly cradles the flashlight, and I centered this groove on the base so that the image would be centered. The wooden base also “framed” the resulting image, creating a perfect rectangle of light for the painting to sit in.

View showing hanging acrylic, suspended with fishing line and binder clips.

If I could make changes to my project with access to more resources (larger budget, designated site to install a work, more time), I would suspend the acrylic from either the ceiling or a clear acrylic base so that they could be appreciated without the light. Also, I would make the entire piece larger so that the fishing line isn’t as significant in the final image. Finally, I would like to have used more individual acrylic shapes. I limited myself somewhat when I only made a 5×6 grid of holes to suspend the shapes. If hanging from a ceiling, I could position the pieces in an unlimited number of positions, and could use a larger number of pieces. Also, I could control better the distance from the light to the acrylic to the wall, meaning I could scale the final painting to my liking.

Overall, I am happy with how my final work came out. The final image had a nice balance of abstract qualities and defined shapes that properly conveyed what I intended for the final image to be. The process of problem solving over time helped ease the stress when it came to final assembly, as I knew that my concept worked and I just needed to assemble it.

Polish and Present

Charlie Brooks

To finish my project and get it ready for presentation, I first had to decide how to suspend my acrylic pieces. I originally wanted to use a clear acrylic, but I found that thin acrylic sheets have too much give and would bounce or sag under any weight, especially when suspended. This led me to use wood for the base of my light painting:

Cut MDF board with grid drawn on

Once I had cut my MDF board into the appropriate sections, I used a drill to make a grid of holes in the center board that I would use to suspend my acrylic and ensure that the pieces were all square to the light. After drilling the holes, I screwed the boards together to get my final base:

Assembled base. White tape would later be added to make corners cleaner.

I used the laser cutter to cut out an assortment of acrylic shapes in a variety of colors. I had made a preliminary map of the final image, trying to divide it into distinct shapes that I would then cut out. I wanted to cut an excess of shapes so that I would have as much flexibility as possible when assembling my final image. Once cut, I tied strands of fishing line to each piece:

Acrylic shapes with fishing line tied on.

I decided to use small binder clips to quickly hang the acrylic and easily adjust the position/height of each piece. These clips would hold the ends of the fishing line on top of the base:

Base with hanging acrylic and binder clips.

To make sure that my base didn’t move, I taped it to this small table that I found in the lab. This table also had a groove in the wooden boards that perfectly aligned my flashlight (light source) and made sure it was in the same position each time.

With all of this setup, I just had to spend ~6 hours assembling the acrylic into the proper positions, constantly checking the resulting image and making adjustments. I toyed a lot with which pieces would be closest to the light (which makes their “shadow” larger) and further away, trying to get the scale as perfect as I could.

I think the final image came out nicely. To see that, you’ll have to check out my Final Documentation post….

Everything (Should be) Working

Charlie Brooks

This week, I made substantial progress fleshing out the logistics of my project. The major milestones that I reached included deciding what image I will create with my light painting, how I will shape my acrylic pieces, where I will install my piece, the scale of the finished work, and sourcing all of my materials.

I decided to create an ocean/beach scene with my light painting. The finished image will (hopefully) have a sandy beach in the forefront with a single palm tree, a sun setting over an ocean in the middle ground, and a red-yellow sky over the water.

I received all of my acrylic samples at the end of last week. I have 6 4″x4″ colored acrylic pieces, and 6 5.5″x3.75″ colored pieces. These should be enough to create my finished work, as I currently plan to use less than half of the total acrylic I have.

Acrylic samples that will become my light painting

To shape my acrylic, I had intended to use a scoring tool to precisely break and shape the sheets. This tool doesn’t work as I hoped, as it takes 10-15 passes and a lot of pressure to make a single break. Instead, I am going to laser cut my samples into precise shapes. This method will allow me to make more curved edges, which should create a better final image. Also, I can cut the holes for the fishing line at the same time, saving prep time. I have all of the shapes created and ready for laser cutting, and I have time on the Laser Cutter scheduled for 4pm today (4/19).

Crappy acrylic scoring tool. Will now be used as a cheese knife.

The final scale of my image will be ~ 4″ x 4″, with the shapes distributed over 4-6″ of depth. With a light source positioned behind, this size should create a large image projected onto a wall 8-10′ away.

Finally, I solidified where I will be installing my work. After last week’s class, Prof. Rosenstock showed me the room in Fuller’s basement and I found a small corner to install my work. It should work well for what I need to do.

The only things that I have left to do in this final week are pick a light source and a base for my work, and then assemble the final image. I believe that a strong flashlight will be sufficient, and I plan to use a plastic stand with a grid of holes drilled in the top to secure my hanging acrylic pieces. This should give me an easy way to quickly secure the shapes, as I intend to use small binder clips to attach the fishing line. I will tape/secure the stand to the floor, and precisely locate the light source. I believe that it will take 5-10 hours of assembly once I have all of my acrylic cut, which I can spread over the coming week to get as crisp of a final image as I can.

Light Painting Failure

Charlie Brooks

This week I analyzed the aspects of the light painting that I want to do and decided that the hardest part/biggest unknown would be how to cut/shape the acrylic sheets into distinct shapes to make the painting.

My initial thought was to use a small serrated handsaw to quickly and freely cut the sheets on the fly. The advantages to this would be that the saw is inexpensive ($6) and can be used wherever I am assembling my final work. I purchased this small saw from Home Depot:

Small handsaw from Home Depot

I attempted to cut these colored acrylic samples that I received earlier in the week:

5.5″ x 3.5″ colored acrylic samples

I began cutting one of the samples both along the edge and along the flat side. After cutting in each direction for almost 5 minutes, these were the results:

Acrylic cut along edge
Acrylic cut along flat side

Both methods showed me that a saw wouldn’t cut the acrylic very precisely or quickly. The saw produced a lot of dust and left these white streaks on either side of the cut. I would need to investigate another means of cutting acrylic.

I did a google search and found this cheap ($8) tool for scoring acrylic sheet. This tool, coupled with a straight edge, created a scoring mark that can then be snapped along a table edge to create a precise, clean break. This method leaves no white strain marks and produces no dust. Also, the tool requires no power or special materials so it can be used anywhere.

If this scoring tool doesn’t work as intended (it is scheduled to arrive Thursday, 4/12) I know that I can use the laser cutter in Washburn to precisely cut my acrylic. This would be the most precise means and would allow for me to cut unique shapes and even put the holes for the fishing line all in one step. The downside to this is that I would need to cut all of the pieces at once and wouldn’t be able to make different shapes on-the-fly, which I think I will need to do to make a really nice light painting.

Light Painting Maquette

Charlie Brooks

For a proof-of-concept for my final idea, I have decided to make a scale model of what I intend for my finished product to look like. To refresh, I have used this image as inspiration:

Fly to Baku piece by Rashad Alakbarov

I intend to use colored acrylic shards hung in front of a single stationary light source to create a light painting on a surface.


For my scale model, I used clear acrylic that I colored using various colored highlighters:

Scale model of light painting setup

I used double-sided tape to stick clear fishing line to the acrylic shapes and magnets to quickly hang them from a C-shaped metal rack that I made. When I shined the light from my phone through the pieces onto a white wall in a dark room at roughly 1′, the colors of the highlighters were faintly visible and the outlines of the shapes were evident. The fishing line was visible, but I think that it would fade at a further distance. The tape was also visible, so I don’t think that would be a good thing to use in the final design.

In total, the parts for this model cost ~$25 and helped me realize a couple things about my final design:

  • Drilling holes in the acrylic will be better than adhering wire to them
  • Each piece will need two supports to maintain the proper angle relative to the light
  • The supporting stand that I use must either be fixed in one location or much more rigid to avoid the pieces jumping around
  • The distance between the light source and the acrylic plays a large role in the size and crispness of the reflected image
  • The type of light that I use will greatly impact how my image appears. I think it will need to be bright and directional, without much reflection from the source.


When I began sourcing parts for my maquette/final design, I found the following:

I estimate that I will need somewhere in the vicinity of 60 magnets, or about $12 worth. That would account for 30 individual shards that make up my final image, which I think should be enough to create enough detail. Depending on the scale that I end up going with, the final amount of fishing line and the number of acrylic sheets that I buy could vary. I am not worried about the cost of the line, but the acrylic is $10/sq.ft. if I need pieces larger than 4″ x 4″. That cost could escalate, especially if I am limited in the number of “sample” pieces that I can buy. I have already purchased one sample in each of the 8 colors that they offer for $25, including shipping.


As for a schedule for the remainder of the term, these are the objectives that I believe that I’ll need to meet:

  • Receive acrylic samples — 4/9 (estimate)
  • Test color combinations, types of lighting, positioning methods — 4/13 (could depend on when acrylic arrives)
  • Decide on scale, permanent-ness, acrylic hanging method — 4/16
  • Begin testing/troubleshooting — week of 4/16
  • Final image assembly — week of 4/23
  • Presentation of final light painting — 4/26

I intend to document this process along the way, both for a grade and to keep track of what I’ve done and what works or doesn’t. Looking at the above schedule, I think the largest steps will be deciding on how mobile I want to make the piece (which will dictate the scale), and figuring out the best way to move and manipulate the shards while I work to create a final image. Those answers will come in the testing stage the week of 4/9.

Project Proposal – Charlie Brooks

My project concept centers around passing light from a single light source through panes of colored glass (or Plexiglass?) resulting in an image being “projected” onto a flat surface behind the panes. I took inspiration from both my research on Stephen Knapp (front of library art guy), stained glass windows:

Interesting stained glass execution

and also from this work that I found by an artist named Rashad Alakbarov:

Rashad Alakbarov work from “Fly to Baku” exhibit

This work uses acrylic airplanes arranged such that the light behind them creates the image on the wall of a bay scene. Before I saw this work, I knew that I wanted to work with colored glass to create a colored image but I didn’t know how to execute.

My plan is to use panes of colored glass either positioned or hung such that they create an image of either a cityscape or Bob Ross-type landscape scene:

Potential landscape for my project

I believe that the panes themselves would be interesting to look at, and the resultant light painting would add another dynamic that would make the entire piece very cool.

Here is a schematic depicting an initial concept:

Stephen Knapp

Stephen Knapp is an American artist who works primarily in lightpaintings. Born in Worcester, MA in 1947, he had a background in photography before discovering large-scale installations while studying in Japan in the 1980’s. Afer working with photo-ceramic murals and etching images onto metals and glass for architectural works, Knapp found lightpainting in the late 1990’s.

Knapp working on a piece

Knapp uses special glass treated with layers of metallic coatings that act as a selective prism to cast shards of colored light from a single white light source. Knapp’s installations typically occur on concrete walls, and the glass shards are affixed at specific angles to manipulate the light and create an abstract piece.

“First Symphony”

Knapp’s work at Ball St., entitled “First Symphony”, is one of his more elaborate works. The name helps describe how he feels about his light art: that the shape, color, and space that he incorporates should work together much like harmony, melody, and timing for a musician. He often describes his pieces as “Symphonies of Light”.

Here is a video clip showing Stephen debuting this piece and talking about his inspiration:

Notice how the light sources don’t interfere with each other, and the primary shards of light work outward to fill the entire canvas.

“False Prophet”

Another one of his works, “False Prophet”, brings a more somber tone. The greyscale mixed with small instances of muted colors help drive home this mood and keep the appearance of the work true to the original intent. The light all travels in one direction, creating an almost tower or mountain upon which the source sits.

“Risen Blue”

“Risen Blue” brings a more energetic feel, with vibrant blues and yellows criss-crossing across the canvas at sharp angles with unique ending patterns. This piece, with only one light source, does a good job of illustrating how Knapp not only uses translucent glass, but also reflective panels to change the direction of the beams.


Knapp’s piece “Transformation” is a good example of him using his primarily 2D art style to fill a 3D space. He installs glass panels on the ceiling as well as two cornering walls to walk the light around the entire room. It is particularly impressive how he got the same color bands of light to line up at the corner, making it seem like the light was stretching around it.

“Fade into Black”

Finally, Knapp would also fix his light sources onto raised panels to create a frame of shadow on the outer half of the work. This shadow would provide depth to the piece, as well as making the primary section stand out. On this work, entitled “Fade into Black”, he uses a number of different panels that all end quickly to create the appearance that the lightpainting is melting into the black background.

Introduction and Portfolio

My name is Charlie Brooks and I am a Mechanical Engineering senior. I wanted to take this practicum because I am interested in art and I thought the chance to make light art sounded interesting. Also, the light art installed on the library interested me.

I don’t have a ton of experience with art other than the general courses that you take in school. I have taken Fundamentals of Art, Animation 1, and Intro to Photoshop here at WPI, and I found Animation to be the most interesting because we got the chance to do something completely unique instead of all painting the same cup/face/scene like we did in Fundamentals. I am excited for this course because it seems that we will be able to each go in our own direction and make something different.

I have very little programming experience, and have always preferred working on mechanical things as opposed to programming or working with electronics. I would like to delve into that world a bit for this course, but I will have to weigh the time spent learning against the deadline to finish.

Whenever I have made art, I always prefer to work with sharp, geometric shapes and clean designs as opposed to something abstract or vague. I think that is why I am drawn to the artwork on the library, because at night the light creates hard, jagged shapes that dance together. I am also inspired a lot by architecture, especially the modern buildings that are pushing the boundaries of what people expect. I have been to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water (a modern house in PA) and I really enjoy how he decided to shape that house.

I hope to one day work on the development of a new product or object, and I always try to consider the form and appearance of whatever I create or design as much as the functionality. I think that art would play a huge role in helping me learn to refine a design and create something appealing.

Concept for a public bench inspired by a trip to the WAM




Charcoal and pastel drawing of a sheet hanging on a blackboard
Pencil drawing of a sculpture, used to practice proportions