We are in the process of looking at some of our favorite activities and figuring out ways to share some of our ideas about them with after-school centers and other spaces outside of the tinkering studio. Light painting is an exploration that we have returned to again and again in a variety of settings. A starting point for thinking about materials, environment, and next steps can be found in the PDF document that Walter made for the PIE project (a precursor to the Tinkering Studio). I wanted to share some of the assumptions that we’ve confirmed and new ideas that have come up in the past few years of trying the activity in the tinkering studio space on the museum floor.
When setting up the environment for the activity, we think about the experience that people will have before, during, and after they have made their light painting.
To give people a sense of the possibilities in the activity before they try to make a painting, we put out a variety of implements and tools for people to peruse while they think about what they want to make. We connect the camera to a large monitor so that people waiting for their turn can see the results of other people’s paintings.
For the people making their painting, we set up a frame of the limits of what the camera can see to help guide the person making the light painting. A tripod keeps the frame of reference consistent. The space doesn’t have to be completely dark, but it helps to hang up a dark sheet to provide contrast. We set up a spotlight pointed at the artist making the painting so that the camera person can switch the light on for a second and get them in the shot.
When facilitating the activity, we found that it’s helpful to communicate with the participant about when they are starting and stopping the painting. Usually the camera person will say go and the artist will tell them when they are done. It’s important to give people several chances to make different drawings. When the same ideas keep getting tried over and over again, we suggest that the facilitator step in and give new ideas (doubling the person with flashes of a spotlight, drawing wings on someone, special effects, laser eyes, etc). The facilitator can offer challenges like asking people to write their name, having two people each draw half a face, or playing a game of tic-tac-toe. These ideas expand the possibilities of the activity and should lead to the development of new ideas.
The set up for light painting in a museum might look a little different than how it would be in an after-school or classroom setting. While in the Tinkering Studio we often set up the flow of the space so that each person or group have their own individual turn, in a different setting I can imagine providing multiple cameras and allowing the learners to switch off taking photos and making paintings. The facilitator might suggest ideas that support more collaboration between groups. Additionally, there are many ways that this activity might be extended to a longer series of explorations.
One way to think about it is spending the first day making light painting with a varied set of lights to create both abstract and literal light paintings.
The second session might introduce the concept of adding a person or other objects to the painting. Flashlights and spotlights could be used to show tricks of multiple exposure, strobe photos, additive content, and more. In an after school setting, this might lead to story telling and collaborative artworks where different people take different colors or play different roles in the scene.
A third session might focus on creating interesting light painting tools. A group might attach the lights to bouncing balls, rotating sticks, or hula hoops spinning tops. Others might experiments with filters, mirrors, or lenses with their painting. Lately we've been experimenting with hobby motors, LEDs and glue sticks to make interesting light painting tools.
Other ways to go even deeper may include attaching the lights to motor driven objects like scribbling machines, using pico crickets to program light painting devices, and going outside at dusk to make outdoor light paintings.
Tell us what you’ve tried! We’re constantly experimenting with these activities and want you to try new things too. Let us know the discoveries you’ve made, innovations you’ve developed, puzzles you’ve encountered, and more!