The Making of Illuminated Sculptures: Luminaria on a Whole New Level
These translucent sculptures are created from paper, wood, glue, and reed with embellishments of fiber, metal, stone and glass and lit from within using cool LED technology. Each one is absolutely one-of-a-kind and impossible to recreate. Reed has a life of its own when used in this way, and will often dictate to me the shape it wants to take on.
These sculptures require knowledge as a woodworker, electrician, concrete worker, fiber artist, tile cutter, mosaic artist, and more…
The wood as the inspiration for the piece…
The first step is choosing the wood for the base. I look for unique shapes, and decide very early on in the process whether this will be a free-standing sculpture or a wall-mounted one.
The lights inside…
I won’t spend a lot of time describing the wiring process, because it’s different for each sculpture and, frankly, I’ve never really taken pictures of this. I create a channel inside or on the back of the sculpture to hold the wiring. I add some sort of frame to the inside to hold the lighting in place. Generally, I use LED light strips because:
- I like having lots of small lights to be diffused by the paper.
- I like that they are flexible enough for me to fasten onto an inner frame that may twist or bend with the shape of the sculpture.
- When I bend them, I can control which direction the light is projecting, as well.
- I really, really like that they are very cool to the touch and don’t build up heat.
Adding a lightbulb inside a paper structure seems like a dangerous proposition to me, and honestly it’s the main reason I made the first one of these 20 years ago and didn’t do another until I discovered LED strips.
The base, for free-standing sculptures…
Once the wood is supported, either with a formed concrete base or with clamps or hooks to hold a wall-mounted style still, I add the wiring to what will become the inside of the sculpture. I then begin to attach the reed which will become the visible “skeleton” behind the papier-mâché. Finally, the first of many layers of papier-mâché is added to stretch across the reed sections. While wet, it is very fragile. Once dry, it is amazingly hard and durable. After the sculpture is complete, I spray generous layers of matte finish polyurethane to protect it from humidity. This also adds to the durability of the papier-mâché over time.
The base is covered with mosaic tesserae of glass, tile, stone, and metal to add texture and color. Once all the pieces are securely in place, I add grout between the pieces, which smooths it and ties all the patches together, visually.
When I’ve finished with the papier-mâché I look critically at the sculpture with the lights off as well as on. Sometimes I feel that it needs some embellishment to make the unlit version more exciting. I add sections of color or texture that remain translucent but are interesting without being lit from behind. Here are two examples:
“Amethyst Budding” with silk and Angelina fibers
“Vortex Rose” with heat patinated copper repoussé.
Finally, when all the elements come together, after hundreds of hours of work on some pieces…
Copyright © 2019-2020 Kelley Adams. All rights reserved.
All text, photos, and graphics are the property of Kelley Adams.