Neltner Labs

Fun Projects and Art

Experiments with Color LEDs + Art Can Yield Many Surprises!

Stained Glass Window with Lighting by Janet Fox and Brian Neltner

(Music: Tuvan Dream by Brian Neltner)

Hi, my name is Janet. Since 1998, I’ve been creating mixed-media paintings, mostly abstract pieces from acrylic paint, paper, and found objects. A few years into my art journey and at my son’s request after he went to study at MIT, I began gifting paintings to him. I really enjoyed making art for him and it was a good way for us to stay connected. Once when I visited him in Boston, he showed me a new light board he was working on as a hobby. It had colorful LED lights that he could program to turn on and off, resulting in different visual patterns. And we discovered when the lights illuminated the paintings, the effect added a new dimension to the artwork.

Thus began my experiments to see what I could intentionally create to view under the LED lights.

In the usual realm of white light, red pigment on a white canvas appears to be red; blue appears as blue. Likewise, when a red LED shines on red pigment, the pigment appears as red; a blue LED shining on blue pigment appears to be blue.

However–and this is where it gets fun and a bit complicated–when a painting includes more than one color, a LED light shining on the same color of paint as the light will show that paint/light color while at the same time, different colors appear to shift into the background or appear black. So a red LED shining on a painting with both red and blue will make the red part pop out while at the same time, the blue part appears almost black. This effect can result in paintings that appear to have hidden images that emerge and then dissolve, depending on which color LED light is shining on it! Setting the LED lights to turn on and off in various patterns can result in an immense variety of art visions; if sound is driving the light, you can create some awesome multi-media experiences.

In my experience, combining color LED lights with art can lead to hours of fun art experiments and yield many surprises!