Lighting control for artists

Paul Rudman has been working with artists since 2015 to add meaningful lighting effects to their work. Designing and building multiple lighting systems has led to the creation of a generic lighting controller that can be used to add programmed lighting to any artwork. The Radiance™ series of lighting controllers range from matchbox-sized USB-powered devices controlling 24 individual 3-colour LEDs, to power controllers for multiple channels of RGB strips. All come with intuitive software allowing the artist to define lighting effects on a computer and send the result via WiFi to a controller embedded in the artwork.

'Picasso' by George Sfougaras
‘Picasso’ by George Sfougaras

“It all began in 2015 as a collaboration with the artist George Sfougaras. We were discussing his latest artwork, a large portrait of Pablo Picasso. George had been experimenting with adding small wooden cubes to the surface to superimpose a 3D effect onto the 2D work. He described to me how he had experimented with mains lamps and domestic mains timers to change the lighting over time. This looked like a very interesting challenge, and I offered to ‘make something’ that would be more controllable. In fact, I was starting from a good place, with a history of building electrionic devices since I was 14, along with extensive programming experience thanks to, among other things, 15 years working in commercial IT.

The Arduino is a small microcontroller, not exactly a computer, but fulfilling the same function. I began small with the basic version, the Arduino Uno, and some miniature MOSFET transistors. I created a small ‘control box’ with adjustment for ‘on time’ and ‘fade speed’, allowing the length of time each lamp was on full and how quickly it changed to the next lamp in the sequence. There was also a selection switch for  different types of effect (clockwise/anti, different sorts of random). This combination of ‘on time’ and ‘fade speed’ proved to be the two key parameters in defining lighting patterns, a method in use today in the desktop software I created to define lighting patterns in the latest controllers.

'Light Box Foiled' by Mark Boot
‘Light Box Foiled’ by Mark Boot

In 2017 I built the lighting for Mark Boot’s exhibit at the LCB gallery in Leicester. To achieve the volume of light necessary for this project required a more powerful device, extra hardware and three channels of output – an Arduino Mega and power MOSFET transistors. The installation was an early work in Mark’s series on repurposing and reimagining the mundanity of throw-away materials. It comprised a one metre polystyrene cube, used once for packaging and then discarded. The cube was lit as a whole, as well as by two ‘cuts’ in the material, each with separate lighting. I developed computer software for defining the sequence of illumination of each channel, which Mark used to generate his desired visual effect. The three lighting channels were coordinated and defined to a thousandth of a second accuracy.

'Coalescence' by Michele Witthaus
‘Coalescence’ by Michele Witthaus

A smaller work by Michele Witthaus was exhibited in the autumn of 2018, also at the LCB, as part of a digital art exhibition. The work consisted of coloured acetate shapes which, when backlit, appeared to change shape according to the lighting colour – patterns appeared and disappeared with different lighting. I repurposed a picture frame, adding depth to create a light box. I used a miniature Arduino based on the ATTiny 85.

This piece was subsequently exhibited in a local craft shop and ultimately purchased. I also went on to build a series of smaller versions using circuit boards of my own design, my first exploration of tiny surface-mounted components.

'Geometry' by George Sfougaras
‘Geometry’ by George Sfougaras

In the summer of 2019 I again worked with George Sfougaras for his ‘Recovered Histories’ exhibition. I had developed my lighting controller to the point where it could be added to existing artworks and programmed remotely with the lighting pattern. I used this for all three of the works, again with my own circuit boards.

'Ruins' by George Sfougaras
‘Ruins’ by George Sfougaras

Internal view of 'Ruins'

‘Ruins’ (pictured left) used a system similar to that used for Mark Boot, with 2 channels of RGB strips per board plus some individual RGB LEDs. The hardware was an upgraded version of the Arduino, with WiFi capability.

‘Geometry’ (pictured right) used a different method – 100 individual RGB LEDs, set up in 20 groups of 5. Both systems used the PC software I created to define the lighting pattern and send it wirelessly to the embedded controller.

'You are my sunshine' by Paul Rudman (this photo of the artwork by Sean Clark)
‘You are my sunshine’ by Paul Rudman *

‘You are my sunshine’ was an interactive work I created in December 2019, and was exhibited as part of the Interact’19: Digital Art exhibition at the LCB in Leicester. It was a framed manipulated image with proximity-controlled backlighting. The idea began on a rainy evening in Leicester city centre. I took the photo just after the rain had stopped and the evening sun was setting. I used the image as a metaphor for our feelings, and how the presence of a friend can transform our view of the world. Same world, different view. Rain or fine? You are my sunshine.

For this work, I reused a simple electronic system from an earlier light box, comprising an Arduino Nano and three small MOSFET transistors, and added an ultrasonic distance sensor. The flashing neon sign (not visible on the photo here) is a surface-mount LED with a square black paper tube to restrict the light to the area of the sign.

The overriding aim of myelectronics work has been to create a system with the features artists need in order to embed lighting into their work, but without having to deal with technicalities. This is a generic lighting controller that will shortly be available, along with PC software for defining the lighting patterns.

I have artworks and collaborations in progress, and welcome other collaborations / commissions.”

You can contact Paul at info@control4art.com



* Photo of the exhibited ‘You are my sunshine’ by Sean Clark.

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