Illuminated Branch Divider (Final Report Pt 1)

The divider wall is complete, and has been installed in the ATLAS Black Box theatre for the production run of Quantified Self. I am pleased.

Here is a report of the process.

After presenting my initial plan for the construction of this project at our PDR, I set to work on modeling the major wood components in Rhino, so I could easily measure the boards while I cut them.


After getting the measurements, I set to work on construction. I actually constructed two of these boxes, but only one ended up being used for the final project.


After constructing the boxes, I used a Japanese wood preservation technique called Yakisugi to char the wood and give a shiny, burnt luster to the boxes. The boxes were modeled after caskets, to create a visual metaphor for death, which figures heavily into the motivations for this project. Here’s a video of me torching some of the wood for the boxes:

With this technique, you first burn the surface of the wood, then you take a coarse bristle brush and brush away the excess charred material on the outside of the wood’s surface, leaving behind a beautiful, dark lustre on the surface of the wood. Technically, the actual Japanese art of Yakisugi (or Shou Sugi Ban) is done exclusively with Japanese cedar, but I felt that pine, having similar density to cedar, would behave similarly. It did, and all of the pine I used for the boxes was free, too. Here’s what the wood looks like as the char is scraped away:


In the above photos, the section towards the top has been brushed, and the lower portions have yet to be finished. After the brushing was completed, I also pressure-washed the wood to remove more of the carbon from the surface. This was a time intensive portion of the project, taking approximately 4 hours and a tank of propane to complete.

After completing the box, I moved on to weaving the branches into the panel that would divide the two sections of the set that this piece would be installed in. I have some experience with weaving branches for other projects, so I didn’t have much trouble with this. I cut several large armloads of Siberian elm offshoots that have been invading our yard recently and used them for the panel.


I managed to weave the branches without the need for any extra binding. I just laid out the largest, most durable boughs in a line, then wove long, flexible branches perpendicular to them, working my way  up about 1/3rd the height of the panel, then making the weaves more diagonal as I went up to keep the piece from looking too orderly. At the end, I inserted a number of smaller branches for texture.


One the panel was woven, it was time to paint. After using a basic latex primer on the whole thing, I mixed primary colors to find the hues I envisioned for the panel. Glossy, oil-based enamels are actually pretty inexpensive at Home Depot (about 10 dollars a can), and almost every color can be made through some experimental mixing.


I was aiming for colors that resembled a sunset, so I mixed a dark purple and a bright orange-pink, then used my air compressor and spray gun to blend them into a faded ombré.

I was very pleased with how the colors turned out.


After this panel was complete, it was just a matter of wiring the lights into the base, so the could shine up through the branches. I have a lot of experience wiring lighting control circuits from an Arduino micro controller, so I created an array of four 12volt LED bulbs controlled via MOSFETs which were triggered by an Arduino Uno.


The Arduino took readings from some small IR proximity sensors that a friend has wired for another project and discarded and used them to control the brightness of the bulbs.


With all the pieces ready, it was time to assemble the whole piece and install it in the theatre space.

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Although the lighting in the Black Box was very poor when I took the photos, I tried to take a video to help capture the nature of the interaction controlled by the IR proximity sensors:

I had some trouble with the sensors- because I got them from another friends project, they were tuned for a much shorter distance than I was anticipating. I’m hoping to rewire them with a  slightly different circuit to increase their sensitivity. The interaction would ideally have the lights reacting to nearby walking, but as it currently works, the lights only brighten/dim when a person is standing obnoxiously close to the sensor.

After getting the piece installed in the Black Box, I had to haul it up to the ATLAS Expo for Wednesday night, where I saw some other folks from AESDES. In general, the feedback I received on the project was positive, even if most of the comments I received didn’t go far beyond “that’s really pretty”. I’m still quite proud of the project, and I’m looking forward to improving it more in the near future.

069AtlasExpo2016. 064AtlasExpo2016. 062AtlasExpo2016.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Joseph Graff
    May 5, 2016 12:00 am

    This is awesome, Danny! I didn’t realize that the piece you made was for Quantified Self. To me, this project is as compelling as the concept of the performance itself. I love the burn technique you used on the base; it’s definitely something I’m going to try for myself in the future.

  • Hi Daniel! Good job on the report and the final project! It seems to me that you have included all the details and processes of the making of your project. I enjoy reading it! I like the special Japanese method of making the wood black and shine without using paint. For the branches part I like the colors that you used, they are very aesthetically appealing!

  • Laura Bonney
    May 2, 2016 12:20 am

    Danny, the branch divider turned out great. I like that you chose to weave the branches together instead of using something else to bind them. I also like the colors that you chose., It is interesting whenever we can bring a little bit of the outdoors in.

  • […] my previous post, I described the process I took to bring this project to completion. It involved the design and […]


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