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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

  • Daniel Rankin
    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.

    Reply
  • 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!

    Reply
  • Daniel Rankin
    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.

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

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