Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Lights Project - Light Boxes and Lanterns

Welcome to Day#1 of The Lights Project!

If you're just joining us on this madcap pre-Christmas adventure, here's a quick intro

We'll be using different kinds of ready-to-play light sources today, no extra circuitry required. They will, literally, be chucked into containers and turned into instant toys. Depending on how fancy you want them to be, they could take anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple hours to put together.

Let me first tell you a little bit about these light sources.

This first one is a string of STRALA lights from IKEA. 
They come in three varieties: a shorter string of red (or plain white) for $3: 

and a longer string of plain white, with accompanying paper garland decorations, for $5. You can see both sets in the picture below:

IKEA stocked them for the holiday season, and they were so popular in our local Twin Cities store that by November, they were all sold out. The staff divulged that IKEA gets their holiday merchandise in two shipments - one in September and the other in October. By the time most people are actually in the mood to shop for Christmas, all the good stuff is gone. Good to know, because when I picked up my first few sets in October, got inspired to start the Lights Project and then returned after Thanksgiving to buy more sets for my participants, the pickings were very slim. Next year I'll plan ahead.

Despair not, dear friends, though. I've seen abundant quantities of similar battery-operated light sets in the Christmas aisles of Target. They run around $7 a set, and come in more color combinations than IKEA's, including a multicolored string that you'll see in Katie's post next week.

Here are some other kinds of ready-to-play light sources. This is the ubiquitous LED flickering tea light. 

You can get pairs for $3 at Hobby Lobby, 

but I stocked up at Sam's Club:

You can't beat 24 tea lights AND 48 batteries for $9+. The batteries alone are worth the price. The kids already have plans to set up midnight feasts and birthday cakes and all kinds of lanterns in the basement. 

They cost a little more, but they are bright white, unflickering and perfect for balloon lightsabers and fortune teller sideshow attractions!

And now, some making! 

Project #1 is the ridiculously easy, incredibly effective and wonderfully versatile Trofast Light Box!

Here's how simple it is.

First, you take one of those Trofast storage tubs that everyone within driving distance of an IKEA will have in their homes.

Turn the lid upside down and arrange the string of lights evenly all over it. Stick the wires in place with masking tape.

Insert 2 AA batteries, turn on the lights,

and invert the box over the lid. Voila! Instant light box.

The naturally translucent plastic material of this box automatically diffuses the light.

Use it for color-mixing (these are the kids' color paddles) 

or tracing. Here are two sheets of regular printer paper superimposed on the light box - and it works even with card stock. All you sewing and embroidering folks out there, you know you need one of these. My kids are into tracing line art now, so they were very pleased with this function.

Our light box was a temporary set-up just for this post, but if I were making it more permanent, I'd line the lid and inner walls of the Trofast tub with aluminum foil. This reflects the light back into the box, and prevents it from leaking out. You'd get an overall brighter light box and no wasted light.

If you're game for a little knife work, here's Project #2: the ridiculously easy Lighted Milk Carton House. Everyone has made one of these, so I won't bore you with details. You'll need a little house-shaped carton

cut apart like this.

Cut out windows with a craft knife, throw in an LED tea light and tape the open edges shut. Again, this was a demo model for this post, and if I were doing this "for real", I'd paint the carton so it's more like a real house and less like a lighted dairy advert.

Project #3 is a prettier variation of Project #2. It is also reminiscent of that first lantern I made when I was 11, except more elegant and without the copious amounts of scotch tape.

I cut out some corrugated cardboard in this shape and, with my craft knife, carved out window designs. If paper-cutting isn't your thing, just cut out plain rectangular windows.

Here's the backside, showing my pencil lines.

I glued parchment paper (you can use wax paper or any other translucent paper) on the backsides of each of the windows

and made a little circular holder for the tea light on the inside of the base. I cut a hole for access to the on-off switch. Before assembling the lantern, put the tea-light in the holder, tape it in place (so it won't pop out when you push the switch from the outside) and hot glue the lantern together.

To make the hook, I bent some copper wire into fancy swirls with pliers.

Here is the completed lantern! My kids really like this one, especially because they can hang it from places and carry it around, dangly-like.

So there you are: 3 simple light-boxes made with battery-operated lights. Can't get enough? Here's a follow-up idea: Lamps - old and new. Do some research with your kids and recreate cardboard versions of old lamps people used in the days before electricity. Make cardboard candles! Make Aladdin's magic lamp (minus the genie). Make Morrocan lanterns like Katie's. Make lighted garlands using paper cups, plastic easter eggs, paper sandwich shapes. Make lanterns you can rotate to throw shadows on the ceiling (put a smaller cardboard cylinder within a bigger one, both with windows cut out of their sides). Enjoy playing!

Join us tomorrow to see what MaryAnne and her kids made with her STRALA string!


  1. Thank you for sharing! You should consider having a option for guests on this website to pin your posts to their Pintrest account.

  2. thanks for the inspiration.......great job.


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.