DIY: 1960s Oil Light Show

Updated April 17, 2017

During the 1960s, freethinking people were experimenting. Music became a scene where young people were finding new ways to open their minds and creatively enjoy the sense-filled world around them. In response to the alternative, psychedelic music being played at these shows, groups of visual artists began experimenting with liquid light shows to entertain the listeners at events. Mixing oil and water on glass surfaces and projecting light through the colourful mixture became one of the most popular and iconoclastic forms of performance art during this time.

Prepare your projector. The area where you place the material to be projected is called the stage. Mask off the stage using strips of the masking tape until you have a square in the centre of the stage approximately 4 ½ to 5 inches across. This will give your fingers room to manipulate the glass clock faces without being seen on the screen.

Adjust the size of the final image. Place the projector in front of the wall or screen that will be used for the show. Turn on the projector and move it back and forth until the square projected is of the size you want.

Prepare your light show liquids. All liquid ratios and amounts are unspecific. For the best light show, it will take some experimentation before you find the right mixture of colourant to liquid that gives you the colours and transparencies you like best. To make your oil liquid colours, mix clear mineral oil with nontoxic candy dye in small cups using the stirrer to whisk the colourant into the oil. To make your water-based colours, mix water with food colouring in small cups. Make around three colours for each type of liquid.

Prepare the convex glass clock face before projecting. Lay the larger of the convex glass clock faces down on the masked square of the stage. This will provide you with a mixing bowl for your coloured liquids. Use one dropper for oil and one dropper for water. Experiment by dropping different amounts of oil and water into the glass mixing bowl.

Prepare the final steps before projecting. The projector is made up of a light source, a stage and the projecting unit above the stage. Before the light show begins, or during the light show to change up the colour scheme, you can wrap the coloured cellophane around the projecting unit to tint the light's colour.

There are many ways to manipulate the light and colour of the show once you have all the materials in place. Turn on the projector and watch how the oil and water mix and project on the screen. Add more oil or more water and spin the colours around by hand turning the outside of the glass bowl. Try placing the second, slightly smaller glass clock face over the surface of liquids resting in the first glass bowl. This will give the oil a pressed look. You can manipulate the pressure by squeezing the glass faces together, or, place more oil and water in the top mixing bowl to get a layered effect. Try spinning the two bowls in different directions.


It is always better to have less liquid than more. For better colours, try just a little colourant.


Oil, water and electricity don't mix. Use proper safety at all times.

Things You'll Need

  • Overhead projector
  • Masking tape
  • 2 5"-- 6" convex glass clock faces
  • Small mixing cups
  • Metal or wood stirrers
  • Clear mineral oil
  • Water
  • Nontoxic candy dye (various colours)
  • Food colouring (various colours)
  • 2 eye droppers
  • Coloured cellophane (various colours)
  • Projection surface/screen
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About the Author

Agustus Miller has been living and writing professionally in Brooklyn, N.Y., since 2005. He has contributed to publications such as "The Brooklyn Star" and Mountain Xpress. Miller holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and creative writing from the University of North Carolina.