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How to Build an Artist's Light Box

Updated February 21, 2017

A light box is a powerful tool for the beginner or experienced artist. The box illuminates a source image onto an overlying piece of paper, so the artist can draft the outline. Most creative projects begin with a draft drawing. A light box helps retain the original perspective in the layout. Essentially, it gives you a starting point for your picture. Once you trace the basic lines, you can build on the image and make it distinct. Creating a do-it-yourself light box requires little technical expertise or money.

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  1. Obtain a milk crate. The composite material of the crate is not important. The box might be plastic or wood. Look for a box tall enough to serve as a freestanding piece, so that it can act as a small table.

  2. Line the inside of the crate with cardboard. Cover the sides, but leave the bottom open. The board must cover the entire side surface to block out light.

  3. Set a work light inside the crate. Push the cord through a hole in one side of the crate. You may need to cut a small hole in one side of the cardboard to accommodate the socket and cord from the work light. The website Accidental Artist suggests a light with a protective grill might work best. The grill will project the light upward, toward the drawing surface. Secure the light to the bottom of the crate with twist ties.

  4. Attach a piece of waxed paper across the top of the crate. Secure the paper with masking tape. This will diffuse the light coming from inside the box.

  5. Measure the opening of the crate after applying the wax paper and tape so that you can fit a lid on the opening. Using the tape measure, start at the upper left corner and measure to the bottom left corner. Repeat the process from the upper left corner to the upper right corner. Write down these numbers.

  6. Purchase a photo frame with a glass insert. Use the measurements from the opening of the milk crate to select the correct size. The frame needs to sit on top of the crate like a lid. Choose a frame slightly larger than the opening. For example, if the crate measures 25 cm (10 inches) on all sides, look for a frame that is at least 26.5 cm (10 1/2 inches).

  7. Remove the back from the frame and pull out any paper inserts, leaving just the frame and glass.

  8. Apply glue with a glue gun to the outside of the crate, along the top edge. Set the frame, with the glass insert, on top of the crate. Push the frame down into the glue to secure it. Allow the glue time to dry.

  9. Plug the cord from the light source into a wall outlet to test the box.

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Things You'll Need

  • Milk crate
  • Cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Work light with grate cover
  • Waxed paper
  • Masking tape
  • Measuring tape
  • Photo frame with glass insert
  • Hot glue gun
  • Glue sticks

About the Author

Writing since 1999, Darla Ferrara is an award-winning author who specializes in health, diet, fitness and computer technology. She has been published in "Mezzo Magazine" and Diet Spotlight, as well as various online magazines. Ferrara studied biology and emergency medical technology at the University of Nebraska and Southeast Community College.

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