Experimenting with UV mediums: An illuminated night sky picture


I’ve been wanting to create an illuminated picture for a while now, but I didn’t want to do the usual trick of running a fairy light under a board. I wanted something three dimensional and interesting at its very core; I always wanted to make it 3D, as I think that items which combine 3D and 2D are unnerving in a very interesting way. I decided in the end to use UV reactive mediums. I was originally going to go with something much more elaborate, using invisible paints that fluoresce to give an effect of transitioning from a night sky to daytime; it was found to be too complicated, so I put it aside for a future project. I came up with this in the end:

The UV light from the LED strip appears to have washed out the top half of the image. This doesn’t happen when viewing with the naked eye and probably only arises because the CCD in the camera can detect near-UV.

The night sky

I started with an A4 piece of hardboard which I painted black. I then mixed black and blue paint and painted it on the middle (leaving a 2 cm ‘frame’ of black). To create the stars, I mixed about the tip of an ice lolly stick of UV reactive powder into about a tablespoon of white paint; I placed this on the end of a toothbrush and scraped it with my thumb to splatter the paint onto the now dry hardboard.

The moon was made using one of the most annoying materials in the world: DAS Air Dry Clay. This stuff refuses to stick to itself, dries out as if it doesn’t want to be wet, leaves an oily film on every surface that it touches, and contracts to about four fifth of its original size (causing even MORE cracking)! But it’s what I had at the time so I gritted my teeth and got on with it. I formed the crescent moon shape and dimpled it with the tip of my pencil, the back of my pencil, and my fingertips. After my model had dried I took the remaining white fluorescent paint, placed no more than a drop of black inside it, and used it to paint the crescent.

The clouds were made out of stuffing fiber with white sand glued to it.

The soil

To make the soil I gathered some compost and ash (other than color, the ash serves a very interesting chemical function but I’ll save that for a real life conversation over a drink), and mixed in some PVA glue and a small amount of water. I then piled it up inside the picture frame and let it dry. I covered it with fine green scenic turf to make grass and some colored sand to make flowers.

The tree

To make the tree, I selected a branched stick (because what looks more like a tree than a piece of a tree?) and placed foliage clusters on it. I then glued tiny fluorite gems (which are UV reactive) to represent fruit on the tree. The tree was glued down (trunk first, then foliage, then gems) on the board, and obscured behind the the soil.

Finishing off

Everything attached to the background including the background itself was sprayed with matte varnish. The UV lights were wired to a barrel socket, and glued on the inside top of the frame. Finally everything was assembled and closed.

Product in daylight with my (frankly ridiculous) animal savanna wallpaper from when I was six reflecting from the background! I couldn’t find any way to exclude this from the picture, so suggestions are welcomed!

I am very impressed with how this turned out, but there were several ways in which I could have improved this item:

  • The soil went in the wrong direction, meaning there was soil against the glass rather than the backdrop (the hill appears to be sloping away from the viewer)
  • The UV LEDs have too much visible which makes the image look like its simply illuminated (with only the lower stars actually visibly glowing)
  • The white sand I used was slightly UV fluorescent, making it seem as though the clouds were glowing
  • The image was fairly featureless, and I’d like to create something more elaborate in future