Dre Swain Captain America lightbox
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Credit: Dre Swain

Dre Swain’s lightboxes transform into stunning fan art at the flip of a switch

Contributed by
Jul 17, 2018

Sometimes the smallest change can completely alter the way we look at an object, including a piece of art. When you shine a light on the paper in Dre Swain’s lightboxes, you're greeted by a gorgeous rendering of a scene or image from the fandom that inspired her.

Swain was drawn to lightboxes as a way to express her fandom because of their uniqueness. She hasn’t seen many out there, and given the unique method with which she makes them, hers stand out from what’s more commonly available.

“There’s something to be said about an image that corresponds with the idea of light. For instance, I have an image of Dumbledore’s wand and there’s a quote with it that says ‘happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light,’ and that’s just begging to be turned into a lightbox,” Swain told SYFY WIRE. 

The very first lightbox Swain created was for her mother last December. It featured a scene of deer and was a complete experiment. When she shared it online, she received a positive reaction and realized any black and white image could work in a lightbox. She decided to see how intricate she could get with this kind of art and created a Wonder Woman lightbox that took 40 hours to complete.

Deer lightbox Dre Swain

Credit: Dre Swain

“A lightbox is composed of multiple shapes of cut paper and you have to think of each piece of paper as its own shade of grey. Every layer has a slightly different shape to it so that when you stack it and backlight it, it creates an image,” Swain explained. “The way I do it, I use only acid-free paper so it won’t brown or age over time. I usually do about seven layers. That’s how I get the optimal image. After I’ve done the cutting, I stack the paper and I put it in a shadowbox. I backlight it with LEDs so it becomes a very convenient slick looking piece if you put it on a desk or on the wall.”

Since that Wonder Woman design, the time it takes her to complete a lightbox has decreased as she streamlined the process, incentivized by the discovery that people wanted to purchase them. Now she has a cutter that helps her bring her lightboxes to life, though she still has cleanup work to do when the machine is done.

Creating the initial pattern takes a lot of Swain’s time as she works in Photoshop to create each layer individually. Once the cutting is done, she uses acid-free adhesive to stack the pages and puts adhesive between each layer to make it stable and durable. She then puts it in the lightbox, puts the LEDs in the back, and does some extra work to add more adhesive to make sure it stays in place.

Captain America lightbox Dre Swain

Credit: Dre Swain

For some designs, where she places the LEDs varies. For example, Swain created a design of the one ring from The Lord of the Rings and placed the LEDs along the shape of the ring instead of just all over the back. Swain’s work often stays in the fantasy genre, which inspires a lot of her art. Her designs are also inspired by nostalgia. While she didn’t read comic books growing up, she was hooked by the first X-Men movie and was all about superheroes from then on. You’ll find a number of superheroes in her work like Batman and Black Panther along with other popular fandoms like Game of Thrones and Firefly.

She doesn’t plan to stop trying new things either. She’s excited to go in a different direction with lightboxes by trying a diorama approach that she described as having “more depth and a glowy ethereal finished image.” She’s already tried this technique once with a Harry Potter Hogwarts lightbox.

Dre Swain Captain America lightbox

Credit: Dre Swain

For Swain, the unique form of lightboxes has provided the perfect outlet for expressing her nerdiness and offers more than one way to enjoy art for your favorite fandoms.

“There’s something so satisfying about having this minimal piece of art because when it’s in the frame in daylight and the LEDs aren’t switched on, it’s a really beautiful minimalist piece where you can kind of make out some shapes and edges, but it’s a little abstract trying to tell what it is,” Swain said. “Then the second you hit that switch and it comes to life, it’s very satisfying. There’s a little bit of magic to it that makes me happy every time.”

You can see more of Swain’s lightboxes on her Instagram and Facebook.

Get to know Dre a bit better below:

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