multi-colored tissue paper layered on a window
Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories At Home Art Studio Collage Sculpture

Reflect, Refract, Reimagine!

Sara Ottomano

This week in our At Home Art Studios, we were inspired to explore materials and how they interact with light. Sourcing materials from around the home, we noticed that some let the light through, others block light, and some materials even bounce light around. When held up to a light source, the appearance of the materials changed, and the view of the world around us was transformed. In this post, we will share some of the ways we created art that captures, changes, and celebrates light. 

Translucent materials 

Three images: Cardboard folded into a pentagon tube with purple tissue paper taped at the end and held up to a window. Cardboard rolled into a circular tube with red tissue paper taped on the end and held up to a window. A cardboard sculpture sitting in a window sill made of separate tubes with different tissue papers, bubble wrap, and plastic mesh taped at the ends.

We found lots of materials that let some amount of light through, these are translucent materials. Meg taped translucent tissue paper to the end of folded and taped cardboard to create colorful shapes.  Meg combined the shapes to create a stained-glass inspired sculpture that sits on a window sill.  

Three images with light glowing through cardboard tubes with purple, red, and blue tissue paper at the ends.

Meg found it interesting to zoom in and photograph the shapes with her phone. Up close, the tissue paper created a glowing field of color. 

Opaque and Transparent Materials 

Two images: Red mesh held to the window with diamond holes between the mesh. A red and white tea strainer held to the sky with light shining through the small straining holes.

The At Home Art Studio Team also found materials that blocked the light and let the light through in different ways. When a material blocks light completely it is opaque, and when it lets light through, like glass, it is transparent. By finding opaque materials with holes in them, we created different patterns and shapes when holding them up to light. Plastic mesh created a diamond grid against a window, and a tea strainer showed rings of tiny circles when held up to sunlight.

Three images: A hole punch, holes, and a tag with holes punched out of it. The tag held to the light so light shines through the holes. A butterfly and flower cut out of opaque paper is taped to a window.

The team also created their own materials that played with the contrast between opaque and transparent. Meg punched holes in a tag and held it up to the light, and Hannah cut out shapes from a paper bag and placed them against a window to block the light and create silhouettes.  

Materials that reflect and refract light 

Two images: A shiny cheese grater reflects light as it is held up against colorful fabric. A flashlight is shining through a jar and projecting light patterns onto a wall.

Some materials bounce or change the path of light in different ways. Siobhán held a cheese grater up to the light and noticed how its shiny surface reflected light and color. Megan experimented with how a jar bends, or refracts, light and creates a beautiful pattern on the wall.  

Projects with indoor light 

Two images: A brown paper bag sitting safely away from a lamp is glowing with light. A window is cut out of the bag and diamond cut-outs are shining as the light is coming through.

Since it was a cloudy day, Megan decided to experiment with her desk lamp as a light source. She really liked the way the brown paper lunch bag glowed in the light when it was placed a safe distance in front of the lamp.  Megan cut a window in the paper bag, and decided to glue in a piece of construction paper with diamond cut-outs.  

Two images: The brown paper bag seen from the other side where the diamond pattern is projected onto a different side. The window side of the brown paper bag with dots of lights projected onto it.

 Playing with the placement of the bag, she noticed that when the window with cut-outs faced the lamp, the diamond pattern projected through to the other side. Inspired by this effect, Megan added hole punches to the bag, on the side opposite the window. When she rotated the bag again, she could see dots projected onto the side with the window. With cut-outs on both sides of the bag, Megan now has a three-dimensional light sculpture that can be viewed from multiple sides. 

A cardboard cone with a cut-out star taped together so the star is at the bottom of the cone.

Hannah was interested in making shapes for light to shine through.  She rolled a cardboard box into a cone and taped a star cut-out to the wide end. She then taped the smaller end to a flashlight to project her star around the room. 

Three images: A star of light is projected onto a sitting cat and the wall.

Hannah experimented further by taping translucent tissue paper over the head of the flashlight. She made orange starlight! 

Projects with natural light

Two images: Tissue paper stuck to a window with water, different color overlapping makes new colors such as orange.

Sara also experimented with translucent tissue paper and was interested to see how she could stick them to her window. From previous experimentation in the Art Studio, Sara knew art paste works, but she didn’t have it at home. Inspired by the rain outside the window, she wondered if water could work. Sara used brushes and her fingers to paint with water, which stuck the paper to the window. She enjoyed seeing how the papers overlapped and created new color combinations. Sara also noticed that the water made the paper even more translucent! 

Two images: A hand pushes at the tissue paper and the tissue paper starts to peel off the window as it dries.

Once the tissue paper was soaked through, Sara realized that you could easily tear the paper with your hands. She enjoyed poking view holes through and writing letters into the tissue paper. Overtime, the paper did dry and peel off, but Sara didn’t mind as the process was engaging and the paper could be reused after it dried. 

Three images: Light shining through a circular cardboard tube with bubble wrap taped to the end. Two cardboard tubes taped together to make cardboard glasses that are looking out the window, and held up to Meg’s face.

During her experiments with translucent materials, Meg noticed that bubble wrap created interesting patterns and when looked through, made the landscape blurry. This inspired her to make a pair of cardboard and bubble wrap glasses! 

Three images: A cardboard tube and pile of tissue paper, the outside of the kaleidoscope with cut holes and taped tissue paper ends, and the inside of the tube with layered papers and light streaming in.

Mackenzie was also interested in looking through translucent materials and wanted to create her own kaleidoscope using tissue paper and a paper towel roll. She hoped that it would create a layered effect if she placed the tissue paper inside the tube at different intervals. Mackenzie carefully cut the paper towel roll and inserted the tissue paper. She used tape to fasten the excess parts of the tissue paper to the cardboard. Mackenzie cut into the roll to create pockets of light. The added cuts into the roll help the light go through the tissue paper. Mackenzie loves that her kaleidoscope can be viewed through both ends.  

Three images: Translucent fabric across a fabric hoop with painted lines, held up to different parts of the sky so the colors and fabric change appearance.

Siobhán was curious to see how her translucent fabric and added color would interact with light. She painted stripes of color on her fabric, and left part of it unpainted to compare the different effects. Siobhán then held the fabric up to the sky and observed the change in colors and light intensity.  

Three images: A brown paper bag with a tall drawing of clouds, rain, lightning, water, and fish. A hand using a pair of scissors cuts out a cloud. The scene is taped to a window so the light shines through the cut-outs.

Hannah was inspired by a cloudy day to create a nature scene taped it to her window. She drew her scene, then cut it out of a paper bag. The paper blocked most of the light, providing a nice contrast for the cut-outs. Hannah was pleased with the texture of the cloudy day behind her cut-out clouds, and added a piece of painted tissue paper behind the fish and water. She loved the way the translucent paper colored the light! 

There are so many ways to explore light and color using at-home materials. We hope you enjoy making your own light filled artwork.



Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator since 2016 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.