Tag Archives: LED lighting

Keeping costs down when building your diorama

When e-commerce went mainstream and turned the world of retail and wholesale on its head, it was the consumer who emerged as the winner. Liberated from the monopoly which local bricks and mortar stores used to enjoy, the consumer can go online and hunt for the lowest prices from sellers around the world.

In a previous post, I talked about the decline of the bricks and mortar hobby shop in the online age. Although it would be easy to feel sorry for the hobby shop owner who has been turfed out by online competition, it’s important to realize that he may have just become greedy and priced himself out of business.

Hobby retailers (bricks and mortar as well as online) have a habit of overpricing products which are available elsewhere at far lower prices. They rely on their image as a specialist retailer to justify big margins.

A good example is miniature lighting. I frequently use LED lighting strips in my dioramas. They outlast bulbs by a wide margin, generate very little heat, and are easy to work with. LED strips are available via hobby retailers as well as eBay (mainly from sellers in China and Hong Kong). Guess which is cheaper? The price difference is so big that I wonder how hobby retailers are able to sell any LED strips at all.

Some hobbyists may not have the patience to comparison shop, but for those willing to spend a few minutes surfing the web, the return on your time investment can be considerable. And it can add up over time.

Here are some tips which can be useful in finding the lowest price for the product you’re looking for:

· See if you can determine where the product is manufactured
· Determine what types of retailers carry the product (for example, paints are carried by art stores, hobby stores, hardware stores, home improvement stores, and last but not least, paint stores); also check if the manufacturer sells direct
· Compare prices at each type of retailer in the country of manufacture with retailers in your country (remember to include shipping costs when comparing)
· Check prices at portals like eBay and Amazon

It helps to keep in mind also that the more middlemen you can cut out, the better your price will be. Some products are resold multiple times before reaching the consumer, and the price goes up every step of the way.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that if you don’t mind waiting a bit longer for your product to arrive, you can save a lot of money. Basic shipping rates from China to North America are astonishingly cheap if you don’t mind the four-week wait. I’ve also found shipping rates from Britain to be very reasonable. In contrast, buying from a U.S. source can entail horrendously high shipping charges, particularly on eBay and Amazon. And look out for eBay sellers who price a product at a discount and overcharge for shipping.

You would think that large online hobby retailers would have lower prices because they get quantity discounts when they purchase stock. However, I’ve found that this isn’t always the case. Remember that retailers are under no obligation to pass along savings to their customers. The only consistent advantage I’ve found to buying from a larger retailer is better product selection. If you’re buying several items at once and can bundle them into one delivery, you’ll usually pay less for shipping.

There isn’t one universal rule for getting the cheapest price. It depends on the product you’re buying. So do your research and happy shopping!

-Ivar

Jedi Starfighter (1:20)

The Jedi Starfighter is Obi Wan Kenobi’s personal hot rod, a sleek delta wing fighter featured in Episode II of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

A reworked Hasbro toy with custom LED lighting, scratch built landing gear and a new paint job, the Starfighter is ready to transport Obi Wan to his next daring mission (just as soon as he’s finished his coffee).

-Ivar

Light and motion

We perceive the world through five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Visual art, as its name implies, communicates with us through sight. Pet owners will attest that cats and dogs don’t share this visual bias, preferring instead to savour the touch, smell and taste of fine art. But let’s not dwell on the time that your dog mistook your meticulously detailed Saturn V rocket model for a bone, and buried it in the back yard.

To optimize the impact of visual art, we can leverage some basic science about how vision works. For example, we know that the eye is attracted to motion. If you’re looking out the window of a tall building, the first things you notice are pedestrians and cars moving below, and maybe some birds gliding by. If you’re lucky enough to have an ocean-side view, your eye will be drawn to the endless lapping of waves upon the shore.

The eye is also attracted to light. Walking on the street at night, we immediately notice streetlights, car lights, and if you’re in the country, the stars and moon.

Although light and motion are fairly easy to incorporate into many forms of art, the vast majority of painters, sculptors and diorama artists don’t take advantage of these tools. There may be an overdose of self-consciousness at work here, as many artists are fearful of being ridiculed for stepping beyond the bounds of the normal or typical. Modern art has broken many boundaries, but not all. I find it surprising that more visual artists don’t incorporate light and motion in their works. In the past, many purists would have argued that a “real” work of art should not shine, glimmer, spin or oscillate, but most of them passed away sometime in the 19th century.

At a recent art show, I saw an innovative wall sculpture which depicted a swimmer splashing around in a small pool. The swimmer was an electronic projection but the walls were actual three-dimensional pieces forming the perimeter of the sculpture. This created the effect that the swimmer was as real as the walls surrounding her—a brilliant way of exploiting the way in which the brain processes visual information.

Adding light and motion to a diorama is relatively easy to do, and is guaranteed to heighten its impact. LED lights are available in numerous shapes, colours and voltages, and can be wired to shine constantly or flash. Their long life span makes them ideally suited to diorama applications. LEDs can be incorporated in and around vehicles and buildings to create a range of different effects.

A diorama with a sufficient quantity of lights will become self-illuminating, so putting it in a dark room with the lights turned off will give you a night scene which can be especially dramatic. Turning the room lights back on will give you a daytime scene, so you get two distinct looks from one diorama.

Motion can be real or faked. Do you want to show your Spitfire Mk IX taxiing down the runway? Substitute a plexiglass disc for the propeller supplied with the kit. Through careful sanding and painting, you can create the effect of a spinning prop. Or you can go a step further and actually motorize the propeller.

When it comes to taking the next step with your dioramas, remember that light and motion are your friends. Not many diorama artists take advantage of these simple tools. If you do, you’ll be one step ahead of the game.

-Ivar