dappled designs


image courtesy Edward Tufte

As sunlight passes through the crown of a tree, every small opening in the crown serves as the aperture of a pinhole camera that casts an image of the sun on the ground. These sun images vary in size and brightness and may overlap, forming shadows of intricate detail and rich intensity gradations.

Artists call this dappled light. As the sun makes its way across the sky, the shapes change relatively quickly (a property of the moiré phenomenon).

If we could carefully design a tree-shaped sculpture with precisely positioned twigs and leaves, we could make a sundial that marks the passage of times and seasons by casting intricately detailed transient shadow images. For example, a tree sculpture installation that casts shadow portraits of persons whose birthday it is on that day — every day of the year, at a specific time.


2 Responses to “dappled designs”

  1. Colleen Blackard Says:

    Thanks for the interesting analysis of dappled light. I don’t take the science of light into consideration much, but it sure would be helpful to my art. I’ve had that thought about using shadows as a sundial as well, but I’m wary of trying to use tree branches; they would grow and change every day. But maybe that effect could also be used.
    I’m glad I found this blog, since you’ve showcased more shadow artists than I’ve ever known about.

  2. Dimitri Says:

    I should have been more clear. I am not speaking of an organic live tree but a carefully designed rigid tree-shaped sculpture. I will clarify it in this and further posts. I have a few computer models that I am trying to get to presentable state.

    Yes, I am amazed how little this potentially rich medium has been used. I am an engineer and not an artist, so I may be seeing this from a slightly different perspective, but I think so much more could be done.

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