Monday, April 6, 2015

Black Light Art Show

Using blacklights to create a buzz in the art room and a presentation goal at the end

Like it or not visual arts sometimes needs a gimmick to get the community pumped about going to see an art show. School music shows and theater don't have that problem. People always want to see their kid in action, but with visual arts the action is already finished in the classroom.

I decided this year to have the kids create an art show centered around blacklights. The kids spent the entire month working on artwork, backdrops, and advertisements in the dark  to get themselves and their families excited about the show at the end of the month (which coincided with conferences). The results: a magical show that created quite a few "Whoas" and "Ahs!"


 The Supplies

What Glows Under UV

I decided to make the show into a theme of a garden so all of my activities stemmed from that idea with a few exceptions.
The first step was to figure out what materials glow under a blacklight. I started with testing things I apready had in my room and then went shopping to test for more. Some things glow more than others. The best materials I found were:
  • Crayola Fluorescent Tempera (blue doesn't glow but can be mixed with red and yellow)
  • Walmart Fluorescent Tempera (including blue)
  • Highlighters (most yellows, some pink and orange)
  • Neon Sharpies
  • Crayola Extreme Colored Pencils
  • Neon colored pipecleaners and puff balls
  • Neon ribbon
The Blacklights

I didn't purchase glow in the dark paints. I used blacklights to make fluorescent things glow. The glow in the dark paints do however glow under a blacklight, but they are more pricey. There are two choices for blacklights whichI used a combination of.

1. Blacklight lightbulbs (from Home Depot or Walmart). These work really well together, but the downside is they get hot. They work well for spotlighting the show. They cost $5 each.

2. Strip Lights. These stay cool and give even light. Great for kids testing their artwork and drawing in front of. I paid $20 on ebay for mine.

Painting in the Dark

I really wanted the kids to experience painting with glowing materials in the dark. We tried a few ways of doing it.

1. When they were already working on their artwork I would turn out the lights and put on the blacklights for a couple minutes at a time. The kids really enjoyed this but of course lost focus on their paintings.

2. When the lights were on the kids could test their artwork to see how it glowed at 2 test stations on either side of the room. The paint glows so well that even with the lights on they could see it glow if it was near the light.

3. The day of the exhibition since I had the room cleared of furniture, I passed on art boards, paper and highlighters and we played some drawing games.

The Projects

Kindergarten Flowers
The green stem is actually yellow highlighter that glows light green. The blue around the flower is the white paper showing.
One 2nd grade class made more sophisticated flowers learning how to blend colors on the petals.
3rd Grade Lizards

2nd Grade Frogs with patterns on the belly

3rd Grade Negative Portraits.
We started with black paper and painted the faces and the backgrounds with fluorescent paint.

3rd Grade Positive Portraits. 
This class made portraits on white paper and put them on a black background. 

2nd Grade Snails

1st Grade Turtles

3rd Grade Owls on black paper with glow background.

1st Grade Shootong Stars

The Exhibition

Below are the 4 walls of the exhibition. I decided to not display the art in the traditional grid style but instead to create backdrops or landscapes that the art lived in. The decision was partly due to how many kids I had in the school (580)  as well as wanting to create a full experience for the kids that are K-3rd grade.

Paper Panel Walls

To create a gallery in my classroom I had to erect butcher block walls on two sides of the room attached to the ceiling grids. The paper walls hid my desk, cabinets and countertops. I took my tables out of the classroom for the week of the show.  I added duct tape to the top of the butcher paper that I could pierce my grid clips through and attach right to the gridwork. To make the bottom display straight I  folded over the bottom edge and stapled it to create a pocket for a yard stick to slide into.


 Here is the wall finished. You might notice that the paper is white in the sky area but on the photo with the blaclight it appears blue. Some white paper will glow blue under blacklights which worked perfectly for our sky.

Hands-On Activities

As part of the show I had stations with hands-on activities. On the counter on one side of my room I had science information about blacklights and several examples of things that glow with a black light that people at the show could touch and move.

From Nature:
  • Rocks from nature (I purchased on ebay)
  • Feathers
  • Glowfish (real GMO fish from Petco that glow)
  • Paints
  • Highlighters
  • Stickers, Pipecleaners etc
  • Tonic Water
 I also put a flashlight out for people to see what colors the paint was when we painted in white light. I explained why this phenomenon happens in class with a Power Point presentation and printed out the slides and displayed them for the show.  Here is the link to the slideshow.
Counter with hands-on activities.

Edit: Now that the show is over I keep on finding more things that glow! Here's one I've tested. You can mix in highlighter marker into Model Magic! That opens more 3D options!


  1. Fantastic! What a memorable art experience it must have been for your students!

  2. Thank you! Yes they did and so did I! I was like a kid in a candy store each day.

  3. LOVE this idea! I might have to steal it. I feel like the kids would be so intrigued! And there is a bit of science involved!

  4. how many black light did you use for your classroom? and did you cover the windows?

  5. We'll, my creative friend...guess what my K-7 art classes are doing this year! Coinciding with conferences is brilliant! Thank you!