DIY: 1960s Oil Light Show

By Agustus Miller
Oil light shows look as good now as they did in the 1960s.

During the 1960s, free-thinking people were experimenting. Music became a scene where young people were finding new ways to open their minds and creatively enjoy the sense-filled world around them. In response to the alternative, psychedelic music being played at these shows, groups of visual artists began experimenting with liquid light shows to entertain the listeners at events. Mixing oil and water on glass surfaces and projecting light through the colorful mixture became one of the most popular and iconoclastic forms of performance art during this time.

Prepare your projector. The part of the projector where you place the material to be projected is called the stage. Mask off the stage using strips of the masking tape until you have a square in the center of the stage approximately 4 ½ to 5 inches across. This will give your fingers room to manipulate the glass clock faces without being seen on the screen.

Adjust the size of the final image. Place the projector in front of the wall or screen that will be used for the show. Turn on the projector and move it back and forth until the square projected is of the size you want.

Prepare your light show liquids. To make your oil liquid colors, mix clear mineral oil with non-toxic candy dye in small cups using the stirrer to whisk the colorant into the oil. To make your water-based colors, mix water with food coloring in small cups. These colors are all to be prepared separately. Make around three colors for each type of liquid.

Prepare the convex glass clock face before projecting. Lay the larger of the convex glass clock faces down on the masked square of the stage. This will provide you with a mixing bowl for your colored liquids. Use one dropper for oil and one dropper for water. Drop different amounts of oil and water into the glass mixing bowl.

Prepare the final steps before projecting. The projector is made up of a light source, a stage and the projecting unit above the stage. Wrap colored cellophane around the projecting unit to tint the light’s color before the light show begins.

Turn on the projector and watch how the oil and water mix and project on the screen. Add more oil or more water and spin the colors around by hand turning the outside of the glass bowl. Place the second, slightly smaller glass clock face over the surface of the liquids resting in the first glass bowl. This will give the oil a pressed look. Manipulate the pressure by squeezing the glass faces together, or place more oil and water in the top mixing bowl to get a layered effect. Spin the two bowls in different directions.

Tip

All liquid ratios and amounts are unspecific. For better colors, try just a little colorant. For the best light show, it will take experimenting with various ratios of colorant to liquid.

It is always better to have less liquid than more, so buy a little extra so you can play around.

Wrap colored cellophane around the projecting unit during the light show to change up the color scheme.

Warning

Oil, water and electricity don’t mix. Use proper safety at all times.

About the Author

Agustus Miller has been living and writing professionally in Brooklyn, N.Y., since 2005. He has contributed to publications such as "The Brooklyn Star" and Mountain Xpress. Miller holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and creative writing from the University of North Carolina.