Blacklight as an Element of Design

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“A blacklight (or often black light), also referred to as a UV-A light, Wood's lamp, or ultraviolet light, is a lamp that emits long-wave (UV-A) ultraviolet light and very little visible light.” wikipedia

No matter what you call it, people are fascinated by the effect blacklight has on neon and glow-in-the-dark LEGO parts.  At any convention or exhibit, people flock to black light displays.  

I am not the first AFOL to display their MOCs under black light. In fact, I only found out that some LEGO colors react to black light at my first LUG meeting four years ago. A long-time WisLUG member was looking for transparent fluorescent orange flames in a tub of miscellaneous brick by using a blacklight LED flashlight to spot them quickly. He told me that he used blacklight on his MOCs because the fire pieces would look like they were burning. I became fascinated by all the brick that was affected by the UV light, he let me use his flashlight to rummage through the bulk brick and explore all the different reactions from the various parts and colors. From that day forward I was a committed blacklight enthusiast.

When doing a bit of research for this article, I noticed there are four ways AFOLS use blacklight with their MOCs:  

When I am building, I think about what blacklight can do to enhance my art. First, I look for ways to use the blacklight to expand my color pallet, then I think about patterns and details, and then I find focal points. Finally, I apply special effects, my favorite part of the process. Because the neon colors are so bright, I am often toning them down by layering neon with transparent colors that compliment them but are not very reactive under blacklight.

To illustrate, let’s look at two images from my color test for The Caves.


In the first image, you can see orange illuminating from the inside of the Hero Factory pods. I used transparent neon orange propellers inside to create the lantern effect. The pods themselves do not react to the black light so they mute the vibrancy of the neon inside. The transparent orange propellers and claws outside of the pod are not neon but regular transparent orange that react slightly to blacklight. Not all transparent orange (or transparent red) reacts to blacklight so I sort and store them accordingly. 

For my final Caves sculpture, I edited out the transparent neon green Bionicle masks (which are orange in white light!) because they were far too bright for the overall look, they were almost blinding in person. Since I really liked the purple-red color, I kept the transparent neon blue small or distant from the transparent orange and transparent red pieces so the purple-red color could emerge. I only used the transparent neon orange inside or underneath transparent red parts and I didn’t use any transparent neon green or transparent bright green because they were too bright in the context of this design.

I don’t always intend my work to be seen in a dark setting, sometimes I want ambient white light with black light above. This creates a rich color pallet with depths and highlights, often missing under the stark fluorescent lights that are the mainstay of convention halls. Below is The Fountain, one of my favorite examples of this practice.


The Fountain with white and blacklight


The Fountain with blacklight only

The opaque neon blue pieces are from the LEGO Clikits series. I used the small bright light blue flower Clikits icons and the Clikits special effects blue paper stars, layering them inside the radar dishes to make the flowers. The opaque parts are less reactive when both white and black light are used together but are still bright enough to enhance the color palette. I layered blue non-reactive Clikits flexy film flowers over the stars so that only the star points can be seen. I did this so that curves remain the lines of the MOC, if I didn’t the stars would have become focal points with their straight lines and sharp corners.

Though meant to be shown in combined light, I did consider a blacklight only viewing while designing The Fountain. Using a complementary color pallet of two neon colors, I varied the height and positions of the neon. This keeps the viewer’s eyes moving as they look at the piece, creating interest and pulling the viewer in for a closer look. Strategically using non-reactive opaque parts to mask and create shadow keeps the neon from blinding the viewer and allowing them to see the piece as a whole.


My challenge to myself with The River Runs Through It, was to have a design that looked essentially the same in all light settings. I also wanted to have a contrasting color scheme, instead of complementary, as are most of my previous creations for blacklight. When I begin any project, I want to have a base that is neutral so that botanicals I am known for can take center stage and The River Runs Through It was no exception, although at first glance you might not think so. 

I used dark blue, lavender, medium lavender, and dark purple for the backdrop structures because they are graduated hues and each section one hue only, they blend into the background and individually are large enough to become a canvas for building color over the top.

To keep the transparent bright green river from overwhelming the piece, I placed dark blue rock formations in the current and had plants overhanging the river. Blacklight does not work ambiently.  It must hit an object directly for it to cause a reaction. Because of this, I can use overhanging, opaque objects to block some of the effect and slightly dim large bright neon segments. I clustered flowers of 1x1 sized transparent neon yellow, orange, and blue in separate groupings to create spots of color that would contrast with the river. The transparent neon yellow is the most similar color to the transparent bright green and if placed next to it, will not look different under black light. To keep the color from being washed out by the river, I used it for the flowers on the vines growing high, over the architectural structures.

A few notes on my style and building habits

Many of my creations are intended to be seen under light that transitions from all white light to all black light. In advance of a build, I decide on a color pallet for the white light and one for black light. As I build, I check the balance of color under both lighting conditions. I keep a UV flashlight nearby for quick checks and have a set of UV lamps mounted above my work table.  I usually build from 4pm to midnight so that I can have the darkest room when checking the blacklight colors.  

You might notice that I use painting references in my descriptions, this is because I think of each of my art creations like a painting. Light is my brush; I use it to blend colors and change the viewer's perception of the simple brick. 

I frequently use water as a visual conceit, the water will set a tone of the creation and often tell a story by itself. In The River Runs Through It, the viewer immediately knows that the creation does not represent anything on this earth because of the water’s color. It gives a signal that it may be dangerous even.


In The Fountain, The Caves, and The River Runs Through It, I intend for the setting to look inviting until you take a closer look and realize the environment might be hostile to humans. I have created a fantasy planet where I imagine a previous civilization made the environment toxic though mismanagement and war. They have moved on and the planet recovered by growing giant, dangerous plants to protect itself. Architectural structures left behind are slowly decaying, seeming to melt into the ground. 

There is much more to be said on the topic of blacklight and I am always interested in hearing others experiments and experiences with the medium. Please feel free to contact me via my instagram or flickr account to share your stories.

article and images by Barbara Hoel


My history with LEGO bricks started in the late 60s, as a very young child, when there were only red, yellow, blue, green, black, and white parts. When I came out of my dark ages about 24 years ago, when my daughter was a young child, there were still not that many more colors in the LEGO pallet and unique colors were hard to acquire. The web was not ubiquitous and Bricklink hadn’t been introduced. My MOCs were always built trying to make the most of the color available. Since unique color parts had limited availability and often were made only in the smallest parts, I focused most of my color attention on the landscape around my architectural MOCs and on the building’s interior furnishings. I was mostly interested in building modular type structures that my daughter, her friends, and her cousins could use in their play.