01: The Chamberstick
Here’s an image: the wizened anti-hero wandering through a darkened Victorian hallway, chamberstick in hand. He’s looking haunted in a robe and most certainly tied to my misremembering of Ebenezer Scrooge. All that aside, you see it don’t you. The chamberstick is an iconic piece of functional lighting. Its job is simply to hold a candle in place so that you can bring it with you as you move towards a clandestine meeting, or maybe the outhouse.
Approaching the chamberstick I wanted my version to maintain a few elements of the original. It had to be light enough and stable enough to be held in one hand. It had to maintain a light while walking or being sat down on a surface. I also wanted it to look somewhat like a chamberstick. Apart from that the rest was open to interpretation.
What I arrived at is in the video below. Easy squeezy, charmingly imperfect:
I began with some sketching I drew out variations: ways to hold a chamberstick, wild forms, hyper minimal forms, whimsically silly ones. Knowing that I had to try out my hypothetical interactions in before I could decide which one appealed to me I swapped my paper for cardboard and built three conceptual tests.
V1. This candle has a handle that lies flat when set down and swivels appealingly into place and would light up the base when held aloft. Loved the swivel but everything else just didn’t make sense for a chamberstick. If I were groping for it at night the flat handle would be a pain and the swivel function is just not practical for an object which should give a steady, not swaying, light.
V2. Another idea that occured to me was to use the chamberstick like an egg timer. I tend to read before bed so this appealed to me. When I actually tried it out the hand motion to turn the candle felt finicky. It also occured to me that it would be annoying to be walking through the house or brushing my teeth only to have the timer run out on me and leave me in the dark (granted it never gets all that dark in NYC).
V3. Last but not least, the model I chose. This model shows how squeezing the handle will turn the chamberstick light on and off. So simple right?! Well, I immediately liked the simplicity of this action.
I rigged an electronic prototype with a clip from my fridge, an Arduino, and modified open source code (thanks Tom Igoe and random people on forums!). With some digging through my boxes of materials and a bit of hot glue, the candle was ready to test.
Something surprising happened when I tried my final build out in a darkened room. The paper I had used to focus the LED light ended up casting an oblong watermelon of light on the ceiling. I’d used the Red and Green of RGB, aiming for a yellow; instead I got an ombre that reminded me of summertime. It’s not a bad accident, I couldn’t have planned the effect but I like it better this way. It’s an effect that I want to file away, like my favorite bad puns, for the next time it’s useful.
For most of human history candles were not perfect. They were shaped by some overworked servant from animal fat, they sputtered, stank, and had to constantly have the wick trimmed back. I’d like to think that my imperfect ‘candle’ is the continuation of a fine tradition of people making imperfect sources of illumination. My chamberstick is not a particularly ergonomic design and the watermelon effect was a surprise but hey- this is 1/12 and the goal here is exploration, not perfection.
Foam from when my kitchen stools shipped to me
Fabric: from a threadbare black tee shirt and a bit of the conductive stuff
Physical computing: Arduino, alligator clips, a mini breadboard, RGB LED, resistors, and wires
Cardboard cylinder packaging box from a xmas gift
Dusty Oxo clip from my fridge