The Use of Colour and LED Lights in Public Digital Art

This case study style post is a bit more in depth than some of the other work we have placed on our blog, but is highly relevant to the evolution of art that we all know and love. It looks at how colour and LED lighting are being used in public digital art in the context of two city shopping districts in Australia; the Wintergarden Façade in Queen Street Mall Brisbane and Rundle Lantern in Rundle Mall Adelaide. This post aims to highlight interesting light and colour techniques used by Australian digital artists in building facades. It also aims to give budding artists and designers a framework in order to influence their own work. Throughout this post we use the term “digital media” to mean tools such as computer technology and internet that are used to produce art or any creative outcomes.


Colour and lighting has been a topic in different fields, such as psychology, physics, chemistry, optics, vision, engineering, visual arts, graphic design, urban studies, interior design and architecture. Within the field of architecture, colour and light are considered to be an important means of expression. Colour and light are an integral part of our built environment expressing the character and culture of its people. It can create a distinct sense of place. Colour and light in the built environment may positively affect the quality of design by promoting emotions such as pleasure and arousal; or negatively affect the quality of design by promoting negative emotions such as distress and depression. Perhaps most importantly, colour and light communicates a cultural identity bound in history and tradition.

Advances in computer hardware and LED Lighting in the last few years allow much greater realism in digital art. The complexity and size of digital art also have increased dramatically and is evident in most of the Australian city shopping precincts. LED Arts utilizing LED strip lights, LED Downlights and other types of mood lighting in the public sphere has only really been made viable for councils due to the creation of low energy LED lighting solutions. This can be seen throughout the world and are commonly seen on unique landmarks such as the Story Bridge in Brisbane and the Sydney Opera House.

Smart skins, programmable surfaces, responsive facades, and interactive building envelopes are active research areas in architectural design that are bringing the gap between the traditional static world of architecture with recent paradigms from human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing and tangible interface designas described by P. Green-Armytage. The enquiry arises from the current digital phenomena in Australia. It is evident that the society is changing its taste from traditional art to digital art.

What is Public Digital Art?

Public Digital Art is defined by Bruce Wands as work made using technology like the internet, computers, information technology, virtual environments, sound engineering, and more. Building facades in Australian city shopping districts have embraced digital art in many capacities and has become an established part of these environments.

We decided to approach the two properties with a number of key questions in mind:

  • How does the geography of two different Australian cities affect the choice of colour and light in public digital art?
  • Do different cultures prefer different levels of light and colour mixes? i.e. strobing light, ambient light.

Literature Covering Digital Art

Lois Swirnoff, author of the book, “The Color of Cities: an international perspective” is also known as a colour consultant and passionate promoter of colour as a primary design issue. The vignettes featured in her book reveal how cultural influences and environmental conditions impact regional colour preferences in architectural expression. This literature has unravelled that:

  • People’s collective colour reactions to their surrounding environment were developed as a manifestation of extended exposure of the eye and brain to the conditions of the environment
  • Everyone living in the same region has similar reactions to the qualities of light and local colour in their environment; therefore common colours arise in the region.
  • Colour is considered as a geographic marker.
  • Regional colours reveal the global range and diversity of vernacular expression.

Another school of thought was from Janelle Cugley, a lecturer from Curtin University in Western Australia. She suggested that seeing and knowing the natural environment of a region may reveal a palette that may not only regenerate the sustainable health of a community when placed back as design interpretations, but also re-unite us with our natural world.

The Case Study

Our keen artists made an investigation of two building facades in two different Australian city shopping district; Wintergarden Façade in Queen Street Mall Brisbane and Rundle Lantern in Rundle Mall Adelaide. The digital arts were produced by two different artist groups. Investigations were made in the geographical and cultural context of the usage of colour and light.

Our case study revealed differences and similarities in the use of colour and light between the two building facades.

Wintergarden Façade
Rundle Lantern 
  Queen Street Mall, Brisbane Rundle Mall, Adelaide

Lighting Technique

Description Light is used to energise the scene of the rich language of cutting, scoring and folding of the cladding structure. The Lantern’s unique designs are driven by computer software that showcase colourful and dynamic moving imagery and digital art works by night and creates a contemporary architectural experience during the day.
Lighting Type A low resolution integrated LED lighting system that can change from a snowstorm through to the bursting of spring, into summer and finally into autumn, all within a single night. The LEDs can create any configuration of 16million colours that are reflected upwards onto 748 aluminium panels of 1,1 x 1 m.
 Colour Technique Running Light Running Light
Wintergarden uses an expansive pallete of colours.Cladding Structure: pastel coloursLighting: mixture of cool and warm colours

Main Structure: WhiteLighting: mixture of cool and warm colours

Wintergarden Shopping Centre in central Brisbane is a creative application of a coherent identity and architecturally holistic sensibility in order to realise a multitude of intentions – to create an entertaining and engaging retail experience, a lifestyle destination and a ‘must-visit’ meeting place and thoroughfare – at the heart of Brisbane’s city centre. It was a product of the collaboration of a group called Studio 505, led by John Warwicker, the artist consultant.

The Rundle Lantern was created by Fusion group with the design strategy focused on creating a ‘lantern’ for the city to use as a dynamic cultural canvas. The LED art is highly manipulative and can produce a range of different colours within seconds. Looking at these two structures revealed differences and similarities in the use of colour and light between the two building facades.


Our case study exposed that both digital art installations featured patterned LED light work. The Wintergarden Façade and Rundle Lantern have “Light” spatial impact. The digital arts featured on both of the building facades are trendy, inviting, playful, bright and active. Wintergarden Façade scored 719 in lightness and 611 in heaviness. Rundle Lantern scored 1,020 in lightness and 182 in heaviness. Both public digital art installations demonstrate “light” impact to people interacting in the space, which of course is the aim of the LED lighting art works.


Through our case study, it was discovered that Wintergarden features a low resolution integrated lighting used to energise the scene of the already rich language of cutting, scoring and folding of the cladding structure. The Rundle Lantern uses LED strip lights which can create any configuration of 16 million colours that are reflected upwards onto 748 aluminium panels of 1.1m x 1m. The Lantern’s unique designs are driven by computer software that showcase colourful and dynamic moving imagery and digital art works by night and creates a contemporary architectural experience during the day. The LED strip lights are environmentally friendly and only require a low amount of energy to be powered each day as they are all solar powered and 100% carbon neutral.

In terms of colour technique, Wintergarden uses a mixture of cool and warm colour LED flood lights in their integrated LED lighting to contrast the pastel colour used for the cladding structure. Rundle Lantern uses muted colour for the main structure, in this case white, and uses a mixture of cool and warm coloured LED lights to bring life to the installation.

In total, Wintergarden Façade scored 719 in lightness and 611 in heaviness. Rundle Lantern scored 1,020 in lightness and 182 in heaviness. The differences reveal an interesting cultural insight to the City of Brisbane and City of Adelaide. It can be argued that Adelaide, being a smaller city compared to Brisbane has a more soothing taste in the use of light and colour.

Brisbane’s Wintergarden was depicted as being florid, obtrusive, chaotic, ambiguous, unsettling, cramped, hard, oppressive and stuffy. The cutting, scoring and folding of the cladding structure is responsible for this perception.

On the other hand, Rundle Lantern is perceived as being understated, unobtrusive, ordered, straightforward, soothing, expansive, soft, liberating, airy and light. The use of white main structure and computer-aided light configuration through automated LED strip lights contributes to this view.

Both public digital art installations express a trendy, inviting, playful, bright and active character. It was achieved by the use of different coloured LED lighting. Yet Rundle Lantern is perceived as more soothing and liberating compared to Wintergarden.

Final Thoughts

The Wintergarden Façade and Rundle Lantern drew from various forms of local knowledge, celebrated it back into the palette suggestion which then informed the design reflections of the digital arts. The different colours used in both digital arts represent the diverse ethnic group present in both cities. Climate qualities have an immense effect on the quality of light and colour being projected in public digital arts.

This post tries to provide a framework in which designers can draw inspirations from and to influence their choice of light and colour for their own LED design project. It has been established that different regions in the world or even different cities within a country has a different colour palette that commonly arise. Different cultural groups have a diverse vernacular expression. Designers must cultivate a rigorous process of critical observation at the onset of a project to make sure their work is enjoyed by the people it is made for.


Featured Artist: Palms

Thank you for taking the time out for this interview Palmsy. I guess I’ll kick the interview off by asking you what first sparked your interest in graffiti and when this was? burner wall mural

Right at the end of the 80’s I first started finding out about Hiphop and was just completely captivated by every element of it. I started collecting records, and I remember getting these old bubblegum packets with graffiti stickers in them which I stuck all over my bedroom mirror. From there, like many, it was Subway Art. I started actually writing at 13 which was 1990 but I was only about bombing, I never really cared for pieces at the time, the guys I was down with were just vandals. This was pretty much restricted to my area down south in Adelaide and destroying busses and any other surface until the state government gave students free public transport at which time we thrashed everywhere we could. Didn’t live too close to a train line but I would bus it down to Noarlunga and ride the line to see what was up. 73A held shit down in my area at the time and I was mad inspired by Bash, Tense and Skemer in particular, but I only painted a handful of piece myself at the time. Need to especially give props to big Tense who was smashing it back then and 20 years later is still holding it down on the Noarlunga Line. DIY wall art baby!DIY wall art at its best I know back then with the free transport Adelaide was a pretty crazy place to grow up. Can you tell us about any Particular hairy stories involving cops, bus/train drivers or rival writers? Porn stories would be great too, but I know you’re a family man Palmsy haha. As a youngster I never really had any super serious cop chase stories, a few run-ins with seccies but nothing too noteworthy, through chance or dumb luck I always seemed to narrowly miss any horror stories. I took it pretty easy after I had kids and wasn’t in too many risky positions. There was a few close calls up until I got snapped bombing early last year and spent a night in a cell, which the wife wasn’t too happy about I can tell you. A couple of cool yard stories, that probably aren’t mine to tell… ok one story a while back young Rog and I caught a panel with one of the OTP lads. Later in the evening we were at a station to get platform and rolling footage, I’m filming on the platform when the driver pops out and tells us he likes the colours, and the pieces, “one, two and three!” He then pulled the train out really slow to give us some good rolling video.

Palms Burner Thats gold. So out of all the lads you’ve painted with… who can drink the most beer and still string a good sentence together at 4 in the morning? Not fishing for compliments are you mate? Nah all my GM brothers have put in work on that end, especially in the early table and brazier sessions in the freezing winters of Adelaide with me, Adlib and the Mug, but Ekills, Apples, Honky, Vans, Boed, hell all the boys have put in work on that front and respect is due, and don’t even get me started on Biz, Jekl and the lads from Crackhouse hahaha. A special shout has to go to Tuesy who may not rock til 4am but can drink and paint better than most and Maim and Uncle J who put in the late night sessions with me when I first moved to QLD before the Great Migration.

You’ve rocked some pretty damn amazing pieces in your time, one very memorable one for me was when we hit up a wall together on the Gold Coast while the lronlak guys smashed their Kung Fu Masters wall… That piece was huge and extremely detailed blew me away, it really cemented you in my mind as a force to look out for. What would you say is your most memorable piece and why? Thanks mate I really appreciate that, i really dig the paint we are getting from ironlak at the moment, quality stuff. Like most writers I’m my own biggest critic so the ones that mean a bit to me probably don’t seem so much to anyone else.. One is the green hulk wall done in Adelaide as that was where I became part of GM and also I felt like I really started to define my personal style on that piece. Another favourite one was an all-white piece with a red outline with Does, Tues and Dyms as that’s when I knew my letters had really started to hold their own, one colour fill, no flashy techniques to disguise them. Other times a favourite piece may not be even about the piece but the experience of where it was painted or the company it was painted in. Yeah, I’ve often thought simple is the best, I also like when an outline really steals the show. What do you look for most in a piece and which artists over the years have really ticked all the boxes in terms of style, execution, and overall volume for you? I’ve always been most impressed by guys that really worked hard to develop a style that’s identifiably their own, in my mind its better than popping up painting an amalgamation of ‘name’ writers style, and calling it influence. Seems like a lot of ‘same’ going on around the Alinr101 right now. Yeah, I’ve often thought simple is the best, I also like when an outline really steals the show. What do you look for most in a piece and which artists over the years have really ticked all the boxes in terms of style, execution, and overall volume for you? I’ve always been most impressed by guys that really worked hard to develop a style that’s identifiably theft own, in my mind its better than popping up painting an amalgamation of ‘name’ writer’s style, and calling it influence. Seems like a lot of ‘same’ going on around the world right now. Such a hard question because there is so many, ask me again tomorrow and I’m sure I would have different 1101110S. The guys I really liked as a youngster all had style identifiably their own. So many over the years like Dondi, Seen, Ces, Can2, Smash, Bates, Puzle, Kab etc. Then guys like Revok, Pose and Rime really pushed some different directions. More recently I’ve been feeling guys like Nemo, Phiesta, Vodka, Bacon, Warios, Inca, Twesh, Zeus, Smug, Sobek & Kcis, there’s so damn many. Closer to home but just as impressive if not more so, Vans the Omega in particular never ceases to amaze, he goes from strength to strength, Meks, Sofles, ReaIs all kill it, these guys all seem to be able to turn their hands to any style, wild or public, throwies and hand styles, panels or walls and murder it with style. That’s the pinnacle to aim for in my opinion.

You recently had the chance to Jet off around the world with old mate Tuesy… You still haven’t told me bugger all about it… what were some memorable moments? Yeah that trip was brilliant, got tick a few boxes off the bucket list on that trip, from Venice Beach walls in LA, Tuesy driving us thru Compton with NWA on the stereo, to riding the Subway in New York, to painting with the super friendly and talented writers of Brazil and Argentina to middle of the day throwies on the streets of Santiago. I don’t even know where to start, too many cool stories for a short interview I could go on for hours. Buy me a couple beers and I’ll talk your ear off!


Featured Artist: Loc-2

Owl Wall Mural aerosolWhen did you start being a graffiti artist? 1984 – 1 don’t like the word graffiti. It’s too vague. I prefer wall art, but you can’t avoid it. These days I just feel like an artist. Fuck labels.

What got you into writing graffiti? I was fascinated by a punk writer Baz who was up in my area around 1981. Then in 1984 I was inspired by the usual books and films.

What are your first memories of seeing graffiti? The first pieces that really impressed were the Chrome Angelz works at Covent Garden in London.

What were your influences back then and what are your influences today? Back in the 80’s it was mainly the early European style, so mostly Dondi and Futura. Since then I’ve become more and more open to other genres of wall art. These days I have a million small influences, anything in my day could spark off an idea. People, the world, a sweet wall mural, life. But everything I paint, I can trace back to earlier writing I did, it’s never disconnected. Conflict is usually a part of it in some way.

I’m interested in other ways of seeing, ways to look inside. X-rays, microscopes. I think a lot about meaning, I haven’t used my name as the content piece in a long time. I do still have letters in it but there isn’t a boundary between them and everything it’s all one thing to me. That’s part of what MY organic thing is about. I like to say a letter IS a character.Owl Wall Art

What/who influences your style, flow and ideology? I think you have to be the master of your own destiny.

Being that your work is quite synonymous with being loc2 to advance your work further, can it be somewhat intimidating, stifling or difficult to keep on the cutting edge? That’s a good one. I always have a ton of new ideas I want to experiment with, far more than I’m going to live long enough to deal with. New concepts every day. I haven’t painted 10% of what I’ve already worked out, the stuff I think might be good. I’ll die frustrated. The challenge is to work out which ones are most worthwhile … I try to research what else is going on in all the art worldwide, try to explore the paths less trodden. I think about what our art has to do with the rest of it. Is it good? What is the point of it?

Originality is a distance not a place. It’s an ideal to strive for. I think I spend too much time on that at the moment though, 1 want to get back to painting more and thinking loss. The trouble is, you can’t go back to not knowing things. The other big dilemma for me is to do with consistency. This information saturated age seems to favour a logo mentality but I hate to repeat myself. It just feels like I’m wasting my time if I don’t move forward in some way each time. So I try to strike some kind of balance but I don’t think I do a very good job of that. I think I make my life far more difficult than it needs to be. I could take just one bit of it rinse and repeat.

Trackside, panels, bombing or a chill wall? I’ve done all of the above during my career. These days I’d choose a high profile wall and try to put something interesting and worthwhile on it. Something that fucks with stereotypes, makes people think. Chill? I wish. We just did a whole Nazi bunker in Frankfurt. Massive. 4m thick concrete walls. Big budget, open brief, painting whatever we like. Big responsibility … turn something like that into something positive. I’m ok with a mystery … sometimes I’ll illustrate an idea, sometimes I’m ok to do something that’s not so easily gettable.

Any major wall art projects in the pipeline? Lots going on as always. We’ve been trailblazing out in China. I’m working directly with an architect’s company who have designed a lot of really insane buildings in Shenzhen and other cities. Lot of sparks flying in the recent project; culture clashes, freedom vs censorship etc. Ground-breaking public art projects, big things. That’s an ongoing project. I just did a nice custom arcade cabinet that will be auctioned off to raise money to help out with the disaster in Japan. I’m an old-school gamer so I really enjoyed that, I’m thinking of doing a series of them. I have a street art gallery project I’ve been developing in Central London that features some canvas and vinyl wall art. I’m trying to take over the whole street, massive wall murals. High profile. Ton of other things going on. Just a lot of painting and fighting to create space for new ideas basically.

You recently painted in China. What project was that for? It was for the Shanghai Expo. The project was in OCT Loft which is the creative district of the city of Shenzhen.

China isn’t a country people would generally have come straight to mind when they think of graffiti/aerosol based artwork – what’s the scene like over there? There is basically no bombing to be seen but some nice piecing there. My main friends there are IDT crew. They are young but doing some advanced work for what is a relatively new scene. I can see China becoming a force to be reckoned with in coming years.


Featured Artist: Jury

The sun is just breaking the cold frost of dawn as Jury stands at the boot of his car unloading boxes of spray cans. It’s a winter’s morning on an exceptionally cold Sunday. He and his crew move purposefully as they prepare for the day ahead. Jury’s car, a worn out red Toyota Camry, provides the only useable light source; the waning headlamps cast obscure shadows around the vacant warehouse allotment.juryoutline

From the stories told of Jury’s past, it was always assumed that he was a tall, gruff man; the sort of person you’d think twice about crossing the street to avoid. He is instead relatively short, a well-spoken guy, his hair is slicked back and wearing a comfy tracksuit. It’s hard to imagine that this could be the same infamous graffiti artist that had been responsible for berthing Brisbane’s street wall art culture.

Jury had what he calls a “misspent” youth. He never knew his mother and his father ran a pool hall for infamous 70s/80s mobster Tony Bellino and was rarely around. He dropped out of school at 13 and planted himself firmly into the life of a rat bag teenager, living with no boundaries. He rolled with a crew considerably older than what he was, but as he describes life in those times, “It’s like prison, you either cozy up to the biggest c***s around, or you get fucked up.”

It was 10 am, the sun had burnt away the wispy remnants of the morning’s patchy cloud cover. The tink tink tink of metal ball bearings rattling away inside of the spray cans had almost become melodic. Jury, and the rest of the crew were into a solid groove and seemed pretty relaxed, it was time to start finding out more about the apparently deviant sub-culture that is wall art, or graffiti to those who despise it.

Jury Canvas

I knew little about Jury apart from the stories I’d heard from my housemate. What I did know was that he was pretty quiet and didn’t talk much about his past. In classic fashion I launch tactlessly into my first question, “So I hear you’ve been to prison?” The reaction was like a scene from an old western, when the anti-hero first enters a bar- the tink of the spray cans stopped and his crew went quiet. I realised that I had just confronted a convicted criminal, in a remote location, about what is probably the most horrific time of his life. I stepped back a couple of paces, out of striking distance. He looked back at me, ran his eyes up and down my body a couple of times then said, “are you a cop?”

Everyone laughed and I relaxed a bit. He casually stood before me and read a list of arrest charges as if it were his grocery list: break and enter, grand theft auto, vandalism and a string of public nuisance offences. Strangely I just couldn’t picture it. Admittedly, Jury is into his forties now, and I think age has put a spin on his maturity, a lot of the younger artists out with us really looked up to him and he knew it.

Jury ran his crew above the line, which means they don’t hit illegal spots, rather they find sanctioned areas to “put up” or on occasion are commissioned to mural someone’s warehouse/shed/workshop. Jury had turned his street art into legitimate revenue. Of course it wasn’t always that way, as he says, “I was fucking young once too, you know.”

The next couple of hours were spent with paint in one hand and a luke warm beer in the other; we threw up technicolour pieces on the back of a warehouse. I was never cut out for the visual arts, but that didn’t stop the crew from offering advice through lightly veiled insults. At least they were talking to me I reasoned. In my research for this outing, I kept coming across the term “red lighting”, so I asked my housemate about it.

“Ask Jury, he used to do that shit,” was the response.

With a little less swagger than my first approach I presented my question to Jury.

The sun was high in the sky now, it had turned out to be a really nice day; Jury had dropped his Adidas jumper. Now he looked less like the softly spoken man I’d met earlier in the day. His arms, covered from knuckle to shoulder in crudely drawn tattoos; patches of faded colour highlight references to god and the church. I couldn’t figure out if he was being ironic. He wore a thick gold rope chain around his neck that looked like it weighed a ton, and his slight figure filled out to reveal broad muscular shoulders. It was becoming apparent that this guy was the real deal.

We took a break and cracked a fresh beer. He told me that “red lighting” was something they used to do to gain “street cred”. It was important to get your work seen, and what better way than to get up on a moving canvas, seen by the whole city. His crew would block train tracks with scrap metal, causing the trains to stop or risk derailing, he’d then sneak up on the red lit train and put his work on it, coining the term, red lighting.

Sitting and talking, one on one, I could tell that Jury was past his deviant ways, even remorseful about his misspent youth. He was really starting to open up. Right on cue, dark ominous clouds rolled in like a thundering train, except no amount of scrap metal could red light it. “All right boys, pack it in, this bitch is gonna piss on our work,” declared Jury. As we packed up our paint and took one last look at the extremely detailed wall murals, destined for destruction in the impending storm, I was able to truly appreciate the sense of achievement this guy must feel every time he gets up somewhere. Maybe because I’ve seen behind the iron curtain that keeps these misunderstood artists on the outer of society, but whenever I see an impressive piece up on a wall, I stop and appreciate it, for the work that has gone into it, rather than question or diminish it legitimacy.