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shio - otherworldly lights's video poster

Help create the first generation of a completely new kind of light made from pure salt. Read more

pledged of $10,000 goal
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This project was successfully funded on July 25, 2012.

Help create the first generation of a completely new kind of light made from pure salt.

About this project


shio is form of lighted mineral sculpture I invented a few years ago, inspired by my adventures in Yellowstone National Park as a child. The idea: let beautiful physics create beautiful objects. The manifestation: living crystal beings, frozen in time, and filled with light. Put simply: gorgeousotherworldly lights.No two are ever the same, and every one is made by hand in my Seattle studio.

Featured on Cool Hunting, design-milk, International Design Times, elementalLED


shio is also my first foray in to the world of art and design. As a craft, shio exists as a handful of prototypes and a process that relies heavily on 2x4s and recycled kitchen appliances lashed together with the modern equivalents of bubble gum and bailing wire: shapelock and zipties. The control circuits are literally nailed to the wall. Well, the lucky ones are anyway. The whole operation would make MacGyver proud, but it isn't workable for growing more than a few pieces a month (and even that requires huge amounts of babysitting). Growing shio sculptures reliably and without unsightly birth defects requires precise and stable control of the mechanical, thermal, and chemical properties of the growing environment. Zipties are wonderful, but they just dont cut it for everything.

To do shio right, I need to better growth chambers, and I need to build more of them. Growth chambers are complicated and have lots of parts, including but not limited to:

  • pumps
  • heaters
  • tubing and connectors
  • frame materials and mounting brackets 
  • microcontrollers 
  • solenoids
  • solid state relays
  • webcams 
  • temperature sensors
  • liquid sensors
  • motors
  • bearings
  • insulation

This stuff adds up, and once you factor in rent, electricity and tools, building and running a nursery isn't cheap. I'm on kickstarter to fund the build-out of my nursery. Depending on the level of demand, I plan to spend about 20-30% of the pledge dollars on parts and tooling. The remainder will go towards growth of the shio themselves and includes materials, rent, energy, packaging, and labor.


By backing my kickstarter, you are helping give life to a new art form. I have created three ancestral species of shio which I am making available directly to my backers without the extra markup and overhead involved in traditional gallery or retail channels. What this means though is that once this kickstarter is over, the prices on my web site will have to include retail markup. If you like my work, this is the best time to buy it!

occulus - $950 (1 left at $875)

  • 16 inches diameter, and 15-30 pounds depending on thickness.
  • Upright (default) or hanging (configurable)
  • 60W thermal capacity or more, depending on mouth size

orbis - $950 (1 left at $875)

  • 16 inches diameter, 16+ inches high, and 15-30 pounds depending on thickness.
  • Upright (default) or hanging (configurable)
  • 60W thermal capacity or more, depending on mouth size

chrysalis - $475

  • 12 inches in diameter, 14 inches high, 10-15 pounds
  • Upright only
  • Dimmable, 35W brushed nickel halogen uplight (included) 
  • 50W thermal capacity

**new species** vitellus - $325

(candid hatching photo)
(candid hatching photo)
  • 10 inches in diameter, 10 inches high, 10 pounds
  • Upright only
  • Removeable custom socket base
  • 35W thermal capacity

These are archetypal images - yours will have its own unique personality but will be similar in size and shape. Click on an image above or visit my main site for more photos.

mounting and wiring

For those species that can hang, I will provide instructions for suspension mounting. The dogbone mounts in orbis and occulus are designed to work with off-the-shelf pendant fixtures.

Lamps are wired with UL components and according to UL guidelines.

light output

While shio are not flammable, they do contain some plastic components that could melt if too large a bulb is used without proper ventilation. Recommended maximum bulb sizes below are listed in terms of their energy consumption (heat dissipation), not their light output. The heat allowances are sufficient for very bright LED or CFL bulbs, but may not be for incandescent bulbs.

You may request a big mouth (at no charge) if you would like to use bigger lights. For reference, orbis with no mouth and a 1,600 lumen CFL is sufficient to light a desk area.


Exact shipping dates will depend on the amount of funding we get, but I expect to begin shipping no later than October 1st and finish by mid-December. Shipping to the continental U.S. is included in reward pricing, but for orders outside the U.S. please contact me to get an estimated shipping rate.

Delivery dates under each reward are expected. shio take a long time to grow and cannot all mature and be ready to ship at the same time. I expect growth to be spread out over a few months. When it won't cause large overall delays, I will try to honor a first-come, first served policy.

16"x20" First Generation Print

Design - TBA

I will be photographing the first generation as they mature. I will select a striking photo from the first half that mature and produce a limited edition archival print and mail a signed copy to my backers. 

Note: Reward levels are non-inclusive. If would like the print and you have ordered a sculpture, please include an extra $50 to cover printing and shipping costs!

experimental color

All of the photographs and video showing shio with color were created with simple color LED bulbs. Small scale tests show that coloring the salt itself opens the door to many more subtle and beautiful effects, but past experiments with introducing colored pigments after shio are already mature have had disappointing results. I do not expect that adding color will be completely straightforward, but I've wanted to try for a long time.

If we reach $20,000, I will immediately build a special growth chamber dedicated to growing shio with colored impurities infused from the beginning. Then I'll grow a few shio in it to see what they look like. If I can get them to look good in time, I'll post photos for my backers to see and give them the option of switching their pledge to the new color(s) if they would like. If the results aren't stellar, well, I wont give up entirely, but I won't try to grow any colored shio in the first generation either.


shio is a project of studioshio, which consists of myself, Daniel MacDonald aided by my stalwart (and much too modest) Chief Crystallizer, Pip Johnson.

I've spent time doing everything from developing noninvasive biomedical imaging systems to building simulation software to help eradicate diseases of the developing world. At heart I'm really an AGI-obsessed programmer who has been designing software since he was nine. So what the heck am I doing making (admittedly awesome) furniture?

shio was an invention that I never expected to fall in love with. But I did and so here we are. I like to think of it as a physical expression of design aesthetics I have cultivated over multiple decades of designing abstract systems.


shio: 1. The Japanese word for salt (sodium chloride). 2. One or more individual mineral sculptures (Japanese nouns typically do not have distinct singular/plural forms, and so it is with shio). 3.  The entire art form, process, family of species, and all its future implications.

species: Like an unlimited series of works but with a twist. Each shio is unique by its very nature, and I am constantly tweaking and refining the underlying skeleton. This means that a species evolves in time, and can beget new species that branch off and diverge in new directions. Rather than a serial number, each shio has a unique place in a growing phylogenetic tree.

mutant: Experimentation is an every day activity in the studio, and sometimes the results are endearing. These are shio that aren't like anything else and may well never be. Their unique skeletons often mean they need customized special handling and mounting, which makes them more expensive to produce.

nursery: The portion of studioshio infrastructure dedicated to assembling, growing, and finishing shio.


Creative Commons licensed footage and stills

And a huge thank you to Owsey for their awesome track, I'll Remain Under Our Antique Sky. While they have in no way endorsed this project, I sure endorse them! Check out their soundcloud page for more incredible music:

A big thank you to Matt and his visionary maker space, Metrix. And last but not least, Steven Edwon Schultz for his awesome filming, editing, and animation!



The color variations in this photo are due to use of an inexpensive color-changing LED bulb set to 'white'. Because 'white' is generated by independent red, green, and blue LEDs, and because they are slightly offset from each other spatially, each color diffuses through the salt slightly differently.


shio also have a lot in common with stalactites and in this head-on view you can see many small, hollow, proto-stalactites that formed where water dripped off the skeleton during growth.

From left to right, Steven, Pip, and chrysalis
From left to right, Steven, Pip, and chrysalis

Behind-the-scenes view of how we created the rotating shots. Here we are shooting a chrysalis on a table mounted on a rotating platform. 


  • Yes. Please pledge for the shio you want and when yours is ready to ship, I will let you know how much the shipping is. I can only give rough estimates at present because the packaging details are not known and the cost is very sensitive to the total volume. I will ship your order once I have received the additional shipping and handling charge via paypal and any relevant customs documents from you.

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  • Cleaning is best done with compressed air, but they can accumulate a few years worth of cat hair and dust before it becomes unsightly.

    For a thorough cleaning, they can be bathed in super-saturated cold saltwater. Its very easy, but I plan to post detailed, fool-proof instructions for this on my web site as it is critical that the solution be super-saturated or you could damage your shio beyond repair.

    Last updated:


  • You selected
    Pledge $1 or more

    66 backers

    A warm fuzzy feeling will wash over you as your karma swells. Your name will be listed for all time on the patrons page on my web site. Also, the air will taste faintly of citrus.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    7 backers

    16"x20" Limited edition, signed archival photographic print commemorating the First Generation.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $325 or more

    3 backers Limited (27 left of 30)


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  • You selected
    Pledge $425 or more

    5 backers All gone!

    Early Backer Special: 1 chrysalis

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  • You selected
    Pledge $475 or more

    9 backers Limited (11 left of 20)


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  • You selected
    Pledge $875 or more

    3 backers All gone!

    Early Backer Special: - 1 orbis or occulus

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  • You selected
    Pledge $950 or more

    0 backers Limited (10 left of 10)

    orbis or occulus

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  • You selected
    Pledge $1,250 or more

    0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)

    For the adventurous: orbis with extra surprise mutations! Mutations may include extra eyes, fins, spines, orifices, nodules, and/or teeth.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,300 or more

    1 backer All gone!

    Your very own MUTANT! Similar size to chrysalis, but a unique shape. If it spawns its own subspecies, you get to name it!

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  • You selected
    Pledge $1,400 or more

    0 backers Limited (4 left of 4)

    3 chrysalis set.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $1,800 or more

    0 backers Limited (3 left of 3)

    2 orbis/occulus set

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  • You selected
    Pledge $3,000 or more

    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    Your very own MUTANT! Similar size to orbis and using the same lighting mount, but otherwise unlike anything grown before. If it spawns its own subspecies, you get to name it!

    Estimated delivery:

Funding period

- (30 days)