Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Let It Shine

     I received a great question from one my blog readers yesterday, about studio lighting and some specific problems he has encountered.
     Every lighting situation will be different because of the many factors that come into play.  This is a tough one because, as artists, we all create our art so differently.  An artist lighting a still life will want the same light on the arrangement as he does on the canvas. 
    As a watercolor artist, I prefer a mix of warm and cool lights.  I have 15 windows in a 550 square foot studio, and on a sunny day, it’s too much.  The sliding scale of factors will make the solution different for each one of us.
     First, I’ll start by showing you want works well for me.  Keep in mind the majority of my work is done from photo references (about 90%), and the other 10% of my paintings are from a still life set-up in the studio.  (If I can, I prefer to work from photos on still life arrangements as well).

     When designing my studio, I decided to install seven 48-inch fluorescent tubes (5500 Kelvin) on the ceiling.  I also installed some ceiling cans with warm light. 

Over my painting table, I have two swing-arm lights; a cheap one that lights my palette and another that lights my painting.  The light over my painting is my favorite studio light of all.  It contains a circular fluorescent bulb and a standard incandescent bulb as well.  This creates a mix of warm and cool light on my painting, which I feel creates an optimal view of the photo I’m working from and the painting.

     I also keep two freestanding tripod studio lights on hand.  These can be put into service when additional needs arise, such as lighting still-lifes, models or working on exceptionally large paintings.  I also dabble with oil paints on a traditional easel, so they work great for portability when I switch mediums.  (You watercolor traditionalists, calm down.  I said, “I dabble”.)
     With these different configurations, I can apply the best lighting solution based on the factors that arise.  On a very dark, overcast day I need the overheads.  However, on a bright, sunny day, my table lights are all that’s needed.
     Look at your individual situation.  For the blog reader, I suggested two shop lights with 5500-Kelvin bulbs and a swing-arm with an incandescent bulb.  But it’s just a starting point.  He may decide he needs more warm light for his table after using this setup for a while.
     Good lighting will make for more accurate painting, and lighting doesn’t need to be expensive.
     A lot of artists think a North Light studio is a dream situation, but the reality is that most of us (myself included) can’t have the perfectly lit work environment.  Buy the best you can afford in order to get the most desirable outcome, and then get busy.  Vermeer could only work when the sun was up and I think he turned out all right.  We’re miles ahead of the Renaissance in regards to convenience and technology.  So now we have no more excuses…. Our lighting is suitable and our work awaits us. 


  1. Thanks for a look into your lighting choices.

  2. I paint in a walk out basement with west facing windows and lighting is great at some times of the day and weak at others, this is great information to improve my lighting, thanks.

  3. It took me years of trying different lighting to find what worked for me. Each of us has to work within the limitations of our spaces, but it can be done. Good luck!