Friday, 28 October 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

Well, 2 out of 3 isn't bad. The camera is sorted, there is plenty of action, (that didn't sound too good did it?), now it's lighting. Good lighting is a thorny issue for a painter, especially when there is painstaking detail to be done. Do you opt for full on school art-room lumination of strip lights that are so hot they can double up as heating and use enough electricity to run a Scottish island, be green and go for energy saving bulbs or strive to keep to natural light. Then there is the direction for right or left handers. Hmm, there is so much to consider and so many solutions to choose from, the mind boggles.

As October ends and the lights start to go on at about half past five in the afternoon, the loss of natural light in the studio must be addressed. At present I am using a small daylight lamp that has a bendy head and a large magnifying glass. It does the job, but only just. The arm is not very long so trying to illuminate a large piece is tricky and the quality of light from some energy saving bulbs can be a bit weird. What I really miss are those great Anglepoise lights with huge conical shades and an arm so long that it could poke someone in the eye about 3 metres away.

That reminds me of the first Pixar animated short from years ago about a little anglepoise lamp and a ball. Nostalgic moment alert!!



Wise and sagely advice states that the direction and consistency of a light source is vital. It should have a constant level of brightness and remain in the same direction throughout the day. All well and good but impossible with natural daylight and therefore there must be some form of artificial light to supplement what light there is. Staying natural, a north facing room is perfect as this direction never gets full, direct sunlight, creating a uniform quality of light that barely moves. I don't have a north facing spare room and I am not moving! Cloudy, overcast days, (such as today) cause all sorts of issues and then there is the issue of colour.

Sketchbook exercise demonstrating
different directions of light

Colour can be dramatically altered by light, especially greens as I was once told, so the job of mixing correct shades is made all the harder. That said, some artists are now opting to work in darkened studios, James Gillick creates his beautiful still life works in a barely lit studio. His recent summer exhibition of still lifes at Park Walk Gallery gave an extraordinary insight into his work. 

'Red Tulips' still life by James Gillick

  • Katherine Tyrrell of Making a Mark has given a full, and really helpful guide to choosing the right light and other points to consider in her post Night and Day - lighting your subject. Katherine really does understand the job of an artist and goes to great lengths to research her topics so her blog is always worth a visit. Finding the right approach to artificial and natural light is made a hell of a lot easier after reading the post and now I know what I need to change in my studio. Thanks Katherine!  

Katherine's advice to achieve the perfect balance is to use as much natural daylight as possible but to supplement this with the consistency of an artificial light source, always with a daylight bulb. Hooray! I can get my lovely Anglepoise with plenty of reach. Lighting Nirvana! 

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