Monday, February 22, 2010

The Importance of Light in Our Lives

The subject of light is vast. How to interpret different sources of light, angles of light, tones and colors of light. There's even the subject of how light, or better yet the lack of sunlight, effects our moods and health. And then there's the light that's in your studio (or kitchen or in the room where you write or play your music) and that's the light I'm struggling with today.

I currently paint in the "eat-in" section of my kitchen. It has just about the right amount of room and while it's now a complete mess at least there's a small counter area in the kicthen that blocks most of my art clutter on this side from view. Well, some of it anyway (oh okay, it's a mess just give me 30 minutes before you come over and I will throw a sheet over it all and say I'm redesigning the place).

And living in a condo the windows on this end of the house do not face out into direct light, they face out to an open but covered corridor so we keep the inside shutters closed for the most part. So I paint in a combination of artificial light sources.

There's the ceiling fan light directly over me with one 100 watt bulb covered a white glass globe. Then I have two clamp on spotlights each with 75 watt bulbs - one clamped above the painting area and one clamped to the small table where I mix my paints. And a small table lamp to the side with a 60 watt bulb. Since I've only been doing this for a little over a month I wasn't too concerned about it but the more I'm painting it's becoming a bit more challenging.

As is always good to do for multiple reasons I often step away and take a look at what I'm painting. Lately however I'm learning to pick up the painting and take it to a room with natural light and sometimes even take it outside. It is amazing how something can look so bold on the easel and then die on the vine outside. And just the opposite - sometimes when I think the colors may seem too weak I take them out and vavoom it's a completely different painting.

How do you handle this? Has anyone purchased one of those indoor floor lamps that are supposed to imitate natural light and if so would you recommend it for this purpose?

I took down a picture that was hanging in our dining room area that gets fairly good light and use it to hang up my paintings throughout the process so I can look at them not only in more natural light but also from a better distance and sometimes with the distance of a few days.

For example, here is a painting I am currently working on. The first photo is taken on the easel and the other two are taken while it was hanging on the wall (one with sun out, one with sun behind clouds). My exposure is due east and these were taken before 9AM this morning. I also have difficulty getting the right colors to translate with my digital camera (that's a whole other topic) so I've enhance as best I can while looking at the painting to try and convey as accurately as possible. Take a look (and remember if you click on the photo they enlarge):

Above: On the easel
Above: On the wall - a) left, with sun out, b) right, sun under clouds

As I look at the painting and these three photos the one with the "sun out" is probably the closest to what it really looks like but the dark mid-tones are more like the studio painting.

Another benefit to this type of light challenge exercise is that you see different things in the painting each time. And once I think I have my opinions in order and my next steps list complete I take it outside and it changes yet again. While we always hear it is best to paint in "north" light sometimes I think it might be best to just get outside and paint plein air. At least for us landscape types. 

Okay, I gotta get more coffee and get back to the "studio" so please let me know how you've been handling light sources and challenges in your creative workshops. Java!


  1. I use photography lights. They have the kind of bulb that doesn’t heat up. The bulbs cost $35 each, but they last a year or two...the good part is you can use them to take reference photos for still life and portraits.


There was an error in this gadget