Friday, October 24, 2014

How does your art look on the wall?

In my newsletter today, I talked about the events in Ottawa this week and I shared a bit of my personal perspective. Here I shall continue on with some of the contents of that newsletter and the topic is lighting.

Lighting can be a big concern for artists. When we are seeing colour, we are actually seeing light waves being reflected off of a surface.

Imagine how yellow sunlight warms up the colours in a room. Think about how it affects the subject matter being painted as well as the colour of the paper or canvas. Now imagine the effect if the studio were lit only by fluorescent bulbs.

Admittedly this can be a complicated subject. An in depth discussion would take into account how the colour temperature of light bulbs is measured in Kelvin units, how brightness is measured in lumens and how there are colour rendering index ranges to consider. BUT we aren’t going to go there! J

Let’s keep this simple...

First up, diffused natural light is considered the best light for an artist to work under. For many centuries, large windows that face north have been considered the ideal studio environment. This is the direction from which sunlight is always indirect, regardless of the season or time of day. This constant, relatively cool light prevents changes in the light-dark patterns on your subject matter (whether a still life or a studio model).

Imagine how important light entering from windows was for artists prior to electric lighting. Ever tried to do anything by candles in a power outage? In Rembrandt’s day, you would need an awful lot of candles and lanterns to properly light up a studio in non-daylight hours!

Of course not all artists are fortunate enough to have large north light windows. Perhaps the light is blocked by a tall building close by or perhaps light from a north window is competing with strong afternoon light from a west window (you can use heavy drapes to block this light but not everyone wants to do this). Or maybe you have carved out a space to work in the basement and large windows are not an option. Perhaps your only hours to create art are in the evenings, after the sun has set. Don’t despair...

A great way to achieve consistent lighting is through artificial light.

Artists can choose to use light bulbs that emit a warm light or a cool light. Light bulbs can also be purchased that emit a spectrum of light similar to daylight.

A combination of lighting is the easiest way to go and is often the most effective. For example, you can use one type of bulb in overhead lights and then use a different type of bulb, for balance, in a desk or floor lamp.

But here is something else to consider...

I suggest that a very important issue is location, location, location.

Where will the artwork hang once it is finished?

Have you ever noticed how artwork created under bright lights seems to lose its intensity when hung on a wall in a room with low lighting?

Take whatever you are working on right now and test this. Move around the house holding your art up against various walls. Can you see how the different lighting arrangements in your house changes how much detail you can see in your art? Perhaps the colours don’t glow as much.

Living rooms and dining rooms are usually a lot less bright when compared to our studios. Hallways often have no source of natural light.

See how your art work looks in the evening, after dark, when artificial light is all that we have. You may be quite surprised to see how much your art changes.
Most art collectors hang art in homes that are not lit like professional art galleries or studios.

Also, to preserve the integrity of the pigment colours, remember that fine art should not be hung in areas of direct bright light.

Therefore, keep in mind that you art work needs to look great under normal circumstances not just in a fabulously lit studio.

My own studio makes us of a combination of lighting sources. I have many windows in my studio and they face south, west and north. I have halogen track lights overhead and I also have a desk light clipped to my drafting table that has a daylight spectrum bulb in it. I find this bulb really helps create a nice light in the room when I am working after dark. Sometimes during the day I have to keep this light off as it can skew how I see my work. I also have a floor lamp and a table lamp so my studio offers lots of lighting options.

This is a picture of me during a studio tour and I am holding up a work in progress. I chose this picture as you can see the west facing window behind me (one of two) and my drafting table is facing a south facing window. I position my table here as I love the view of the forest, not because of the light. J

There is another south window on that side of the room and two north facing windows across from where I am sitting. You can see one of my track lights in the ceiling. I have eight moveable lights on two strips down the center of the room and finally you can see my desk lamp which as I said above has the daylight spectrum bulb in it. My laptop is on my drafting table so I could work from my reference photo of peas in a pod. The pillow dangling over a lower bar of my table is a cushion for my feet while I work – in case you were wondering!

Once you have a handle on your lighting requirements, you might want to consider the colours of your studio walls and how they change the light in the room. Artists familiar with the concept of bounce light – reflected light that is bounced off of coloured surfaces – choose to paint their walls specific colours. For example some choose neutrals like a gray-green. Others go for a neutral white to accurately reflect the hue of the light onto the contents of the room. 

My studio was very dark when we moved in so I painted all of the dark woodwork trim, including my dark brown, stained plywood floors a specific shade of white. It was a lot of work but it made a huge difference. I also had to install the overhead track lighting as the room had no overhead lights.

If you need more convincing of the power of light to change the look of your art, take one of your pieces outside and snap a photo in natural light (a lightly shaded area works better than strong direct sunlight). Next, take the same piece of art and photograph it while lit by an incandescent bulb. Finally, photograph your art being lit by a florescent light. Now compare your photos. You will be amazed. 


A bit of trivia for you:

Light changes from warm to cool depending on the time of day and where on the planet you are located.

Sunrise and sunset light is warmer because it goes through more of the earth’s atmosphere as it skims the horizon and the atmosphere changes the temperature of the light.

Sunlight at noon is cool.

Locations with intensely blue skies can create the effect of even cooler light because light is bouncing off of the blue sky and mixing with the pure sunlight.


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