Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all have the perfect studio with soft North Light streaming in? But lighting for your art studio is one of the more confusing aspects of setting up a workspace.
I use my studio for many tasks and use many different mediums, each with particular considerations. So, it’s an ongoing challenge that changes with projects and media.
Why is this so important to get right?
The light you paint under is the single most important factor which determines the colors you see in your painting. It is something that will influence every color decision you make. So of course, it is important that you put some effort into setting up your art studio lighting correctly. Otherwise you may notice over time that
all your paintings all seem to be too cool, warm, bright or dull, as a result of you trying to compensate for poor lighting. I also think it’s really important to be working in an environment that is
pleasant for you. Ideally, your lighting is pleasing to paint under and true in color. So what does that mean for you? I use my studio for many tasks and use many different mediums each with particular considerations. So, it’s an ongoing challenge that changes with projects and media.
• I don’t want to work under florescent lights because it feels like a factory to me and I don’t want to feel like a factory!
• I need the light to be as even throughout the space as possible so that the surface of my painting and the surface of my palette is lite in the same way.
• There should be a minimum of glare on my glass palette and painting surface. This isn’t too much of a problem with pastels as both the palette and the painting surface are not reflective, but if I’m working in oil or acrylic, it’s part of the picture.
• I frequently work at night, so I can’t rely on natural light.
• We shoot video so I don’t want my skin tone to look sickly and cool.
• We shoot video on several surfaces from the easel to a tabletop so lighting has to be moveable
Finding the balance between all these considerations is challenging. I recommend prioritizing all your own considerations before you shop for lights. You might have to make some compromises where needed, but there are lots of options out there that will help you to create a light, bright workspace for any working method or project.
Wow! You can’t beat good North light especially if it’s diffused. However, few of us get to design and build an art space with the perfect light. Even if we could, there would be times of year when the light wasn’t adequate and of course if you plan on ever working at night, you’ll need some light!
I recently added glass panel garage doors to my painting studio. They are amazing and let in a soft diffuse light a good portion of the day. They face south, but it’s darn good. They were also expensive. I decided to make the investment which I’m glad I did, but it will take quite a few good paintings to pay for them! Ok, so most of us will need lights in addition to any natural light we are lucky enough to have in our studios/workspaces.
How to Buy
When purchasing lights, there are five things you need to look for. The type of the light, watts, lumens,
color temperature and color rendering index.
Here are some of the different types of lights:
• Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL)
Watt are a measure of how much power a light source uses, rather than how bright the light source is. Lumens however are a measure of how much light is actually produced. So when comparing the intensity of two different types of bulbs you should use lumens not watts. Watts is useful for comparing bulbs of the same type.
This is the super confusing part because more Kelvin means hotter in temperature but us artists associate hot in temperature with a particular part of the color wheel. It’s not the same thing; warm in temperature to the touch is different from warm in temperature to the eye! Think about your stove when the flame is white or blue, it’s hotter than the yellow or red part!
The color-rendering index (CRI) indicates a light’s ability to illuminate color accurately. The sun has a CRI of 100. Bulbs with a CRI of 80 to 100 are best at revealing vibrant, natural hues. The correlated color temperature (CCT), measured in Kelvin, refers to how warm or cool a light appears. Too warm a bulb may tint work reddish yellow, whereas too cool of a light can turn things blue. For a good balance of warmth and coolness, look for bulbs with a CCT of 5500 K, the equivalent of the midday sun. If you prefer cooler light, akin to north light, look for bulbs rated 7500 K.
I prefer to work under warmer looking light for a homier feel so my LED track lights are 2700k. I have tracks that have fixtures that each turn on or off independently so I have maximum control and can move the fixtures around if I need to. Because of this choice, I have to be aware that my paintings will tend to appear different in cooler light. Most artists will tell you to work under lights that are around 4000k to 5000k.
Luminosity or brightness is also important to consider. The formulas for measuring brightness are complicated. Suffice to say that you want as many fixtures as needed to give yourself ample illumination. This may sound obvious, yet I’ve been in many under-illuminated studios that just needed another fixture or two to remedy the problem.
Color Rendering Index (CRI)
CRI is basically a quality rating of how well a light source is able to faithfully reveal colors. Natural daylight has a CRI rating of 100. As artists, our aim is to replicate natural light in our studios. When you are buying your lights, you should look for a CRI rating over 80 (the higher the better).
Many hardware stores sell fluorescent bulbs with good CRI and CCT numbers (read the packaging carefully). I’ve seen 80 CRI/5500 CCT compact fluorescents for as little as $3 a bulb. Online stores sell bulbs as well, but shop around, as prices vary tremendously. Make sure the bulb you buy is compatible with your existing fixtures. Rows of fluorescent tube ceiling lights provide good luminosity but are costly. A more affordable option is to install strips of track lighting that can be plugged into existing outlets and outfitted with screw-in, compact fluorescents. I recommend you employ an experienced electrician for any electrical work.
Studio lighting does not need to be that complex. At the end of the day, all that is important is that you have:
• The right angle of the light
• Enough good light (reasonably high lumens and 80+ CRI)
• A color temperature that you like working under and is balanced
The easiest solution is to just grab a few compact fluorescent lamp bulbs around 5,500K and secure them at a 45 degree angle to your painting. Pastelists don’t have to worry about glare too much, so the angle of light isn’t as important. I will also say there is no perfect lighting solution. You will probably need to be creative and find out what works for you. Finding the balance between all your considerations is challenging. I recommend prioritizing all your own considerations before you shop for lights. You might have to make some compromises where needed, but there are lots of options out there that will help you to create a light, bright workspace for any working method or project.
As Always, happy painting!