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-   -   How do you light the model and the surface? (http://portraitartistforum.com/showthread.php?t=7120)

Lacey Lewis 06-02-2006 03:25 PM

How do you light the model and the surface?
I am looking for information or an explanation on how one can simultaneously light the model and the painting/drawing surface. I often have to work at night, and have found it difficult get proper lighting on both. Usually, I end up lighting the model with a lamp and working with my surface in the dark, and I periodically turn the lights on to see how my painting or drawing looks.

Tips, suggestions, and especially pictures appreciated!

John Reidy 06-02-2006 11:13 PM

Good question Lacey,

WOW! You work in the dark? I can hardly wait to see your work when you get some light. Oh well, so much for my attempt at being funny and complimentary.

My studio space is limited so I rely mostly on photography references. But in workshops that I have attended and drawing sessions I go to the studio space is large enough to light the model separate from the lights that illuminate our work surfaces.

I assume from your post that your studio is limited like mine. I have put up color correct fluorescent bulbs (2) over my work surface and turn off other lights. When necessary I can set up a light stand with a daylight bulb for a model. This would only be for quick last minute adjustments if necessary. My space is too small for any long term modeling. My work surface light doesn't interfere with the model light even in my tight quarters.

I hope this helps.

Terri Ficenec 06-03-2006 02:03 AM

Hi Lacey!

I prefer to work in daylight. . . especially for skin. If you can set up so that the model is illuminated by a windowlight and your surface is as well. . . That works well. I like to set up my easel about 8 feet in and mostly sideways to a window. (Note: It helps to have the window to the opposite side of the your painting hand. . . and the canvas arranged so that it is turned slightly towards the window. I find it really distracting for my hand/brush to be making shadows on the canvas where I'm trying to paint! 'Course that could be just me! The sideways angle to the window also helps diminish glare on your canvas while you're working. . . )

When I have to work at night, I use 65K bulb(s) (Catalog number FC42/S65 from 1000bulbs.com) set a ways behind me and to the side and bounced off of the ceiling to make more of an ambient rather than direct light. . . I don't actually like my surface to be too brightly lit. . . as I find that causes my painting to wind up too dark. . .

Not sure if that's clear. . . I could put together a diagram, if you think it'd help. . .?

Julie Deane 06-03-2006 01:20 PM


I don't actually like my surface to be too brightly lit. . . as I find that causes my painting to wind up too dark. . .
A good point - I just finished a canvas that had a lot of light on it while I was painting, and now it only looks its best in bright light.

Clayton J. Beck III 01-04-2009 12:16 PM

Hi Lacey,

A little late in response but I hope it's still relevant. One solution to the problem of lighting your subject, your canvas and your palette is this:

In my studio I have a set of lights over my model stand (five sets of four tube fixtures, which type of 4 foot fixtures and tubes are your choice). These fixtures are individually switched and each has been placed on ropes and pulleys for mobility.

Over my working area, I have three-four tube fixtures placed high over the my easel and my palette. A short curtain is placed on the ceiling to block the light from my working area from reaching my model stand. This allows me to control the light on the model stand and my work area separately. The lighting arrangement like this allows for maximum variety. I can keep the light on my work area consistent and vary the light on the model stand, which is ideal.

The only other considerations I would have to say is that the lights from your model stand should not shine into your eyes for obvious reasons and lights over your model stand should be packed very tightly together to not create conflicting shadows. In other words they should act as one light source. The lights over my working area should be separated so that I do not create a solid shadow on my palette or my canvas. This is the theory behind three light sources over a pool table.

One other consideration is that the lighting on your canvas should be a color balanced light source and of the average brightness (meaning not too bright or too dim). The idea that you should "paint for the light source the painting will be hung in" is not advisable because lighting technology and fashions in lighting change all the time. You have no idea what lighting will be on your painting in the future. By working with a color balance light you are assured that your work will look the best under most lighting conditions. Caravaggio's commissioned paintings were to be seen in very dark churches. He had no idea that in the future electric light would change everything. As we look at his work in well lit museums (not as he intended) his work looks rather harsh and I don't believe that was his intent.

The hope this helps.

Debra Rexroat 01-04-2009 05:22 PM

I have used clip on mini-lights designed for reading books in the dark when working a plein air nocturn or in a darkly lit figure drawing session. A small work light over your palette and canvas should not interfere too much with the model's lighting, but helps greatly in distinguishing colors.

Clayton J. Beck III 01-04-2009 05:32 PM

The problem with using very small light sources is that they don't cast light evenly across your palette or your canvas. If you have more light on one part of your palette than another then you're mixing of values will be next to impossible. As for color, the clipped on lights would hardly be considered full spectrum so it would be impossible to have any trustworthy color mixtures on your palette. As for using these lights for linear based drawings I think they're more useful as color and value are not critical.

On the other hand, I've been known to do some pretty crazy things to get a painting done so if you ever see me in an open workshop working with a clip on light don't jump down my throat. I am always more concerned with the lighting on my subject than anything else.

Lacey Lewis 01-05-2009 10:12 PM

Thanks for the reply, Clayton!

Now, however, I am in a different sort of pickle when it comes to lighting. I found a very affordable studio space, and it is in a huge open area with five 6' x 6' south-facing windows. I have way too much light!

I've tried building a little miniature room with three 8' tall by 4' wide panels hinged together and then black felt over the top in order to control light, but there just seems to be no way to completely control it. The light just comes in from the front and competes with any lighting you might try to set up.

However, I love the way it lights the canvas and palette!

I might have to see if there's a way for me to cover half my studio space with some kind of ceiling, though I don't have any dough left for such a project.

Clayton J. Beck III 01-06-2009 01:51 PM

Lacey--If you don't mind the variation in light so much, you can try of the putting thin white butcher paper, which is similar to tracing paper and comes on rolls, over the windows. This will diffuse the light and even it out much better than just clear glass. The problem comes on partly cloudy days when the sun is first striking the paper making the light source warm and intense then a cloud comes by, the room darkens, and the light turns cool. So days like this of course would be completely unacceptable. On the other hand if you have overcast days, your south facing window will act as a north light and work very well.

Having full sunlight on your palette in your canvas is not a good idea. The light is too intense and the painting will look terrible in any other light than full sunlight.

Not considering your lack of budget, the best way to handle it would be to block of the windows completely and setup artificial lighting. Not very financially practical though.

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