Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Night and Day - lighting your subject

Three Degrees
coloured pencils on Saunders Waterford HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I'm minded to try a series of simple still lifes with the same subject matter drawn during the day and then again at night. My first thoughts were about lighting. I used to think that I don't have the ideal set-up in terms of lighting but I'm now beginning to wonder what the ideal set-up is.

First things first - the drawings of three William Pears - with various degrees of 'blush'.
  • the above drawing is done contre jour in north light with an artificial light shining on to my paper and providing a slight degree of side (or fill) lighting on the pears which were sat just below my eye level right in front of me (on top of my heavy duty shredder which I've discovered provides a good height for still life objects!). I'm still not sure I've got them dark enough
  • the drawing below is done in the evening but with artificial lighting mainly from one side. It's also a bit sketchier and has more obvious and open hatching.
Two's Company
coloured pencils on Saunders Waterford, 10" x 8"

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Now - on to the lighting. Here's what I notice are the main differences in drawing during the day and at night.

Drawing in daylight
  • During the day, you can see much more subtlety in both tone and colour - which makes drawing much more interesting/difficult
  • If you draw in a room with north light / no direct sunlight you get fewer problems with the direction of light changing. My north-facing room has one corner which is affected by the direction of light - and I draw in the opposite corner!
  • No matter what the direction of natural light, you can still get problems with the intensity of the light - how much it illuminates. Cloudy overcast days produce dim rooms.
  • Colours can seem more muted - however colours will also read more 'true' to life.
  • Drawings done during the day can seem 'quiet' at night.
  • The value and colour of backgrounds tends to depend on whether they are closer or further away from the natural light
Drawing in artificial light
  • At night, artificial lighting can have a similar impact to the use of flash. It tends to reduce the tonal subtleties, increases contrast and produces more 'black holes'.
  • It's difficult to reproduce 'true' colours resulting in colours which seem more lively and even garish than they are 'in reality' (i.e. during the day). This is because the colour of light at night (the colour cast) tends to be associated with the sort of bulb(s) used for artificial lighting. Most household bulbs produce a warm yellowish light - and my home (and yours!) may well look like a candidate for a Kinkade painting from the outside when the lights are on. However the range of lamps/bulbs available means that I've got options around lighting and can produce light in a range from very warm to very cool.
  • How the room is lit will tend to influence how backgrounds appear in terms of value and colour
  • Artificial lighting tends to introduce artificial 'highlights' - i.e. they are associated only with the lighting
  • How the light is positioned will have an enormous influence over what a subject looks like.
Other things that matter - irrespective of night or day

It's essential to distinguish between hue and value. When drawing three very similar objects I kept finding myself drawing colour as hue rather than tone or value. In the end I drew the background to the daylight drawing at the right value but in a colour which 'worked'. It's a colour which is an exaggeration of a colour I could see.

The overall degree of luminance (think in terms of number of candles!) operating within a room determines how well lit your subject is and hence how well you can 'see' your subject.

Colour only exists in terms of the way an object responds to the wavelengths of the type of light which hits it. Light also bounces off whatever an object is sitting on or near and hence the colour and nature of these surfaces also matters in any set-up (hence long debates about what the colour of walls in artists studios should be!) .

I've finally found a use for Signature Pencils, which I found worked very well as my 'pencil as paint brush' once I've got enough layers on. I find them far too dry to use normally - but my Azo Red worked well on this one.

In both my drawings, other than the position of the pears, the only other thing that changed was the time of day and the lighting. The surface on which they sat stayed the same.

Approaches to lighting

There are various theories about how you should approach lighting your subject. There's a lot of material on the web which has been written for photographers - but a lot of it is relevant for artists.

Here are some - in shorthand:
  • Never work at night / without natural light. A tutor once told me this and said that she always worked with natural light and when the light went she just packed up and finished. However she did also enjoy living somewhere where the light is excellent for most of the year. However there are many people who can't always work during the daytime and/or with natural light. My view - it's great idea for those blessed with oodles of good natural light and less good for those of us who don't!
  • Never work in natural light - the idea is that paintings aren't created to hang in the studio - they should be on somebody else's wall where they will usually be seen / shown off in artificial light. So, the theory goes, it's a good idea to work in the context of the sort of light in which it will be viewed. This is an interesting one - and one which probably should be thought about a lot more as I think it may well be true. However, I'm not convinced this means not needing to think about lighting.
  • Always use daylight bulbs - daylight bulbs are the answer for those of us who are not blessed with lots of good daylight all year round. Daylight bulbs redress the balance rpoviding blue light in contrast to the yellow light given off by most artificial lights.
  • Supplement daylight with lamps with daylight bulbs - this tends to be my preferred option for days in winter where the light is dim. Daylight lamps are nice but can be expensive. Daylight bulbs can be a lot cheaper although may also be less effective.
  • Always use professional lighting on stands. My view - nice if you can afford it and have the space to use/store the lights when not in use. It's worth getting ones which have adjustments to control the range and 'flare'. See the 'Good lighting is an art' article for more on this topic.
That's my 'off the top of my head' list. Do you have any other suggestions as to approaches for lighting?

Information and advice about lighting

What follows are a few links to various websites which provide information and advice about lighting
Do you know of any other sites which provide good advice about lighting?

Artists and Lighting

Here are some artists who were renowned for their use of lighting of particular sorts of lighting.
Bookmark! More information

I've added a module into this website Composition and Design - Resources for Artists which will cover lighting-related matters.

I'm also going to to try and find a set of links for daylight bulbs and lamps and studio lighting for my Art equipment - Resources for Artists website.