Studio Lighting

Armand Cabrera

Quite a few artists have asked me to write about studio lighting. This is an area that is like the Mac vs. PC debates. I will offer the information I have and also my opinion about what I feel is important. After that—you’re on your own!

If you don’t have a studio with north light, you need artificial lighting. Period. You can’t properly paint your canvas without accurate light.

Remember—the light you use in the studio is not the light the painting will ultimately be viewed in. Your gallery, an exhibition space and any potential buyer will have a unique set of lighting conditions. Your painting is going to look different in all those situations.

You should have light that isn’t too cool or too warm so you can accurately judge color. Otherwise, you’ll be mixing orange when you think you are mixing green. As a painter, I have used incandescent, fluorescent and halogen lights. Let me break down the various lights without getting too technical.

Incandescent Bulbs
The worst solution for your paintings because the light is so warm you will actually paint things cooler than you want.

Full Spectrum Halogen Bulbs
These lights can be a great solution as long as you paint small. The problem is area coverage. They don’t emit a very large covering surface, so you have a spot effect. The light around the spot drops off quickly, giving you an uneven illuminated surface. They also emit a lot of heat, so just adding lots of bulbs for an area isn’t a solution. Not all halogens are the same and again check the temperature of the light they emit. Solux bulbs are the best halogens on the market, but they are expensive compared to lifespan/ cost ratio of fluorescent bulbs.

Full Spectrum Fluorescent Bulbs
These bulbs are probably the next best thing indoors to north light for most artists. They are relatively cheap and efficient and have good but not great color indexes. They tend to spike in the blue green range of the spectrum and drop off too dramatically in the red violet range so do your homework.

Some terms you will run into when looking for lights

K: stands for Kelvin, which for our purposes is referring to color temperature
CRI: Color Rendering Index
CCT: Correlated Color Temperature
CIE: Comission Internationale de l’Eclairage (International Commission on Illumination) They designed #51-A which is a “Method for Assessing the Qualityof Daylight Simulators for Colorimetry “

You will see a lot of back and forth discussion in forums about K, CRI, CCT and the CIE ratings.

Get a bulb that has the highest ratings you can find;
Generally 91 CRI or above is good
CCT range between 5000K and 6500K is usually considered acceptable although this is a matter of personal preference
CIE is the quality grade rating of the light, a CIE #51 determined rating for A or B is what you want. They go down to E with A being the best and E the worst.

Some other things to consider:
Carpet and wall colors affect the light on your canvas. Even the housing the lights are in will affect the light. Stick to neutral colors for your walls and floor. Gray with a reflectivity of no more than 60% is best.

Consider other aspects for your situation like unit cost, energy efficiency and bulb life. I always buy the best I can afford and make do until I’m in a position to upgrade.
When looking at ratings, remember picking your bulbs based on any one rating will not give you as good of an outcome as looking for a combination of higher ratings for the type of bulb you choose.

Chromaticity, color temperature and the quality grade, as determined with CIE 51, is a much better procedure for finding a light close to daylight.