Friday, July 26, 2013

Choosing Lighting for an Art Studio

Selecting the right kind of lighting for a studio is extremely important. Ending up with the wrong lighting can make your artistic life miserable because lighting affects your color perception. So it definitely pays to investigate the many choices out there to find a lighting system that satisfies your needs and fits your budget. How you work and where you work will be key factors in your decision.

How Do You Work?

If you work in your studio at night, you'll be relying more heavily on your lighting system than someone whose lighting system acts as a supplement to natural daylight. I rarely ever do studio work at night, but I wanted to make sure my lighting system was capable of providing adequate illumination if ever I needed to. Another question is whether you prefer to use an easel or work flat on a table. I prefer the latter so I wanted something that provided good general illumination throughout my work area with a minimum of glare. It also needed to provide illumination for the gallery wall where finished artwork would be hanging. It was important that whatever system I chose had directional flexibility so I could aim light at an ever-changing collection of pieces to display them to their best advantage.

There were a number of factors to be considered as I mulled over my potential choices, which were systems featuring halogens, LEDs, or fluorescents. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.


Of the three, I'm least fond of fluorescent, having had this type of lighting in two former studios. Ceiling mounted fluorescent light is a popular choice because it's relatively inexpensive, is economical to operate and throws a strong bright light, but I find it to be harsh and hard on my eyes. The typical "cool" fluorescent throws a cold, bluish light, while "warm" fluorescent bulbs seem (to me, anyway) to tint everything a faint shade of pink  Even when a "warm" fluorescent is paired with a "cool" one to get a more color-balanced effect, I still prefer other types of lighting. This type of lighting is also the least flattering to artwork, and overhead fixtures offer little if any directional flexibility.  It's a matter of personal preference, of course (I know plenty of artists whose studios are lit by fluorescents and they love them) but to me fluorescent's positive qualities aren't enough to outweigh my objections to it. So I eliminated fluorescent lighting from my list pretty quickly.


LED lighting may be the wave of the future, but after pricing LED systems I decided my budget needed to be guided by the here and now. LEDs put out a beautiful clear and even light, but holy moley, are they pricey! After tallying up the price to equip my studio with LEDs, I decided I wasn't willing to part with a Trump-sized investment to acquire such a system. If you don't mind dropping, oh, $25 or so on each bulb, LED lighting may be just the ticket, but there was no way your frugal correspondent was going to part with that kind of money. Nope, no way. 


Halogen track lights installed along the gallery wall. Here, three of them have been directed away from the wall temporarily and back into the room to provide light while we fabricated and painted the shutters during construction A total of six lights occupy this section of the track. Many more can be added but for now six seem quite adequate.

Halogen lighting is what I ultimately chose. Halogens deliver a clear, perfect light for displaying and making art. They provide fine overall lighting and the quality of the light is excellent. It allows me to see colors accurately, yet the quality of the light remains soft and pleasing. The cost was moderate, too: excluding the electrician's fee to install it, the entire system cost about $250.

I chose a halogen track light system that allows me to add or subtract lights which can swivel in any direction to provide illumination as needed. I can direct light wherever it's needed, and each lamp can be repositioned anywhere I want it along the track. I actually had our electrician install two separate track systems -- one over my work area, one along the gallery wall -- so they could be operated independently of each other. This way, I can choose to have one or both in operation depending on my needs at that moment. Each is on a dimmer switch, giving me wonderful flexibility in setting the light levels for all sections of the room.

Both track systems are positioned about 2 feet out from the walls. This is not only a proper distance for lighting artwork, it also works well for lighting my work area so that the light falls in the optimum position over my work table. If I did decide to use my easel, all that's necessary is to direct one of the halogens at it. Their versatility make halogens the perfect lighting system for me.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Choosing Flooring for an Art Studio

This was one of the biggest decisions I faced when building my new studio. It can be surprisingly complicated. What type of flooring would be best? Hardwood? Wood laminate planks? Ceramic tile? Sheet vinyl? Vinyl tile? Or some sort of composite material?

Whatever I ultimately selected, it had to meet three criteria: the flooring had to be relatively inexpensive, it had to be something my husband and I could install ourselves, and it had to be able to stand up to spills, drips and paint splops.


I rejected hardwood flooring right off the bat. It's gorgeous and is often seen in galleries but I knew that its beauty alone would inhibit me from flinging paint with wild abandon. It's also rather pricey and requires professional installation. Ka-ching, ka-ching.

Wood laminate plank flooring held more appeal: it's tough and can stand up to abuse, while being very easy to clean. I had wood laminate in my first studio and loved its good looks, but I wasn't sure I wanted it in the new studio. For one thing, it's susceptible to water damage, which concerned me. Water is essential in my studio -- buckets of it. An accidental spill can destroy a laminate floor. So I decided wood laminate was out.

Ceramic tile

Ceramic tile is lovely and easy to clean but standing on it several hours a day is mighty hard on the legs and back. Since I work standing up for hours at a time, ceramic tile wouldn't do at all.

Composite flooring

I did consider a resilient type of flooring that's used in daycare centers and on playgrounds, but soon rejected this option. It costs the earth and was available only in dark colors. Not for me.


Vinyl flooring is what I ultimately chose. I had used loose lay sheet vinyl in my second studio, to protect the hardwood flooring underneath it, and really liked it. Vinyl is offered in a wide range of prices, styles and colors, including both tiles and sheet vinyls. Sheet vinyl is available in the familiar glue-down type, or, for easier installation, a loose lay type that's rolled out and trimmed to fit but requires no adhesive. Sheet vinyl can survive spills: acrylic paint spilled on it cleans up nicely with a damp rag. For me, that feature was a key selling point. I selected a modified loose lay sheet vinyl from Lowes that's heavier and thicker than most. It's a nice light color (a stone-look in a medley of creams and tans) that reflects rather than absorbs light. Not only is it going to be easy on my feet and back, it was equally easy on the budget, at only around $1.25 per square foot. I think it will prove to be a good choice.

Beating Boredom by Making Beads

Making Fabric and Paper Beads to Keep in Touch With My Muse

So how does someone whose art supplies are in storage keep her creativity from atrophying? She turns to whatever materials are at hand. In my case, at hand were scissors, a bag of fabric scraps and lots of paper that was destined for recycling. Oh, and a bottle of white glue. Using a TV tray as my work table, I've been having a ball turning out a nice collection of fabric and paper beads from these humble supplies with which to make necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Considering I was completely new at this and had never tried my hand at making beads before, I think they've turned out nicely, don't you think?
The two large batik beads in the foreground are fabric, as are the two sunflower beads next to them. The rest are made from various papers: magazine photos, shopping bags, newspaper, junk mail, hand painted deli paper and origami paper. Plastic round beads separate the paper beads in the necklace.

What inspired me to try making beads was a book titled Creating Extraordinary Beads From Ordinary Materials: How to Turn Common Everyday Materials Into Uncommonly Beautiful Beads by Tina Casey (North Light Books, 1997). I came across it at the library and was immediately fascinated by the depictions of the many variations of beads that can be fashioned out of commonplace materials just laying around the house. 

The Basic Process

The basic process is really pretty simple: you cut your paper or fabric into long strips, then roll it tightly and evenly around a toothpick, straw or similar implement, gluing at intervals to secure it. It took me many tries to get this wrapping technique down because I'm all thumbs. My first few attempts were pretty laughable. But after a while, with more practice, I was able to keep the edges even and was able to turn out a bunch of decent-looking beads. The only problem was that it took me forever to make each one, primarily because it was very hard to wrap paper that was slipping and sliding around a skinny little cocktail stick.

A Better Way

I figured there had to be a faster way to roll paper beads, so I turned to the Internet for help. (The process for making fabric beads is a bit different and, to my mind, is less tedious.)  By cruising the Internet I learned about something called a bead roller. Basically, it's a tool that allows you to slide the end of the paper into a slotted holder that secures it and allows you to roll the bead much more quickly and without the paper shifting. A quick Internet search for bead rollers turned up sellers offering a wide variety of them at all price points.

I opted for an inexpensive set of five bead rollers (each a different diameter) with simple wooden handles for $11. They work great! Now I can roll several beads in the time it used to take me to roll just one. In the past two weeks I've managed to create almost 100 beads -- enough to make several necklace and earring sets. After working on the studio each day, I spend my evenings making beads while relaxing after supper. I love the idea of upcycling discarded paper into functional art, and best of all it's keeping me in a creative mode until I can move into the new studio and unpack my art supplies. As soon as I can get to my paints I'll be embellishing and decorating my beads further, but right now, even in their most basic state, I think they look attractive enough just as they are!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Construction Delays Can Drive You Nuts

Rain, Rain Go Away Please!

A prolonged spell of extremely wet weather has been hampering our progress on the studio's exterior for the past several days. It has been raining buckets around the clock, to the extent that big trees are toppling all over the area due to overly saturated ground. A little rain is fine but this ongoing deluge that seems to have no end is driving me crazy. It makes getting anything done outside impossible.

We spent the afternoon working on the shutters, which we're fabricating ourselves. Why go the DIY route? Custom wood shutters were insanely expensive. Vinyl shutters, on the other hand, were more affordable but the color choices are limited, and none of the colors offered matched those on our house. By creating the shutters ourselves we're saving several hundred dollars -- and achieving a cohesive look among all of the buildings on the property.  They're a simple, country cottage batten style: each side comprised of two wide vertical boards topped with a pair of horizontal cross pieces. All straight cuts, nothing complicated. My hubby and I were able to get all of the lumber cut and sanded this afternoon. Tomorrow we should be able to start priming, painting and assembling them. Then it's a matter of waiting until this rain stops so we can install them on the windows. If it doesn't stop soon, we'll be using the lumber to build an ark.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Choosing Paint Colors for the Studio

The question of what color(s) to paint the walls in the studio had me collecting and comparing paint chips for weeks. My last two studios had white and off-white walls. Many artists say those colors, along with very pale gray, reflect light best and don't skew their color perception. So at first I decided to go that route and chose a clean, bright white for the walls and ceiling.

Big mistake. Once the white paint went on, the look was cold and clinical. It made the space feel as charming as the inside of a food freezer. This I couldn't live with. It was back to the color chips for another try.

Most of my work -- along with my personal taste -- runs to warm colors. I'm happiest when surrounded by sunny hues. Give me light and bright and I'm delirious with joy. (My idea of hell is being stuck in a room with beige or taupe walls and brown furniture. I find that to be very depressing.) Determined to inject warmth and color into my space, whose furnishings are mostly white, I settled on what I thought would be the perfect shade of pale golden yellow. I bought a sample bottle, painted a 2x3' piece of heavy white paper with it, and left the paper taped to the wall for a week to see how well I liked it. Then I bought a gallon and started painting.

Another oops. What had looked lovely on the color chip and the painted sample sheet looked perfectly awful on the wall. When my husband called it "D.O.T. yellow" he was absolutely right. It was the same color as yield signs and school buses. Much too intense, it bathed everything in a French's Mustard sort of glow. I couldn't live with this color, either, so it was back to the color chips yet again.

This time around, I lucked out and found the very shade of pale yellow I had always envisioned for my studio space: Gold Buttercup 310A-2, from Behr. I painted three of the walls with Gold Buttercup, and painted the gallery wall with Behr's Ivory Invitation 310A-1, a derivative of Gold Buttercup that's a value or so lighter. The ceiling was left bright white. Together these colors are just right for my purposes and psyche. Every time I walk into the studio now I feel uplifted.

I think the colors selected for an art studio will largely depend on the kind of art being made, and the interior lighting situation. If I were painting portraits or realistic subjects where paints must be mixed with dead-on color accuracy, I probably would have gone with white for the studio walls. But the abstract and mixed media pieces I create are more forgiving when it comes to such things, and the pale yellow I used doesn't seem to reflect back into the room in a problematic way. It's warm but unobtrusive, while Ivory Invitation provides an inviting yet neutral backdrop for work displayed on the gallery wall.

Why is it so hard to pick just the right colors? After all, it's not hard for me to choose or mix colors when painting a canvas. I think the difficulty in getting color for the walls right must be due to the scale involved and the many variables that affect color perception in the physical environment -- shifting shadows, the movement of the sun, and the gradual change from cooler light in the morning to warmer light in the afternoon. What you see on a color chip may not be what you get when you paint the walls due to the way humans perceive colors in our surroundings. As my experience shows, getting the wall color right can be a matter of trial and error. In this case, the third try was a charm. Anybody wanna buy a gallon of  "D.O.T. Yellow?"