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.

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