Monday, June 17, 2013

Natural Light

Having viewed at a lot of studios in recent months, I've been shocked by the often dismal quality of lighting. In particular, many modern studios ignore or waste the potential of natural light sources. Little work is necessary to harness natural light, and it is arguably the best studio light an artist can hope to have.

The Old Masters lacked good sources of artificial light, so their studios were oriented around the goal of getting the best natural light possible. Their knowledge on the subject was well known and understood, up until fairly recently, when cheap electric lighting became practical.

In most cases the best form of natural lighting is based on a simple northern exposure.

What makes north light the best? In the northern hemisphere, it is the only light source in which there is never any direct sunlight. Light from other directions will vary considerably through the day, depending on the position of the sun, and the weather. North light remains consistent and predictable.

The light that does enter through a north-facing window consists of reflected light, the majority of which comes from the sky. This light has been dispersed through the blue-colored molecules of air in the atmosphere, and trends toward the cool side of neutral.

This kind of light is very useful for gauging accurate color. Artists are often frustrated at how different their work can look under different kinds of light. A painting done under the warm cast of a sunset for instance, might look disturbingly cold viewed under fluorescent lights. North light comes closest to a neutral source that achieves good color balance. Paintings done by an artist in the proper studio tend to translate well to other venues, such as galleries or museums.

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