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The Artist's Studio - Part III - Lighting

In this 3T Art Blog post, we’re going to tackle the most important thing in your studio, lighting. Without a good lighting plan, you’re going to struggle with every piece you create.

Too bright, not bright enough, glare, too warm or too cool are some of the things we struggle with when setting up lighting. The last thing you want is to create a masterpiece that, when taken out of your studio and hung in your client’s home or at the gallery, is all wrong. The colours are way too warm. The values are too dark and that makes it look moody. If you were going for light and airy, you missed the mark. And all because you don’t have the right lighting in your studio.

So, what’s the best solution? Well, I’ll be honest with you, there’s no one perfect way to solve the problem of studio lighting. It really is a lot of trial and error. Every artist’s personal taste and needs when it comes to lighting is a little different, but there are things you should know so you can make the best lighting decisions for yourself.

I’ve been working on different configurations of lighting ever since I started painting. Between moving studio locations around the house a few times and setting up different workstations, I’ve tried so many different ways to set up my lights. I’ve used clip lights, pole lights, up-lights, multi-joint lights, and tried to work just by daylight.

Here’s a pic of one of my fave set ups. I still use it from time to time when I need to work at a second easel. Yes, those are clamps holding wood blocks together, then reinforced with hockey tape. I have a few paint stir sticks in there too. The sheet of paper taped to the light is to reduce glare. And at some point, I screwed a bar across the top (see right side pic) so I could attach a couple of clip lights to it that washed down onto my canvas. (Try not to laugh too hard.)

I do have a lighting set up now I’m really happy with. I’ll share it with all of you at the end of the blog post.

Now we should have a look at the things you need to know about when considering your lighting: Kelvins, Lumens and Watts, and the Colour Rendering Index. These term look a bit daunting, don’t they? I thought they were too. But now I know what they all mean and how I can use them to benefit my lighting set up. By the end of the post, you will too!


This is probably a word you’ve heard a bunch of times when it comes to lighting. But do you know what it means?

Simply put, Kelvins determine how warm or how cool the light emitted from a bulb is.

Toward the low end of the Kelvin Light Scale the light you’ll see will be yellow. Think of the ambience that candle light creates. On the high end of the scale, the light is very blue. Imagine a clear, cold winter’s day.

Here’s the scale to help you visualize what I’m talking about.

Since we have so many types of bulbs to choose from these days – LED, Fluorescent, CFL and Halogen – knowing what kind of light they emit is important. If you bought a box of bulbs that was 3000K for your studio lighting, you’d most likely need to compensate for it by mixing your colours too cool. A good Kelvin number to aim for is 5000K, which will give you a balance between warm and cool light.

Here’s another way to look at it:

Lumens and Watts

Sounds kind of like a crime fighting duo, doesn't it. But, what are they? Why are they important?

Lumens are so important they’re now part of all light bulb box labels. Knowing your Lumens will give you a better idea of how bright that new box of bulbs you’re buying is going to be. Their intensity ranges from 10% to 100%.

Don’t confuse Lumens with Watts. Watts tell you how much power your bulb is using while Lumens tells you how bright the light will be. Lumens and Watts work together in your light bulb.

Looking at the chart below, we can see that more power is needed to light a brighter bulb. Think about how bright a 100W incandescent bulb is (or was) compared to a 40 W bulb. Big difference, right? Knowing this will help you set up lighting in your studio that is going to work for you.

For an average sized studio, you should consider having 6000 to 8000 lumen intensity of lighting. That, if my calculations are correct, would amount to between 4 to 5 - 100W incandescent bulbs.

Colour Rendering Index (CRI):

Setting up our lighting to imitate natural light is part of having good studio lighting. CRI is how the real colour of something looks in artificial light. Getting as close to it as possible will really help your artwork. If you’ve painted a red rose in your studio, you really don’t want to see a purple rose when you take the finished piece out of your studio and hang it on the wall.

Bulbs have a rating for CRI on the box. Look for it the next time you go bulb shopping. Anything above a CRI of 80 is acceptable for your studio, but a 90+ CRI rating will give you the most accurate colour representation possible.

The key to good studio lighting is balance. Not too warm or too cool (Kelvins). Not too bright but not so dim that you need to lighten your colours too much (Lumens). Getting as close to the real colour of the objects in your work when you take the work out of your studio. (CRI)

Now that we know about Kelvins, Lumens and CRI, we should have a quick look at a few different kinds of light fixtures you can use in your studio. Make sure you select light fixtures that will work in your space.

Clip Lights:

There are all kinds of fixtures you can choose from. Clip lights are really handy to have in your studio. I have a few of them because they’re inexpensive, give me good task lighting and they can be easily moved to where I need them .

Multi-Joint Light:

A multi-joint lamp is a good fit for an art studio as well. This type of fixture needs to be put into a fixed place at your workstation. What I like about them is their flexibility and that they can be aimed in a variety of directions from one fixed position.

Florescent Tube Fixtures:

Some artists use florescent tubes, which come in a wide range of Kelvins, Lumens and CRI ratings. They are available in 2 or 4 tube fixtures which can be installed on the ceiling just above the area they have their workstation set up in. This type of lighting can be very useful for artists working at an easel (should be at about 45 degrees to your work surface) as well as artist working at a table (giving them light from right above their work surface).

My Studio Lighting Set Up:

So, here's a look at my lighting set up. By no means am I saying you should run out and do what I’m doing (ring lights are expensive!), I just want to share with you what’s finally working for me.

I’m currently using a 12W LED flood light that has 850 Lumens and has a CRI rating of less than 90. Looking at the Kelvins for this bulb, it’s at the 3000K mark, which puts it on the yellow side of the Kelvin Light Scale we looked at earlier.

To counter balance the yellow light, I’m using a 16” ring light (I bought it for streaming online demos). It’s set up over my head just behind me at 5000K which is in the middle of the Kelvin Light Scale and matches noon daylight. It makes a huge difference in my studio’s light balance. My paint colours feel more natural, almost like north daylight. I could increase the intensity of the ring light, currently at only 30%, if I wanted to but I don’t need to. Remember, just because it’s brighter it doesn’t mean that it’s better light to work by.

I should also mention that my LED and ring lights are set up at a distance from my easel. Not at the other end of the room, but at a distance so they are not focused directly on my canvas. They shine light all around, warm light mixing with cool, to give me a glare-free light to work under. This also helps keep the shadow of my brush and hand away from the canvas when I’m working. If you put your lighting close to your work, you’ll not only be dealing with glare but with your own shadow too.

The best part of my set up is I can use it day or night and the light doesn’t change. Keeping the light in your studio consistent should be one of the main goals when you’re setting up the lighting in you studio.

In Conclusion

Have a good look at your lighting. What works? What doesn’t? You don’t have to go out and buy hundreds of dollars worth of new lighting, you just have to do some trial and error and be a bit ingenious with your set up.

I hope this post has been helpful to you. Let me know about any changes you’ve made to your studio lighting. And send pics!

See you next time,


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Hi Eva, very detailed article...I am sure it will help, congratulations and thanks for your efforts.

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