Jana Bouc, Artist

Light and Comfort in the Studio (& How to Light a Still Life)-

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I’ve made some improvements to lighting and comfort in my studio and wanted to share what I’ve learned in the process. In the picture below you can see some of the changes from my previous post about reorganizing the studio. These include the floor mat, the wall paint, and a still-life lighting setup.

This post could also be called, “What I Bought Myself for My Birthday” as these goodies were all birthday presents to myself.   (Click the images to enlarge.)

Studio with new cushy floor mat, lighting and dark painted wall

FLOOR MAT

The floor mat pictured above makes a huge difference in comfort. I got the idea at my hairdressers when I wondered how she stands all day. She pointed out her floor mat and when I felt how cushy it was, I had to get one. I work standing at a computer or at the easel much of the time. Without a cushion my feet tend to hurt by the end of the day. I tend to sit until my back hurts and then stand until my feet hurt and then switch agin. The mat makes it comfortable to stand comfortably for much longer.

WALL PAINT

I painted the wall behind my easel and desk Benjamin Moore “1490 Country Life” using their new Aura line of which is nearly odor free and covers in one coat. I’d noticed studio walls painted this color in many of the painting videos I’ve watched. Finally one of the artists actually specified that this 1490 color was especially popular with portrait artists for their studios because of how the color sets off skin.

But it also reduces the glare off of the previously white wall I was getting from my overhead light and helps to cut unwanted bounced light and the resulting double shadows on a still life that I’m lighting with a strong directional light (more about that in a minute).

I still have to wear the hat you see hanging on the ease—the overhead fixture does a beautiful job of lighting a canvas without reflection, but with a relatively low ceiling it’s pretty bright on the eyes.

STORAGE

Below is the wonderful canvas and supply rack that my next door neighbor built for me.

Canvas storage rack in closet

It can be free standing but was built to fit inside this closet. The four sections on the far left hold already painted panels and for now, the rest hold panels and canvases ready to paint. The structure is seriously overbuilt due to a slight miscommunication. We speak in a combination of English (my native language) and Spanish (his) and sometimes we think we understand each other but don’t. It’s so sturdy it may even hold up the house in the case of an earthquake.

To the right of the structure is still a bit of closet hanging space where I hang my painting smock and my plein air painting outfit, a very lightweight, ventilated, long sleeved, sunproof shirt so I don’t need sunscreen and lightweight pants that are also sunproof that turn into shorts when you unzip and remove the legs.

The top shelf of the structure (below) provides a place to put my other plein air gear: my Soltek easel, my brushes in a canvas brush carrier, and two canvas carriers from RayMar Art, the company from which I also buy my painting panels (they are archival, don’t warp and are less expensive than most of this quality).

Shelf for easel and other plein air equipment

LIGHTING

Below is the setup for lighting still life that I’m finally satisfied with, after trying numerous other lightbulbs, fixtures, and other accessories. I wanted a way to get a strong directional light on the still life so there was good contrast in values, modeling of the shape and structure of the object(s), a strong shadow shape without double or triple shadows caused by interference from other lights, and a light color/temperature that gives the illusion of sunlight. A tall order indeed!

Still life lighting set up

As you can see above this system creates a nice swath of directional light, with a strong single shadow (though the photo doesn’t do it justice–it’s hard to photograph lighting!). Below is another picture of how I have it set up.

I went to a local lighting store and we tried out all sorts of things. It took them awhile to understand that I wasn’t buying lighting to light a painting, but to light a still life I was going to paint. They recommended a short section of halogen tracklighting with a narrow-beam floodlight halogen bulb. They added a cord and switch for me since I was going to keep it nearby rather than permanently install it on the ceiling. Then I attached the track light to a cheap old lighting stand I had from photography days.

Track light attached to light stand

The ugly cord and switch on the left above is an inelegant solution that allowed me to avoid having to have an electrician wire the overhead light. It just plugs in and switches on and off. Too bad the cord isn’t the right length.

On the two pics below you can see how I used duct tape and a strip of velcro 2-sided strapping to attach the track light to the stand.

Track light with halogen spot attached to old light stand

Duct tape/velcro attachment

Below is the lighbulb we found that works perfectly for this application: Sylvania Tru-Aim Brilliant Halogen (50MR16/B/NFL25) which I think means it’s a 50 watt narrow-beam flood light.

Lightbulb box for track light

SInce the light was so bright I made this cardboard shield and painted it the same color as the wall and clipped it on to the easel so I could study the still life without also looking at the light. I’m sure there’s a more elegant solution, but this works. The paper towels sit on a funky paintbrush which is stuck into a slot at the top of the easel.

Cardboard painted with wall paint to shade light, paper towel "holder"

My WorkRite electric desk, which holds my computer and monitor not only allows me to work sitting or standing but I discovered that I can use the end of the table by the easel to place a still life at whatever height I like. I can also display a photo on the monitor and scoot the monitor closer to the easel to work from.

Set up for still life with electric desk

I can hang different colored cloths as still life backdrops from the bulletin board with pushpins and I like having artwork on it that inspire me.

The painting to the left isn’t usually there. I hung it when a gallery owner came over for a studio visit because she was interested in including it in an upcoming show (it will be there next month — more about that later).

Another view

I should also say that I have no financial or other interest in any of the companies or products I mentioned in this post. I just like them.

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