Let There Be Light!
Basics of Composition
First Thoughts when choosing a Costume
The Sun, Part 1
Let There Be Light!Healthy Green Artists
by Janet Chui
Where are you sitting right now and what is illuminating the room? Are you comfortable? Are you feeling positive? Do you feel a headache coming on that is not caused by my writing?
As (2 dimensional) artists we paint with light. We learn chiaroscuro and apply it to our subjects to give them the illusion of 3-dimensional form on paper. Light illuminates and shapes. It gives character to paintings, it determines even the colors used - cool light, warm shadows; warm light, cool shadows.
But back to my question - how are you feeling? I'm asking because we're going to see how much light might affect your answer.
Sunlight - the artist's number one choice of lighting! It's natural, free, non-polluting, helps us make Vitamin D and ... keeps us happy. While we're not recommending too much of a good thing, regular doses of being in the presence of sunlight (indirect sunlight being best) boosts our serotonin levels in the brain and keeps our melatonin levels in check. In the winter months when days are shorter, or when people find themselves working night shifts and seeing little of the day, it's been shown that they fall easier into depression (SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder] includes symptoms of insomnia, lethargy, irritability, and anxiety) due to the chemical imbalance in the brain.
(If you believe an artist has some license to be moody, I'd agree with you - but only to the point one's health is not endangered. Medical bills are not fun, and while this should not be read that sunlight will cure every ill, we are trying to keep artists healthy to so they can keep on doing what they love doing!)
If you have the luxury of living in a house that has windows in every direction, light from the north has long been preferred as the best natural light to work with. It is cooler and more even, and this is useful if you prefer the perceptions of your color painting to be untainted by the warmer orangey colors of evening and dawn light.
If I haven't sold you on the benefits of natural sunlight on artists and their work, we're going to examine now the different kinds of artificial light for those of us working at night, or in deep deep dungeons beneath opera houses. As mentioned before, the color temperature of different lights also has an impact on our color work, so we're going to cover this too. Very quickly (some of us may already know this from photography or monitor settings for desktop publishing), color temperature is measured in Kelvin, and it will be useful to divorce color temperature measurement from your current knowledge of normal temperature measurement. In color temperature measurement, the cooler (and more blue) the light, the higher its value in Kelvin. The warmer and redder it is, the lower its value. Outdoor sunlight in the shade is roughly 7,500 K; average direct sunlight is around 5,500 K; candles give off about 1,800 K.
Fluorescent bulbs - ah, the darling of the environmentalists! They provide a long life of use (6,000 to 10,000 hours compared to 750 to 1,000 hours of incandescent bulbs) and they save energy (a 25-watt compact fluorescent bulb is equivalent to a 100-watt incandescent bulb in terms of brightness). Their color temperature range is between 6,400 K and 2,700 K depending on which you choose.
The caveat is, holistic health practitioners hate fluorescents. They cast harsh shadows, create disruptive electromagnetic fields around them, and the frequency of some fluorescent lights, some flickering at around 120 Hz, is actually discernable by some individuals (even though humans are supposed to unable to perceive flickering above 50 Hz). Eye strain and headaches could be the symptoms or working too long under fluorescent lights. (Flicker is a problem unique to fluorescent lights only. For reasons of article-length, you'll have to find the scientific reasons outside of this column!) Though newer fluorescents have gotten better about flicker, hyper-sensitive artists who are going to work under them long hours might want to choose carefully.
Another bummer that even some environmentalists don't realize is how mercury, one of the most dangerous materials on this planet, is integral to the fluorescent bulb. Light is created by exciting mercury vapor atoms. It doesn't take very much mercury to kill all the fish in a small lake. In humans, mercury in small doses can cause damage to the brain, spinal cord, kidneys, and liver. Children and developing fetuses are even more easily affected and harmed.
If you are currently using fluorescents, please consider disposing of your spent fluorescent bulbs the same way you would dispose of toxic chemicals, and do some research on your local waste management facility (where they are, and how they accept hazardous trash). You can also visit bulbs.com to learn about light bulb recycling and resources.
Incandescents – all right, they're energy guzzlers and they don't last as long. But don't rule them out yet. In your living space, you can differentiate between general and task lighting, and use energy-saving bulbs to light large, heavily-used spaces, and your less efficient bulbs to light specific task areas like your work desk or favorite reading spot. (Don't forget to switch off the light when you don't need it.) Incandescents (this covers tungsten bulbs) are a favorite because they are warm (around 3,000 K), comforting, and the bright side is... you can now find energy-saving incandescent light bulbs in your store.
Halogen - the choice of interior decorators and jewelry store owners! They are pretty close to sunlight and make things sparkle. They are more expensive than fluorescents, but offer the same long life and energy-saving benefits, without the health hazards. Lower watt halogens illuminate just as well as high-watt incandescents, making their bright white light (4,000 - 5,000 K) great for spot and task lighting. Try to avoid dangerous torchieres - halogen lights at their worst get very hot and can cause fires. Halogen bulbs with the Energy Star label are generally safe.
Full spectrum or natural light bulbs - Bulb makers like GE and Phillips, as well as specialists like Ott-Light, make incandescent and florescent bulbs that simulate broad spectrum natural sunlight - some products more successfully than others. (There's no substitute for the real thing!) Bulbs up to 6,500 K are available and these do have the ability to combat SAD. The light is also very "true." As you can guess, this artificial sunlight does come at a cost - a high price tag. They do not save as much energy as halogen or fluorescent lights either. If price is no object, find out if the broad spectrum light bulb you're purchasing is fluorescent or incandescent, bearing in mind the characteristics of each, and which will suit you better. Do aim for a broad spectrum light bulb as opposed to just one with a high color temperature - some people have reported that, with the latter, you just wind up with a light bulb that gives a weird bluish light.
Lastly, if light bulbs now scare you, candles are not recommended lighting for artists working in dark places, no matter how romantic it is. Slowly going blind will not help your art. (No offence to the talented artists out there who work despite visual disabilities.) It also is very dangerous for living, breathing beings to have too many lit candles in a small area. (Do not believe what you see on television!)
Well, you should now be able to face down the light bulb section of your hardware store with confidence! Think about your eyes, mood and health the next time you're shopping for lighting - you can help your art, yourself and the planet with that purchase. I hope this column has proven ... illuminating!
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