Can Studio Lighting be Too Bright?

A few weeks ago, I talked about ways to light your art studio. One thing I didn’t mention in that post was the brightness of the lights you use. So today I want to answer the question, can studio lighting be too bright, and share some of the reasons that’s important.

Can Studio Lighting be Too Bright?

How the Brightness of Light is Measured

The brightness of light is measured by something called the Kelvin Color Temperature rating. The color rating is a four-digit number ending in the letter K, and ranging from low to high. The higher the number, the brighter the light.

Natural sunlight on a clear day is about 5,000K and is about as bright as light gets.

The Kelvin scale also reflects the color of the light. The higher the rating, the whiter the light. Light rated lower on the Kelvin scale is more yellow. A 5000K bulb produces whiter light than a 2700K bulb.

So those sulfur street lights that used to be so popular are quite low on the Kelvin scale, while the white LED street lights now in popular use have a higher rating.

As a point of reference, a standard household fluorescent is 3500K.

Can Studio Lighting be Too Bright?

The brightness of your lighting affects the look of your work. Yes, bright is good, but it turns out there is such a thing as too bright. Here are a couple of reasons why.

The Brightness of Your Lighting Affects Your Color Choices.

When studio lighting is too bright, it makes your paper look brighter, and that makes all the colors you put on the paper look brighter. The natural response is choosing darker colors so they look right as you work on them.

The problem is that when you see the artwork in normal lighting, then all those colors appear as they really are. That medium blue that looked perfect under bright light is suddenly a bit drab in normal lighting.

Of course that applies to all the colors you chose, with the end result that your drawings look subdued.

And all because your studio light was too bright.

Lighting that’s Too Bright Also Affects How You See and Draw Values

What applies to color applies to values, too. Even for under drawings drawn in a single color, working under light that’s too bright influences the darkness of the values. Shadows become too dark and highlights may disappear altogether.

It’s very difficult to make dark values lighter with colored pencil. It’s also difficult to replace highlights once you’ve lost them, so getting too dark early in a drawing makes making adjustments later on difficult.

Is Your Studio Lighting Too Bright?

It’s easy to tell. Display several finished pieces so you can see them all together. Are they darker than you intended? If most of those pieces look darker than you prefer, then it’s possible your studio lighting is too bright.

Comparing finished pieces seen in normal lighting to the original reference photo is also helpful. If the finished piece is drab or dark when compared to the reference photo when you view both in normal lighting, then chances are your studio is too brightly lighted.

There’s a lot more to consider when it comes to properly lighting your studio.

You also need to consider the color of the lighting, as well as the position and angle of the lighting relative to your drawing surface.

But most of us think first about brightness and most of us think that brighter is better.

So I hope I’ve given you helpful information before you rush out and buy the brightest light you can find!

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6 Replies to “Can Studio Lighting be Too Bright?”

  1. Great post Carrie!
    I agree, sometimes an area can be too bright and I liken that to drawing outside in direct sunshine on a bright sunny day. I find that it can be hard on the eyes with the white of your substrate reflecting back to your eyes.
    For studio purposes, we at least have the ability to adjust accordingly. In my case, with my aging eyes, I have it bumped up
    a notch using a 2 lamp overhead 48″, 40 watt, fluorescent Daylight bulb fixture along with a side mounted vent hood that also houses a 1500 Lumen / 14 watt Daylight LED bulb providing some much needed fill light to help remove shadow casting from the above fixture. The 14 watt LED bulb is equivalent to the older 100 watt incandescent bulbs but the nice thing about these are the lower wattage allows you to use them in any smaller portable fixtures as well without concerns of overheating. For a lot of people, stepping down to an 800 Lumen / 8 watt bulb would most likely suffice as well. The other nice thing about these bulbs is that they come in various shades like Cool, Daylight, or Soft, depending on your personal preference.
    Thanks for the post once again Carrie…always very informative!

    1. Kim,

      Thank you for reading and for your comment! Both are much appreciated.

      Thank you also for the specifics on your lighting setup. LED bulbs are much more versatile than standard incandescent bulbs for a lot of things, but especially for color correction. I didn’t mention it much in this article, but the color of the light is as important as the brightness of the light. It amazes me that I never gave either much thought until recently. I suppose that’s because I’ve always made use of natural light.

  2. For many years I had a fluorescent round light, one of those with a magnifier, I thought it was the best, from times to times I would take my work outside or to a window to see under different lighting. After having cataract surgery I was amazed at the way I view the world and my work, the whites were whiter and the colors much brighter to a point where I questioned my painting ability.
    Now I have a LED table light and ceiling ones too. I still have the fluorescent light that I put on once in a while to have a more romantic feeling and see my work in a different way.
    The point of this post is to say that eyes change with years without one realizing it and sometimes putting away our art for reason not clear to us at the time.
    Thank you Carrie, very good posting, as always.

    1. You’re absolutely right about changes in eye sight. I still remember when my husband had lens replacement surgery and went from Coke bottle glasses to no glasses at all!

      My struggle is opposite, as I’m now wearing glasses for everything after decades of not needing glasses at all!

      So artists do need to remember that the lighting set up that worked ten years ago may not be as effective now.

      Thank you for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment.

  3. This is a very interesting article. I never thought about light being too bright, but come to think of it…some of my work has come out a little darker then I expected and I wondered why. I think you helped me figure it out. Seems to happen at night when I draw using my craft lamp. I guess regular daylight is still the best. Thank you for a great “enlightening” article. 🙂

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