Lighting Your Art Studio - Which Lights to Use for Painting and Drawing

If you’re like me, lighting is everything when it comes to a good studio setup for painting. If we don’t have the proper lights to create under, our work can really suffer. I know I’ve had many questions over the years about which light bulbs I should choose for art and what are some budget friendly options. So what is the best lighting for artists? Well in this blog post, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about lighting your studio.

Let's start with the basics

Whenever considering which types of light to paint or draw under, we must understand that CRI and Color Temperature play an important role when deciding on which bulbs to use. 

What does CRI mean?

  • CRI = Color Rendering Index 
  • It is the measurement of how colors look under a light source when compared with sunlight. The index is measured from 0-100, 100 meaning that colors under the light source appear the same as they would under natural sunlight.
  • The bulbs I use are fluorescent and have a CRI of 96; Generally anything with a CRI above 80 is considered acceptable, however for professional use, bulbs with a CRI 90+ will give you the most accurate color representation for painting or displaying art/photography. Without a high CRI light source, objects can appear dull or inaccurate. 

When it comes to painting in my studio, this is crucial so I can be sure that the colors I’m putting on canvas are the most accurate representation of my subject matter, which involve nature and elements that exist in the real world.

What is Color Temperature?

  • Color temperature is a way to describe the light appearance provided by a light bulb. It’s measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000.
  • However, with that said, the typical temperature scale ranges from 2000K-6500K for residential and commercial purposes. The lower end of the scale will produce a warm appearance. While the higher end of the scale produces a blue-white light that mimics daylight. The bulbs I use in my studio have a color temperature of 5000K.

image from Westinghouse Lighting

At the end of the day color temperature can be up to you as the artist. Not all of us see color and light the same way. Although generally, 5000K will be the best choice for most as it provides a slightly cool, yet clean light source. This will ensure that you tend to paint your paintings with a hint of warmth while still maintaining true and vibrant colors.

What do I use in my studio?

There was a point when I realized that one major thing I was missing in my studio was proper lighting. Through my research I came across different options and with some digging I came up with the perfect solution for my needs and budget.

I found that these Lumicrhome Full Spectrum Fluorescent Lamps had the right specifications with a 96 CRI and a color temperature of 5000K. I found the bulbs on Blick and ordered 3 shop lights.

Each shop light holds two 48 inch long bulbs. I have one lamp that hangs from the ceiling over my easel as well as two others that I modified so that they can stand up vertically on either side of the easel. Now, having these two additional lights to either side isn't exactly necessary for most, but they are a nice help when I need extra light to photograph my paintings. It's good to be aware of how much light you have because on some occasions there is such thing as having too much light. If your studio is too bright, it could lead to your painting appearing darker than you intended when it's hung in more natural lighting conditions.

This all has worked really well for me and I have to admit that after investing in the proper light equipment, I've noticed an improvement in the look of my work. 

    I also utilize clip on lamps with these high CRI bulbs and with a 5000K color temp if you’re looking for a more compact set up or additional light in your work space.
      Another alternative could be to use a track light, typically used in gallery settings. They are especially nice because they can be manipulated to shine light in different directions if you need. These fixtures use bulbs that are GU10 compatible, and you can find 90+ CRI bulbs pretty easily. 

        So if I were to sum up the ideal lighting setup for most artists, I would just say that as long as you have bulbs that are a CRI of 90+ with a color temperature of 5000K, then you’ll be on the right track to finding the optimal lighting for all your art needs.

        Hope that helps and happy painting or drawing :) 

        - Chuck

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         I'm Chuck Black, landscape and wildlife artist based in Southwest Montana.

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