Controlling the Light in an Urban Studio

Sheldon Tapley paints from natural light in his studio in the downtown area of Danville, Kentucky. Learn how he manages to control the light and adapt to an urban space.

Controlling the Light in an Urban Studio
By Sheldon Tapley

Since daylight is important to me, I took some trouble to make it easy to control. Recently I installed opaque window blinds that can be raised from the bottom or lowered from the top. For each set up I devise a particular lighting, which I remember by labeling the position of the blinds on the window molding. It’s easy then to switch between set-ups or to darken the room entirely when I take photos. The overhead lights and movable spotlights are all daylight fluorescents with a color rendering index (CRI) above 90, so that if I need artificial lighting, the colors will match what I see under natural daylight. Finally, most of my equipment is on wheels: easels, tables, and drawer units, so I can easily arrange what I need when I design new set ups.

My studio is a second story apartment in a 19th century building. It has tall, beautiful, old windows, facing north, overlooking Main Street in Danville, Kentucky. The other tenants in the building are a barber and a nightclub. I chose the studio for the light, the space and the solitude, though the noise of town is sometimes noticeable and can be quite interesting: traffic, sidewalk conversations, music from the bar downstairs and ambulance sirens on the way to the hospital. The front room has an old fireplace, with a mantel that I enjoy including in some of my images. The next room adjoins through a large, double doorway, making the two rooms almost one. I paint near the front windows. The more distant room has walls covered in Homasote, which is used for pinning up drawings, panels, as well as hanging framed paintings. I also use that display space for photographing art. The back rooms are used for storage.


With theatrical splendor, Sheldon Tapley celebrates excess, reinvesting the still life tradition by incorporating the figure and complicating the design. Read the full story in the May 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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