How to Choose Art Studio Lighting

Ask the Experts: How to Choose Lighting for Your Art Studio

by Koo Schadler

Q. I like to paint at night and on gloomy days. I’ve been using incandescent and fluorescent light together, but I’m not happy with this arrangement. Do you have any suggestions for good studio lighting that’s not too expensive?

A. Natural light, often referred to as full-spectrum light, is generally considered the best illumination to work under. Unfortunately, the term “full-spectrum lighting” has no fixed definition. The phrase is used by the lighting industry to denote bulbs that mimic the properties of sunlight, but some bulbs designated this way perform better than others.

Here’s what to look for in a bulb:

The color-rendering index (CRI) indicates a light’s ability to illuminate color accurately. The sun has a CRI of 100. Bulbs with a CRI of 80 to 100 are best at revealing vibrant, natural hues. The correlated color temperature (CCT), measured in Kelvin, refers to how warm or cool a light appears. Too warm a bulb may tint work reddish yellow, whereas too cool a light can turn things blue. For a good balance of warmth and coolness, look for bulbs with a CCT of 5500 K, the equivalent of midday sun. If you prefer cooler light, akin to north light, look for bulbs rated 7500 K.

Another important factor is luminosity or brightness. The formulas for measuring brightness are complicated. Suffice to say that you want as many fixtures as needed to give yourself ample illumination. This may sound obvious, yet I’ve been in many under-illuminated studios that just needed another fixture or two to remedy the problem.

Many hardware stores sell fluorescent bulbs with good CRI and CCT numbers (read the packaging carefully). I’ve seen 80 CRI/5500 CCT compact fluorescents for as little as $3 a bulb. Online websites sell bulbs as well, but shop around, as prices vary tremendously. Make sure that the bulb you buy is compatible with your existing fixtures. Rows of fluorescent tube ceiling lights provide good luminosity but are costly. A more affordable option is to install strips of track lighting that can be plugged into existing outlets and outfitted with screw-in, compact fluorescents. I recommend that you employ an experienced electrician for any electrical work.

Don’t miss: Controlling the Light in an Urban Studio by Sheldon Tapley

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One thought on “How to Choose Art Studio Lighting

  1. DennisXd

    Good article. I would just like to say that instead of Compact fluorescent bulbs get LEDs. They might cost a little more, but they will last longer and most important they are safer. If you drop or break a fluorescent bulb you will release mercury vapors into your environment. A serious health hazard that might require professional clean up to remove. You can Google to find out more. Just wanted to encourage everyone to avoid CFL bulbs. There are other safer options.