Best solution for studio lighting

Q. Often the only time I can paint is at night, but my studio lighting creates a glare on my oil paintings to the point that I don’t want to paint at all. I have a daylight easel lamp above my painting and an incandescent ceiling light behind me. I’ve tried turning off one or the other, but neither adjustment helps. What kind of lighting would you suggest?

Krista Wargo, Yucca Valley, CA

A. One of the problems with an easel lamp is that it can create uneven lighting. With the lamp at the top of the easel, most of the light is concentrated on the upper area of the painting while the lower area remains dimly lit. Also, the easel lamp’s small bulb is a point light source that can cause glare or a reflection. An incandescent ceiling lamp, another point source, can create the same problem.

The best solution is diffuse light. Banks of fluorescent tubes give more evenly distributed lighting, especially if they’re equipped with diffusers. Suspended from the ceiling, these lights won’t create a hot spot on your painting. Even with fluorescent lighting, however, you may need to angle your painting or change the height of your seat to remove the glare.

Professional painters and lighting manufacturers often recommend fluorescent bulbs with a temperature of 5000 degrees Kelvin (K) and a color rendering index (CRI) of 90 or better. (For comparison purposes, consider that sunlight is described as 5000 K with a CRI of 100.) Many artists, however, prefer a mix of warm and cool bulbs. I’d suggest that half the bulbs be somewhat warmer, perhaps in the 3200-3400 K range, which is closer to standard photo flood lighting. I would use two fixtures, one with warmer bulbs and the other with cooler bulbs. This will allow you to selectively turn on only the cool light or the warm light or both at once, so you’ll be able to see your work under a variety of different lighting conditions (See Bridge of Dreams, above). Additionally, I would put in a rack of spot halogen or LED lights with a dimmer switch, which will allow you to simulate gallery lighting.

BEST EASEL FOR SUPER-SIZED PAINTINGS

Q. I’d like your recommendation for a wooden studio easel that can accommodate canvases in the neighborhood of 8×14 feet.

Scott Glaser, Westport, CT

A. Although several studio easels can handle large-scale paintings, they won’t necessarily handle them well. For example, a single-masted easel that can hold a narrow 8-foot tall canvas may be unstable with a canvas of the same height but with greater width. A double-masted easel, which gives more points of contact for the canvas, improves stability, but even a double-masted easel may not be wide enough. Sure, you could use two or even three H-frame easels to support a single canvas, but adjusting the canvas would be a nightmare. You could simply attach the canvas to a wall, but you’d have to use a step stool to reach the upper areas.

That brings up another consideration–adjustments. Painters have what I call an “optimum painting point,” where the hand and arm can be held easily for long periods without tiring. (For me, this is just below shoulder height.) If the canvas can be slid up or down, you won’t have to move your arm to an uncomfortable position to paint the upper or lower portions of the surface. Some painters also work seated, so being able to slide a canvas horizontally without having to move a stool is a benefit. Additionally, tilting your head down as you work is more comfortable than tilting it up, so being able to angle the canvas is helpful. Having all the elements–bottom shelf, top bracket and canvas–move as a unit is better than having to loosen and tighten various knobs. Some easels use counterweights, which enable the painter to move the painting with the touch of a finger; other easels use hand winches.

Although several easels, such as the Richeson Best Classic Santa Fe II (www.richesonart.com), can handle an 8-foot tall canvas, only one that I know of will properly handle the width you require. The Hughes 6000 (www.hugheseasels.com), which is used by the Smithsonian Institution for restoration work, is the biggest easel commercially available. This triple-masted unit has all the recommended features I’ve mentioned, including the ability to move the canvas horizontally, as well as counterweights that can be changed to accommodate lighter or heavier paintings.

BEST PASTEL STUDIO FLOORING

Q. What’s the best flooring material for a pastel studio?

Name withheld

A. I can tell you what’s the worst flooring material for a pastel studio–carpet! Carpet is almost impossible to clean, and the dust will get ground into it, remaining a problem for years. Best is a surface that’s easy to damp mop. I say “damp mop” because you don’t want to sweep pastel dust and cause it to become airborne. Any smooth surface that will stand up to mop and water will work: linoleum, tile, laminate and wood are good choices. (When cleaning laminate, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, avoid surfaces with a pronounced texture.) If you’re concerned about tracking the dust throughout the house, you can place “sticky mats”–the kind used in surgical wards–at your studio entrance to trap dust from your shoes. These mats are readily found on the Internet.

By the way, if you vacuum, make sure your vacuum cleaner is properly sealed and isn’t blowing out dust. Pastel creates a very fine dust, and some vacuums, especially shop vacs, may not trap it and may actually shoot it into the air and redistribute it throughout the studio. A vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter will do thebest job of capturing dust.

Dust tends to get other places besides the floor. Countertops, tables, windowsills and easels are subject to dust collection. Don’t ignore them when you’re cleaning your studio, and make sure you attack them with a damp rag. Wear latex or nitrile gloves to keep the dampened dust away from your skin. When I’m painting in pastel for a few weeks, I like to give my studio floor a quick damp mop daily and everything else a more thorough cleaning once a week.

You may find it more convenient to trap dust at the source. You can attach a “gutter” along the bottom of your easel shelf–a wallpaper tray works well–to trap the dust, and then empty the tray periodically. I also like to attach along the bottom of my painting a piece of wide masking tape, hinged so the sticky side juts out like a shelf. The tape acts like flypaper, trapping the dust. A more high-tech option is an Artist’s Air (www.artistsair.com) air cleaning system, which consists of a gutter with a HEPA vacuum cleaner attached.

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