When you’re setting up a model to paint from life, it helps to use a strong light source, placed well away from the model. If the light is set too close, you get a variation in light intensity: a hotspot on the top half of the figure, and the feet lit dimly from a different angle. Painting is hard enough! We don’t need obstacles like that.
The standard clamp-on reflector lights from the hardware store don’t cut it. Their light is just too weak. But they’re used all the time, even in art schools, which should know better.
It’s well worth investing in a professional light designed for use on the stage or movie set. Here’s a Mole Richardson Baby spotlight, a good solid workhorse for a small to medium-sized studio. It attaches to an adjustable tripod that lets you lift the light up to 14 feet in the air.
It will easily take a 600 watt bulb (about $30 each), which shines through a fresnel lens. If you want a lower intensity, you can use a smaller bulb. You can place the baby spot 20 feet away from a model and twirl a knob to zoom in the light just where you want it.
The baby spot also has adjustable “barn doors” to control how much light spills to the sides, and a rack for hanging the plastic gels or color filters in front of the light. The gels are made to withstand heat, but with a really hot light, you might want to clip the gels to the barn doors, farther from the heat of the bulb. In the photo I’m putting a blue gel in the rack.
It’s shining on a plaster cast of Abe Lincoln and a plastic chrome hemisphere. I mentioned the mirror ball on a previous post. It’s useful for recording the source and character of the light influences in a given scene.
Art supply catalogs don’t usually carry these lights, instead stocking wimpier equipment that isn’t worth investing in. I don’t want to sound like I’m giving anyone a commercial plug, so I’ll leave it to you to hunt down sources and brands. Try googling “stage or theater lighting supply” or search Ebay. The retail stores also sell C-stands, mentioned in an earlier post.
This 30-minute oil study of a model was painted using the baby spot set right up behind and above me for a fairly simple frontal lighting.
In tomorrow's post, (Studio Lighting II: Key, Fill and Edge) we'll take a look at strategies for placing the lights.