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  • Writer's pictureKaren Ruffles

Let there be light (but not too much).

One of the biggest challenges facing a lot of artists is getting enough of the right light to work by. While there are professional set ups available, most of us are working out of repurposed, often temporary spaces -see last years move with two months notice- and on a very tight budget, so we have to work with what's to hand.

The first, most important and happily, simplest thing is putting your desk in the right place to begin with. I'm lucky at the moment and have a whole room for just the artwork. However, the two desks I use for final images - the drawings themselves, are together against one wall, away from the window. That's because it's summer, it's hot by the windows and it creates glare on white paper so each spring I move everything one place clockwise. Why clockwise?

Simple - I'm right handed. This means I need the light to be coming from my left so I'm not casting a shadow on the area I am currently working on. In winter, I have my smaller desk directly in front of the window to catch every possible scrap of sunlight. My big desk (the one closest in the first photo) has a large drawing board on it, so that has to stay at an angle otherwise I'd be working with all the light coming from behind my work area. Think of an oncoming car at night with full beam on- the glare over hedges and around walls makes it harder to see what's right in front of you.

paper blinds helping adjust studio lighting

Sometimes, especially in midsummer there is too much light, yes even in England. At that point there's nothing for it but to block some of it out - I found some cheap paper blinds that filter out the glare while allowing enough light through to still be able to work. It's not perfect, the light is filtered so it's very diffuse and soft which makes it impossible to manage subtle tone and detail correctly but I can do prep work or block in large areas.

an orchestra light clipped to an easel

Then, just when you think you've got it all figured out, the infernal yellow ball goes and sets on you and a whole 'nother set of issues presents itself. Again, because I rent I can't do much about the main lights in here but I have found these orchestra lights that were bought for the Tales tour a pretty decent option. It's always tempting to go for the brightest thing you can get but all that does is make every tiny dimple and stray fibre in your paper show up making it hard to focus on what you're actually supposed to be looking at and of course you'll wind up with a pounding headache. These lights clip on so I can move them around and because they are attached to the board they also help eliminate any shadow I might cast from the ceiling lights.

In short, nothing beats natural light when the conditions are optimal - all the important detail and finishing touches of my drawings are always done when it's just so, which often means things get queued up. But with a bit of ingenuity and some experimentation, it is possible to have a basic home studio in which you can be working on something, all the time.

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