For centuries, artists have understood the benefits of painting with north light which has helped produce some of the greatest paintings in history. We have all heard that north facing windows are optimum for an artist’s studio, but why?

North Light:

  • North light, commonly known as reflected light or indirect light, produces cool and controlled value shifts.
  • With a north light window the artist does not have to dread the effects of sun moving through the studio at different angles during the day.
  • North light basks the subject matter and painting in the same cool atmosphere.
  • This helps the artist have far greater control over values, contrasts and subtle color changes within a painting.
  • Vermeer is best known for his north lit studio where many of his master pieces were produced.

Direct Sunlight:

  • On the other hand, direct sunlight is extremely bright and results in washed out colors and stark contrasting shadows.
  • But, there is no reason to assume that all great painters always work in north light. Sometimes direct sunlight lends to the subject or mood of the art.
  • The master Impressionists used direct sunlight, especially while painting outdoors as do today’s plein air painters.
    • Imagine a sunny beach scene with sun glistening onto the shoreline or a morning figure washed in light through a bedroom window.
    • These are examples of using direct sunlight.

“For the majority of studio painting, north light is the best choice.”

But never fear! Not all artists have the perfect studio fully equipped with a northern window…

Talented artist and good Twitter friend, Brian Kliewer shared this little tip, “Turn Your Window into Instant North Light!”

“I have a window in my studio next to my easel that, for most of the year, gives me nearly a “north light.” But, at certain times of the year, the sun does come streaming through – gets very annoying. So, I take tracing paper (a roll would be preferable, but sheets from a pad work too), and tape it up to the window, covering all of it. Voila – Instant north light! It blocks the view but an even, soft light that I can control comes in all day long. No variation at all.”


PS.  I have the same lighting problem caused by a large pair of French doors in my studio. Instead of tracing paper, I hung neutral colored sheer drapes which perfectly diffuse the light. I also use artificial cool lighting to spot light my still life subjects and studio landscape paintings. I’ll explain that in a later post. Until then,  Lori 🙂 PS. Let’s meet on Facebook and Twitter!

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On My Easel #3: From Lemons to Lemonade

On My Easel #2: The Challenge of Painting the Illusion of Blown Glass

On My Easel: Still Life Oil Painting Demo #1

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