The History and Importance of North Light in Your Art Studio

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!

Be sure and check out these other interesting articles:

The Importance of Being an Artist in Today’s Modern World

When Are You Ready to Call Yourself a Professional Artist?

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

Save Money. Learn How to Gesso a Hardboard Panel for Painting

About Lori McNee

Lori McNee is a professional artist who specializes in still life, and landscape oil paintings. She is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of Idaho, serves on the Plein Air Mag Board of Advisors, and is an Artist Ambassador to Arches/Canson/Royal Talens. As the owner of FineArtTips.com, Lori blogs about fine art tips, marketing, and social media advice for the aspiring and professional artist. As a social media influencer, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and named a #TwitterPowerhouse by The Huffington Post. She is a keynote speaker, has been a talk show host for Plum TV, writes for F+W Media publications including Artist’s Magazine, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, Photographer’s Market. Also, Zero to 100,000: Social Media Tips & Tricks for Small Businesses.

Comments

  1. Fascinating! I particularly like the tips about “creating” north facing light. I didn’t know it could be done.
    Thanks.

  2. ADENIYI ADEDAPO-ARTFINGERS says:

    is there any importance of north light in an (artist) sculptor’s studio?

    • Absolutely love N light in the studios I’ve created. It reveals form beautifully. My preference has been for a large N facing skylight or 2 in the ceiling (higher pitched ceilings are better. ) Installer can create the higher pitch…..or you can diffuse as described above), In addition, large N windows behind are good.

  3. Great article and timely, for me, since I am just about finished fixing up my new workshop/studio which happens to have, you guessed it, a northeastern exposure. Because of this article, I’ll be sure my easel is in the correct place. Thanks.

  4. So true. I didn’t understand the importance of north light until I switched from watercolors (no glare) to oils (annoying glare on dark colors) in my west-facing studio. So when we moved I made sure that my studio not only had a north window, but color-corrected fluorescent lighting over my head; no glare on the canvas! Love it. Thanks for the article. I’ll share it with my students.

  5. Shall we look for south light studio the Southern Hemisphere?

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