The History and Importance of North Light in Your Art Studio

For centuries, artists have understood the benefits of painting with North Light in their art studios. North Light 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 which is commonly known as reflected light, or indirect light produces cool and controlled value shifts. With a North Light window the artist does not have the dreaded the effects of the sun moving through the studio at different angles during the day.

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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 northern lit studio where many of his master pieces were produced.

However, when natural North Light is not an option, you will have to use the proper artificial lighting. Here’s what I suggest.

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.

“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, Brian Kliewer shared the following tip for Turning Your Window into Instant North Light. Brian explains, “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.”

I have the same lighting problem caused by a large pair of French doors in my own art 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. 

Check out this special offer by my favorite art studio lighting company, Method Lights!

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

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

2017-10-01T08:52:39+00:00January 6th, 2010|Fine Art Tips, General, How To Paint, Draw & More|18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. SilverMagpies March 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm

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

  2. ADENIYI ADEDAPO-ARTFINGERS October 21, 2011 at 9:33 am

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

    • Jan Heginbotham May 22, 2013 at 6:53 am

      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.

      • Lori McNee June 10, 2013 at 3:57 pm

        Thank for your added thoughts. Yes, north light is awesome to have in the studio…

  3. Cynthia December 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    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. Linda Hugues June 22, 2012 at 5:58 am

    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.

    • Lori McNee August 28, 2012 at 11:23 am

      Hello Linda, I use a similar light above my easel and love it. Glad you enjoyed this article.
      Lori

  5. Lucy Chen January 3, 2014 at 5:49 am

    Shall we look for south light studio the Southern Hemisphere?

    • Toria July 8, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      Yes, in Southern Hemisphere we need south-facing windows for the same indirect light effect. North-facing down here is the full sun coming in.

      • Lori McNee July 20, 2014 at 3:07 pm

        Thanks for pointing out this important fact! 🙂

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