Search this Blog
Blog Highlights

Quick links to popular categories:

Materials and Techniques

Class Notes

Step-by-step painting demos

Hudson River Fellowship 2009

Women Painting Women Expedition


Blog Archives
« New Drawing Video: Straight Line Block-In Demo | Main | Varnish: Updated Method »

Still Life and Cast Stands Setup and Lighting

The new Cast and Still Life studio is all set up and my annual workshop is underway this week!

I’ve been working hard on getting great lighting on all the station and easels and I’m really happy with how they are turning out.

(Ripley prefers the studio to be full of her friends, she’s been a bit lonely this summer, she can’t wait to get her “pack” back together!)

The space really started coming together when we set up our furniture. For still life/cast stands I like to use black/brown Ikea shelving units. They are like shadow boxes, but with a bunch of extra shelves for storing materials. Students use the shelves to store their paintings supplies between classes.

Ikea Bookshelf
Shelf unit, black-brown 
Article Number: 401.021.29 

To start the lighting, I wanted a lot of white ambient light all over the room to light the easels well for painting and drawing. There are several skylights all over, and we added additional banks of fluorescent all over the ceiling, with the same daylight bulbs we discovered work great when we set up our last studio.

Philips 40-Watt 4 ft. T12 Natural Supreme 5000K Linear Fluorescent Light Bulb

Lithonia Lighting Industrial 6-Light High Bay Hanging Fixture

Then came the hard part: Baffling all that ambient light to create dark shadow boxes for the still life and cast setups. I want a single lightsource to shine on my subject, with very little ambient light. So I hung black photographer’s drapery from the ceiling (this is the baffling in the Figure Studio):

The hard part is the ceiling is 16 feet in some places. The easy part is that it is wood, so we can just staple up the fabric. This is the fabric I found - it’s not complete black-out, but it works well to stop light shining on your subject:

Prism Backdrops 10X20’ Black Muslin Photo Video Backdrop Background

To light each individual cast stand we installed track lighting and pointed each light directly at one stand, from an angle. I set up a small cast and also an upturned silver goblet and put this setup on each stand, one by one, to test the light at each station. The white plaster cast shows me if the shadows are dark enough. The silver goblet is a clear reflection of every light source hitting it, which is really helpful to figure out where stray ambient light is coming from.

I get most my casts from

This cast is an inexpensive one I got at

To control the light I created a “hood” for most the stations from a large piece of black foamcore attached to the top of the bookcase with a wire and strong Gaff tape. This blocks the skylight and fluorescent light but it is angled to allow the track light to shine on the subject.

To control the light shining from the track light, we wrapped each light with Cinefoil, which is black “tin foil” used on film sets (one of the many lighting tips I have learned from my film-major husband, Nowell!).

I’m not posting the track light details because I’m not sure I like them yet. They are LED lights, which were an investment, but they will save us a lot on electricity bills. But we might end up swapping them out for stronger spotlights.

I ended up lighting most the stations with a clamp light (with the reflector hood removed) and a good LED bulb:
Feit PAR30 LED Reflector Bulb

I also used a pony clamp to make sure the light will not slip.
The light from these bulbs creates a tiny double-edge along the edge of a cast shadow, so I tape a piece of frosted mylar over the bulb. I also tape a piece of Cinefoil to mask off the light so it does not shine in my eyes.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (5)

Sadie, your studio space is exquisite as are your paintings! It appears that you have paid attention to every detail to maximize the learning experience for all students. I received the email today regarding the reception for the show that you and James are participating in at John Pence Gallery. While I cannot attend the reception, I would like to visit the show, and wondered how long it will be on display? I am sorry that I cannot attend the reception and meet you personally to say congratulations on all of your successes!
August 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClemmie King
Thank you! The show will be up through September 27th!
More info on the Pence website here:
August 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSadie Valeri
Thank you so much, Sadie, for the link to the John Pence Gallery. Your work is incredible and I look forward to seeing the show (probably in September). I would like to bring an artist friend who will be visiting from the east coast in September; I know she will love your work also!
August 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClemmie King
I can't thank you enough for your generous sharing of your studio set up, furniture, lighting and tools. I'd previously been using 5000K lights but am experimenting with these Feit 3000K bulbs from Costco that you settled on. Are you using them only for cast drawings where the color isn't important or do you use them for still life setups too? Are you using the same lights in the track lighting so that the easel, palette and still life subject all have the same temperature of lighting? The light is very nice but is a lot warmer than I'm used to. I know they also make 5000K bulbs but thought I'd try these first. Since most artwork is viewed under warmer lights, maybe this makes more sense.
September 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJana Bouc
Does the frosted Mylar get hot if you tape it over the bulb of your clamp light? I am looking for a safe option.
August 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPenny McElhaney
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.