Why Personality Matters So Much (Even If You Are a Table Lamp)

practical light tutorial


I’ve always felt that the term practical light misses something very important. Besides that the light is, well, practical. Available in the scene. Seen by the viewer.

But what about personality of a light source? What about a disturbing feeling, when the table lamp gazes back at you (quite literally)?

I assure you that the table lamp is not merely a practical light.

Imagine it.

You work at the local newspaper. Today is a crunch time. You stay overnight to finish the shitload of writing. When darkness gathers in the corners, the only thing that illuminates your poor existence is the table lamp.

To remind yourself about visiting an eyesight specialist, you stick a piece of paper to the lamp shade. A second later, you notice that the lamp shade is covered with stickers.

In some weird way, that office lamp is your only friend. And as a friend, it has its own undeniable personality.

practical lighting tutorial

Surprisingly, you start to notice that even the light emitted by this lamp has a special quality to it.

Even the light that shines through it is another kind of light!

As a maker of art, you can make the rest of us feel that personality.

Feel that we see a Thing, and not just a practical light.

How to Create a Practical Light with Personality?

Here is 3 steps on how you can create practical lights with personality. Try it and you will be amazed how much depth it adds to your artwork.

Yes, simply breathing life into the light source can take you this far.

But why should you bother with giving light sources an extra character?

• It helps you to tell a story

• It helps you to create a captivating aesthetic experience

• It helps you to drag viewers’ attention to lighting

• It is plain cool

table lamp office lighting

Step 1. Write a Backstory for Your Light

Have you ever noticed how much our perception of the lighting is affected by the look of the light source?

Freakin’ much.

One thing is to look at a dimly lit cellar. And the whole other thing is to look at the same cellar lit by Falk Stadelmann kerosene lamp (owned by your grandmother).

It is a completely different aesthetic experience.

It’s different because you feel, that there is a backstory behind the light. It’s different because you feel, in Walter Benjamin words,

“…Unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be”.

German cultural critic called this feeling an aura.

Now pretend for a moment, that you are writing the backstory for a character.

notebook lighting

And the character will be the office table lamp.

Maybe this table lamp will tell us something about its owner (quite a nerd perhaps).

For example, I have imagined a not-so-young journalist, workaholic and sociopath. Burning his life in a never ending crunch, he often stays at work overnight just to finish the article in time.

When darkness gathers in the corners, the only thing that illuminates his poor existence is the table lamp. In some weird sense, that table lamp is his only friend.

gleb alexandrov tutorial

To remind himself about visiting the eyesight specialist, he sticks a piece of paper to the lamp shade. The lamp shade is covered with stickers.

…After the bankruptcy and office relocation, the lamp is left behind. Turned off. Worthless junk.

But the 8 P.M. sun hits the lamp shade. For a moment it looks like someone turned on the lamp once again. For a moment it’s so bright that it starts to illuminate the table. Like in the good old days.

You got the point.

office work

Step 2. Find a Reference That Speaks to You

Now find a way to tell your story in a visual way.

First you’ll need a reference.

I’m going to repeat it once again here. You’ll need an awesome reference.

I usually start searching in where people share photos of their personal stuff. It’s Ebay. It’s Flickr. It’s Pixabay.

You’ll know when you stumble across the light that fits into your story. You may even build a new exciting story around that image.

The rest is a breeze, if you found the reference that speaks to you.

Step 3. Give Your Lamp That Extra Touch

Do you relate on lighting to create an aesthetic experience? Than it’s logical to give the light that extra touch.

Look at the light source and ask yourself, what could make it unique.

Here is some things that I did to assure that this lamp stands out:

• Second-hand look

• Humanizing details (stickers)

• Ambiguity: self-illuminated or lit by the sun

I’m sure you can imagine a lot more ways to give the extra touch to it.

Maybe it’s a light texture, cast by a broken glass. Maybe this light can be included into narrative in some funny way. Maybe it invites viewer to play with meanings.

Or maybe it is plain stupid (and thus memorable).

Anyway, there is something deeply satisfying in looking at the light that has character.

A face lit by Marlboro cigarette. A couple, lit by a cheap motel neon sign. A roadside restaurant, lit by old 1967 Ford Mustang headlights.

When your light source is well integrated into narrative, is actually seen in the scene and has a personality to it… It’s a cohesive whole.

table lamp practical light tutorial

Over to You

Now it’s your turn.

I bet you can remember some experiences from your life, related to light sources and their charisma.

Go ahead and create your next artwork, drawing inspiration from these memories.

You will be amazed, I guarantee that.

Join the discussion here on Creative Shrimp and share your artworks with me!


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