Friday, April 14, 2017

Sketching in Low Light Conditions

Sketching with an LED hat
Madill Studio asks:
"Hi, James: Speaking of low-light conditions, do you have any observational tips on how to check values in such conditions (think low-lit cafe or similar). Also curious if I get a battery operated lamp for night sketching, what would be a good lumens range?"

You're right. When you're sketching in ultra low light conditions without a light of your own, it's hard to judge values accurately. It's even harder to evaluate subtle color variations.

It's also very challenging if the relative level of illumination varies a lot between the subject and your work. This is a common problem when sketching in a theatrical performance. Your eyes take a while to adjust from the bright stage to the dark sketchbook.

Lecturer sketched in dim light
with a brush pen.
If you're in a place where you can't use a light, here are some tips:
1. Shift to monochromatic colors. You can use black and white or two colors you're familiar with.
2. You can do a "notan" sketch and avoid halftones altogether, using a brush pen.

There are adjustable book lights such as the Lemonbest booklight (200 lm or 450 lumens). Book lights clip to your work and they stay stable.

For a brighter light, there's the Zebralight headlamp, which is good if you need more light outdoors.


I did these shapewelding sketches in a dark concert setting. Light shapes go to white and are grouped with other light shapes. Dark shapes weld together.


I painted these oil sketches after the sun had just set. There was still enough ambient light to see the colors on the palette and the painting.


LED hats illuminate your field of view, but they might be distracting to other people in indoor conditions. You can also get a Light unit with 5 LEDs that clips to the brim of your hat, in case you like to change hats.

2 comments:

Michael Oxley said...

Perfect timing for this. Im going night sketching in Anzo-Borrego and really needed these tips. Thanks James!

Steve said...

Last Christmas, my daughter gave me a warm, stretchy, fleece hat that has 4 LED lights in it. It puts out 48 lumens and uses commonly available CR2032 batteries. That's not a blazing beam, but enough to do this kind of sketching. Initially, I wasn't sure how much I'd use it -- it seemed gimmicky --but it quickly became a favorite, partly because it's so lightweight and easy to have with me, folded up in a pocket. Working outside in cooler weather, wearing a headlamp over a knit hat definitely gives a brighter light, but it also sometimes gives me a headache because of the weight and squeeze of the headlamp. Using this cap with built-in lights doesn't have those issues. It's $30 from L. L. Bean.
https://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/88337?feat=506574-plalander