Studio Lighting Considerations

How you light your shop, illuminate your working area, experience the reflection from surfaces and the paint you choose for the walls all have an effect on your ability to work in your studio. Poor lighting can strain the eyes, contribute to accidents and make working uncomfortable..

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By Charles Lewton-BrainMore from this author

How you light your shop, illuminate your working area, experience the reflection from surfaces and the paint you choose for the walls all have an effect on your ability to work in your studio. Poor lighting can strain the eyes, contribute to accidents and make working uncomfortable.

Have lots of good lighting around, nice diffuse lighting overhead and local lights (like desk lamps) other places where you need light. In our teaching studio we have desk lamps mounted on the wall every six feet or so, as well as over fixed tools like vises, drill press etc. On my own bench I have two, one on each side, so that I can position good localized light anywhere on the bench surface and can also light an object on my bench pin from two sides at once, thus eliminating shadows. I like daylight spectrum fluorescents overhead.

You want diffuse light generally in the workshop as glare and reflections are less likely. It also tends to reduce sharp shadows from objects and surfaces being worked which can cause mistakes and other problems. Diffuse light, please note, can still be quite bright.

There has been a lot of research into appropriate lighting levels for different tasks. In general, the lighting levels required for fine bench work, measuring and the other activities that are standard for the jewelry shop are about twice as high as for other fields such as woodworking, fibers, other crafts, or tasks such as working in a chemical laboratory. Some general tips include: keep the light sources themselves out of your field of vision, use matte rather than shiny surfaces for bench tops, tools etc., and have a contrast ratio of 10:3:1 for a given job.

What this ratio means is that you have ten units of light for the task, 3 units for the local area and 1 unit of light for the background lighting (Carson and Mumford 45). To rephrase that, the strongest lighting should be right on the spot where you are actually touching and looking closely at your object (this light level should be ten times brighter than the light in the background of the room). The lighting on the work table, the local area where you are working should be about three times brighter than the background lighting in the room.

This means that the background lighting is fairly dim compared with the light on the work surface and particularly with the lighting on the actual object you are working on. This forces the eyes to continually shift their receptivity to light as one glances into darker areas from the glare of the actual working spot and back again. I have heard from Professor Eickhorst (a lighting expert I respect) that this helps the eyes to avoid fatigue but on the other hand have read that this same shifting induces eyestrain and fatigue (Tver and Anderson 161). I think I will go with Eickhorst on this one. Both do however agree on the principle of the 10:3:1 contrast ratio. It helps if the strong lighting on the working area is diffuse such as from a daylight spectrum fluorescent lamp. These are available at all strengths and price ranges, with some European jewelers for instance spending up to $1000.00 on a desk lamp for where they work on a object. Wow. I'm not there yet myself.

Visual comfort and the ability to see an object being worked on well depend upon a number of factors which include: brightness, light spectrum type, glare, contrasts, shadows, reflections, uniformity of light distribution, diffusion, color, the direction of the light onto the work area, the size of the objects observed, how far they are from the eyes, the precision needed, the time available to look at the object and how frequently one is called on to concentrate and look hard at an object (Tver and Anderson 161). It is accepted that overall very bright light in a workplace or overall poor lighting can cause damage to the eyes (Tver and Anderson 256).

Glare from surfaces and unpleasant lighting in the workspace can be a problem. Remember that your studio is an entire environment. Make it as comfortable for your eyes as possible. Make it a nice place to be-you will do better work. We selected blue and gray as theme colors for our own teaching studio years ago and people enjoy it. All table surfaces are gray (smoke gray) so that things show up easily, are easy to find and there is no great contrast on the bench top. The paint is a urethane and is incredibly durable and washable.

Machines should be matte and non-reflective - I like that blue or gray. I'm a big believer in white paint on the walls and neutral colors elsewhere. White walls increase the ambient lighting in your shop. Wearing glasses can contribute to a glare problem and special care has to be taken when setting up lighting and surface reflections for glasses wearers, who can be more susceptible to accidents than those not wearing glasses because of this.

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  • Carson, P. A.and C. J. Mumford. The Safe Handling of Chemicals in Industry. New York: Longman Scientific and Technical with John Wiley and Sons, 1988.
  • Tver, David, and Kenneth Anderson. Industrial Medicine Desk Reference. New York: Chapman and Hall, 1986.
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Charles Lewton-Brain

Master goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain trained, studied and worked in Germany, Canada and the United States to learn the skills he uses. Charles Lewton-Brain is one of the original creators of Ganoksin.

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