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Sculpture Lighting

Apr 13, 2008
As a three-dimensional medium, sculpture is a reality that both represents reality and reflects reality. Its complexity warrants special consideration from the perspective of decorating and light. Sculpture will look flat if illuminated from too many angles, and it will lose its lifelike or unique abstract appeal. True depth is achieved not by eliminating shadow, but by uniting it with varying fields of light.

This calls for a careful understanding of texture, shadows, and form. Illumination must be selective and precise, adjusted to the form of the piece and set to lighting levels that take something of a "less is more" approach to lighting. Sculpture looks best when it stands parallel to its environment without completely blending into the background. Since every piece is different, collectors who display sculpture often contact art work lighting experts to use a variety of special equipment and techniques to create an extra dimensional aura of timelessness and special space.

Many sculptures based upon the full human form require lighting pedestals as a form of uplight. This has something of a transfiguring effect, making the legs and torso look elevated and mystical. Low voltage recessed lighting can then be used for the upper portions of the piece, creating ambient down light to transfigure the head and shoulders. Ideally, these recessed lights should be dimmable in order to leave dimensional shadow intact. When lighting a very large sculpture, or when lighting multiple pieces, this can pose a challenge because every angle of incidence will require its own lighting level, and possibly its own fixture as a source.

In these situations, many collectors have transitioned away from pedestal and recessed ceiling lights and moved instead toward using art projectors for sculpture lighting. At face value this may seem surprising to some who consider art projectors to be a tool more geared toward lighting paintings and fine art photography. Interestingly, framing projectors are capable of some of the very best three-dimensional lighting imaginable, if the right templates and adjustments are made to fit the light to the sculpture during installation.

Framing projectors allow the light to fit the exact contour of the sculpture. The key is to utilize hand cut templates that are shaped like the overall form of the object represented in a piece. Filtered light passes through a series of apertures and then shapes itself to the outline of the template. Low voltage lighting levels can be adjusted with dimmer controls to achieve the appropriate blend of light and shadow. In many ways, this is equivalent to sculpting light to sculpture itself.

There is a limit, though, to what can be included in a template cutout alone. Western art for example, with horses and ropes blazing, require a pooling affect for illumination to truly work. When lighting these types of sculptures, it is necessary to rely upon lighting levels and lighting effects that have the capability not only of outlining the periphery of the work, but also uniting light and shadow to maintain a fully three-dimensional presentation.

Ideally, a projector such as the Phantom Contour should be used that allows for maximum control of beam spread, lighting levels, and template variety. The Phantom Contour is engineered with proprietary, patented optical technology to allow for simultaneous control of these three major elements of sculpture lighting. Phantom's lens design, filter structure, and accommodation of everything from gobos to hand cut templates make these projectors ideal for the task of lighting both two-dimensional and three-dimensional artwork of any size or shape. By combining custom templates with lighting adjustments, both the piece itself, and the many unique elements of the piece, can be properly balanced and harmonized.

A trained professional eye in art lighting design will have to make these adjustments. This is because an art lighting consultant has been trained to look at sculpture from two perspectives at once. First, the consultant sees the piece as all of us do--a form that represents a person, animal, thing, or abstract concept. Simultaneously, however, the consultant also sees the many parts that compose the whole and is able to determine where individual elements form key points of intersection within the piece. This is where shadows most commonly form, and it is the consultant's job to make the necessary photometric adjustments to "open" these shadows (without eliminating them completely) in order to support thematic unity and relative position within a special collection.

When all three adjustments are properly balanced, the invisible light from the Contour Projector from Phantom Lighting creates a magical, lighted from within effect that provides clear visibility without overwhelming the relative amount of shadow necessary to maintain a truly superb, and truly three-dimensional presentation.
About the Author
Phantom Lighting is a manufacturer of high end lighting projectors and linear strip display lighting fixtures. Phantom operates throughout North, Central, and South America through a network of agent representatives. Visit http://www.phantomlighting.com/sculpture_lighting.htm and http://www.phantomlighting.com/
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