Transforming your Interior Design with Light and Shadow

In this introductory blog we make a number of observations about lighting that although seemingly obvious give some indication of the profound impact simple lighting set ups can play in altering an interior space. We also discuss how our artandshadow wall sculptures integrate with these considerations.

Light, shadow and Space

A space defined by walls, floors, ceilings, entrances and exits may feel like something fixed and static, a form that is only changed when we start filling it with objects: some furniture, a few pictures, a dash of colour perhaps. This is where light comes in as the variable that can transform our perception of the spaces we live in. Juhani Pallasmaa, former dean of the School of Architecture at Helsinki University of Technology expresses it in the following way in his essay Dwelling in Light: "Light and shadow articulate spaces into sub-spaces and places, and their interplay gives space its character, rhythm, sense of scale and intimacy." Light is the protagonist in the theatre of form but the forgotten twin is shadow, which plays the role of defining our perception of depth, of volume, and of texture.


One of the first steps is to define different zones within a space


Separating spaces into zones is physically achieved through setting up partitions or arranging furniture to mark where one zone ends and another one begins. Leading us to our first and most obvious observation: partitioning space can also be achieved through light and shadow

Using artificial light, or by adjusting the brightness or the direction a zone is lit from can subtly indicate different zones – the most obvious example would be a designer restaurant where the use of narrow spotlights and tabletop light sources give each table a sense of privacy and intimacy even in the context of a busy large open dining space.

The key is to regard it as a game of contrasts, light and shadow. Through this you will create texture and depth but more importantly moments of visual focus and intimacy (look at the conspiratorial huddle of figures in the painting below). Also, by accenting only certain areas, other parts, hidden in shadow, acquire a sense of mystery which elevates the ensemble as a whole. To use the example of the painting below again, the intense detail of the faces is accented by having the mere hint of form of the figures below the table as a contrast.  

An extreme example of the above

The Calling of Saint Matthew painting by Caravaggio
The Calling of Saint Matthew  by Caravaggio

One of the most memorable exhibitions we have ever seen from the point of view of lighting design was in Rome based on a collection of works by Merisi de Caravaggio.The principle exhibition room was maintained in near total darkness, each picture was given its own light source (and this is the crucial point) the direction of the lighting mimicking the direction of lighting in the painting. Further, each light source was put on a timed dimmer so that the painting slowly emerged from darkness and then submerged back in a coordinated series thereby separating it from its neighbours and allowing for the contemplation of each painting within its own space and time. This example is not of course a suggestion for how to light a domestic setting but merely intended as a way to communicate the spirit of how lighting can create drama.


Returning to Juhani Pallasmaa mentioned at the opening paragraph in his essay Dwelling in Light, we can see how Caravaggio in the above painting perfectly encapsulates the observation: “Light and its accompanying shadow give volumes, surfaces, and spaces their character and expressive power.” It is for this reason that the name Caravaggio has become almost a metonym for the art of chiaroscuro, or literally light and dark.


An ArtandShadow sculptural example

By way of total contrast to the busy visual world of Caravaggio's Baroque, below we have our version of the avant-garde master Malevich's deceptively simple geometric icons in the form of cross, circle and square. What we wish to highlight with this example is how using even the most elementary of forms, a large blank uniform surface can suddenly be given, texture, depth, scale and even a sense of visual rhythm through the use of shadow.



Malevich triptych wall art by artandshadow
ARTANDSHADOW Malevich Triptych

Direction of lighting and lessons from architecture of the night

The second consideration we wish to point out with this particular photo of the Malevich triptych is how the light source comes from below instead of the more normal focused down light. Lighting from below is a trick sometimes used for illuminating buildings at night, as a way of giving an exaggerated sense of monumentality and scale, a trick that children sometimes use to scare each other with at night when they use a torch to under light their faces. This example of illuminating exterior facades at night can be used to import other considerations into our lighting design. It is instructive to consider the words of Raymond Hood who invented the expression architecture of the night in the 1930's: " Eventually, the night lighting of buildings is going to be studied exactly as Gordon Craig and Norman Bel Geddes have studied stage lighting. Every possible means to obtain an effect will be tried—color, varying sources and direction of light, pattern and movement. The illumination of today is only the start of an art that may develop as our modern music developed from the simple beating of a tom-tom." The point might appear obvious: lighting is not a static concern, day and night offer a profound change in character, but this is not a banal consideration when one realises that certain architects have introduced ideas of how the building will be illuminated at night into the very concept of the original design.

If one compares the De Volharding building by the De Stijl architect Jan Buijs, by day and by night, one cannot avoid the feeling that a nocturnal visit is the only way to properly understand the original conception of the building.                         

Night and day photos of De Volharding building in the Hague by Jan Willem Eduard Buijs 

Relating interior to exterior

We began by considering the transformation of interior spaces by the use of light and have now begun to talk about the exterior, which is a convenient way to bring on the discussion of one of the key features  of our work at ArtandShadow: the use of transparency and sculpture, and the game we like to play between exterior and interior of the object. In the above building the nocturnal illumination is achieved through glass and transparency, the illumination of the interior spaces, paints an almost cubist or constructivist abstract painting for the exterior at night - interior projecting to the exterior. In our sculptures not only can the interior image project out to the surface but also the exterior form can interact with the interior image. The best illustration of this is our vintage photograph of the Williamsburg bridge in Brooklyn, where from certain angles the steel bar frame of the sculpture almost becomes a part of the interior of the image of the bridge itself. 

williamsburg bridge artandshadow wall sculpture
ARTANDSHADOW Williamsburg Bridge - Designer wall sculpture

Depending on how the piece is lit, the projection of the interior of the sculpture defined by the shadow can command more attention than the two dimensional print that is the source of the shadow. In this photograph of our face triptych of Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine, the shadow almost steals protagonism from the print itself, and the renaissance portrait begins to take on the character of a modernist cubist game.



three piece artandshadow wall art face based in Leonardo da vinci lady with an ermine portrait
ARTANDSHADOW Leonardo da Vinci, Face Sculpture

Just to conclude, a sculpture combined with thoughtful lighting can give an otherwise bland wall surface: depth, texture, scale, and rhythm,  but also, when looked at  in the context of the entire room, it can be used to articulate spaces into sub spaces - moments of focused visual attention and intimacy. We invite you to explore the rest of our site:

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