Spotlighting Objects in Your Studio

In addition to the balanced lighting that gives your studio its overall illumination you are going to need a way to put objects you are drawing or painting into a spotlight. When you’re learning to draw it’s a good thing to limit all the general lighting you have in your studio and try to illuminate your subject matter with a single spotlight.

The ideal drawing environment will provide this:

1. General illumination for you and the studio. (many lights, diffused lighting)

2. Spot lighting for your subject. (single light, spot lighting)


The Problem: How are we going to create general illumination and spot lighting in the same environment?

The Solution: Use a box, curtain or other means to separate our drawing environment from the actual subject matter (still life or portrait).

Because I highly recommend you stick with still life drawing while you are learning to draw, at least for your first several drawings, I am going to introduce you to my favorite way of isolating a still life from the rest of my studio space.

Think Inside the Box!

To create a still life box:

  1. Find a cardboard box that is big enough to house your still life with some extra room; typically something around 2 feet in all dimensions is perfect!
  2. Cut a hole approximately 4 inches in diameter in the top of the box to the extreme left or right side.
  3. Using duct tape, affix a clamp light on top of the box so that the light bulb shines through the hole, but the reflective metal part of light doesn’t fall through the hole.
  4. Once your box is modified, you can place it on a table and set up your still life inside. You can add drapery to the background and even use materials to change the surface your objects are sitting on. Find that interior decorator within you to provide a nice home for your future still life tenants!

still-life-box |

Now you have a controlled still life environment that is completely independent of your studio space. Finally you have achieved general illumination on your artwork while spotlighting your subject matter.

Wait There’s More

What I also like about the box method is that things tend to stay put better and don’t get as dusty. You can even cover the front when you’re not using it so curious people don’t mess with your pristine setup. If you like to work on more than one piece of artwork at a time you can set up multiple boxes each having their own lighting.

Let me know what you think of the box method.

Please leave comments below.


  1. Mrs.Bowen says:

    Thanks for this idea! I was wanting to set up a still life arrangement with a single light source for some kids I work with but the room has large windows with no curtains. I am going to give this a try.

    1. John Morfis says:

      Yes, the box-method (a.k.a shadow box) is the ultimate solution for classrooms with uncontrollable lighting. If you have a big class set up a couple of big boxes and angle them away from each other for 2 separate setups… this will accommodate a large class! Thanks for commenting.

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