Lighting Design: Finding Rules in the Midst of Creativity

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Lighting FixturesThere are two aspects in lighting that every designer must deal with: physics and creativity. Facing the physics, like technicalities, budget and time constraints takes a fairly straightforward, step-by-step manoeuvre. You can even have lighting, sound, staging, rigging, audio-visual from the same source, says

On the other hand, dealing with the creative element can feel like looking at a massive expanse of…nothing. To fill this blank, it helps to establish certain parameters, to which you can tether the design elements.

It seems ironic to discuss rules in the face of creativity, but at times, you need them to understand the project and give it direction. As a lighting designer, where do you start?

Know your motivation

Not to sound overdramatic and clichéd, motivation is what drives our creativity. In clubs, events, or concerts, each lightning element is there for a reason and has a motivation behind it. So, it is always safe to start there – with the question of ‘what is my motivation?’

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For example, in lighting design for a naturalistic theatre, a great motivation is the space of a particular scene: a midnight scene at a Victorian warehouse or an exterior scene in London on a warm August day.

The motivation to replicate natural lighting can eventually lead to you discovering the language of light in your specific show.

Work with your materials

It is sometimes safe to go back to nature – not always. In abstract theatrical designs, you can force the rules of naturalistic lighting onto the scene. This can be tricky when you are simulating sunlight and there is a random giant red cube on the stage. Do you shadow the cube and create the sunlight, wishing that midday will suddenly materialise?

The artistic problem often comes from not knowing which one to sacrifice. Other than intelligent lightning, which has amazing capabilities as it is, you have colours, shapes, and spaces you can use to have both the cube and your sunlight.

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The rules in creative design are not clear-cut and may be a bit elusive. But you also need to remember that as a form of art, the design requires a purpose, whether it is chaotic or harmonious. If only for that purpose, you should make your own rules to achieve it.