Sunday, April 13, 2008

Making Light Work of It

It is finally time for me to finish up the discussion I began about lighting. I began writing about how important it is to have good lighting to show off your work to best advantage. Ambient light is often inadequate, and sometimes off-color.

So, now that you know you want lights, where do you begin?

Clip on lights are an option. Jennifer posted a link to her booth with the clip on lights in the comments of my last post. You can see how she had a light fixture for approximately every three feet or so of wall width. If your work is displayed on the walls or very close to the walls, this may be a great solution. But, what if you work is in the middle of the booth somewhere, and not on a fixture that can easily have a clip on light attached? Then what?

Track lights are probably the most common solution. And they are not that complicated to do.

There are a few basic components:

1. The track(s).
2. The light fixtures which are inserted into the track.
3. Bulbs for the light fixtures.
4. A cord attachment for the track.
5. A crossbar to attach the lights to.
6. Something to hold the track onto the crossbar.
7. A power strip or two.

If you can build something with Legos or Tinkertoys you can put up a track light. It really is that simple.

There are lots of places to find track lighting components. Stores like Home Depot or Lowe's, or on-line stores like USA lights. I ordered tracks from Home Depot on-line recently, and it was easy, and got just what I wanted.

So, what do you need to consider when you start looking at the many options that are out there?

1. Color. Black is a good choice. White electrical components can sometimes yellow over time, and black will tend to "disappear."

2. Rotation. How far can the lights rotate or angle so that you can position them just the way you want? I had lights similar to the ones shown in the USA Lights link above, and I found I could only rotate the lights about 200 degrees, and there was very little ability to adjust the angle of the light. The lights I recently purchased have nearly 360 degree rotation, plus I can adjust the angle of the light.

3. Bulbs. You want to choose lights that have a shielded halogen bulb. This will reduce the fire hazard potential of the lights, and will also reduce any problems you might have with certain venues that are very strict about lights that can be used. Also look at the wattage. Most are 50 or 75 watts. Make sure and purchase a few more than you need. You never know when a bulb might burn out or otherwise fail.

4. Track. How much track? The limitation of how many lights you can put on a track are physical more than electrical. But you also want to spread the lights out over enough space that you can adequately light the whole space. At least two, probably three or four tracks are needed.

5. Plug. Purchasing track lighting means you need to get all the components separately. Some people will wire in the track directly in line, but for a craft show, you want to be able to plug it in. So you need to purchase a plug for the track. You can also purchase elements that will allow you to join tracks, and use one plug for two or three tracks.

Before the show, and preferably not the night before, you want to practice putting together the lights and track,....a dry run. First, unpack the track. You may need to remove an endcap on the track with a screw driver so that you can then insert the connector for the plug. This is usually tightened in place with a screwdriver.

Unpack the light fixtures, and determine how to insert to bulbs. Keep the packaging for the light fixtures. It is a good way to transport them to and from the show. The lights general go on the track with a push and a twist. You will usually get a sense of whether or not it has engaged properly. Put several lights on the track, and then plug in the track to your power strip, and turn on the power.

Did the lights go on? If so cheer and pat yourself on the back. You can do this!!

If not, don't panic. I usually find this means that the light was not properly inserted into the track. Often turning off the power, removing the light or lights that fail to light, and re-inserting them into the track is all it takes to fix the problem. But, I will admit that a few times it has taken several tries before I achieve success.

Now, you can remove each light fixture, with the light bulb in place, and return it to the package I suggested you save.

How is the track attached to a crossbar? There are several options. One is the plastic zip ties that are strong, inexpensive, and relative easy to use. Another is velcro strips....hooks on one side, and fuzz on the other. Easy on and off, and re-usable. You can find them at the big box stores, or office supply stores where they have things to control the mass of wires coming off the computer or home entertainment centers.

Not so bad, huh? I hope if you are considering doing a show, and issues like lighting are holding you back, this little primer will help. It really is doable. After a few shows you will be wondering what all the anxiety was about.

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