Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Shining a Light on Things

If you plan to do shows, retail or wholesale, lighting is something that you will have to figure out. It was the also one of the parts of doing shows that scared the heck out of me. Electricity has this affect on me. Watts, volts, amps....my head starts spinning. This big dark cloud settles in and I find ten other reasons why I don't want to go there.

But, I did want to go there. I wanted to do shows, specifically juried shows, so I was going to have to figure it out. After several years of doing shows, I think I have finally reached a degree of comfort with this area that had previously seemed elusive. So, let me share what I have learned, and maybe help alleviate any anxieties you may have had around this area, and maybe shorten your learning curve.

Let's start with why. Why do you need lights? Because you want your work to be seen in the best light possible (Pun fully intended!). Without lighting, your work can be almost invisible. I was next to an artist at a small show this past December who had part of her work hung up on panels, with lights illuminating the panels. The rest of the work was sitting out on a table. The ambient light in the room was limited at best. As a result, the work on the table was hard to see. The color, the detail, were all lost in the dim light. It had to have had an affect on her sales. The only work that people were looking at was the work on the panels. It was terrific that she was selling some of this work, but what potential sales did she miss by having half of her work in the dark?

How much light do you need? Let's talk about the 10 ft by 10 ft booth, standard at most juried shows. Some shows will include electricity with your booth fee. Often this is about 300 to 500 watts. It is not enough. Trust me. I have tried to use that much in the past. It is not enough. 1000 watts is a better level of lighting. Most track light fixtures are 50 watts. So this means 20 fixtures. Yes, twenty.

I have finally accepted that this is what I need to do. I have done shows with 300 to 500 watts, and have been perpetually frustrated by my inability to adequately light the work. Some of the work is well lit, and other pieces are sitting in shadow. Not the presentation that I want. If you have dark walls, you definitely will need lots of light. Black walls are popular for colorful work, because it makes the work seem to "Pop!" But it also absorbs a lot of the light in the booth.

What kind of light? Ideally you want to use halogen lights. They have a full spectrum quality. You want the colors of your work to be as true to what they would appear in natural light as possible.

What kinds of fixtures? Track lights are the most common kinds of light used in a craft booth. They give you lots of flexibility as far as placement, and direction. But they have potential pitfalls as well. It is important to be sure that lights are not pointing at your customers faces, blinding them, or that they are not hung too low so that tall visitors to your booth risk scalp burns. Many fire codes also require that the track be at least eight feet off the ground.

On a recent webcast that was available to ACRE show participants, Bruce Baker touched on this topic. One of the booths he showed caught my eye. It had several crossbars in the booth space. One across the front, and then one from front to back, and another from side to side. Lights were arrayed along these central crossbars aimed at the work in the booth. Baker recommends that lights be placed above where the visitors to your booth will stand. If the lights are hung on the front crossbar, pointing into the booth space, as soon as the customers walk into your booth, they will block the path of the light onto your work. And as they turn around to leave the booth, they get a blast of bright light in their eyes. Not a good parting experience.

There are other options of course. Some jewelry cases come with lights. Under shelf lights are great for work that is displayed on nearly any type of shelving. But even with these types of lights, you will want to have some overhead light.

So, where do you begin? There are companies that specialize in tradeshow lighting. Look through Crafts Report, and you will see plenty of advertisements. Or go to the local Home Depot or Lowe's. You will find track, lights, cords, and all the components you need to install your lights.

In my next post I will show you what some of those components look like and how you can hang them, for those of you who are like I was a few years ago....in the dark!


Jenny Patterson said...

Hi Judy, This is soo very interesting. Booth display is hard, and lighting is harder! I have found a solution for me, whether it is the best one or not, I don't know. But if you can use this information, you are welcome to it. Because of the way I set up my display I use swing arm light fixtures, with florescent "daylight" bulbs. I get my bulbs from a company called "Energy Dimensions" And they are also color correcting. I have a picture of my display all set up here: http://good-times.webshots.com/photo/2091764180091410488eMuWtx?vhost=good-times

Jenny P

Judy said...

Hi Jenny, Thank you for sharing your images of your booth. It appears that your booth is very well lit with the lights that you are using. I don't think there is a "best" solution. I think we all have to work towards the best for us.

One difference between the set-up you are using and the ones I have used in the past, is the hardwalls. I did rent a hardwall booth last year,and use similar lights. I just could have used more of them! Generally though, I have drapery walls, so it is tougher to use a clamp or clip on type fixture. That is where I find the tracklights, set up away from the "walls" is the best solution for me. Both in terms of lighting and safety.
Thank you for illuminating another way to address this issue! (There are way too many pun opportunities with this topic, and I just can't seem to keep away!)