Drawing & Painting with Light

Dance of Light / 2011 / Terry Long

The first photograph I saw that was created by “Drawing and Painting with light” was the black and white image of Picasso drawing a centaur in the air with a small flashlight. Gjon Mili took this photograph in 1949 for Life Magazine. Mili, who was a brilliant lighting innovator, showed Picasso the technique. The photo of Picasso appeared in the magazine a year later. I saw it in 1968 while at art college and it had a tremendous impact on me at the time, and still continues to inspire  me.

Picasso drawing with Light / 1949 / Life Magazine

My major at art college was illustration, so I was determined to try drawing and painting with light myself, but I was a financially poor art student at the time, so unable to purchase a suitable camera. That changed shortly after I graduated from art college, when I became a staff photographer for Colour Library International, a stock photo agency in London. I now finally had a camera, tripod, lights and studio, everything that I needed to draw and paint with light. In 1972 I made my first experiments with the relatively new art medium, but there were no tutorials on the subject to help, and no other photographers to get advice from. In those days film needed to be processed, which could take a bit of time before you would see the results of your labor. Although I became successful with the technique, it proved too time consuming, so it was not until 2001 that I went back to it. We now had digital photography, and that made a big difference.

The following images are some of my earlier experiments in the medium of drawing & painting with light…

Night Owl copy
Night Owl / 2011 / Terry Long

The drawing of the owl started as a warming up exercise, with no preconceived idea. It did not take long before I saw a resemblance to an owl emerge, I just added the beak to it. It is wise to stay flexible, and have an open mind to the possibilities while you are working. Nikon D200 with a 18-70 Lens. 15 seconds at f22.

Drawing with light allows me to combine drawing, painting and photography in a digital art form. There are several techniques that I use, and the most common is to mount the camera firmly on a tripod that is placed in a dark studio. The camera is focused on a predetermined spot where the action will take place, and the shutter is usually set for about a 20 to 30 second exposure. I often work from preliminary sketches, plus play music that I have specially selected to aid me in the rhythmic part of the piece. My method of drawing and painting with light relates very much to the art of Chinese Ribbon Dancing, but instead of trailing a ribbon, a trail of light is created, and the entire motion is captured on camera. My drawing method is very gestural in approach, and I use the rhythm and  mood of the music to inspire me throughout the work.

.Lightdance.1.e. copy
Icing on the Cake / 2010 / Terry Long

This image was created by moving the camera, and not by moving the light. There was also some post production with Photoshop  to achieve the symmetry effect in the design. Nixon D2x with a 17-70mm Nikkor lens.

Gemini / 2010 / Terry Long

Strictly speaking, this is not painting with light, because no light was moved throughout the exposure, but using christmas lights to illuminate this kind of subject is a bit unusual, and it got me the starry effect I was looking for. Nikon N90 with a 28-105mm lens. 8 second exposure at f8.


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