By on June 19th, 2012

This is the reconstruction of a June 19 blog post that suffered digital destruction.  Comments evaporated, updates have been made.


 Lucid line, a line you can read as an image or as text, is the last form of light painting we’ll look at right now.*  Here’s one of Picasso’s famous light drawings done with Gjon Mili behind the camera.  A bull, an image Picasso could inscribe on blind air.  And another just below it.  Which came first?  Surely the top image is more complex and assured than the other.  Trust Picasso to get the scrotum and pizzle in place before truing up the tail and hind legs.


Imagine drawing on a void.  You leave no line that your eye can go back and coordinate with.  Scale? Position?  Your hand moves and must keep moving, where your hand has been exists only in memory — and on the photo film that accumulates the entire gesture over time.  Only there will you know if your gesture’s been readable.  Ah, a bull.

 Pablo Picasso light drawing      via Art Before Sleep (May 2, 2012)


Pablo Picasso light drawing      via Art Before Sleep (May 2, 2012)

 Picasso certainly gave us many bulls and centaurs — paintings, etchings, painted pottery.  So he could accomplish these light drawings with their fast-fading line, and they’re true to his style, they’re real drawings.


Drawing pictures with light doesn’t dominate current light painting, but it does exist.  Take this funny sketch — the dog’s a great dog in the best Thurber-GeorgeBooth tradition.  The frisbee’s a dream addition — and this looks to be a two-handed drawing too.


Behind the Scenes by UnklStuart on Flickr      via Blog of Francesco Mugnai


Jason Page is founder of the website Light Painting Photography, a rich resource for this work.

I keep trying to figure out how this was done — at first I thought he was out in the water, the dragonflies seem to belong there, but there are no reflections.  Then I thought he was foreground of the lake, on a deck or balcony,  And then again there’s a purple reflection as if in plate glass, but then why aren’t the dragonflies reflecting?  I’m baffled.  [Later note: Jason quite rightly is not ready to share his technique.)


Dragonflies #4 by Jason D. Page         via Light Painting Photography


The next two are by Brian Hart, the first a sketch: we know a man and woman when we see them.  His more recent work is more demanding, involving colors and rigor.  Hart describes the hands below as a practice wherein he dissects an image, here in 24 sections, and then makes a photo of his light drawing one section at a time.  He’s evolved a set-up where he can feast his eyes on one of the 24 images, turn off the light and recreate the image in the dark.

If you have experience with drawing you’ll recognize how hard it is to set a form down on paper and to then come back and fill in a background.  Especially with a point tool — pencil, pen, light pen.  Hart has set out to do this in the dark.

Because I began by talking about lucid line I want to note that Hart’s hands are not in that category.  There’s not one line that describes the hand, there’s an explosion of lines that create the form.  I’m reminded more of painting technique than line drawing, there’s shading and a glory in the texture he creates.


04 by Brian Hart      via Light Painting Photography

jr by Brian Matthew Hart      via his website


David Lebe has an artier line,as if he’s experienced in sketching with ink or pencil.  He’s good.  Again, is it freehand or is it traced?  In the second example you see more advanced technique.  The light source near the figure’s foot must have spotlighted the flowers against the wall in one exposure, and the outlining and/or drawing came afterward with the spotlight off.

 Pissing, Self Portrait #6, 1976 by David Lebe      via Carrie Haddad Gallery


Barry in Rocker by David Lebe   via Light Painting Photography


The other sort of lucid line is calligraphy.  Vicki DaSilva is credited with inventing light graffiti, the written word in blank space.  Her most well-known piece is a tribute to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, Jasmine / Never Sorry (for Ai Weiwei).  [See also my June 15 post for DaSilva’s work with larger lights.]

Below is the Ai Weiwei piece.   And below this a video shows us DaSilva’s gift of writing blindly, staying legible, and fitting a space.   Her videos are a treat to watch — nimble, deft and sure, an economy of movement you’d expect in martial arts.

Jasmine / Never Sorry (for Ai Weiwei by Vicki DaSilva      via her website
  Vicki DaSilva in motion — creating her Ai Weiwei piece
title unknown but yes       via formatmag



I also admire the light calligraphy (light-graff) by Jadikan-LP.**  He’s suggested these two images to showcase his work in the form.  I love how he’s creating more complex compositions and using color in exciting ways.

Light-graff isn’t easily pigeonholed.  It writes, decisively writes, but whether there’s a message in the calligraphic forms is moot.


by Jadikan-LP    courtesy the artist


by Jadikan-LP    courtesy the artist


Lastly, this exquisite work is by Julien Breton, aka Kaalam.  His elegance of line, his skill in tempering line width, you’d swear he was using a calligrapher’s nibs instead of light.


not titled by Julien Breton, aka Kaalam     via emel

intimité – Dampsmesil by Julien Breton, aka Kaalam       via his Behance page


Coda.  I’ve had about a week of nonstop focus on light painting, and it’s been a glorious ride.  Impressive amounts of artistic energy are pouring into it.  I see growth, technical and stylistic.  I see innovation and curiosity.

My brain requests a vacation but we’ll revisit this field again.


  • *  See also June 15 and June 17
  • **  See also June 17


By on June 17th, 2012

I want to look today at a very different form of light painting than we did in the last post.  Here the artists carry their lights out into the night to create a poetry of place.  This isn’t about drawing circles or squiggles on top of a dark scene, it’s not gesture.  This is light as a film-maker may use it or a painter. The focus is the place, as a character, a mood.

You could venture into your back yard at night with flashlights and camera and come back with images of a place unknown.  The power in the light-painters’ images comes from the unnaturalness of their light.   The years’s fullest moon couldn’t illuminate as these artists do — highlighting, backlighting, shaping the darkness.

from Jarrett Murphy’s Winter series                 via his website

Snow #3 2007 Norway by Tim Simmons              via his website

Look at these two snow scenes, by the US photographer Jarrett Murphy and by Tim Simmons of the UK.  Both are snow, but the whites are defined differently.  I love in the Murphy that you still register the deep blue of the sky above his white expanse.  And the crisp detail of the withered plants in silhouette.  This is the natural world caught in the quiet and mystery of night.  It feels solemn and true.

Simmons’ snowy spot has theatrical drama, a blue cast over all, a sense of a marvelous place, hidden, now found.  This could be a stageset for a mythic encounter.  The artificiality of the lighting is part of what the image says.  Not nature, more fiction.  It aims at the mysteries of our storytelling psyches.

I find both photographs very beautiful.


Jarrett Murphy

Murphy specializes in light-painting in nature.  Stunning work you’ll not be sorry to be more acquainted with.  I don’t want to draw too firm a distinction between his work and Simmons’.  There’s a wonderful photo of him sitting foreground in a light-painted woods — the path lit ahead is beautiful as pure nature-scape, but also invites a centaur to prance across or Macduff’s army to scuttle through.

from Jarrett Murphy’s Summer series          via his website

from Jarrett Murphy’s Summer series          via his website


Tim Simmons

Simmons sometimes travels far to find the landscapes he paints with light.  You’ll find images from Iceland, the US and his native England in his gallery — special places you might walk past in daylight unawares.  Your imagination will be well repaid by a tour of his discovered spots.

Olympic Peninsula #4 2010 USA by Tim Simmons         via his website

Rockpool #12 2008 UK by Tim Simmons       via his website


Suren Manvelyan

Suren Manvelyan lovingly lights and photographs ancient sites in his native Armenia.  I doubt that he thinks of himself as a light painter in the same way the others do, but I find the exquisite beauty in his night photography equally poetic.

Often Manvelyan’s breathtaking night sky is filled with stars.  He also photographs star trails, those long-exposure arcs that track the earth’s spinning.  I’ve been trying to figure out how he gets these star-spangled skies behind the lit ruins, but I’m guessing a double-exposure, where the film saw the stars before the scene was lit and  again when the lights were on.  A hillside’s not going to wander off in the interval.  Twitch its ears.

Which is one reason I admire his work so much.  His titles make it clear he feels a power and beauty in Armenia that he wants us to share.  Devising a way to include vast skies is an artistic decision both wise and potent.

Don’t miss other images in his gallery, including some wonderful macrophotography.

Amberd fortress, XI-XIII century by Suren Manvelyan       via his website

from the Night Armenian Grammar series by Suren Manvelyan               via Behance

from the Nightscapes of the Armenian Spirit by Suren Manvelyan             via Behance



Guilhem Nicolas aka Jadikan-LP (the LP standing for Lighting Project), is most often brash and wild, often seeing light painting as a performing art, but in this series he paints with light in, well, a painterly way.  I love his greens and blues, the deep spaces, the dingy and unmemorable given strange life.

Red, like indigo, is very close to black.  I’ve seen very little red light used in these place-scapes, for a reason.  It’s so artificial you expect Space Cadets to arrive with the weaponry du jour.  Rockets covered in tinfoil.  The only natural light in these places that would be red is in a forest fire — and then the image is about fire more than about place.

With the first three photographers we’ve looked at there is an impulse to showcase real places, not to dominate them.  In the works Jadikan did in Italy, below, naturalism is limited to using the cool palette  We believe these are abandoned night-time spaces, there’s not a noisy boulevard a block away.  My favorite is first, it seems the freest and its color is clear, less broken, more decisive for the eye.

His other work is also worth your while, including the videos cited below.  He did some spectacular work in Nepal and his artistic imagination keeps morphing and growing in an exciting way.

all three images from the Spectres (Italie) series by Jadikan-LP          via his website

Over the past week I’ve been pulled into the world of light painting with unexpected suction.  The more I read and look, the bigger the field is, the more I love what the best artists are doing.  This is a fairly new artform, relying on batteries and ingenious devices, and you can imagine the artistic space it has yet to colonize.

Next post: Drawing and writing with light.


look further:

Jarrett Murphy Photography, Fine Art and Landscape Photography

Tim Simmons – image series

Suren Manvelyan