Out Of Lighting Ideas? Go Look At Art.

Artwork and photos can give you great ideas for your light show.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

I have an inordinate love for sci-fi concept art. It’s embarrassing, in a way. Drive me over to a gallery full of “serious” paintings, and I’ll be bored in about 20 minutes. Let me load up an online collection of spaceships, planets, and giant robots, and I’ll be there ALL FREAKIN’ DAY.

I think I like the art I like because the practitioners are great with making things dramatic. Huge scale. Great use of contrast. Exciting color schemes.

You know, all the stuff that makes a light design stand the test of time.

I think that it’s easy to fall into a couple of thought traps:

1: An exciting light show means a light show that’s moving all the time.

2: Stage lighting is somehow removed from other artistic disciplines.

Neither of those two points is true.

Every Picture Has A “Light Cue”

Take a look at this piece of art:

Overwhelming Thunder by *LordDoomhammer on deviantART

Is it animated? No. Is it exciting? You bet!

There’s a lot of light in the piece, but there’s plenty of shade, too. There’s also this great interplay between cool color (the blue engines and missile trails) and warm tones (the reds and golds in the background). The saturated colors “shout” at you, and yet the whole thing stays balanced. There’s detail in the piece, but it doesn’t become a chaotic barrage of information.

So – there’s the first point. Animated light cues are neat, and have their place, but you can set a very dramatic scene by bringing the lights up and leaving them alone for a song or two. You just have to do a bit of work to create a look that invites attention without being annoying or “busy.”

The second point is also in play. It’s tempting to pass off the picture as being unrelated to anything else. It’s easy to do that.

But…can’t you see the rock show that’s going on in that picture? Just for a minute, pretend that you’re not looking at spaceships. Pretend that there’s a drum riser in the background, guitar and bass players in the midground, and a singer up front. The song is a “middle piece” in a set that’s a little darker and mellower than their other tunes. Call that up in your mind.


The drummer is highlighted by the warm colors. Golden hues are reflecting off the cymbals and stands. The faces of the mid and downstage band members are visible, but shaded. Strong, pale-orange colors from side and top fixtures provide rim-lighting that accentuates the movement of the band. Piercing, yet saturated beams of blue lance out through the fog and haze.

That’s a rock show, right?

The thing is, a little bit of deconstruction can net you a tremendous stack of ideas to use when designing a light show. Because all visual art is a representation of light (when you get down to it), all you’ve got to do is take the time to ask yourself, “How would this look in the context of a live performance?”

It’s not all about direct mimicry, either. For instance, I usually use more front light than this piece, but I can definitely get some notions from it in regards to an overall color scheme. Yellows, whites, and reds seem like they’d be good for a high-energy tune.

Rebel Medium Frigate by *MotoTsume on deviantART

…and, if I need some general pointers on how to get greens and deep oranges to work together, I can spend some time looking at this picture:

Ceahlau – Durau 89 by ~cipriany on deviantART

Art will speak volumes about lighting rock shows, if you just let it. I’m not a “classically trained” lighting tech/ designer/ whatever, so how do you think I get ideas like using a warm key light with cool accents?

Pleasant Company by *LordDoomhammer on deviantART

If making your light show interesting has got you stumped, just go cruising around an art site for a while. If you’re willing to do a little thinking, you won’t be stumped for long.