Lighting of Edinburgh Castle

Inspiration And Light [Presentation by Graham Reid Phoenix]

I am going to talk about how our Inner Light will lead us to greater influence as Lighting Designers, how, if we connect to the light inside us, we can grow and develop and become the designers who make a difference in the profession.

It is important that as designers we believe in what we are doing and display that as a passionate involvement in our work. It is our passion that shows to colleagues, partners and clients. It is our passion that moves us forward. What makes you, as a designer, different from the rest is the extent to which this belief is communicated to clients and other designers. The extent to which your belief in yourself gets incorporated into your work is critical to your success.

Inspiration and Light

The hero is the one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.

Felix Adler

There are three elements which are crucial in achieving success, they are Awareness, Acceptance and Authenticity.

You need to be aware of your skills and approach as a designer. Know what you are good at, what you love. From there it is important to accept who you are, or go about changing it. Find the passion that does ignite you and accept it as part of your life. Then you need to be authentic, live who you are. It is too easy just to do what others do and thereby betray yourself. Reject this and be true to you own passion.

In seeking this connection, passion and belief you need to go back to the source of all that we do, light. Yes, we need to know our craft, understand the technology and be able to use it, but behind it we need to know light.

What is light, where does it come from, what is it for, how do people use it? These are question that should occupy our minds. These are issues we need to come to grips with.

This is an enormous subject and I hope to touch on just some of the truths about light, to inspire you with them and help you find your own connection with the light inside you. From this it is for you to find your own passion and belief, your own source, your own light, your own awareness, acceptance and authenticity.

I dedicate this presentation to the power of lighting design to elevate people’s lives. As a colleague, an employer and a mentor I have seen people change through their involvement with light. It is a great profession that does great work and we should all continue to be proud of it.

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Chinese Proverb

As lighting designers we do more than illuminate people’s lives, we draw attention to the beauty there. We help people to look forward and see what is to come. We create environments that take people out of the negativity of their lives and give them hope. I fully believe that, as lighting designers, we provide a service which inspires people at large as well as ourselves.

The power of the Tribute in Light to 9/11, for me, is quite extraordinary both technically and conceptually. It celebrates the lives of those killed and creating it with something intangible, yet powerful.

For me, it’s a fitting memorial to the fragility of life. It recognises the power of life. It’s enjoying nature. For me, it speaks directly to our souls, and I think very few people could see this and not be touched by it or brought to think of what it represents. The extraordinary power of something you can’t touch and can’t hold is immense. This article is about Inspiration and Light. The inspiration that creates light and the inspiration of light. Inspiration is what leads us to influence the world as lighting designers. Light is what gives us our inspiration. Inspiration is what creates our light.

As Lighting Designers we all want that edge that will get us noticed. We want more business and we want more influence. If we let our own personal guidance system, our Inner Light, into our work, it will lead us to our true calling as designers. What do we really want to communicate as designers, who do we want to communicate with?

This presentation will outline what influenced me as a designer and will look at how I took my ‘Inner Light’ into my work. It will show how the congruence between what I felt, what I wanted and what I did projected me to greater influence.

It is important that designers believe in what they are doing and display that as a passionate involvement in their work. What makes a designer different from the rest is the extent to which this belief is communicated to clients and other designers

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

We all sparkle and shine, some of us more than others, but what is revealed when the darkness sets in. What happens when things get tough. When a project gets difficult, business gets tough or our personal lives intrude. How do we react to our work? Does it continue to be our passion? Do we keep striving to communicate? If our connection with our light comes from within we will continue to shine and grow.

Forms of Light

Light comes in many forms and has long been categorised by those seeking to understand it. This is part of a process of trying to contain the world we live in, trying to bring it under our control. One of the things I love about light is how it refuses to be contained like this. It is shifted, changed, diverted, diffused, focused but it never succumbs to our complete control. It eventually breaks free and remains light. We are never able to fully understand it, intellectually or scientifically, but we keep trying.

There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

Edith Wharton

There are some well-know, at least in this community, definitions or categorisations of light, for example those by Speirs and Major, and Henry Plummer.

It is interesting that although the former are lighting designers all of them are architects. They see light as part of a grander presentation of our world, they see light as part of the creation of our environment. Important and exciting as their work is, I seek to see light as more central to our lives as more of the core essence of who we are.

Made of Light

Jonathan Spiers and Mark Major, along with their amazing team of designers, created Made of Light, The Art of Light and Architecture. In it they categorised light into 12 themes, what they describe as “common bonds between light and architecture”. They deliberately focus on “qualitative, ephemeral and abstract considerations” but emphasise that the world we see, particularly the architectural world is "Made of Light". I don’t want to dwell on these themes but I do want to remind you what they are.


We now live in an age where artificial sources offer as many possibilities for expression and the creation of architecture as the light of the sun itself.


Through the relationship between light and dark we are able to determine the form of architecture by the manner in which space and surface is revealed.


The relationship between light, surface and texture is not only substantial – it can be implied, simulated or hidden.


Light liberates the use of colour in architecture through our ability to create coloured light.


Through the passage of light we track not only the change of day into night but also form and surfaces moving in light.


Whilst light is a creative medium its most basic function is to enable us to see.


The manner in which light renders mass defines the essential relationship between architecture and light.


Light influences space through the manner in which it defines mass as form.


Light helps to define our understanding of the limits of space and form through the lighting of boundaries.


Light is the means by which the perceived scale of our world may be clearly understood.


Light plays a key role in creating image.


Man’s own light can be created and controlled to provide excitement and emotion – surprise and mystery – through the creation of theatre and illusion.

Henry Plummer

Henry Plummer in his great book ‘The Architecture of Natural Light’, looks at how light is used by architects. He looks at the form and function of light and how architecture is defined by it. He uses 7 categorisations of light that are intangible but stunning. His book is full of his stunning photographs which do much to open up and reveal light for what it really is. Briefly his categorizations are:


Orchestration of light to mutate through time.


Choreography of light for the moving eye.

Veils of Glass

Refraction of light in a diaphanous film.


Sifting of light through a porous screen.


Channelling of light through a hollow mass.

Atmospheric Silence

Suffusion of light with a unified mood.


Materialization of light in a physical manner.

The Essence of Light

These two categorizations work well for designers and architects. They seek to divide up light by how it is seen or used.

Speirs and Major talk about the manipulation of light by a designer. They look at it’s origin, its source, and they work with what happens to it, how it reacts to surfaces, objects and buildings. They look at how light defines buildings and spaces, how it creates atmosphere and even magic. Plummer looks at a more essential categorization of light in architecture. How is light used by architects to achieve their ends, how does it become the architecture itself.

I would like to go more into the essence of light itself, what it is, where it comes from, how we react to it and how it influences life. Light is critical in the creation and definition of architecture but it also has a life of its own, a life outside architecture and lighting design, a life in the world at large. It is instructive for us to look at this, develop our awareness of it and bring that awareness into our work.

Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep. Le Corbusier

I would like to offer my own categories of Inspiration in Light:

Living Light

The essence and science of light, what is it, how does it work.

Discovered Light

How light is seen in the world, natural light in all its forms, the world of light and dark.

Imagined Light

Light in Art, how light is interpreted.

Created Light

How light is used or harnessed, in architecture and all forms of lighting design and light art.

Spiritual Light

How we take light inside, how it becomes us, how it connects with living light.

Living Light

The essence and science of light, what is it, how does it work.

A double helix of certainty and uncertainty threads its way through light and its history. Scientists understand and yet don’t. As soon as its nature becomes clear it disappears into a mist.

A double helix of creation and seeing threads its way through light. Living light is about how light is made, the science of light, it is also about how we see it. These two aspects of light are the essential components of light. They are both necessary and both very interesting.

Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.
Michael Strassfeld

The history of the understanding of light has intertwined with the spiritual nature of light. It started with light as the god, the sun as the creator of the earth. Scientific study was intended to expand man’s understanding of creation. It moved on to the light of god illuminating the earth. Science was about proving the existence of god. Science moved away from religion and became a study in fact and reality. In the present age it has returned to the metaphysical with the uncertainty of quantum theory.

No matter how hard we try we cannot avoid the feeling that light and spirituality remain forever mingled, one informing the other. No matter how hard we try to see light as merely functional, the truth gets lost in our attempts to understand it.


Let’s start with our end of the process, seeing. The act of seeing is automatic. We see without any apparent effort.

We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is.

Samuel Johnson

The mechanisms of human vision are highly intentional. A great deal of what we see arises out of what we expect to see. No distinction can be made between seeing with the eye and seeing with the mind.

There are a variety of different strategies operating between the eye and the brain. The most basic are hardwired into brain, they are based on genetic instructions responsible for the creation of neural pathways relating to vision.

In the midbrain we don’t actually see anything. The functions are primitive and instinctual. It can be understood in the act of a frog ‘seeing’ a fly enter its visual field and its tongue darting out in response. It doesn’t ‘see’ anything but registers the existence of the fly.

In the visual cortex there are a number of centres each doing something quite different. This is where vision, in the sense of actually seeing things, begins. There is the process of seeking out edges, this important in determining its outline, the process of picking out moving bars, there are fields of colour and there are areas of movement. (It is interesting to note how these tie in with with Speirs and Majors’ themes.)

Alongside this processing is the act of doubting. As the brain attempts to integrate the visual clues it has collected, it rapidly makes a series of guesses. The eyes are constantly looking for certainty while the brain deals in doubt. This is where the intentionality of vision comes in. The brain seeks out what is relevant from within the information that it is receiving. It’s constantly making hypotheses about the world around it and it needs additional information in order to reject some of these hypotheses while provisionally accepting others. The brain must instruct the eye where to look and what to look for.

Vision therefore involves a constant movement between the generation and resolution of doubt. A great deal of what we ‘see’ must already be present in the brain in the form of assumptions based on what we have already learned about the world and the way it works.

This helps to identify how lighting can be used to support people’s assumptions or create greater doubt.

Waves or Particles and Quantum Theory

In Physics, Quantum Theory means that it is no longer possible to be objective or precise about what we see in the world, a further extension of this idea of doubt. Theoretical Physicists spend their time drawing up theories and testing them against experimental results to see if they fit. They are only able to make estimations of probabilities. There is no actual reality only an estimation of it.

The theory of light went through many iterations before it reached this level of uncertainty.

For now we see through a glass, darkly

St Paul

It was Newton, in the 17th century, who proposed the theory that light was made up of particles.

After playing with a prism and discovering that the different colours of the spectrum were already contained within white light, he began to question the very nature of light itself. He brought light into his theories of motion and gravitation to form his own ‘Theory of Everything’. This idea of combining the different forces of creation into a single theory has obsessed many of the great minds of the twentieth century, like Newton they were not to succeed.

One of his greatest critics, Huygens, was convinced, however, that light was a type of wave. The arguments raged around the nature of the substance the waves were in or how we can’t see round corners, unlike waves which appear to bend round corners. Particles or waves, two opposite and incompatible characteristics and yet they both seem to apply to light. Then the idea of a wave gained precedence. Faraday stunned the world of science with his theory linking light to electricity and magnetism by describing light as a vibration rippling through magnetic force lines. But it was Maxwell who made the discovery of light’s electromagnetic nature.

Planck, in the nineteenth century, finding evidence of particles, but believing in the theory of waves, describe the ‘quanta’, or chunks of energy, given off by particular atoms of light. “Particles. Jim, but not as we know it”. Then Einstein re-invigorated the original idea of Newton, light is made up of particles. Somehow, Einstein thought, light managed to be a packet of energy, but still behave like a wave. Einstein threw away one of the most basic accepted facts in science, that light was a perfectly normal wave, and left the way open for the whole of quantum theory, fundamentally changing our picture of the mechanics of reality.

Quantum theory says that a light photon can exist in a strange mixture of two possible states until it is measured, only then does it decide which it’s going to be. This peculiar state was described in more detail by one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, Richard Feynman. He developed QED, Quantum Electrodynamics, or ‘the strange theory of light and matter’. At its heart was the simple concept, the principle of least action. Creation is lazy and a physical phenomenon will take the course of action that requires least effort or time, much like I do.

Feynman was to discover that light is fundamental to the continued existence of matter. At each end of a photon’s life there is a necessary interaction with matter. The elements of light were part of creation itself.

So we come to the point, light behaves like waves until you enter the quantum world where light behaves like particles. The quantum world is about uncertainty and duality. With the quantum world nothing is certain, nothing proven. Life becomes an estimation, a theory, and as such constantly moves forward. All we really know is that light is central to the whole of creation. It doesn’t just illuminate it, it is it. Light doesn’t just reveal the world around us it is that world.

God runs electromagnetics on Monday, Wednesday and Friday by wave theory, and the devil runs it by quantum theory on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

William Henry Bragg

What happens on a Sunday, lets leave that until later.

Discovered Light

How light is seen in the world, natural light in all its forms, the world of light and dark.

Discovered light, for me, is light as we experience it in the world. It is the light of nature that is created for us to live in. It is light unobstructed by the actions of man through buildings or other devices. It is the raw natural power of light in our environment.

Two lights brighten our world. One is provided by the sun, but another answers to it – the light of the eye. Only through their intertwining do we see, lacking either, we are blind.

Arthur Zajonc

It all comes back to the sun. The sun that provides our warmth, the sun that enables plants to grow, the sun that creates life. It’s not surprising to realize that the sun has been worshipped throughout history. Even now I live in Spain, rather than the UK, largely because of the availability and heat of the sun.

Light in Nature

Our experience of light comes from nature. Daylight and sunlight, in their various qualities provide the background to our conceptual understanding of light. It’s what we live in, it’s what we see all the time almost from the moment we’re born. It’s what we experience and what we understand of the world.

Light is the basis of our whole lives. It’s light that enables us to exist. It’s light that enables us to see. It’s light that shapes our perceptions and our understanding. So, looking at inspiration, we ought to look at light; light itself, natural light. In my design work I always start with natural light because it’s what I have most experience and knowledge of. We need to look at what is our experience of light, what is it really for us? What is it we live in?

Our greatest experience is natural light. It consists of light from the sun filtered in various ways. Earlier we looked at Henry Plummer’s categorization of light filtered by buildings, here we are taking a step back to seeing light filtered by nature. We see it as daylight filtered by the clouds and spread diffusely around us. We see it as sunlight shining directly on us, burning and clarifying us, and we see it as moonlight reflected off the moon creating a more mysterious light.

You can't have a light without a dark to stick it in.

Arlo Guthrie

We also see it as darkness, the lack of light; even more powerful sometimes than the light itself, and even more necessary sometimes than light in creating lighting.

Let’s start with daylight, let’s look at it. Let’s try and see what’s inside it, what it looks like, and how it can give us thoughts and inspiration. In many parts of the world, it’s far more prevalent than sunlight. That may seem a bit strange being here in Boulder where we have the sun beating down on us most of the day. But, coming from Northern Europe, as I do, I know all about daylight and lack of sunlight.

It comes from two sources, the reflection of the blue sky and light filtered through clouds. It has a sharpness to its colour and a softness to its quality. It’s bland and can become extremely gloomy, particularly as the cloud cover gets deeper. As you move away from the equator, as you move away from the glare and heat of the sun the temperament of people gets softer and cooler. The coolness of the light is often offset, indoors, by the warmth of candlelight or other light with similar colour.

Our connection to time lessens with daylight, the directionality of the sun is no longer there. Other than light and dark, there is nothing, the day drifts into a unity that drives people insane. Beyond the arctic circle the extremity becomes hard to take and is only worsened by the onset of long periods of darkness.

People feel the lack of the sun spiritually. They mourn their disconnection from god, from the source of power. They seek to create monuments to bring back the sun to enable them to worship the sun again. Eclipses have, through history, caused panic as people thought the world was coming to an end.

Moving on to sunlight. Let’s look at sunlight and what it signifies.

It adds fire and heat to light. It creates the fiery temperament of Southern people; Southern European people. You can’t escape it other than by going indoors or waiting for nightfall. It is experienced towards the equator as a defining, revealing light. Sunlight can even deaden and kill all the amazing, artificial light that elsewhere blazes and blinds.

Its power is immense. Its ability to create and destroy are equal. It’s exciting and energizing, and encourages advancement and apathy at the same time. It invigorates people and saps their strength at one and the same time.

Our reaction to sunlight often is to hide from it, to hide from the heat, to hide from the power of it. But, we still like to see it. We like to be shielded from it, but look at it and see it, and enjoy its power and strength. When I wrote this presentation I was sitting under the fierce sun, but under a shade. I was protected from it while able to appreciate and enjoy its immense power

You gain shelter and coolness while staying in touch with the power of the sun. You hide from its searching rays, and yet are drawn to its power. I love the texture of light and shade, and it’s something I often try and find ways of reproducing in artificial lighting.

The clash of the tangible and the intangible is ever present in nature. Can we provide the same in our design work? Can we provide these contrasts and this power in our design work? There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind. For me, this cuts to the center of the qualities of sunlight, finding a spiritual connection there, a spiritual connection which gives power and strength to the design work I do.

Light and Dark

Starting my lighting career in the theatre I have come to see lighting as a mix of light and dark, a tapestry of color and shade, and a field of contrast and texture. This mixture is vital to my approach to light and my understanding of it.

Louis Kahn, the great architect and manipulator of light, once said,

I gave myself an assignment: to draw a picture that demonstrates light. Now if you give yourself such an assignment, the first thing you do is escape somewhere, because it is impossible to do. You say that the white piece of paper is the illustration; what else is there to do? But when I put a stroke of ink on the paper, I realized that the black was where the light was not, and then I could really make a drawing, because I could be discerning as to where the light was not, which was where I put the black. Then the picture became absolutely luminous.

That is the key to appreciating light – darkness.

Darkness is only driven out with light, not more darkness.

Martin Luther King

Darkness creates more interest and seems to inspire more than light. Dark holds all that we want to keep hidden, all that we are ashamed of. Jung talked of our Shadow which contains the events, emotions and all the power that is suppressed in our lives. Much self-development and psychology is geared to releasing the shadow to our light, opening ourselves up to the power and cleansing of light.

There is a famous Marianne Williamson quote that has become important in my life,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. ... as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

This turns this fear of darkness on its head. It inspires people because it identifies that we shrink from our own power, we deny what we are capable of. This reversal of Jung is as amazing as it is powerful.

How do we experience darkness? Clearly the complete lack of light at night or underground, but also from moonlight. Moonlight is still sunlight, but it’s sunlight reflected; reflected in such a way that all the fire and power has been leached out of it. Moonlight has always been associated with lovers, with magic, with a sense of mystery that’s cool and monochromatic.

But, with a total absence of light pollution, it can be truly amazing. I spent time in Fiji well away from the light pollution of Europe and America, and experienced the incredible power of the moon through that true darkness. The moon and the darkness together are quite an amazing experience, one that is extremely hard to reproduce artificially, but one that should at least give us some thought.

The moon is always associated with darkness. Darkness and the moonlight are absolutely close together and the moon is often used to represent the dark side of nature. It contrasts with the sun, but it also balances it. The moon, very often, draws us into its spell.

It creates a different emotion and a different sense of the natural world around us. Everything becomes still and silent, and seems to go to sleep. Can we create this feeling in buildings?

Imagined Light

Light in Art, how light is interpreted.

Imagined light is what comes from the mind of man. It is not concerned with the scientific source of light but with its representation. How can you imagine it in your mind, how can you re-create it. This has mostly been the concern of artists through history. They have tried to encapsulate light on canvas, tried to reproduce its power. Often they succeed in representing it well but do they succeed in helping us to understand it.

Light is a thing that cannot be reproduced, but must be represented by something else – by color.

Paul Cezanne

The painters Vermeer and Caravaggio were masters in portraying light. They painted scenes of simplicity and power and accurately portrayed the light in them. But were these accurate pictures anything more stunning or beautiful. People love their accuracy and the painters were inspired in how they used paint to show reality, but did they inform us any more about light? Did they explore the nature of light? The showed us how light was and what it did but did they question it.

I think artists are more interesting when they explore the boundaries of understanding there were about light in their time, such as Turner. I think artists have a role to break barriers and challenge us.

Let’s look at two artists who, in their way, challenged perceptions of light, Brunelleschi and Monet.


Artists for hundreds of years struggled with vision, they struggled with what they saw. Somehow they were unable to represent, in their painting, what they actually saw. Somehow the light of their imagination did not equate with the light of reality.

Don't just use light to illuminate... think about what light means in the context of the painting.

Martha Mayer Erlebacher

It came to an architect to see that there was something visually wrong in the flat, unnatural paintings of the time. It was 1420 when Filippo Brunelleschi stood outside the cathedral in Florence, as an architect he was an enthusiast for classical design and had a feel for mathematical rightness of form. He was used to working in three dimensions and he understood the behaviour of light.

He constructed a simple device of wonderful ingenuity. With a mirror, a piece of board and a small hole he was ready to demonstrate perspective. He had painted a mirror image of the baptistery at the far end of the Piazza. His architect’s awareness of spatial form combined with Euclid’s understanding of the way light flowed in straight lines from the object back to the eye. He bored a small hole through the middle of the painting. He turned the painting round and blocked the view through the hole with a small mirror. So observers could see the view and the painted view were the same. At last perspective and the understanding of light flowing in straight lines.

The consequences of this demonstration were destined to dominate all of painting until the twentieth century. What he had brought to art was a new scientific way of seeing. Up to this moment painting has revealed a sacred order that was at variance with the laws of vision. What mattered was not the physical but rather the spiritual geometry of space. Every age and culture crafts its own sensory reality. Today, in the twenty-first century, we no longer see art as representational, we have moved on to our own perception of reality which lies beyond a mere pictorial view back, some think, to a more spiritual view.

The treatment and view of light and how it works was at the heart of Brunelleschi’s revolution. But revolution it was. Light was turning art and science on its head.

Monet - Rouen Cathedral

A different view of light and its role in the whirlwind at the centre of art was expressed by Monet. Already painting had passed on from the scientific view of the sixteenth century. In the late 19th century art was already moving away from its role as a representation of nature, of God’s world. Impressionism was yet again changing the face of art, yet again challenging our view of light.

The older I become the more I realize of that I have to work very hard to reproduce what I search: the instantaneous. The influence of the atmosphere on the things and the light scattered throughout.

Claude Monet

Monet painted a series of views of Rouen Cathedral between 1892 and 1894.

The series has been described as ‘The Climax of Impressionism’. It consists of 31 canvases showing the façade of the Gothic cathedral under different conditions of light and climate.

The idea of representing the same object at different moments with the aim of observing the changes caused by natural light was not something new for Monet. He had already created a group of 15 canvases in his ‘Haystack’ series.

They were painted under the summer sun, in the sunset or at dusk, at different times of the year. They were painted out of interest in the dynamic nature of light, the very same interest we have. What caught the eye of critics and artists was the fact that the object, the haystack, disappeared leaving behind the impression of light almost as an abstract form.

With his cathedral series Monet goes even further. He chooses a view of the cathedral with it close to, thus obscuring the architectural nature of the object.

It’s as if he wanted to strip the paintings of all recognizable form and perspective. He was way beyond Brunelleschi.

The building is no more than a background to the display of light that he wanted to observe. The play of colour, the dynamic quality of the light and the atmosphere capable of giving life to this stone structure.

It was as if he was portraying the depth of emotion that was daily played out inside the building.

As a painter he was unable to portray a fleeting moment, that is the role, now, of photography. He often worked on a number of canvases at once to constantly try and capture the unique combination of light, atmosphere and colour he saw.

In painting these canvases Monet had been able to capture the fourth dimension, time.

He saw the cathedral not as a fixed object but as an object moving through time constantly being changed by the action of light on its façade.

Clemenceau said about Monet's Cathedrals:

In front of the twenty views of the building by Monet, one notices that the Art, in its persistence of expressing nature with increasing exactitude, teaches us to watch, to perceive, to feel. The stone itself is transformed into an organic substance, and one can feel how it changes in the same way that a little moment of the life is followed by another one ... The great temple is in itself a testament of the unifying sunlight, and sends its mass against the brightness of the sky.

These paintings are regarded as the best pictorial testimony of the incomparable courage of Impressionism. As such they are worthy of study by us as lighting designers. It is important to see beyond the object to the light itself, to see the emotion and the power in its representation.

Created Light

How light is used or harnessed, in architecture and all forms of lighting.

Created light is what we deal with in lighting design. We create light, we create lighting effects. We deal in static and dynamic light using all the themes outlined by Speirs and Major. Our understanding of created light is deep but often limited. It is often limited to the world we know, the world of lighting design and sometimes the world of theatre.

How often do we look critically at other methods of creating light, at other disciplines that use light.

I would, briefly, like to look at two areas to reveal what they have to say about light and lighting, fire and light grafitti.


Fire is a primal use of light, one that helped move us into a civilized society. Fire removed us from our reliance on the Sun and enabled us to move more freely around the globe. Fire was the first type of artificial light and lead us slowly to the complex use of artificial light we know, today, as lighting design. From candlelight in a cathedral to a Burning Man Festival, fire is a means of access to the spiritual world. It is a form of comfort physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The Faraday Christmas lectures for children from the Royal Institution are famous in the UK, they are now on TV and a part of popular culture. Michael Faraday gave these himself for 35 years. At Christmas 1860 he gave a famous series on ‘The Chemical History of a Candle’. He said,

There is no better way, there is no more open door by which you can enter the study of natural philosophy than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle.

People have always been fascinated by the intensity of a candle flame, with its flickering power. People meditate by it and glory in its ‘natural’ nature. For my 40th birthday I had dinner in a restaurant only lit by candlelight. The effect was dramatic and powerful. We ate in an atmosphere that was constantly moving and consistently warm and inviting.

Fire purifies the material used to burn it, alchemists use it to turn lead into gold, it is often still used to clean implements for medical use when nothing else is available. It renews everything it touches. The Phoenix renews itself with it.

The flame of a candle is symbolic incorporating into its nature a moral as well as a physical aspect. It draws us towards it and we never tire of its fascination.

At the Burning Man in the US people go to celebrate. On Saturday night, they burn the Man. As the procession starts, the circle forms, and the man ignites, participants experience something personal, something new to themselves, something they've never felt before. It's an epiphany, it's primal, it's newborn. It comes from fire and it is released back into fire.

Fire has always played an important part in the practice of worship, even to the modern practice of processing down a cathedral aisle behind candles to celebrate Easter and the rising of Christ.

Today the eternal flame is used on graves of the unknown soldier to honour men’s sacrifice. People see redemption in flames.

When we use real flame in our work, we introduce something very special, and we know it.

Light Graffitti

Light grafitti is a form of light art that is, by definition, temporary in nature. It uses photography to create stunning pictures that have no connection with reality. It is an ultimate form of art that purely uses light to create its effects. But it uses light in a way that is not visible to the naked eye. It relies on photography and the manipulation that is available with photography.

Light Graffiti has come to fame over recent years and there are many amazing works on show on the internet demonstrating what can be achieved. Light graffiti artists create unique tagging in air or around objects, then images are captured with time-lapse photography. This form of tagging is not even possible with spray paints hence the excitement with it.

Exposures for light grafitti, or light painting as it is sometimes known, are made usually at night or in a darkened room by moving a hand-held light source or by moving the camera. In many cases the light source itself does not have to appear in the image. The term light painting also encompasses images lit from outside the frame with hand-held light sources. The first known photographer to use this technique was Man Ray in his series "Space Writing".

The light can either be used to selectively illuminate parts of the subject or to ‘paint’ a picture by shining it directly into the camera lens. Light painting requires a sufficiently slow shutter speed, usually a second or more. Like night photography, it has grown in popularity since the advent of digital cameras because they allow photographers to see the results of their work immediately.

Light painting by moving the camera, also called camera painting, is the antithesis of traditional photography. At night, or in a dark room, the camera can be taken off the tripod and used like a paintbrush. An example is using the night sky as the canvas, the camera as the brush and cityscapes as the palette. Putting energy into moving the camera by stroking lights, making patterns and laying down backgrounds can create abstract artistic images.

This approach has been picked in the world of lighting design in a form that doesn’t use photography. Guerilla lighting is becoming increasingly popular as a technique that allows people to be let loose on buildings without affecting the overall night time environment.

The website says the following:

Guerrilla lighting is a war on bad lighting, guerrilla lighting is a protest against wasteful use of light but most of all, guerrilla lighting is about having fun and raising the awareness of the power of professional lighting. Guerrilla lighting creates ephemeral and magical moments of quality lighting that are recorded and sent to the media and politicians to instigate action against bad lighting.

Lighting becomes politics, graffitti changes the world. It all shows the power of light.

Spiritual Light

How we take light inside, how it becomes us, how it connects with living light.

As a designer, I work with light in the way I feel about life, and about myself. As a designer, I’m concerned with the connection between physical light and our inner experience of light. I think that what we do speaks to our inner souls, and the connections we make. I think the work we do displays much of who we are, and what we are as people.

I originally became involved in lighting, in the theatre, because I wanted to get involved in what people saw, how people saw things and how they felt about it, because lighting not only enables vision in a physical sense, but it also underlines Vision with a capital V; a vision we have for our lives.

And certainly, for me, it underlies the vision I have for my life. Light is such a central part of it, because when light becomes internalized, it underpins the vision for our lives. The fact that I, some years ago, internalized my views on light, underpins my vision for life and it underpins my dreams.

Of the original phenomena, light is the most enthralling.

Leonardo da Vinci

Light helps us to understand buildings and the spaces we live in. It helps us not just to see our way around them, but to understand the nature of them, understand the form of them, understand the use of them, understand what they’re for and what they’re about.

But, when light is internalized, it helps us understand our lives and our place in the world. It goes bigger than the buildings; it goes into our whole lives.

Buildings are accentuated by light, as are our lives. Light is about emotion, whether it’s the more obvious in manipulation that happens in the theater, or the more subtle results of great architectural lighting. Our feelings are influenced by natural light.

From within, not from behind, a light shines through us onto things. It makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. We are casting the shadow obscuring what we’re looking at, or creating the light that illuminates the world around us. Light opens up everything, and we fool ourselves if we think the world is revealed just by our own efforts. It’s also revealed by something greater inside us.

Lux and Lumen

Way back in the realms of history light was the guiding force for most civilisations. Stonehenge acted as both a temple of light and a marker of the important seasonal changes predicted by the movement of the sun. The Egyptians linked the Sun wit the god Ra, creator of the universe. Light was given great significance in the beliefs behind modern Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the creation according to Genesis, light is part of the first day of time.

The history of light is also the history of space, again one of Speirs and Major’s themes comes back to us. Space can be whatever we want to put in it, it is empty and waiting.

We shape the clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.


Endow space with divinity and light is godlike, discover its shape and light is geometrical, fill it with matter and light is substantial. The early Christians the first light of creation to be a noble, spiritual reality they termed lux. It was the soul of space. They distinguished it from its physical counterpart, termed lumen. It may seem difficult and remote to us, but it was a central part of their world view.

Lux was god-given, essential light, the being of light.

Lumen was the material means by which our perception of the being of light arose. When we sense the brilliance of the sun we are perceiving its lux, but we do so by means of the unseen lumen that connects it to us.

The concept of lux largely disappeared leaving lumen as our only perception of light. Maybe it is time to bring it back, shifting it from a god-given light to an internal spiritual light. It would bring sense to the tension between inner and outer light, lux and lumen, each creating and exploring the other.

Our understandings of light are intertwined with our conceptions of space: moral space and spiritual light, perspective space and geometrical light, material space and substantial light. Throughout history each age emphasisied one face of light and so revealed its central concerns.

The Light Inside

So we are left with my central thesis: our passion and our abilities as lighting designers are directly influenced by the extent to which we connect them to our inner light, the extent to which we connect the lumen to the lux!

If the light rises in the Sky of the heart ... and, in the utterly pure inner man attains the brightness of the sun ... then his heart is nothing but light ... his exterior, his interior, are nothing but light

Najm Razi

This is my belief and my experience. Spirituality has always been central to my life but it used to be separate from my practice as a designer. I worked at lighting and when not doing that I explored my approach to spirituality through reading, meditation and connections with others.

Then, many years ago, I was given Durham Cathedral to design. A 900 year old building seeped in faith and spirituality was to be brought into the 20th century, as it was then. I stood in the building and felt the design. It came to me very quickly, almost as if I was inspired.

It then took 2 years of hard work to transform that design into installed reality. But during that time I never wavered from what I felt about the building. I grew to understand its physical, architectural structure, I grew to understand the community that lived, worked and worshipped there. I took part in the worship and steeped myself in its spiritual realm. I found that the building almost became part of me. I realized that my own love and enjoyment of the building had merged with my view of the design concept.

This merging never got in the way of my professional involvement, in fact it only enhanced it. I found I easily understood the building and the people for whom it was life. Their needs were clear to me and the rapport I gained made the project easy to progress.

This was followed by other cathedral and church projects, all flowing from the original one. My involvement in this work grew and as it grew my maturity as a designer grew. As my maturity grew, my standing in the profession grew. I cannot pinpoint one time that this grew from other than the one I explained above.

Finally I found as this confidence grew my view of myself changed and my whole life changed. I, increasingly, worked on my own personal development and through this my own personal spirituality grew. It informed my work and it informed my involvement in the profession at large and the IALD in particular.

There was a point at which I ceased to distinguish between my professional and my personal life. I finally let my lux and my lumen merge and laid my whole life out for people to see and, possibly, learn from.

So I am here helping you to find inspiration from my life and my work.


I have taken you through a brief look at the totality of light and lighting.

We have looked at Living Light by looking at how vision works in the brain and by considering Quantum Theory. Waves or Particles is no longer an argument but an illumination of the outer edges of science.

We have looked at Discovered Light through light in nature and the qualities of darkness. This so informs our lives that without it we die.

We have looked at Imagined Light through the eyes of Brunelleschi and perspective and Monet with his imagination of Rouen Cathedral.

We have looked at Created Light though a consideration of fire and light graffiti.

Finally we touched on Spiritual Light through learning about Lux and Lumen and my own spiritual journey.

My aim was to inspire you. To inspire you to better work as designers. To inspire you to look at light in a different way. To inspire you to love light even more than you do already.

Look to your Inner Light and see what is there.

Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher.

William Wordsworth