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Using the Shadowbox An Indispensable Piece of Studio Equipment

Most of my paintings are made with the use of a shadowbox – a piece of studio equipment that is as important to creating these paintings as is the easel.

It’s a wooden box of my own construction, 2 feet on each side, with an open front.

Essentially this is the stage on which I arrange the objects that I will be painting, and it allows me to create the dramatic light effects around which my paintings are often based.

To let me see both the model and the painting in the same field of view, the box sits immediately to the right of my easel.


Sheets of black foamboard surround the opening to prevent unwanted light from entering. Though not visually appealing, they do allow for quick response when the light in the studio changes.

The entire interior of the box – including all fittings and hardware – was painted black, and the walls are lined with black velvet where possible.

This is to reduce reflections from the model which may subtly alter the overall illumination.

The box was designed with flexibility in mind. Light can be admitted from several directions, and at a variety of different angles.

I generally prefer top lighting – light coming from a source above the model.

For that arrangement, the top of the box is fitted with a 3 inch (8 cm) circular opening that admits light from a fixture above. This fixture can be fitted with different bulbs depending on the needs of each painting.


Though not easy to see from this angle, the blocks in the upper left are supporting a piece of black foam board. This was positioned several inches below the opening, and creates a shadow that cuts across the teapot at at dramatic angle.

By using wood blocks, the model can be raised or lowered, so it can be seen at a number of different angles, again depending on the needs of each painting.

I prefer most of my arrangements to be at close to eye level, and this is what I see when I look into the box as I’m working.


If you’d like to continue reading about my approach to painting, there are similar articles on my blog.