Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Right or Left Shadows?




Which of the above images seems to have the better shadows? 

I ask because of the convergence of two bits of information today. 

First, on the Freakonomics podcast there was a discussion on how your cultural background can affect your view of the world (e.g. pessimistic vs optimistic).  Professor of Psychology, Boaz Keysar, stated that he was “much more likely to invest in the stock market when I do it in English. If I think about it in Hebrew, I’m much more conservative.” My own experience with dual language friends agrees with that; the language used brought out a slightly different character. 

Second, I had lunch with an old friend who taught architectural drawing for 20 years. He said that he gave an assignment for a drawing exercise, and stipulated that the light should come from the left. Two Israeli women turned in projects with the light coming from the right. They explained that it simply looked better that way. And, after finding that the rest of the English speaking class preferred the left light, he realized that Hebrew is written right to left, exactly opposite to English.

Coincidence? 

Well… yes and no. 

In both examples the culture probably makes some difference, but I can’t imagine that the difference is overwhelming, or even consistent. 


As with my teaching friend, the accepted light angle for rendering elevations at the Ecole des Beaux Art was always a 45 degree angle from the upper left toward the lower right. However, a perspective is a different animal. When I find a perspective in my books from the Beaux Art era (which isn’t often), the light angle is often from the left, but is nearly as often from the right, or simply indeterminate. The perspectivists who were trained at the turn of the last century took their lighting cues from building orientation and the needs of composition. Goodhue and Ferriss have already been covered in this blog, but are worth revisiting in this regard.

Out of curiosity I reviewed a quarter of the drawings I did over 30 years. Of the 120 drawings and paintings, I found that 50 involved light from the left, 35 used light from the right, and another 35 had either indeterminate light direction or were lit artificially.

This seems to leave the question up in the air, but if any reader has an anecdote relating to language, culture and lighting please leave a comment.

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