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Posts from the ‘Life’ Category

Why Lighting Design Makes Me Happy – And Why it Might Make You Happy Too

November 19, 2011


nyc "new york" city skyline lights glow night

A few nights ago I had the good fortune to run across a good friend who I hadn’t seen since I left grad school almost six months ago. We quickly got to chatting about life updates, and I started filling him in on the details of my new job (which I started almost three months agohow time flies). As I rattled on about new projects and learning experiences he stopped me and made an observation that, unexpectedly, hit me like a ton of bricks.

“You look really happy,” he said.

I paused. I hadn’t really thought about it lately. And then there was a moment of instant clarity, as if the clouds had parted and a ray of sunshine had suddenly burst through …

I realized: I am. I’m very happy.


Why am I so happy?

I’m happy because good lighting makes me happy.

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Announcement: My New Job!

August 28, 2011


Big news!

I have officially accepted a job offer at Focus Lighting in New York City!  After several months spent interning there this summer, I have made the decision to take a leave of absence from the MFA Lighting Design program at Parsons the New School for Design and pursue my love of lighting with the team at Focus Lighting.  I’m really excited about the opportunity and I’m looking forward to the experience of working with such a talented group of people.  I want to send my sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped me to get to this point (you know who you are).

focus lighting architectural design new york

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It’s All About the Experience

June 19, 2011


“It’s all about the experience.”

That’s what my friends at the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas like to say. They offer an unparalleled eight-week summer intensive training course in every area of stagecraft, from set painting to audio and from moving lights to automated rigging, and every one of their classes is hands-on with the technology or craft being taught. It’s quite a quick and effective way to learn, to say the least.

Now, four weeks into my summer internship at Focus Lighting in New York, I’m finding, once again, that it really is “all about the experience.”

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The Importance of Handling Light

April 16, 2011


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my experience with light has changed since moving from theatrical lighting design to architectural lighting design.  I’m three weeks away from finishing my first year of two in the Parsons MFA program in Lighting Design, and after spending increasingly long hours in the studio working seven days a week to finish all of the work left before my final presentation I finally got the chance to get some perspective the other day by (gasp!) getting out into the daylight.

As a part of our final studio projects we were assigned to build a 3/8″ scale model of the student center for which we are designing the daylighting, so that we could take it outside and measure its performance under real conditions.  This past Friday, after several weeks of planning and construction, the model had finally coalesced itself into a coherent collection of foam and paper, and it was barking at the door to be let outside for a walk.  After the amount of time I had spent inside building the thing I was ready to do the same!

So, after awkwardly squeezing the loveseat-sized model through several tiny New-York-sized doors, being questioned by a park ranger in Union Square, and being photographed by several groups of passing tourists, the payoff finally arrived: a set of gorgeous photos perfectly capturing the daylighting design for the student center’s library.

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It was then that I realized just how much time I had spent indoors sitting at a desk recently.  Being able to see the effects of my design with my own two eyes out in the natural daylight made me realize that I had fallen prey to the plague of the architecture school student: sitting inside from the time the sun comes up in the morning until well after it goes down at night, designing from a desk and a computer with little time spent physically handling light.  It wasn’t the long hours that bothered me (in fact, I hardly even notice the time anymore), it was the fact that I hadn’t challenged myself enough to break away from the deadlines and the assignments and just spend some time in the light lab like I used to in theatre.

One of my favorite parts about studying theatre lighting in college was the light lab, because it was always an open opportunity to get hands-on experience with light, to learn what it can and cannot do.  I never chose colors or lighting angles for a show sitting at a desk — I would always book a few hours in the light lab and see exactly how my ideas would come together right before my eyes.  Then I would get to sit in a dark theatre during tech for a show and play with light for hours on end, mixing color, texture, angle, and intensity in long sessions that were ten times more effective in teaching me about light than any classroom session.  Standing outside in Union Square park with the building model I realized that’s what I was missing from my architectural education — the massive amounts of hands-on experience that I got during my theatre education.

An architectural lighting design, as you can imagine, doesn’t happen in a day, or even in a few weeks as a theatrical production might.  It takes incredible amounts of planning, coordination, equipment, people, and time, and as a result, most of the work we do in the classroom is theoretical.  Yes, we do have a light lab, and yes, I occasionally use it, however, I have to remind myself to spend more time experimenting there, or better yet, getting out into the city and observing light in the real world.  Artists don’t learn to paint by reading textbooks, and lighting designers definitely don’t learn to use light by sitting at a desk all day. If I’m ever going to improve as a lighting designer, I’m going to need to challenge myself to stand up and test my theories in person more often.  As these glorious (if I do say so myself) pictures prove, it’s definitely worth the extra time it takes to see how an idea can become a reality.

A Delicate Balance of Light and Life

January 9, 2011


light lighting lamp bulb happy design life

A gift to me: it's a stress ball!

Here we are at the end of the first week of 2011! Is everybody still here? Raise your hand if you’re not here! I’ll be caught up in a minute … I just have to recover from that INTENSE week I just had.

What made it so intense?  Well, I spent the first week of the year living the 9-to-5er lifestyle in a marathon week at the offices of Focus Lighting.

All I can say is: it’s been one educational week!  Many thanks to the staff at Focus for putting up with me all week long.

To be honest, I couldn’t really even begin to describe the specifics of what I did over the course of the week.  My memory right now is a blur of AutoCAD draftings, lighting fixture schedules, lighting mockups, and a few other small side projects.  It all happened so fast, but spending that amount time allowed me to learn valuable information that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to grasp had I continued in my once-a-week routine of visits to the office.  I learned a great deal about how projects and information flow through a lighting design office, how the construction process works, and how different people can contribute different things to a project based on their skill set and expertise.  The most important thing I learned, though, is this: they don’t call it a full-time job for no reason.

Working full-time hours for the first time in almost two years made me realize just how important it is to be able to find a balance between your passion and everything else, because it becomes incredibly easy for time to slip away during the week.

As much as I love to talk about, think about, and work with light, I know that I also need a balance of other things in my life to help me grow both as a person and as a professional.  I need time with friends: to find out how they’re doing, to have them help me discuss ideas, decompress, and process information.  I need time to read: to catch up on news, to maintain a connection to the outside world.  I need time to write: to get my thoughts down on paper, to sort out the clutter in my brain.  I need time to have new experiences: to see and try new things, to enjoy this city and the place that I live.  Finally, I need personal time: to rest and refresh so that I can stay on top of my game.

This first week of 2011, while it was a ton of fun and a whirlwind of activity, completely jarred my sense of balance and threw me a bit off guard.  Of course, it wasn’t anywhere near a normal week for me, so I’m not surprised that happened, but it taught me that I have to maintain a clear view of the big picture at all times to maintain a positive balance in my life that allows me to grow and mature as a person.

I hope your week was more level than mine was, but if it wasn’t I’m hoping this post will remind you to get back on track!  It’s only the first week of the year!  Let’s get back on it!  We can’t let things start slipping out of control until at least April.

A New Opportunity at Focus Lighting!

November 1, 2010


focus lighting architectural design new york

That’s right, thanks to a fortunate series of events I’m now officially the new intern at the offices of Focus Lighting in New York!

I’m really excited to get some experience in a working lighting firm to complement and reinforce what I am learning at Parsons.  I am learning a ton at Parsons, thanks to my great professors who are all working professionals as well, so this is absolutely no reflection on them or on the program at all — I’m simply a person that loves to learn.  My first day at the office was this past Friday, and from what I can tell so far, I will learn a lot from the people there, not just about lighting but about the design business as well.  When I made the decision to move to New York I never imagined that the entire city would become my classroom, but here I am!

What’s fun is that after only a day I already started finding mutual connections to people in the office; I know it’s a cliche but I have to say it: it truly is a small world.  One of the people there even went to Emerson for his undergrad, just like me!  Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to post and comment on interesting experiences and things I am learning there, without getting too specific and breaching confidentiality agreements, personal privacy, or anything of that nature.  I do hope that Focus soon jumps on the blog/social media bandwagon with me, though, because there are certainly a lot of interesting things going on there to share.

At any rate, a huge thank you to the people who helped make this possible, especially my highly-supportive family and friends.  I’m really excited to see where this opportunity will take me, and I hope you’ll continue reading, commenting and exploring with me!

Light and Storytelling

October 15, 2010


I’ve figured it out.  A month and a half into grad school I’ve finally realized what’s been missing from my lighting education (and my life).  I’ve felt something has been missing from my lighting studies ever since I arrived here in New York.  I don’t know why I haven’t been able to pinpoint it until now, but now that I have I feel such a sense of clarity! It all makes sense!

My lighting has been lacking a story.

I first noticed a glimmer of this a few months ago as I was sitting in a dark auditorium at The New School, listening to convocation speeches from notable alumni.  This particular group of alumni had been gathered to commemorate the start of classes at the School of Constructed Environments (which includes the architectural, lighting, interior, and product design programs) through a presentation of their career successes and notable projects for the faculty and new students.  The catch, which was cleverly designed to prevent marathon portfolio presentations, was that the evening was going to follow the Pecha Kucha format, with each presenter being limited to 20 slides, each displayed for a maximum of 20 seconds.  I had never heard of such an event before, but the idea intrigued me, so a few of my lighting classmates and I decided to attend.

An hour and a half later in the auditorium, having heard from only five out of the ten presenters, all of whom so far were architects or architectural consultants, I was supremely regretting that decision.  Apparently none of those five people got the “20 seconds” memo, and so they sat on each slide, dryly discussing the work on it in overly-elaborate detail, for at least five minutes (and usually longer).  Lesson learned: never give an architect a microphone.

As drained as I was by that time, though, I was determined to sit through the presentations long enough to hear one speaker in particular: Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting in New York City.  I had already done a good amount of research on the award-winning lighting design firm in the past because of its connections to the theatrical lighting design community, so I was determined to hear from its founder and principal designer.

Let me tell you, Mr. Gregory did not disappoint.  He was not only the first (and only) of the presenters to adhere to the strict presentation formatting challenge that night, his presentation was the most compelling, informative, and fun!  It ebbed and flowed, quickened and slowed, instigated laughter, and elicited emotion, flying by quicker than the blink of an eye but lasting ten times as long in the memory. So what made his presentation so different from the others (aside from the pace)? He told a story. He told the story of how he came to love lighting and the theatre at an early age and how he used the skills he learned as a theatrical designer to successfully transition to the world of architectural lighting, succinctly, with passion and a great sense of humor!

I remember thinking to myself, “thank God theatre people know how to tell stories!”

Fast forward a month and a half and I find myself sitting in another dark room, staring at a projection screen, awaiting a presentation from an industry professional – only this time I know exactly what I’m in for.  I’m awaiting a presentation from Jonathan Speirs of the internationally-ranked, highly-awarded UK lighting firm Speirs and Major about lighting design and some of his firm’s recent works. Again, I wasn’t disappointed.

Jonathan began his presentation, “we like to tell stories with light.”  At first I was surprised, as his background was primarily in architecture, not theatre.  He certainly proved himself atypical of the architect-type, though, illustrating and describing each project for the audience beautifully, telling a story of how each project came to fruition, and demonstrating for us the exact slides he used to present the story of the proposed lighting design to the client. At every turn, too, he would stop to tell a small anecdote about a meeting with a high-profile client, or a design decision that changed dramatically on short notice, all the while progressing fluidly through his images and photos, keeping the audience engaged and entertained for over 90 minutes.

Just to give you a taste, the design for his concluding project, The Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi (for which his firm won one of the most prestigious awards in lighting design, the IALD Radiance Award) was impressive not only for its sheer massive scale, but for its use of storytelling in illuminating the structure.  The exterior illumination of the mosque, opting against a uniform appearance, has the unique textural quality of clouds slowly drifting by, a feat accomplished by thousands of projectors covering the entire surface of the mosque.  The clouds are not just flowing in any direction, however; they always move in the direction of Mecca, the holiest of all Muslim sites and the direction of prayer for Muslims.  In addition, the color of the clouds flowing across the structure mirrors the phases of the moon (a highly important element of Muslim religious tradition), fading from a pristine white during a full moon to a deeply saturated blue as the moon waxes and wanes over its 28-day cycle.  Thus, the illumination of the building is constantly in motion, telling a story of the mosque, it’s location, and the Muslim faith.  It’s quite a moving project (no pun intended).

After Jonathan’s presentation it hit me like a ton of bricks – I’ve been missing the chance to tell a story with my lighting, like I used to when I was designing for theatre.  Lighting is such an integral part of the story in theatre that its storytelling abilities are often taken for granted; yet having spent the past seven weeks in architecture school I realize just how much it really is taken for granted in the often conceptually-static world of architecture.  I’ve somehow lost that storytelling mindset in favor of a static, single-shot thought process.  I need to remember where I’ve come from.

Lighting for architecture can reveal a form just like lighting for theatre or dance.  It can fade in and out, reveal a detail here, a form there, entice you inside, make you take a second look, or simply open your eyes and your mind to the feeling of being alive.  There’s no reason a design can’t have an elaborate story behind it – in fact, I think it results in a stronger outcome.

From now on I’m going to make it my duty to remember where I’ve come from and how my background can inform my design process.  I want to bring the same passion and energy to my architectural lighting as I have when I’m cueing in a tightly-choreographed lighting sequence in a theatre.  I want to live in the moment that the light first hits your eye after the house lights dim out, and the moment after the final lighting cue has faded to black.  I want to hear the music and see the dance in my work, and I want others to see it too.

I want to tell a story with light … because that is what makes me happy.

What makes you happy?

Parsons The New School for Design, Week 1: Life, Like Light, a Study in Contrasts

September 4, 2010


So it begins! After a much-needed month-long break from Parsons’ Summer Studies in Constructed Environments (SSCE) five-week intensive program where I was given a crash-course in contemporary architecture (see previous posts), I have returned to the Union Square campus to begin pursuing my Master’s degree in Architectural Lighting Design!

Now, with the first week of classes behind me, I can safely say that architecture school is nothing like theatre school.  For those playing catch-up: I received my undergrad degree in theatrical lighting design from Emerson College in Boston, and I loved every minute of it.  Emerson, for me, was a fantastic place to get an education and mature as a young adult — it had a fun and supportive environment, a friendly and caring student body, offered plenty of opportunities to get involved (almost all of which I took advantage of), and was situated in the heart of one of the most beautiful, historic cities on the East Coast; it truly was my home away from home for four years.  I certainly appreciated everything Emerson offered while I was there — I knew was incredibly lucky to attend such an amazing school — but moving away from it in the past three months has definitely thrown my experiences in New York into even sharper perspective.

Some of the crew of the 2008 EVVY Awards at the Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College.

For one thing, attending architecture school has made me incredibly thankful for being blessed with an education in theatre.  Not to alienate others who may be reading this, but those theatre people out there know what I mean.  The teamwork, professionalism, and problem-solving skills I learned from working day-in and day-out with teams of people in logistically complex, technically sophisticated, and deeply artistic environments, I believe, are some of my most valuable professional assets.  Not only that, but the leadership, organization, and communication skills I learned from leading crews of people under strict deadlines and, often, stressful conditions have positively shaped me into the individual I am today.  To make a long story short, my first week in architecture school has made me realize how much more individualized the work in this field is, at least comparatively to theatre.  Yes, you may argue, the design and construction of a building takes hundreds of people on a scale of years to complete!  In an educational design studio environment, however, students are often directed to work individually on their own designs, putting them in direct competition with each other.  Yes, Parsons does offer some excellent opportunities for working together in large groups later down the road, and I am not disparaging the program at all (I’ve only been here a week, after all), I am simply stating a difference I see in the educational environments.

The second biggest difference I have experienced between Emerson and Parsons so far has been directly related to that difference of working environment.  Due to the fact that the work in an architecture studio environment is so individualized, and that are many fewer areas of specialization within the department as compared to theatre, the individual attention and feedback that I receive on every project here is exponentially more than that which I received on any theatrical project.  I have quickly become accustomed to the process of the desk crit, which is simply in-class time devoted to in-depth one-on-one conversations between a student and a professor (or multiple professors) about their design ideas and projects, which I have found extremely helpful.  While working on a theatrical team prepared me well for presenting my ideas to a large audience (for instance, at production meetings), I was often the only lighting designer in the room, and so could only bounce my ideas off of team members who specialized in other areas, which didn’t usually amount to much feedback or in-depth discussion.  For this I am glad that I have the studio environment at Parsons, so that I may become more comfortable sharing the ups and downs of my design process, instead of just the final product.

The final, and most obvious, difference between Emerson and Parsons is really the difference between Boston and New York.  The resources, in terms of professional connections, that a school like Parsons can offer are outstanding.  For instance, every single one of my seven lighting professors this semester are major players in the lighting and architecture professions, with most of them practicing in or around New York City.  There is little that can compete with a school that has positioned itself, both geographically and ideologically, in the center of one of the largest and most innovative cities in the world.  Of course, what this all comes down to is job placement.  I will forever respect and maintain the professional network and connections I gained by going to school in Boston.  Emerson is no small player in the theatre world (recently investing over $90 million to renovate a historic downtown Boston theatre into a multi-venue arts and entertainment complex), and I definitely benefited from it’s reputation and training while living locally in Boston.  I am very excited, however, about all of the new people I have met in the past week alone, with direct connections to the field and industry I want to work in, whose influence extends beyond the city of New York.  Lighting Design is fast becoming an international career, so the resources offered by a school like Parsons will absolutely prove invaluable in the future.

Despite my lofty goals and plans for the future, in the end I want to reassure everyone that I never want to stop doing theatre.  I have made too many good friends, and had too much fun, to stay away from it.  Since arriving in New York in June this has been the longest period of time I have spent outside of a theatre in a very long time, and that has been one of the most difficult challenges I have had to deal with thus far.  My hope is that I can somehow combine my theatrical background with the new set of skills that I am learning at Parsons, so that I can practice both together when I graduate.  I am very interested, for example, in working for a firm with a theatrical background that also does architectural work.  I am also interested in the prospect of potentially designing theatres as a theatre and lighting consultant.

Before I get too ahead of myself, though, I want to zoom back in to the here and now.  My first week of classes at Parsons have gone well, and from the looks of the class syllabuses I am in for a roller coaster ride of new experiences and information!  I hope to use this blog to track my experiences, thoughts, and projects during the year so that I may keep in touch with those that care about me as well as connect with those who may share my interests. Please, I encourage you, feel free to comment here or stay in touch with me via Twitter, Facebook, or Linked-In.  For those interested in receiving e-mail updates about posts I write here, please click the “Sign Me Up!” button at the bottom of this page.  We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time where we have the power to communicate to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and I plan to take advantage of that opportunity; I hope you do too.  Thanks for reading!

Lighting Design 2.0

June 14, 2010


Today is the start of something new.

After years of study and practice, building a design portfolio, and making friends and industry connections as a theatrical lighting designer, I am about to start everything all over again —  this time in the field of architectural lighting design.

Why? The big news is that I was recently accepted to the MFA Lighting Design program at the Parsons New School of Design to study architectural lighting in one of the biggest and brightest lighting laboratories in the world: New York City!

Architectural lighting has been an area that has interested me for some time, ever since I spent a summer as a systems integration intern lighting up casinos and hotels with Production Resource Group (PRG) in Las Vegas, NV.  The installations of light in that city are unparalleled in scope anywhere else that I’ve ever been. My favorite is the Fountains of Bellagio.  Most of the nights I spent in Las Vegas were spent watching the fountain shows for hours on end.  The choreography of light, water, movement, and music is simply mesmerizing to me.  It is so simple, yet so beautiful.  It doesn’t need anything more, nor anything less.  It is a perfect union of elements that stops anyone on the adjacent sidewalk (or even across the street), making them pause, reflect and wonder.  As someone with a background in theatre, it is a lighting designer’s dream project — it is pure theatricality — but, unlike theatrical designs, it is a permanent fixture in the urban landscape of Las Vegas.  How incredible is that?

The permanence of such a project is probably what interests me the most about this field.  Everything I have designed up until this point in my career has been temporary: designed, set up, displayed, and taken down.  What would it mean if I could design something and see it day after day for years, or decades, on end?  I’m interested to find out.

This is only one inspiration of many for my decision to study architectural lighting.  My main motivation is that I simply love to learn.  I have a natural curiosity for learning new information and skills, and that curiosity drives me in most of what I do, which is why I am thoroughly excited for the possibility of learning about something I know almost zero about.

For those concerned that I am somehow betraying or leaving behind the theatre world, not to worry.  I am first and foremost a theatre person, and I never plan to leave theatre behind me for good.  There is nothing that can compare with the feeling of being part of a live performance.  Especially in today’s communications- and technology-driven society, I actually think theatre is what keeps me sane.  The outcome I am currently hoping for at the end of this experience is to blend these two fields into a career that satisfies all of my interests and needs, such as designing community arts and performance venues, with maybe a few theatrical designs sprinkled in here and there.  Who knows what opportunities I will find? A career like that doesn’t sound too far off in New York.  I can’t wait to see what Parsons has in store for me!

I hope to use this blog to document and reflect on my experiences in New York, so I invite anyone with an interest in following what I do to check back often!