Name: Eleanor Bell
Company: Eleanor Bell Design
Location: Penryn, Cornwall
Eleanor is an electrician, lighting designer and artist based in Cornwall. She talks to Sparky’s Corner about combining her creative and technical skills to create lighting installations with impact.
Why did you become a lighting designer and installer?
It stemmed from my move to Cornwall in 2004, when I came here to study an Art degree at Falmouth University. During my degree, I created metal sculptures, and light formed a key part of them – but my technical skills were limited. It was difficult to get the results that I wanted without asking for help, and would sometimes be told that I couldn’t do things that were actually just difficult, not impossible.
This – combined with the fact that if I wanted to stay in Cornwall, self-employment was a more practical way to support myself– led me to train as an electrician. I now work as both a lighting designer and installer, and an artist.
Do your artistic projects and electrical work influence each other?
Yes. They both influence each other and make me better at both. My art and design works helps me think more creatively about my electrical work, and my technical skills help me solve problems in my artistic work. It’s especially useful as for electrical work, I can sit between the client, the architect and the electrician, and speak all of their languages.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Seeing results. When I walk into a project – even if it’s still a building site – I have a very strong image in my mind’s eye of what it will look like. It’s amazing to walk in at the end (which can sometimes be two or three years later, for large developments) and see that it’s better than I imagined it. Light does things you can’t always anticipate – the way it reflects or is absorbed by different surfaces – which is why I always test on site with clients. But the end result is always more impressive.
What are the biggest challenges you face day to day?
Compatibility, whether it’s LED dimming, wireless, smart control…any kind of control is frustrating. LED dimming in particular is a pain, so it’s great once you find dimmers that work for you consistently – but I always test them myself when using different lamps.
What’s the most interesting job you’ve worked on?
I worked on a project at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens in 2015 that was the perfect combination of my technical skills as an electrician and my design skills: plus, I got to meet my hero, artist James Turrell, which was incredible.
The project was one of Turrell’s ‘Sky Spaces’, a plain viewing room with an aperture in the ceiling that encourages you to think about your perception of light as it changes throughout the day. I needed to create a lighting scheme that complemented the experience of the visitor, instead of distracting them. I installed a concealed warm white LED strip (2700K) around the edge of the space, angled to throw light around the walls without creating shadows.
The control system is based on an astronomical time clock; the onset of dusk triggers a forty minute dimming cycle, where the intensity of the light gradually dims to 50%, then slowly brightens again to 100%. It’s an effect Turrell calls 'chasing the twilight'.
In a way, the benchmark of a good lighting design is that nobody notices it. Bad lighting is immediately obvious – it makes people uncomfortable, they’re aware of the lighting and how poor it is. Good lighting will mean that people don’t notice the work you’ve put in. They notice their surroundings instead.
You can find out more about Eleanor’s projects at her website, www.eleanorbell.co.uk.