Artist Darren Pearson of Dariustwin—a Southern California-based light painting and media company—is pioneering the art form known as light painting. It's a long-exposure photography technique where the camera’s shutter is left open to capture the light trails made by an LED light “painting” in the air like a brush on a canvas. These photos can only be created at night or in a darkened room, and are unique in the sense that the captured images as we see them only ever exist in the camera. Not even the artist gets to see the image until they finish painting and decide to close the shutter.
One of Pearson's recent series, titled Ghost Bands, depicts neon skeleton musicians in various poses—some playing instruments, some clapping or dancing, in vast landscapes against the backdrop of a starry night sky. The series was inspired by music and by the passing of so many influential musicians over the past decade. “In a way, this was a mourning process as well as a light painting challenge,” Pearson says. “Music is a huge part of my life and I wanted to pay homage to it.”
Location is extremely important to the paintings—common settings include the wide open spaces of desert, stretches of beach, and clearings in wooded areas. “Locations give my light characters a home to live within the image,” Pearson tells My Modern Met. “It serves the overall vibe and can let the characters interact with their surroundings.”
Though light painting requires a camera, it has more in common with traditional painting than digital photography, when it comes to creating the piece. Since the camera picks up each light streak, one wayward line could ruin the intended effect. “I like to think, ‘one try, do or die,' every time I create an image,” Pearson explains, “because it's the antithesis of nothing matters. Everything matters when light painting!”
For the skeleton paintings, he uses his own body as a reference for the placement and proportions of the characters. And when he knows he's made a mistake, Pearson stops the exposure and tries again from the beginning. Typically, each light painting takes between one to six minutes, depending on the characters and complexity of the scene—but, as the artist tells us, “the process takes as long as it needs to.” He takes two photos for every composite final image—one for the painting and another for the background, bearing in mind where the stars look best. After taking the photos, he combines them in Photoshop to create the final image. For Pearson, the most exciting and fulfilling part of the process is seeing what is captured in the back of the camera screen after closing the shutter. “It is this moment when I see whether or not I've captured an image worth sharing. It's a special feeling that I chase every time I go out on a light painting mission.”
Pearson's interest in light painting began in 2007, after seeing an image of Picasso drawing a centaur captured by photographer Gjon Mili for Life magazine in 1949. Since then, in addition to his light paintings, he's created stop-motion animations composed of light painting photographs arranged side by side, and hypnotizing stop-motion animation short films composed of hundreds of those light painting photographs. Even the LED light tool he uses, called the Night-Writer, he designed and built himself. Constantly refining his technique and finding new ways to use light painting and photography equipment, Pearson says his hope is to inspire people to create in the way he was inspired after seeing the image of Picasso.
Scroll down to see more Ghost Bands light paintings, and follow Pearson on Instagram to watch videos of his process and keep up to date with his latest projects.