I started out in Australia in 1985 as an electrical
engineer and knew nothing about lighting design.
What got me interested was the way in which
lighting design combined art with science – the
atmosphere and emotion you could bring to a
lighting project within a discipline governed by rules
But at that time the lighting design profession
barely existed, and the first thing I would tell my
younger self is to persevere, because it’s going to be a
In Australia it was very difficult to be heard in
a construction industry ruled by engineers and
construction managers who were opposed to creativity.
I came to London in 1990 to get a job with the only
lighting design consultancy that existed – LDP. It
was hard sometimes – it felt like we were a lone voice
fighting against a lot of people who thought we were
being unnecessarily dramatic.
Being told that I would get there if I used my
imagination and perseverance would have been music
to my ears.
The second thing I would say is trust fate. If you
believe in yourself you will find opportunities – as
one door closes another opens. I didn’t know that
and I had a hell of a journey. In the early 90s, LDP
hit the financial buffers, the work dried up and they
had to retrench.
After just a year and a half, my career seemed to be
over. I was set to go back to Oz, but decided to stay
and was offered a job as a disco lighting designer –
something I knew nothing about. But then LDP called
– someone had left the company and they offered me
a job in Edinburgh. That was exactly the job I wanted.
So, hang on, and if you meet a road block find a way
round it. Find your creativity, find an audience, find
Of course it’s completely different now for young
people coming into the profession. There is much
more structure. We look for interns and apprentices
who show a feeling for both science and art. Everyone
is stronger in one than the other, but we can build that
other side up.
What is essential in our trainees is the ability to
understand technicalities while being able to express
themselves artistically. They must be able to describe
emotion, put it into words – that’s a very difficult thing
to do. No course, no computer program will teach that.
You have to find your own vocabulary.
l Tim Downey is managing director at
studioFRACTAL Lighting Design
‘Find your creativity, find an
audience, find your voice’