—By: Rick Barrett – Article for JSOnline—
When Martin Peck is hired to illuminate a casino, a sports complex or a synagogue, it lights up his imagination.
Peck owns Creative Lighting Design & Engineering, a Germantown firm that has won awards for dramatic lighting in everything from grocery stores to NASA’s Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex near Orlando, Florida. In the first test of the Rocket Garden’s lights in 2002, a group of children were so impressed with the launching illusion that the asked if the vintage rockets were actually going to take off.
Peck graduated from Western Michigan University in 1977 with a degree in electrical engineering, but his passion has been lighting.
What does he do? – Peck views lighting as more than providing enough illumination to see things, or to save energy. Rather, he sees it as a design element, just as an interior designer might work with finishes and color to achieve a certain effect. “I consider myself more of a designer first, and then an engineer,” Peck said.
What’s the best part of the job? – “With lighting, we get to play with a lot of different things,” Peck said. “The challenges can range from the functional, where we are trying to improve productivity and energy efficiency, to enhancing a beautiful old building such as the Wisconsin Club. I enjoy the variety of it.”
What are the career opportunities in lighting design? – “Right now it’s a very unique career. There aren’t many of us out there,” Peck said, adding that some lighting designers work for engineering firms but not many are independently employed. As for training, there are only a few colleges in the country that offer degrees in lighting design, including Parsons, The New School for Design. Locally, Mount Mary College has offered a class in lighting, and the local chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society offers a basic class annually.
Your advice for someone wanting to pursue this career? – “The formal way is to apply for admission to one of the lighting design schools. The informal way is to intern for an engineering firm that does lighting design, or a company like ours. Another way I recommend to everyone is to volunteer at a local community theater and get involved in the stage lighting. That is how I got started, helping renovate an old movie house into a community theater. I started doing the lighting design for their plays. I learned the hard way and did not have any formal training at all.”
Has lighting design been a good fit for you? – “I seem to have a natural knack for it. Lighting design is kind of a black art because the only time you see light is when it reflects off dust or a surface. But I have a passion for it, using light and shadows to create a dramatic effect in something that, otherwise, might look rather ordinary.”
What projects have defined your career? – “I have already had the chance to do a lot of these things. Lately we have been doing some interesting work choreographing light to music. We have done five things like that at the Mitchell Park Domes, and we are doing something similar on State Street in Chicago, Lightscape. It’s programmable lighting, up and down State Street.”