Lighting Your Artworks

You’re justifiably proud of the wonderful works of art you’re collecting and want to display them to their best advantage. But how do you draw more attention to the pieces that grace the walls of your home or office? Whether you’re looking to have colors pop, want to enhance details or highlight textures, it all comes down to getting the lighting right.

When choosing illumination options always consider the potential of heat damage and UV impact your lighting may cause, especially on oil paintings. Heat damage is easily avoided by using you hand between the fixture and just above the surface of the artwork. The lighting is likely too close and/or too intense for the artwork If you sense any heat. Using LED lighting is the best way to eliminate UV damage. LED lighting does not emit any ultraviolet or infrared radiation and also gives off minimal heat. Fluorescent lighting is another good option. Be very careful with Halogen lights as they give off a great deal of heat.

As a general rule of thumb, artwork should be lit two to three times brighter than the rest of the room. A most reliable way to control this is to use dimmers on lamps with high lumen output so that light levels can be easily tweaked. The lights should also be mounted at a 30-degree angle from the artwork to prevent glare. If your piece has texture you’ll want to decrease the angle to 25-degrees. If it has a large frame increase the angle to 35-degrees to reduce shadows.

Use one lighting fixture per frame for smaller pieces of artwork. This approach assures that each piece has the proper illumination while lending cohesiveness to how multiple works are presented. The use of multiple lights is best for a mural or large artwork that extends horizontally on the wall. For such works display lighting should be proportionately spaced about two or three feet apart.

Here are a few tips to aid you in lighting your works of art:

Not every piece needs to be illuminated
The decision to light individual artworks will depend on the ambient atmosphere of the room as a whole and the nature of your collection. It is often the case that artwork with a lower level of presence may not need or benefit from illumination.

Position art carefully
The adage location, location, location applies to artworks as well. Whenever possible, avoid hanging paintings in direct natural light. UV and infrared radiation from sunlight can fade them. Also, be careful when displaying art between windows with strong light impact as viewing the art during the day will be challenging.

Switch to LEDs
As mentioned earlier, LEDs do not emit the infrared and ultraviolet rays, and, more importantly, the heat that is produced by incandescent bulbs and halogens. Those lighting approaches can easily damage fragile artworks. Additional side benefits to the use of LED lighting are significant energy savings/lower costs and better light distribution.

Choose the right LEDs
Low-quality LED lighting will likely create a flat, institutional ambiance. Lower temperature bulbs produce warm-whites, similar to a fire, while medium temperature bulbs produce neutral-whites, and higher temperature bulbs produce cool-whites or mimic daylight. Generally, the best quality of light in a home environment choose lighting with a color temperature of from 2200 to 3000K (Kelvins – the higher the number the whiter the light) and a total brightness level of between 1,500 to 3,000 lumens.

Creating a layered lightscape
Where you choose to display your works of art will largely determine their individual illumination need. Bear in mind that lighting works for multiple and differing purposes, with the appropriate lighting result achieved by using layered lighting. Ambient Lighting delivers general illumination and comfort. Task Lighting benefits utilitarian jobs. And Accent Lighting serves to dress up any room. Layering your lighting simply means stepping beyond the basic overhead general light and thoughtfully arranging different styles of lighting to create a cohesive and functional lightscape.

Rooms where artwork will most likely be displayed don’t need to be entirely illuminated. That being the case, the best place to start is at ceiling level with a system that lights key architectural features or strong furniture arrangements. From there, approach the room as a stage lighting the locations where the action will take place. Then move down to wall level using artwork lighting to focus eye attention and lower the apparent height of the ceiling. This will create a cozy ambience and bring out the colors in artworks. Add table lights and floor lamps around the room’s focus areas to draw people to them.

Set your lighting for evenings
Artworks don’t need to be lit during daylight hours – doing so will give the impression that it’s a piece for sale in a gallery. Set your lighting to engage at dusk and continue until the end of your day.

Spotlight vs. picture light
These two lighting approaches yield a very different aura for the display of art. A spotlight creates a pool of light over an artwork. Picture lights on the other hand deliver a more definite focus cut-off. Both serve to appropriately highlight an artwork so their use is truly a personal preference. In a minimalist environment, the use of a track and spotlights system will lend the space a gallery feel and offers flexibility of drawing attention to wide areas of interest. Alternately, picture lights come in a range of shapes, sizes, finishes and colors that work equally well in traditional or contemporary or homes where you want to draw attention to specific pieces or you collection pieces regularly.

Use discretion
While the effect is actuality the result of a great deal of work and research, the lightscaping of your home should ultimately appear incidental and as invisible possible. Always work to allow your artworks to be the points of attention. You want people to be drawn to and view the artwork, not the lighting that illuminates it.