Since we opened the gallery, we’ve found that our customers have had questions regarding how best to light the artwork they have purchased. The simple answer is, there is not one “best” way. Below, we discuss some options for lighting artwork as well as some other considerations.
· Ceiling accent lights. Accent lights, which can either be recessed or surface-mounted, are generally considered to be the best method of lighting artwork. These lights should be on their own light switch, preferably with a dimmer. They work well because they can be adjusted and their light is focused directly on the artwork. The hooded recessed lights, in particular, are unobtrusive and don’t detract from the art itself. However, accent lights require some significant electrical work to install. The rule of thumb is that the light should hit the middle of the artwork at a 30 degree angle, which helps determine where the light should be situated on the ceiling.
· Track lights. We use track lights here at Vivid Art Gallery. They are easy to install and allow for flexibility with changing displays (which we have a lot of!). If you think you may want to move artwork around in your home or office, track lights may be your best option. They still do require the addition of an electrical box in the ceiling, however, and may or may not be a look you want.
· Picture lights. These lights are generally mounted on the wall behind an artwork. Most lighting companies carry “Slimline” lights which are sleek and narrow and do not detract from the artwork. There are three options here: install an outlet behind the painting to plug the light into, plug into a nearby outlet, or use a battery-operated light. The latter are most convenient but do require somewhat frequent battery changes. The general rule of thumb is to buy a picture light that is 2/3 the width of the painting. Picture lights are readily available online from any large lighting company. There are also “mantle” lights available which sit on a mantle or bookcase and shine light up on a painting.
Some other things to think about when lighting artwork:
Type of Light Bulb:
At Vivid Art Gallery, as well as most galleries and museums, LED bulbs are used because they are very energy efficient, have a long life span, and do not give off heat. Further, they do not emit infrared or ultraviolet rays, which can damage artwork. While we would recommend LED’s, they are expensive, although this is offset somewhat by their long life span.
Another option is Halogen lighting, which provide the best white light and this makes them very good for illuminating artwork. However, these lights produce significant heat, which has the potential to damage the artwork. This can be managed by placing them far away from the artwork or covering them with a UV filter. Another option, incandescent lighting, brings out yellows and reds in an artwork while lessening the effect of blues and greens.
If there is one type of lighting to avoid, it is fluorescent lighting. Not only does it distort the color of the artwork, it also emits high levels of UV rays, which can damage the artwork and cause the works to fade more quickly.
Also, be aware that the UV rays in natural light will, over time, fade most artwork. It is possible to get UV protective glass to minimize damage to works on paper. It is best to keep artwork out of direct sun if possible.
The medium of the painting also influences what type of lighting may work best. For more textured oil or acrylic paintings, it is optimal to have a light source that produces equal light over the entire piece of art. With other, less textured work, however, the type of light source is not a significant concern.
Framing is also a consideration when thinking about how to best light a painting. For example, if the artwork is placed behind glass, it may be necessary to adjust the angle of the lights to reduce the amount of glare. Similarly, if picture lights are used, it is important to be sure that the frame will work with the particular light chosen.
Effectively lighting artwork can be difficult and, once again, there is no single way to do it. We hope that this has been informative and has provided you with a better idea as to how to make your artwork look its best.