The most amazing work of art can be reduced to a mediocre one under incorrect lighting. After all, what is beauty if hindered by glares and shadows? Beautiful artworks enliven any home, and good lighting should enhance that effect! The way that an artwork is lit can either accentuate the work’s standout qualities or diminish it. The artwork that moved you to purchase it and hang it up might not have the same compelling effect if it’s bathed in shadow or aggressively met with sunlight.
Aside from these aesthetic factors, proper lighting techniques should also ensure your artwork’s optimal longevity, making sure that it can be admired safely for years to come.
Here, The Artling Artzine shares these handy tips to help you light your artwork:
Artworks in direct sunlight will be exposed to UV and infrared light, causing anything from pigment in paints or prints to fade. To avoid damage, make sure that your works are placed away from strong natural light. Whilst indirect natural light does not have this same effect, direct natural light could even damage your flooring and furniture.
Experts suggest north-facing light as optimal, with artist’ studios even advertising this. A simpler option would be to choose a wall for your artwork where daylight doesn’t find itself aiming directly at the surface of it.
Whilst your artwork should enliven your space, chances are it should not be the brightest thing in the room. Think about the level of lighting that is required to bring out the natural beauty of the artwork without having the light source deter from its visual qualities. That being said, not all artworks need to be lit unless lighting it adds to the overall ambiance of the room. Keeping to this ambiance also means to avoid obvious or intrusive lighting methods.
Image courtesy of Daniel Livingston, via Elle Decor.
Good lighting should draw attention to what it is lighting, rather than the lighting itself. A helpful way to ensure that the colors in your artwork are shown correctly is to look out for high Colour Rendering Index (CRI) percentages in the lights you pick. The closer they are to 100%, the more vibrant the colors will appear.
There are many ways to light an artwork correctly. However, the one standing rule across all of them is to never use fluorescent bulbs as they are too bright and white of an artificial light source. A safer option would be to use lights that replicate daylight.
Incandescent lights cast a warm and comforting glows that replicates as such. However, they can be rather inefficient which is something to be kept in mind when going with this choice of lighting.
If there is little space between the light and the art, it might be useful to consider LED lighting as they last exceptionally long and hardly give off heat and UV radiation. They are also made in a variety of warm and cool temperature options.
Image courtesy of Kathryn Macdonald
Ceiling-mounted accent lights
Ceiling mounted accent lights are best used for making the art the sole focus. Such ceiling fixtures are versatile as they allow the direction of the light to be adjusted and can be recessed or surface mounted. Bulbs that are compatible with ceiling-mounted lights also provide a range of light-beam spreads, allowing this adjustability to ensure that light covers the majority of an artwork.
A rule of thumb with ceiling-mounted accent lights, according to lighting expert and designer Doug Russell of Lighting Workshop, is to make sure that “lights should be placed so that the light beam hits the center of the artwork when the fixture is adjusted to a 30-degree angle.” Lighting an artwork at a smaller angle than 30-degrees would mean that long shadows are cast below the frame. Anything more than 45-degrees, however, would create unfavorable reflective glares.
Image courtesy of Lighting Design Studio
Gone are the days of bulky track-lighting that seemed to interfere with space as if they were art installations of their own. Track-lighting systems have evolved over the years and now boast sleek and minimalist iterations. Paired accurately with the right lamps, they serve the same purpose as the aforementioned ceiling-mounted accent lights.
Additionally, they are far easier to install and allows for future flexibility should you decide to change the artwork you are displaying. With track lighting, you can easily slide the bulbs or even take them off, meaning minimal efforts are required if you ever have a change of heart.
Wall washers are great for both indoor and outdoor lighting purposes. Used most frequently in situations where there are large works that cover the majority of the wall, this option “washes the wall” with light and creates one bright wall for any artwork that has been chosen for it.
Wall washers create a wide distribution of light and are a preferred mode of lighting by contemporary art collections. It goes with the theory that if a wall is even lit, then nothing else really needs to be adjusted. Above all, its built-in flexibility allows for the adding, removing or relocating of the art in the future.
Picture lights are fixtures mounted on the wall or directly on the frames of artworks. By using low wattage lamps, it provides a light source close to the artwork. This creates an intimate display, encouraging viewers to go closer, and bridges a sense of intimacy with the artwork.
Its decorative nature allows for the choice of picture lights to add to the interior design of the room. These need not be used in relation to smaller works either, as there are companies out there that make large picture lights suited for massive works. The use of picture lights boils down to whether or not it suits the interior design characteristics that you are trying to achieve.
Picture lights above a painting. Image courtesy of Architectural Digest.
It goes without saying that your artwork is the main priority throughout this process of figuring out what lighting best suits it. Artworks with darker tones will require more light than lighter colored ones, and its surfaces should account for the way it is lit too.
Depending on the angle of the lighting, works with uneven surfaces such as textured acrylic paintings or impasto oil paintings could be affected by the shadows their paints cast. Make sure that the angle of the lighting is tweaked appropriately to either minimize or emphasize the shadows they create, depending on how the artwork should be displayed.
Image courtesy of houzz
Different works of art come with different characteristics, and therefore must be considered differently when it comes to lighting them.
Oil paintings are great investments because of their longevity and durability, allowing them to be passed down from generation to generation. Due to their glossy nature, issues regarding glare may arise when such works are lit with spotlights or bulbs with narrow beam angles. This issue can be easily solved by going with multiple light sources that are less intense.
Unlike oil paintings, acrylic paintings are more forgiving when it comes to glare issues. To ensure optimal lighting, do keep an eye out for CRI percentages and make sure they’re as close as 100% as possible.
Although watercolor paintings do not produce glare as they are usually works on paper, chances are they have to be protected by glass. Make sure that there is enough distance between the light and the work to avoid heat or UV related damages. Alternatively, it is worth looking at using glass with UV protection or anti-reflection picture framing glass to ensure that your artwork can be viewed under the best circumstances and with the best protection possible.
Photographs and prints
Tips for lighting photographs and prints are similar to that of lighting watercolor works under glass. The difference here is that the type of finished used for these works might impact how prone to glare they are. Prints with glossier finishes will no doubt be more likely to produce more care than ones with matte finishes. These are factors that should definitely be taken into account when lighting photographs and prints.
Sculptures are possibly the most subjective when it comes to lighting as preferences can easily differ from person to person. This is also highly subjective from piece to piece. Generally, sculptures should be lit from multiple angles to allow viewers to engage with all of its dimensions.
Image courtesy of Carmen Argote
Across all artworks, it is important to ensure that they are lit evenly. This is essential for showing off the not only the work itself, but also its nuances and details, and is a rule that should be applied regardless of medium. As mentioned earlier, there are many ways to make sure this is executed accurately, from having one picture light to installing multiple low beam lights from a few angles.
Even lighting also constitutes pulling light sources away to avoid shadows of harsh raking light on artworks, as well as using museum-grade glass to avoid distracting reflections that would hinder the way an artwork is viewed.
After choosing the right mode of lighting for your artwork as well as installing it, test out whether or not it illuminates your artwork up close as well as from a distance. In some cases, an artwork that is well lit up close may not have the same effect when seen from a distance. This can be attributed to its size and texture, and possibly even the frame that holds it.
Preference is also accountable throughout this entire process, so take yourself and how you think your artwork should be lit with regards to the rest of the room it is placed in!
Now that you're here, why not check out more Art 101 articles on The Artling Artzine?
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