When it comes to art, not all lighting is equal. Effectively lighting a piece of art can mean the difference between a good and bad art review, and patronage looking to purchase vs. those “just passing by.” So for all of you galleries and artists out there, we’ve compiled a list of lighting techniques that will ensure the longevity of your artwork while showcasing it in its best light (and yes, pun intended).

But First: Which Lamps to Use (and Not Use)

The best lamps to use for lighting artwork are LED, due to their minimal UV rays and heat signature, as both of these will cause damage to the art. Not just any LED bulb will do, however: select an LED light with a color rendering index (CRI) of 95 or above will give the colors and textures of the piece proper definition. Most of our lighting are available with the option of LED bulbs.

Halogen lights, with their pure white light, are great for illuminating art work as well; it is recommended that you use a UV filter and place the artwork far enough away (more on this later) to mitigate any damage.

Stay away from fluorescent lamps as they will damage your art. Incandescent lamps are also a no-no, since they will cause colors to fade and create cracks in varnish. Also, avoid placing your artwork in direct natural sunlight, which will cause damage due to UV rays and heat.

Fixtures That Work Best for Gallery Lighting

Spotlight sign lights are a great way to light art, provided that the right lamps and wattage are used (LED lights with less than 150 watts). Our sign and art lights are a popular choice among art galleries. Since these directional lights can be easily re-positioned, it offers flexibility when adjusting to find just the right lighting to accent your art.

Gooseneck lights are also popular lighting options for art. Their streamlined style and angled shades are used to cast a pool of light on artwork, creating an interesting interplay of light and shadows that can be controlled through fixture placement, bulb color, and lamp wattage. Again, look for LED lights or halogen bulbs with a UV filter, and choose bulbs with a wattage of 150 or less.

Positioning Your Lights and Artwork

As is the case with which lamp to use, the distance that you place your lights from your art will have a significant effect on the piece’s longevity as well as its visual impact.

When installing your fixtures, be sure to position them far enough away to mitigate heat and UV damage to the art. To test how far away to place your fixtures, put your hand between the art piece and lighting, and move the light away until you can’t feel the heat from the lamp any longer. Install your fixture no closer than this position.

As halogen lights emit the purest light rays, they also emit the most heat and therefore should never be placed close to artwork, for fear of damage.

A Bit About Up Lighting and Downlighting

Art lighting specialists typically suggest downlighting, but with a caveat: some pieces should be uplit, based on the colors found in the piece, the size of the artwork, and other factors. Since the eye is drawn to the brightest place in the room, it’s best to use a light and angle that illuminates the entire piece of artwork. Though keep in mind that some pieces, depending on the color, depth, and textures, are most effective partially lit, and some pieces need no lighting at all to arrest the eye.

To minimize glare for artwork behind glass and for oil paintings, install the fixture above the piece, aimed downward at a 30-degree angle; add or subtract 5 degrees if it’s a larger piece of art or is a very textural piece.

Lighting Dimensional Art Pieces

Sculpture should be lit from three different angles, and preferably using diffused lighting, in order to best highlight the dimensional elements of the art.

Learn More about Your Lighting Options

Have questions about your lighting options? We’re ready to answer questions and help you find exactly what you’re looking for to highlight your artwork or display in the most aesthetically pleasing way. Visit us at www.ArchitectDesignLighting.com or call us at 1-888-320-0628.

Blog featured image courtesy of Lawrence College.

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