Do You Use the Correct Lighting for Your Art Collection?

There’s nothing better than a beautifully lit piece of original art. You have just gotten home from the opening reception with your newly acquired painting. You invested time and hard-earned money into this wonderful piece to help bring joy and intrigue into your space. A freshly poured glass of one of your finest merlots is on the coffee table as you start unwrapping the painting. You are giddy with excitement, but gingerly remove the painting from the wrapping as to not get so excited that you trip and put your elbow through the canvas.

The painting is more glorious than even just a few hours before at the reception. It has already increased in value. You measure and secure the picture hanging nail into the wall in preparation of the install. Carefully you grab the painting by the sides and secure the wire to the hanging nail, adjusting either side in a seesaw fashion until it’s straight.

You step back aaaaaaaaaaand. “Hmmm”, you say to yourself. The once vivacious and bold show stopper work of art seems to have morphed into a blasé affair of muted grays and mid-tones. A veritable masterful mundaneness now stands before you. This is not what you had in mind when you cleared the wall space and rearranged the furnishings to accommodate this new piece. Well I’m here to help. The painting is not at fault!

Lighting your art doesn’t haven’t to be a huge challenge. Many times simple adjustments can make a world of difference. Here are some quick tips to guide you in making your art collection sing like Frank Sinatra.

First things first: Never display original paintings (nor prints) in direct sunlight. Ultraviolet rays from the sun are detrimental to artwork; causing fading and discoloration.

The easiest thing to do for most collectors is to exchange any incandescent bulb for an equivalent LED. Don’t like the cold blues that regular LEDs tend to give? Look for the warm LED bulbs. LED bulbs are the best for showing off valuable artwork. They do not give off heat and do not emit ultraviolet rays or infrared light. Incandescents are fine and safe for displayed artwork, but they tend to have an overly warm and orange cast. This may work for certain pieces to bring out the reds and yellows, but also keep in mind, that incandescents use quite a bit more energy than modern, efficient alternatives. Halogens cast the purest white light, but their extreme heat and the fact that they emit UV rays make them a non-ideal solution for lighting artwork. If you have Halogen equipped fixtures, look into placing a UV filter over the bulb. Fluorescent, although energy efficient is not recommended at all for showing of art. Fluorescent lighting distorts the color of art and emits high levels of ultraviolet rays which causes accelerated fading.

Picture Lights are fixtures that hang directly over a single painting. These types of fixtures are available in an endless array of sizes, styles, and power options. Given the portability, picture lights are perfect for renters and apartment dwellers. The downfall is their obtrusiveness of becoming a part of the painting and their limited range of angle adjustment.

Track lighting is the most flexible of all types of lighting. Track lighting is extremely versatile and able to complement one single large piece of art or a wall lined with varying pieces. This type of lighting is most common in galleries and modern homes, though there are styles to complement traditional homes. Track lighting can hold multiple fixtures that near infinite adjustments to direct the light where you want it. Track lighting allows you to spot many pieces individually or cast a flood with many fixtures onto one giant piece. You can also use track lighting to accentuate architectural parts of your home. The only real limitation with track lighting is that it has to be hardwired in to your existing electrical conduit.  

Recessed Can Lights are flush with the ceiling and are the least obtrusive of all lighting. Very subtle and modest, this type of lighting is great for homes with a minimal decor

Glare can be a problem for oil paintings and  artwork behind glass. To reduce glare, adjust the  light at a 30-degree angle to the work. For paintings in a large frame, add 5 degrees to the angle to avoid casting a shadow. If you want to accentuate the texture of a painting, subtract five degrees from the position.

This is just a basic guide to get you started. Remember, there is no once-size-fits all. Adjust your lighting to reflect your own style and mood along with any limitations you may have as a renter or homeowner. You may want to light a piece very well, or you may want a nice piece in a well-lit room. Try different arrangements of your collection with different adjustments of your lighting. You might just come across a display that surprises you. Let’s not forget ambience and mood. Not everyone will necessarily want their piece or collection brightly lit to outshine other enjoyable moments in their space. However, if you do want to accent a piece, the general rule is to highlight a piece three times brighter than the rest of the room. Is one of my pieces in your collection? I would love to see a photo of how yours it lit. Email a photo and your answers to these questions:

What kind of lighting do you have for your collection? Would you prefer a different type?


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