Lighting art, much like every other aspect of caring for your art, is a complex task. Here are some important tips and suggestions to help you.
by Tanya Singh
So, you’ve finally purchased that work of art you’ve been thinking about ever since you saw it? It has even been installed on that welcoming, empty wall in your home and is now ready to be admired and perhaps, boasted about. However, something seems missing. It’s the right kind of lighting, that will make the art viewing experience a hundred times better! Like Richard Mishaan, an AD100 designer says, “There’s nothing better than a beautifully lit piece of art.”
Lighting art, much like every other aspect of caring for your art, is a complex task. It’s definitely not as easy as it sounds, and there are a lot of important things to be considered, from the kind of lights to be used to their placement on the wall or in the room.
In this article of our Caring For Your Art series, we are discussing lighting art and why getting it right is so important.
Lights are one of the most important amenities installed in a home. Regardless of where you place your work of art, the space will already have some kind of lighting installed. So, why should there be a need to install more lights or to move them closer to the art? Why can’t you just make use of the regular lighting? We clicked some images in the gallery just to show you the difference.
Using the right lighting for an artwork is like putting that perfect filter on an image or like using make-up. It will significantly enhance the overall look of your art and add to its allure. As you can see from the example above, there is a notable difference between the poorly lit and correctly lit artwork. When done right, lighting can significantly enhance the overall look of your painting and add to the atmosphere of the room as a whole.
However, the reasons for lighting art are not purely for improving the aesthetic. Bad lighting can actually cause harm to works of art. Even the ultraviolet rays from direct sunlight can cause an artwork to start fading and deteriorate with time. Installing your work in the middle of two windows or lighting it with halogen lamps is literally the worst thing you can do to it. Your work of art is precious and it deserves to be showcased properly and protected from all harm. “Longevity is very important in art,” says Mishaan. “Invest in the right lighting now, so it doesn’t end up costing you in the end.”
Now that we have established that lighting art is more complicated than it sounds, here is how to get started.
Essentially, there are three kinds of fixtures that can be used for lighting art. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you will need to use your discretion when choosing the correct kind for your art.
LED Lights – The best option to go for, LED lights are energy efficient, long-lasting, and will keep your work of art in pristine condition. These lights do not emit heat or any harmful radiations. They cost more than regular lighting but are definitely a good investment.
Incandescent Lights – The standard yellow bulbs used in households are great for enhancing warm colors in an artwork. They are also not harmful for your art, but have a smaller beam width, which means they are not the best option for large works of art.
Halogen Lights – Using halogen lights and lamps is like burning a leaf through a magnifying glass for your artwork. However, a lot of people use these from a distance because of the intensity of light and illumination. You can also inquire about a UV light filter for your halogen lamp if you are still apprehensive about it being too close to the painting.
Please note that fluorescent lighting as well as direct natural light are an absolute NO.
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When installing the lighting, your aim should be to create layers within the room as well as over the artwork in order to get the best result. One way to decide on the placement of the lighting in the room is to start from the top and gradually scatter the arrangement of lighting. Harry Triggs, the founder of London’s TM Lighting, suggests starting at ceiling level. “Think of the room as a stage and light the location in which the action takes place,” he said in an interview with Christie’s.
Ceiling-mounted accent lights are great for large works of art. They should be angled at 30 degrees to hit the center of the work. The reason for this is to avoid large shadows on the wall around the work of art. A more temporary substitute for ceiling mounted lights is track lighting. With a range of designs and almost the same effect as accent lights, these are externally installed and a great option for those who love rearranging furniture. Picture lights, or LED lights, are installed much closer to the artwork. The proximity of the light source creates an intimate atmosphere for the work. For smaller pieces, a standard incandescent light bulb works just fine. In order to maximize the reach of the beam, the bulb should be placed on top of the painting at a distance of 20-25 centimeters.
Once the basic lighting is placed close to the work, you can introduce more layers by adding halogen lamps or regular table lamps across the room.
The decision about the color of the lights you install depends on the colors present in your work of art. While yellow light can do wonders for a vibrant and warm color palette, it does not work well with subtle and white works of art. White LEDs should be installed if the work of art has a light color palette.
As a rule of thumb, the lighting over your works should be significantly brighter – up to three times – than the lighting in the rest of the room. However, you must always remember that the focus is enhancing the look of the art as well as the space.
Lighting art is important, but not as important as creating a homely and cozy atmosphere in the room. Too many bright lights, especially after sunset, can create a very gallery-like feel. The best way to avoid this is to install dimmers or light level adjusters. They are easily available at hardware stores, and can usually be linked with all kinds of lights.
Another important thing to consider is the lighting fixture styles that you choose. Not only should these be complimentary to the furniture and the art that you have in the space but also play a role in enhancing the work itself. If the fixture is too big or too elaborate, the focus can very easily shift from the artwork to the light source.
There is so much more to lighting art than meets the eye. Use your artistic discretion when choosing and installing lights, and remember to maintain the focus on the artwork. Like Triggs said, “We want people to see the artwork, not what’s lighting it.” Lights are an accessory for your work of art, not a diversion.
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Tanya Singh is a budding art historian and writer. She is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies at the LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. With a versatile portfolio, she has over three years of experience in writing as well as editing.