Lighting Artwork Successfully: What You Need to Know
Lighting displayed in a gallery, office, museum, shop or home is greatly impacted by lighting. Properly lighting artwork is essential to viewing and experiencing the complete work of art. Dim or unlit artwork can not be seen properly. As artwork comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, including both three-dimensional sculptures and two-dimensional works such as paintings, photographs, and drawings, lighting artwork is not a one solution fits all situation.
Lighting artwork can pose challenges for both technical application and design aspects. Proper lighting should bring out the nuances and effects of the artwork not seen previously in dim light.
Utilizing the correct lamping, wattage and light fixtures can highlight the artwork in a room or public space. Considerations should be applied to ambient lighting, color temperature, and color rendering as well as lamp positioning.
Our guidelines were created to help owners of new and existing art successfully illuminate their art works with style. WAC Lighting features both residential and commercial lighting designs with their offering of unique products to fit individual solutions. Lighting artwork varies on the application and intended result of the art installation.
Lighting artwork properly creates a dramatic, subtle or surreal effect in the room or gallery. How is the piece hung? How does it relate to the space? Is it the focus of the room or a decorative addition? There are many different lighting and lamping options available in the market so it is important to understand the desired application as well as the surrounding environment to maximize the effectiveness of lighting.
There are some general rules to follow when lighting artwork. Without proper light the artwork cannot be viewed. In the case of poor lighting, it is difficult to fully enjoy the artwork. When applying the techniques discussed below keep in mind the room or space’s overall lighting design as artwork lighting is just one piece of an overall lighting plan.
Look to museums and galleries for inspiration when creating your lighting plan. Let’s look at museum lighting as a guide for properly lighting artwork. In the recently constructed Han Meilin Art Museum, in Beijing, the lighting designer selected WAC Lighting to highlight the displays and exhibit spaces. The general light in museums is kept to a dim ambient lighting unless specified by the artist. In lighting individual artworks, these designers used a cool light for the background and a warm light on the art works. Lamps and lamp positions are carefully chosen to control vertical illumination, so as not to cause damage to delicate paintings and to avoid mirror effects on glass.
A general rule is that the light source for the artwork should be three times as bright as the ambient room lighting. This will accent the artwork while neither being too dim or over-lighting the work. Techniques can be applied to reduce the general lighting level in the room to achieve the ideal 3:1 contrast. Assign the appropriate light level to the artwork first, then adjust the level for the room to create the 3:1 visual contrast. Both 2-D and 3-D artworks deserve the same lighting considerations, but techniques will vary. Viewing angles, shadows and reflections are unique to each piece of art. 3-D artwork can be accented with a single spot light, but 2-D artwork is lit more evenly. Proper lighting needs to consider the balance between visual performance, energy efficiency, and preservation. Visual performance should achieve a good balance between brightness and contrast while creating optimal color rendering.
When positioning your art work lighting, consider position, distance and angle. To reduce surface glare, install the light at a 30-degree angle to the piece. Add five degrees for a larger frame to the angle as this will help to avoid shadows. Reduce the angle five degrees to accent the texture of a painting.
Some artwork is sensitive to heat, Ultraviolet (UV), and Infrared (IR) radiation or a combination of all three. These art works should be away from direct or indirect sunlight. Proper lamping options should be used to best preserve the works over time. To help alleviate these issues, WAC Lighting offers different lens options, including both UV and IR blocking lenses, in order to protect the artwork. For art work that is heat sensitive, the lamp should be at an adequate distance from the work. Place your hand between the lamp and the artwork to test the heat output. If an adequate distance to prevent head damage cannot be achieved, choose an alternative light, such as the WAC LEDme™ track luminaires, which are not only thermally energy efficient and long lasting, but also deliver strong light output and have color options from warm white (3000K) to cool white (6000K) to achieve the desired color rendering.
WAC Lighting offers many lighting designs to meet most artwork lighting needs. Below are the various types of lighting available for illuminating artwork:
Halogen and Other Lamp Options
Halogen lighting is the one of the most popular choices for lighting artwork using track or recessed lighting in both residential and commercial applications, including restaurants, lobbies or retail stores. Halogen light is close to 100 CRI (Color Rendering Index). CRI is measured on a scale of 0-100 and describes how a light source makes color appear to the human eye and how subtle variations in color shades are revealed. For lighting artwork, a higher CRI number is generally preferred.
WAC Lighting recommends their Halogen Track Luminaires that have framing and spot light accessory options with adjustable metal shims for square or rectangular light beams. Isolating the projected light within the four corners of a painting will create the appearance of a self-illuminating surface. Clear, colored or colored dichroic lenses to simulate special effects are also available.
Incandescent and fluorescent light can illuminate some pieces artwork, but this is not recommended. Incandescent lights are typically less harmful than fluorescents, which emanate large concentrations of UV radiation, especially if unshielded. Standard incandescent lamps might display too warm white, which creates an imbalanced color rendering. Incandescent bulbs have a shorter lamp life so end up costing more in the long run than halogen or LEDs lamping.
Avoid using a halogen light in a picture light mounted close to the artwork because of the significant heat projected by halogen lamps.
Surface Mount Spots
WAC Lighting’s collection of Surface Mount Spots is great lighting for artwork. The Surface Mount Spots create accent or task lighting when a surface mount fixture is the best option. They come in low and line voltage versions with a number of design and accessory options, including lens choices and a framing projector. Extensions from 6 to 96 inches help align the lighting for artwork in the proper position.
WAC Lighting’s Display Lighting collection includes both low and line voltage designs as well as LED lights in a number of finishes and styles for art lighting. The majority of fixtures can be adapted to installation in temporary or permanent art displays. Known for convenience and portability, this clamp mount display lighting is preferred for gallery partitions, craft fairs and art shows, as well as residential interiors. Energy efficient low voltage clamp mount lights recently illuminated wall decor in an award winning Green Home design in Jericho, NY.
LEDme™ Track Luminaires
LEDme™ Track Luminaires are next generation accent and display lighting fixtures. Track luminaires are thermally energy efficient, long lasting and have a strong light output. LED track lighting is perfect for gallery displays, high-end residential artwork lighting, and exhibits in museums, as well as artwork hung in hotels and restaurants. These high quality LEDs deliver projected heat free beams that do no contain ultraviolet radiation. Ideal for colorful or heat sensitive artwork, these LEDs are sold in both 3000K warm white and cool white 4500K temperatures. LEDs are the ideal substitute for halogen units when it is impossible to create enough distance between the light and the art work to provide proper temperature. For more information on LED technology and techniques, refer to our LED FAQ section above.
It may be overwhelming and intimidating to design a proper lighting plan for art work in the home. This guideline was created to advise on the various techniques, products and installations for ideal lighting of artwork in the home or commercial space. For additional guidance in lighting artwork pieces or adding artwork lighting to challenging spaces, please consult a professional lighting designer for further assistance. Images 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7