Five Tips for Lighting Artwork in Your Home

Five Tips for Lighting Artwork in Your Home

Choosing the right pieces for your home is only part of the equation when it comes to successfully decorating with art. It is equally essential to light your art in a way that showcases its beauty. Ultimately, well-chosen lighting has the ability to elevate a piece of art which, in turn, enhances the overall aesthetic of your living space. 

Let’s take a look at five tips for expertly lighting the art in your home.

1. Avoid Direct Natural Light

Natural light is often a sought-after quality in a home. However, there’s at least one case where direct natural light should be avoided at all costs – art placement. Why? Because the UV rays contained in sunlight can be extremely harmful to many types of art. From watercolors to photographs, even moderate exposure to the sun over a short period of time can lead to fading and discoloration in valuable artwork.

However, direct natural light isn’t the only threat to art. Even indirect sunlight can damage fragile pieces by distorting their colors. For this reason, lighting professionals recommend using UV-protected glass frames. These UV-glazed frames are an effective defense against the sun’s rays when art can’t be placed in a fully shaded spot.

2. Pay Attention to Angles

Glare can interfere with the enjoyment of a piece of art. To minimize glare while allowing for sufficient illumination, experts recommend an ideal lighting angle of 30 degrees. Note that playing with the angle can achieve different results. For example, to avoid shadows cast by larger frames, a 35-degree angle may be more appropriate. Meanwhile, a 25-degree angle is desirable if you’re aiming to accentuate the textures in a painting.

3. Ensure Even Illumination

Most works of art are designed to be viewed in their entirety. Therefore, failing to light a whole piece can detract from the impression it makes. Conversely, even and consistent illumination has the opposite effect.

When choosing fixtures to light up your artwork, it’s important to take into consideration the type of piece you will be highlighting. For example, sculptures require very different lighting tactics than one-dimensional pieces of art. Because of their three-dimensional nature, sculptures should ideally be lit from three different angles. However, in some cases this is impossible. If you are illuminating a sculpture from a single source, the lighting – whether from above, below, or one side – is subjective.

In general, art lighting should be roughly three times brighter than a room’s ambient light. However, the degree to which a piece of artwork is illuminated is also a matter of personal preference. Choosing lighting with a dimmer switch allows you to change things up depending on the occasion or your mood.

Ceiling-mounted accent lights

4. Know Your Options

There are several different ways to go when it comes to choosing the right type of lighting for your artwork. Ceiling-mounted accent lights are a popular choice because they can illuminate more than one piece at a time. They also add ambiance to the entire space – not just the individual piece of art.

Wall-mounted lights, also known as picture lights, work in a way that is similar to ceiling-mounted accent fixtures. However, they are usually mounted to the wall directly above the frame (or to the frame itself). These are especially suitable for rooms with high ceilings. Because of their proximity to the art, picture lights can also be used to create a focal point, thereby drawing the attention of guests and inviting them to take a closer look. However, if you are going to use picture lights that attach to the artwork itself, it’s important to make sure that your frame is sturdy enough to handle the weight of the fixture.

When choosing a picture light, keep the specific dimensions of your artwork in mind. The width of your picture light should be no more than half of the width of the artwork’s frame. For example, if you’re illuminating a 32-inch frame, look for a picture light that is at least 16 inches wide.

Track lights are another popular lighting option for artwork. Offering many of the same benefits as ceiling-mounted lights, their advantages include easy installations and the flexibility to be moved later if you decide to redecorate.

All artwork lighting fixtures come in a range of finishes, including everything from brass to gold, black, and bronze. For a complementary look, consider selecting a lighting fixture with a finish similar to that of the frame. Or, look for one that coordinates with the color of the walls, wallpaper, or surrounding decor.

5. Choose the Right Type of Light

It’s not just about the fixture itself, but also what’s in the fixture. We’re talking about the bulb itself. All light bulbs are not created equal, and while we’ve already covered that direct sunlight can damage art, so can certain artificial lights. For example, fluorescent light bulbs are not recommended for illuminating artwork because they can accelerate fading while distorting colors. Think about it – when’s the last time you visited an art museum that was drowning in harsh fluorescent lighting? Odds are, you’ve never encountered this. 

Choose the Right Type of Light

Additionally, because halogen lights burn hotter than similar incandescent bulbs, they can cause heat damage if allowed to directly face the art. Therefore, if you do go with halogen lighting, make sure it’s situated far enough away from the artwork to prevent damage. 

And while standard incandescent light bulbs create a warm color suitable for illuminating art, LED lights are generally regarded as the best option. LED lights don’t emit heat or UV rays, meaning that they won’t damage your pieces regardless of how close you place them. Plus, they’re the most energy-efficient and long-lasting option available. LEDs may cost more upfront, but their long lifespan makes up for it.

Whether it’s a one-of-a-kind watercolor painting or a photograph taken by a loved one, beautiful art has a transformative power over a home’s aesthetic. However, without the right lighting, artwork cannot reach its full potential. Use these five tips to pick lighting fixtures that will not only illuminate your art but also enhance its impact in your living space for years to come. 

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