Artwork Lighting Techniques

lightingYou’ve chosen the perfect piece to complement your home’s decor to stir up a conversation when guests enter the room. However, selecting the right technique for lighting your artwork is as important as the piece itself. You’ll need to consider the light intensity, bulb type, lighting style and placement for your art lighting.


The rule of thumb for artwork lighting is to use lamps that are three times brighter than your ambient light. This highlights each piece without making it glaringly obvious. Speaking of glare, artwork under glass needs special consideration because of the refractive qualities of glass. Choose museum quality non-reflective glass to better showcase your artwork.

Bulb Type

The following types of bulbs are typically used for lighting artwork:

Incandescent bulbs – They produce warm light that pulls out the reds and yellows from a painting while subtly complementing the blues and greens. They generate some heat, but can usually be safely placed close to a painting.

Halogen bulbs – These produce bright, pure light revealing the true colors of the illuminated artwork. However, because they generate a lot of heat, they must be placed at a suitable distance from the piece.

LED lights – These are often used in high-end restaurants and galleries to light pieces. They’re energy efficient and produce bright light without generating heat. Choose Energy Star rated bulbs to avoid issues with flickering, and be aware that the light they emit can have a bluish cast to it.

Florescent bulbs should never be used to light paintings. They produce damaging UV rays that can cause fading and cracking in addition to producing harsh, unflattering light.

Lighting Styles

There are four main light styles from which to choose.

1.  Picture LightsPicture lights are mounted either on the frame itself or on the wall just above the artwork. You can choose from a slim line model about one inch in diameter that complements contemporary pieces, or a traditional model about three inches in diameter for displaying more classic pieces. They come in lengths of twelve to forty-eight inches. While most take incandescent lamps, some LED styles are available.

2.  Mantel Lights and SpotlightsSpotlights and mantel lights usually sit on a shelf below the painting. They are more unobtrusive than other forms of lighting and can be used to create subtly dramatic angles.

3.  Track LightingPerhaps the most flexible style of lighting, track lights can be focused on a single piece or illuminate multiple works. Each light can be angled to the artwork’s best advantage.

4.  Recessed Lights This lighting style typically appears in modern homes and is built in, offering little flexibility when it comes to altering angles. Recessed lights are often used to showcase sculpture rather than two-dimensional artwork.

Tips and Tricks

  • Angle your light at 30 degrees relative to the painting, and you’ll reduce glare.
  • Does your painting have a large frame? Increase the angle to 35 degrees to get rid of the unsightly shadow.
  • If you want to show off the texture of a piece, reduce your lighting angle to 25 degrees.
  • Test for potential heat damage by placing your hand just in front of the artwork, between it and the light source. If you feel warmth, adjust your lighting to avoid damaging your painting.

Choosing the right lighting makes all the difference in how your artwork is displayed. Use the information here to create a selection that shows your piece in the best possible light.

**article provided by Wingwire.

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