Lighting Your Paintings


You spent a healthy sum of money on that painting in your living room, but your lighting does not do it any favors. You need much more than a dim floor lamp or harsh ceiling light to showcase that beautiful work of art. Fortunately, options abound for lighting paintings inside of your home.

Your Painting’s Life is At Stake

Lighting your painting is not only important because you want to highlight its beauty; improper lighting can actually damage your artwork. Direct sunlight or even the glare from it can damage your artwork, causing it to lose lustre and colour. Ultraviolet light can cause oil paintings to fade and crack; artwork on canvas becomes brittle under such light and the heat from some lights can damage it. Consequently, you need to carefully select the right type of lighting for your painting(s).

Picture 1: Painting’s lighting in gallery

Tips on Selecting the Right Lights for Your Artwork

Here are a few pointers:

1. Sunlight is the best type of light to showcase a painting, thus you want to imitate that light as best you can. White halogens are acknowledged as the leader in that category, but they do burn hot and can damage a painting with their heat. If you cannot place halogens a far enough distance away from your painting(s), go with LED or incandescent lights. You also want to depend on indirect natural light as much as possible during daytime hours to bring out the best in your artwork. Needless to say, fluorescent lights are an absolute no-go for illuminating artwork.

2. Any light that you choose should be filtered to eliminate both ultraviolet and infrared rays that can damage paintings. For this reason, many homeowners prefer ceiling recessed lights with dimmers and filters. Such lights are versatile and can be easily changed as you move your artwork around to different spots on your walls. If your home already has recessed lighting (many modern ones do), you might need to simply increase your wattage to display your paintings well. Be sure to check the angle at which the light is hitting the painting to ensure that there is no shine on the surface, which will completely ruin the effect of any lighting option.

3. Another lighting faux pas that can ruin your intended effect is the angle that the light hits the frame that surrounds your art. If the frame is ornate and deep, the light might inadvertently cast a shadow over your art. As you position your lights, be sure that they can make it over the frame and onto the art. A good rule of thumb is a 30-degree angle on the wall, adding 5 degrees for a heavy frame and subtracting 5 degrees if you want to highlight the surface’s texture (this makes canvas look great!).

4. As for brightness, another way to ruin your painting’s intended presentation is to have glare or an uneven cast of light. To eliminate this you will need to choose lighting of sufficient wattage. A handy guide for throwing light onto artwork is three times the wattage of your room’s ambient lighting.

5. Regarding what type of lights to mount, remember that the art is the star, not the light fixtures! For this reason, many art lovers opt for rail or slot lights that are recessed yet movable, installed on the walls or ceiling. You can find such lights as you search for lighting that is specifically designed for illuminating artwork. Don’t forget that with the technological advances of today, you could integrate the control of these lights into your home’s scene lighting. You can even create an “art gallery” mode for your living and/or dining rooms. Other options for casting light on your paintings are lamps that can be mounted on the walls, ceiling or in cabinets, or small lights that can be attached to the picture’s frame.

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