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Art Lighting 101
Posted by TK on 6/12/2008 5:29:10 PM (ET)
Filed Under: General
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Effective lighting can make or break the visual impact of your wall art and is crucial to art preservation and longevity.

What is art lighting?

For many artists, art and light go hand in hand. For instance, Rembrandt is considered the greatest master of Chiaroscuro (the contrast of light and dark) in history and his works are renowned for their luminosity.

Claude Monet, too, was a great master of light and famously spent hours in his garden in Giverny studying the play of light and painting his water lily pond in various stages of illumination.

Claude Monet, Nympheas a Giverny (1908)

While works by these masters look pretty good in any light, there are certain rules to adhere to in order to properly enhance and preserve your masterpiece. When lighting fine art, your choices are critical as even a slight difference in direction or type of light (fluorescent, incandescent, halogen, natural) can make all the difference.

What type of light should I use to light my artwork?

Natural light (sunlight) – Many people believe that sunlight is the best type of light for art – it makes sense since art looks best in natural light. But while the art looks great, some art will deteriorate in this light. Natural light is hard to control in general terms. It causes a big problem for art as the infrared and ultraviolet (UV) rays of natural sunlight are so harmful that they can, over time, fade works of art. Works on paper, especially pastels, prints, photographs, and watercolors, are most susceptible.

Fluorescent - Not recommended for art in most cases. Museums and galleries don't use fluorescent bulbs as a common practice because they give off a high amount of UV rays which are harmful. In addition, fluorescent lights do not emit light across the entire spectrum of colors.

• Incandescent – Incandescent lights bring out the warm colors within the color spectrum such as the red, brown, orange, and yellow tones, but the blues, greens, and violets within your works of art will be flattened out. In short, these lights are better than natural or fluorescent lights, but are not the entire solution to your lighting problem.

Halogen - The use of a halogen light at low wattage may prove best for most works of art. Although museum professionals have not "blessed" the halogen light because of the strong white light that it emits, halogens are among the best lighting solutions when installed properly. A low watt halogen-based bulb has been recently introduced which redirects damaging UV and infrared rays of light.

Some Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO rotate your artwork regularly. This will reduce the amount of light exposure during the works lifetime and will reduce the risk of fading.
  • DO invest in top-of-the line picture lighting. Museum-quality picture lights provide a generous, evenly distributed glow that will beautifully enhance your artwork - without the risk of fading.
  • DO shop around for the right lights for your décor. Choose between the clean, finished look of cordless picture lights, dimmable picture lights that you can adjust, or the ease of picture lights with remote controls.
  • DO use halogen art lights to display your artwork - making sure that they conform to museum standards for UV output.
  • DO angle your picture lights at a 30 degree angle to avoid a glare and to lend the most appealing effect.
  • DON’T hang your artwork in direct sunlight or near windows. The sun’s infrared and ultraviolet (UV) rays are so powerful they can fade works over time.
  • DON’T hang your art under fluorescent lighting. Apart from being unflattering, fluorescent lights emit extremely high levels of ultraviolet rays that can cause fading and overall deterioration of your artwork over time.
  • DON’T hang your artwork beneath or across from a spotlight. Even ordinary incandescent light bulbs, such as an un-shaded 100-watt lamp, can cause fading and dulling over time if placed less than 10 feet from a work of art.

The bottom line? Professional, museum-quality lighting can draw attention to your artwork and enhance its colors and richness. Overexposure to sunlight and certain kinds of artificial light will cause it to dull or fade prematurely. So please choose your art lighting wisely!

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