With an endless variety of artistic presence in your home, there comes a multitude of ways to light each piece to accentuate the artist’s intended focal point. Whether your fine art is a painting, sculpture, textile piece, or mixed media, there are proper ways to display these pieces, and most importantly, by giving them the spotlight they deserve. In the same way that a designer may choose the perfect chandelier to illuminate the space they worked so hard to pull together, the artist or owner of the art should show off their artwork with pride and the appropriate lighting.
Paintings : If you have a painting in your space, whether oil or acrylic, you must note the type of varnish or sealant used to finish the painting. Finishes can be matte, satin, or gloss and depending on which one it is, each can benefit from different lighting choices. For a gloss finish, one should steer clear from overly bright and focused lighting as this may hinder the overall visibility and depth of the pigments. With too much light, the shine may consume the painting and leave the viewer with a just a sea of glares hiding the actual image. This is where broad based lighting will come into play and allow for optimal view-ability of your work of art.
(As a side note, some paintings may have glass protecting the surface and hopefully it is non-reflective glass as lighting can be tricky if not. If it doesn’t have this non-reflective surface, than you can still work with your broad based lighting which will help combat the glare and still effectively light the work.)
If the finish is satin or matte, you can get away with a more focal lighting source but should still lean more towards a broad based lighting fixture to be able to illuminate the work in its entirety.
Sculptures: In many situations, a sculptural artist will create a main focal point of their work. With sculptures, whether on a pedestal, in a niche, or on an accent table, you should use a focused lighting source to enhance the intended focal point, to the best of your abilities, to help guide the viewer through the piece. If there are multiple focal points then, by all means, give that work of art the focused lighting it needs. This also allows you to play with the placement of the lighting and how this will create a unique casted shadow on the wall. It is important to find what is visually pleasing to you because, in all reality, you will be the main viewer of the artwork.
Some sculptural works can be more gestural and general allowing for a softer focal lighting. This lighting still illuminates the entire surface but gives the peaks an added glow while deepening the shadows, and therefore creating an aesthetically pleasing contrast for any viewer.
Textiles: These can be treated as a matte finished painting because they have a similar if not more matte appearance. There are some special cases where metallic fabrics make their appearance, and in this case you just dial down the brightness and focal-intensity of the lighting. In most scenarios though you can go bright and broad to cover every inch of the textile work while also highlighting the texture of the piece. Often you will find small details in textile works such as intricate stitching, layered methods, or talented applications of dyes or prints. These will all need that brighter light to make them visible.
Mixed Media: We recommend taking each of these pieces as special cases because mixed media can mean almost anything. Take what we have mentioned above as applicable to almost any work of art. Make sure to note the finish, the detail, and the bigger picture as you approach your lighting choices for each piece of artwork.
LED Lights: The best way to light your more valuable works of art is with LED lighting. As long as they are put in a track or in a proper fixture, the LED lights can give an overall illumination that can be bright but also soft for those gloss finishes or large textile works. They can also be very appropriate for prints, older pieces, and delicate works because they do not give off heat, ultraviolet rays or infrared light which all can be damaging over time. Although these may cost slightly more, they will long outlive most other sources of light.
Incandescent Lights: A great standard option for a warmer colored light which can accentuate the warm hues while also working well with cooler colors.
Halogen Lights: With the most pure white of lighting options, these are ideal for your fine art but on the downside create the most heat. These are great for lighting a gallery showing or for a piece that does not need lighting for extended periods of time. These needs to be placed at a good distance from the works so that the heat does not damage the surface. If you go this route then consider placing a UV filter over the bulb to soften the effects of this powerful lighting option.
Fluorescent Lights: We highly recommend you avoid fluorescent lighting for your artwork as they emit high levels of ultraviolet rays that can damage your work and cause an early onset of fading. Not to mention these lights can distort the colors of your works.
We’d love to hear about your lighting questions or suggestions in the comments below. Whether you’re an artist or an art lover, we’re all in this together to give the visual arts the proper spotlight on the stage that we call home sweet home.