Monday, June 1, 2009

How to Light Your Art

For many people, illuminating art is an afterthought at best. Most of the time, we simply drive a nail into the wall and stick the thing on it. Sure, you can hang a painting on your living room wall and call it a day. But the addition of properly chosen and installed lighting fixtures can really highlight your artwork – as well as protect it as an investment. Deciding what fixtures to use, where to use them, and how to complement your decor and the piece’s framework is all it takes to take your art to the next level of design perfection. Follow these simple suggestions, and you can’t go wrong.

1. Is your art behind glass? If so, and if it’s not special non-reflective glass, you’ll want to go with more subdued lighting, usually in the form of a much lower wattage, softer bulb.

2. If the piece is particularly large or grand, consider illuminating it using a pair of fixtures, like sconces or small wall lights, on either side. Be careful with this, though; if you choose lamps that are overly ornate, the effect might come off as over the top and baroque. Unless, of course, that’s the look you’re going for. In which case, go for it with gusto!

3. Never under any circumstance should you hang your artwork in direct sunlight. Many a valuable painting has been destroyed by the sun’s UV rays, and this damage is not typically covered by most home insurance policies. Avoid the problem in the first place. Even if you put the art behind glass that claims to block UV rays, the heat from the sun can wreak havoc.

4. Not that you would use a fluorescent bulb, anyway, but – just as a reminder – you shouldn’t. Displaying artwork should involve incandescents, which emit a very small percentage of UV rays, limiting the potential damage they create to your art.

5. Visit a frame store to see what options are available to you for individual lights designed to illuminate art. Your framer will also be a great resource for ideas and troubleshooting.

6. A basic rule to remember: Use the lowest level light you can. A brightly lit piece of art is never enjoyable to look at; on the other hand, a painting that has just enough light to enjoy its depth and richness is much more pleasing.
There are, of course, other factors to consider, like complementing framework (for example, if your painting’s frame is gold, you probably don’t want to go with a brushed nickel fixture) and your home decor (if your furniture has a stark, modern aesthetic, you probably want to stay roughly in that feel). But the rules are not hard and fast, and you can certainly mix and match different fixtures to achieve the result you’re looking for. Just remember that displaying art beautifully should focus attention on the art itself, not how it’s displayed.

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