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How to Light Your Artwork at Home

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

One question I often hear from my collectors is, “How do I light my new painting?”

This is a topic close to my heart, since I want each of my painting to look its very best in every home. Because the lighting of a piece is so vital to one’s enjoyment of the artwork, I wanted to take a deep dive into the various lighting options you can utilize in your home or office as you display your painting.

Recommended Ceiling-Mounted Lighting Fixtures

The most common way to effectively light artwork is to install a ceiling fixture which focuses on an individual painting. Most fixtures allow you to use the bulb type of your choice, so you are free to use the fixture that most aligns with the aesthetics of your home. When you point the bulb at the painting, focus on highlighting the center of attention within the painting.

Here are my favorite ceiling-mounted lighting fixtures:

WAC Recessed Lights

These directional recessed lighting units are adjustable, allowing you to illuminate your art in the perfect light.

WAC Track Lights

Track lights with adjustable lamps are a great option to cover a long wall of individual pieces. They can also serve to place two or three spotlights on one large painting.

Ceiling Mount Lamps

Galleries and museums all over the world use similar fixtures. They are adjustable up or down and can be mounted on a wall or ceiling.

I recommend their black-backed, 24-degree bulbs for these fixtures, with no diffuser.

If you are hanging a favorite piece in your home or office for an extended period, ceiling-mounted fixtures are an excellent way to light up your painting.

Ceiling Light Placement

Correctly placing your fixture is essential to getting the most out of your product. Install ceiling lights so that the light has an angle of about 30°- 45° to the artwork. If the fixture is placed too directly overhead, you will have harsh shadows down the painting. If the light angle is too flat, then you will get unpleasant glare off the art.

If the ceiling is very high, then you’ll also want to get a bulb with higher wattage and narrow beam to compensate for the longer distance. A 10° bulb will light a 30”x 30” painting when mounted on a 20-foot ceiling.

Recommended Painting-Mounted Lights

Many spaces with high-ceilings or a rotating inventory choose to mount lights directly on a painting. This technique beautifully lights any piece, no matter where it is positioned.

Picture-mounted lights are typically attached to the back of paintings and often use art-safe bulbs. Be sure to consult the lamp specifications and choose one with light that is suitable for your home.

Revelite provides high-end art lighting solutions which can be customized to the dimensions of your painting. Their product offers even lighting with excellent color accuracy across the surface of the piece.

Lumens carries a variety of lights in all styles, temperatures, and colors. Many of them allow for either incandescent or LED bulbs.

I often recommend LED lighting for picture-mounted lights, as these are cool and art-safe.

The variety of fixtures available mean that you can often choose how you’d like to power your picture-mounted light. Some utilize battery power, others can be plugged into an outlet, and still others have hardwired power supplies that require an electrician install a circuit box into the wall behind the painting-

The Effect of Light Bulbs on Your Artwork

Some light fixtures give options for pre-installed bulbs. These options may be difficult to evaluate when purchasing lighting online, so I would like to share one rule of thumb when it comes to purchasing artwork lighting. When shopping, pay attention to the Color Rendering Index (CRI) and the color temperature. Here is a brief explanation of both, as well as what bulbs we recommend based on your home’s lighting color temperature:

The Color Rendering Index (CRI) CRI is a scale from 0 to 100 percent indicating how accurate a given light source is at rendering color when compared to a reference light source. The higher the CRI, the better the color rendering ability. You want the light to bring out the art’s true color. Light sources with a CRI of 90 or higher are considered best at color rendering. Color Temperature Color temperature is a number assigned to a light bulb that tells you how warm (yellow) or cool (blue) the light is. Color temperature is measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000. Light with a color temperature below 3500K will look warm, while a color temperature that is higher than 4000K results in cool tint.

Image Source: Integral LED For homes lit in warm white, I recommend a lighting color temperature of 3000K to 3500K for your paintings. For homes illuminated in cool-white, I recommend a lighting color temperature of 4000K for your pieces. Advanced tip: If your painting has predominately warm tones in it (reds, oranges, yellows), then use a bulb at 3500K. If your painting is mostly cool tones (blue, green), then use 4000K bulbs. Either way, make sure you have a CRI over 95, otherwise your painting will look "muddy." Properly lighting your art will allow you to enjoy the piece as the artist intended.

I hope this lighting “how to” has provided you with all the knowledge you need to illuminate the stunning work in your collection to its greatest advantage. Emil

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