Finding Your Light

Whether you've invested in a painting from an up-and-coming artist, inherited a cherished family portrait, or decided to display a treasured photograph, choosing the correct lighting can enhance your valuable art — and maintain its brilliance for years to come.

We all know museum curators take great care in keeping their collections as vibrant as when they were first created. Moving artwork around, keeping natural light at bay, and choosing the correct light bulbs for the particular medium at hand are all ways curators (and you!) can guarantee a long life for those present and future heirlooms. We've gathered some lighting tips and tricks to keep your artwork stunning, 'cause who knows — you may have the next Basquiat or Pollock right there on your living room wall.

Natural light: Great for a Craigslist Apartment post/ Terrible for Art
While it's very difficult to avoid in most cases, natural light does a number on art — especially photographs, paper and wood. It's best to keep canvas, oils, textiles, and watercolors away from the sunlight, whose ultraviolet and infrared rays can fade and even damage these materials over time.

Keep the spotlight on Liza, not that photo of Nana
Works on paper and photographs are the most sensitive to light, whether natural or artificial. Be wary of shining bright, harsh light directly on your pieces and use a dimmer to help keep the levels low. High wattage incandescent and halogen lighting can lead to cracks in oil paintings, so make sure picture lights with these bulbs aren't lit for long periods of time. When choosing a size of picture light for your artwork, opt for a fixture ½ the size of your piece.

Overwhelmed by bulbs? Save the strife for Picasso's Blue Period! A bulb breakdown:

  • Incandescent Incandescent bulbs give off warm, yellow light and are great for lighting works of art featuring warmer tones (reds, browns, yellows). These bulbs, however, don't do much for cooler colors (blues, purples, greens). Again, when choosing an incandescent picture light use a low watt bulb whenever possible.
  • Fluorescent While fluorescent lighting is great for saving energy, it is not so great for lighting art. It produces relatively cool light but fails to project across the visible spectrum, leaving colors feeling flat and dull. Also, fluorescent lighting emits ultraviolet rays just as harmful to your artwork as sunlight.
  • Halogen Halogen lighting produces a bright white light and brings out a wide array of colors across the spectrum. While halogen light does produce infrared heat, a low watt bulb is a great option for picture lighting.
  • LED LED lights give off fairly warm light and can last beyond 50,000 hours without having to change the bulb. They do not emit harmful UV light and use about one-seventh the energy of an incandescent bulb. LED lights are quickly gaining popularity as a picture light option in both homes and museums.

For more information on perfecting the art of lighting, check these sources: Hogarth Lighting & museumlighting.com

Image: Elle Decor via ABCD Design

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