Lighting For Paintings

Paintings are common in fine homes as well as office space.  This is not surprising when we consider that painting has been with in one form or fashion for at least 40,000 years.   Light in paintings themselves determines the tone of the work by creating the illusion of three dimensional spaces with the interplay of light and shadows.  Lighting for paintings should not cast shadows, however, but rather must discover and magnify the luminosity of the scene and animate the action between objects and characters.  This method of lighting paintings is as old as Lascaux, where firelight was used to make the seemingly crude stick figures of hunters and animals suddenly spring to life with the illusion of three dimensional substance and physical movement.

To create this sense of vivid life and realism, art lighting for paintings must be sourced from special types of fixtures and controlled in such a manner that enhances the work without damaging the piece or limiting the aesthetic. 

Only filtered light can be used for safely lighting paintings.
Oils and canvases are sensitive materials and will deteriorate if exposed to UV light.  Infrared light, is not as damaging as ultraviolet light, but it nonetheless produces large quantities of heat that will dry out paint and crack the canvas.  Because sunlight contains both UV and IR radiation, it must never be used to light paintings, because it will quickly destroy them in a short period of time.  Sunlight is also way too intense to light a painting because it overpowers the combination of shadows and light in the painting and flattens the perspective of the image.

It is therefore necessary to use a filtered artificial lighting source that strips the light beam of IR and UV radiation.

Use a light source with a high color rendering index (CRI).
While artificial light is much safer than sunlight to use as lighting for paintings, sunlight’s ability to render color is unmatched because sunlight is a perfect blend of all natural colors of the spectrum.  Nevertheless, it is simply out of the question as a light source for residental art design, so we have to find an artificial, close approximation to sunlight to effectively illuminate art without damaging its integrity or quality in the process.

To date, the best source of this type is a halogen bulb.  These bulbs produce an intense, white light that renders color at levels near that of sunlight.  Halogen bulbs are found in recessed ceiling fixtures that shine light down on artwork.  They are also housed inside modern art lighting projectors, which also install in the ceiling.

When used in lighting paintings, recessed lights have to be filtered.  All art lighting projectors, because they are intended only for art lighting, are manufactured with filters in them.

Lighting for paintings must be adjustable and dimmable.
Paintings must be lit from the correct angle of incidence to avoid spill light shining past the boundaries of the frame and to avoid glare than can reflect off the canvas back into the eye.  Picture lights are difficult to adjust like this and are generally not recommended for home or office decoration.  Also, they can burn very hot at times and are extremely difficult to filter, making them unsafe as well.

Recessed lighting and projector lighting are much better sources to use because they allow the decorator to change the direction of the light at will.  Some recessed fixtures can be adjusted in this manner more easily than others, so it is important to make certain before purchasing them if the models being ordered were made specifically for lighting paintings.

Projectors offer even more adjustability because they hang suspended from the ceiling and can be positioned anywhere along a three-dimensional access.  Some projectors are easier to adjust than others.  It is best to talk to an picture lighting specialist here at ILD to find the model best suited to a particular home, office, or museum application.

Call a professional firm to have your art lights installed.
Lighting simple prints or photographs is something most people can do with retail picture lights.  Lighting a painting as art is something completely different.  It takes commercial grade equipment that can only be obtained by a design firm from the manufacture.  It also takes knowledge of art and design to truly create a masterpiece of lighting.

Illuminations Lighting and Design has mastered these mini-disciplines and has been a fine art lighting company  in Houston, Beaumont, Austin, and San Antonio areas for many, many years.  Our staff holds licenses in electrical service work and understands the complexity of fine art lighting, lighting control systems and interior design.  Contact us at 800-863-1184 for a free consultation today.




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Your electricians were clean, efficient, knowledgeable, and the most professional art lighting specialists that I have ever worked with. We are completely satisfied with our new art lighting and will be calling you very soon about lighting and electrical work in our other home. We just love the way the new lighting enhances the visual enjoyment of our art collection.

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Galveston, Texas

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