Thursday, April 28, 2011

How to Light Art

Clients frequently ask about lighting for artwork at The Studio Shop and it doesn't have to be complicated.   Here are some of the basics about light bulbs, placement, recessed lighting and track systems. 

Picture lights that mount to the back of a picture frame are a convenient way to provide lighting for artwork.  They are available in a variety of sizes and finishes to match your picture frame and home decor.
Track lighting and recessed cans provide flexible lighting for artwork with a clean, built-in look. Track lighting is the most flexible system for moving lights and aiming at artwork. Recessed lighting with adjustable heads are attractive for their clean look but aren’t quite as flexible as track. Recessed lighting with fixed lights are used for wall washing and ambient lighting, not very suitable for art lighting. High-end fixtures can include louvers and filters for focusing light just on the art, reducing ceiling glare and filtering UV rays.

MR-16 low voltage systems are used for track and recessed can systems.  They are very popular for lighting of art in residential and retail situations because of the compact bulb size and clean white light.  These low voltage systems use a transformer on the fixture or hidden in the ceiling. The bulbs emit a small amount of UV rays which are filtered by the glass lens that comes with most MR-16 fixtures. TIP: Do not touch the inside of the bulb when changing bulbs because your finger oils will make it burn out sooner.

PAR 30 bulbs are larger than MR-16s and have a standard screw-in base. They are commonly used in residential recessed cans and track lighting in art galleries.

Light placement should be set so that the light strikes the wall at 30 to 45 degrees, measured to a point at eyelevel on the wall, approx. 60” from the floor. A steeper angle than 30 degrees will create deeper shadows and shallower than 45 degrees may cause reflective glare. On an 8 foot ceiling place your track or recessed cans 20” to 36” away from the wall and on a 10 foot ceiling, 42” to 60” from the wall.
Flourescent and LED are very energy efficient and have made much progress with full color spectrum but not yet good enough for art lighting.
And finally, the UV light warning. UV rays cause fading and are present in sunlight and small amounts in flourescent and halogen lighting. It is recommended to use UV filtering glass in all picture framing and to avoid hanging framed art in direct sunlight.