You’ve taken the time and emotion to invest in art that you love and getting it hung in just the right spot (see: How to Choose and Hang Wall Art). But there’s another question for you to consider: how will you see that art when the sun goes down?
The approach you take can be as simple or as seriously considered as you like. Here are the nuts and bolts of how you can approach artwork lighting the right way:
Go Au Natural
You might be okay with having only natural light shining on your pieces—but if at all possible, it should be indirect light. Over time, UV rays can have an aging and fading effect on the works (just like on skin!). So it’s best to filter the light, with the use of blinds, furniture positioning or by using a wall that doesn’t get fully exposed sunlight all day long. North-facing walls will have consistent, non-harsh lighting for most of the day, east-facing will have morning light, south-facing will have afternoon light (the strongest and hottest) and west-facing will have evening light.
Position the artwork next to, beside or above a console or side table where an existing light can provide added depth and ambiance to the piece. Move a floor lamp or table lamp to where it sheds illumination not only on the art, but also on the space around it. This is an easy solution where you can choose to make the artwork or the light be the center of attention—or perhaps both together.
If you live in a space where recessed lighting is already installed, you’re in a uniquely advantageous position. If the sockets are adjustable/tiltable or are placed closer to the wall, you can hang artwork, and then strategically direct the light right on it—as if it were a custom installation. You can even install bulbs of different color temperatures or use different types of filters to enhance colors in the art.
Picture lighting is specifically designed to highlight artwork, and is either installed directly on the frame or the wall above. It has been used for many years by museums and art galleries, but in recent times it is used more in the home, especially in libraries, living rooms and more formal spaces. You will need to consider whether you will need to plug in the light source or have a hardwired connection already in place. This more sophisticated type of lighting not only safely lights the artwork, but it can also set a certain tone or mood in the space, depending on the subject of the piece.
Ceiling Track Lights
This is one of the more involved installations of our art lighting scenarios—but it is also very versatile. Track lights can be moved along the track and adjusted to focus where needed. In addition to focusing on artwork, this type of lighting can be used for general lighting (pointed down) and wall “washing” (bouncing light off of the wall). It’s probably in your best interest to work with a lighting designer, or at the very least, purchase your lights from a professional lighting source that can give you helpful installation advice and guide you toward the perfect configuration for your space.
Floating Cable/Suspension Lights
If you have very high ceilings, this may be your best bet for artwork lighting in your space. Cable kits suspend from the ceiling or wall and bring the light you need down to an accessible and useful level, which is helpful for both generalized and very specific lighting needs. The lights in these kits are directionally versatile and can slide and grip along the cable to be positioned where you need them most. Again, for this type of installation it would be advisable to work with a reputable lighting source and qualified/certified electrician. The final results (and not having to get up on that ladder yourself) will be more than worth it.
Layer the light: Ideally a combination of natural, ambient and focused light provides beautiful viewing of your art and your home at all times of the day.
Choose LED: LEDs are ideal for artwork lighting, since they last longer than other light sources and don’t emit infrared and UV rays or heat. (The heat produced by halogen and incandescent bulbs can damage the art over time as well as increase your electric bill.)
Position things properly: Where you’ve chosen to hang your art determines just how much extra lighting you need to show it off. So be sure to do so deliberately. Same goes for placement of any needed artwork lighting. With the exception of using portable lamps, good artwork lighting should basically be invisible and allow the art to shine.