Picture Lights: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

If youre a collector of fine art pieces or first edition books, its only natural that you would want to display them in all their glory. The question is: how?


You want your pieces to be highly visible, but you also want your guests to understand that they are off limits and not to be touched. How can you communicate this without having to verbally say a word? Two words: picture lights. Picture lights illuminate the detail of the artwork and shine a light on the illustrious authors name. Picture lights add dimension to the space and highlight what is most powerful in the room. However, if youre unclear about how to go about lighting an artwork, you can end up causing a significant amount of damage.

According to the founders of Arkitexture, Harry Triggs and Andrew Molyneux, the uninitiated make the mistake of using the wrong colour [sic.] temperature or colour [sic.] rendition, or using a light source that is damaging to the art. Situating a bright floor lamp directly underneath your prized framed Ansel Adams photograph will damage the picture. The last thing you want is to bleach the photograph you spent years tracking down and paid a small fortune to own.

What do the lighting designers recommend? Try to light art in the home in such a way that you can see the artwork in its true colour [sic.] and as naturally as possibleits as much of a crime to over-light a painting as it is not to have enough light. So we would put enough light onto the art to see it, but not so much that it appears obviously lit. Its a fine balance.

Selecting Your Picture Light

You want to do right by the artwork, and fortunately, you have lighting options, including:

Recessed Lighting: This lighting type is level with the ceiling with the light cascading down over the picture. Unless your home is already equipped with recessed lighting, you would have to renovate the space to include it, potentially costing thousands of dollars.

Track Lighting: This lighting type is attached to the ceiling by tracks. The tracks carry multiple lights that can be moved to shine on different objects in the space. Like recessed lighting, this calls for installation.

Spotlight: This lighting type can hang directly from the ceiling like a pendant light or be sat below the art piece to shine a light above. Remember, the harshness of a spotlight can warp the artwork, so you will need to pay attention to the light sources temperature and color.

Picture Light: This lighting type can be hung directly above the collectible or attached directly to the frame of the artwork, cascading light over its surface.

Mantel Light: This lighting type sits directly on a mantel or tabletop and directs light onto the work from below.

Of the five lighting choices listed above (and given the sections title) you probably know which type is better suited for lighting artwork and collectors items. Thats right, its picture lights.

Homeowners can easily mount picture lights to the wall or attach them to the picture frame so they highlight the work without causing damage to it. Think about the museums and gallery spaces you have visited. Can you recall how the artworks were lit? They were probably lit in one of two ways, either with recessed lighting or picture lights.

But unlike recessed lighting, picture lights are easily adjustable and can be moved about with the picture. Recessed lighting is permanent. Because of recessed lightings permanency, youre forced to display your items and artwork directly under it, and can never move those pieces around. Picture lights on the other hand are versatile and allow you to change things up.

Equipped with a better understanding of how to light up your artwork, go out and get it done; theres not a moment to waste!

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