Lighting fine art is not as easy as attaching a picture light on the frame or putting a light in the ceiling. It involves careful consideration of the type and style of art, temperature and humidity as well as how the light will affect the piece over the long run. All light bulbs emit ultraviolet and infrared radiation that can cause the temperatures on the surface of a painting to rise when the light is on and back to normal when the light is off. Over time, this can result in fading, cracking, and derogation of materials such as textiles. This is particularly true when using over the picture lights. So let’s take a look at various light sources, light fixtures and learn how they might affect your art:
Infrared Heat & Ultraviolet Radiation
IR or infrared heat is an electromagnetic field capable of transferring energy from a source, such as a light fixture or fireplace, to a destination, such as the surfaces within a room like a painting. Radiation does not require an intervening medium; it can occur through a vacuum. It is responsible for the warming of the Earth by the sun. The sensitivity of paintings to ultraviolet and visible radiation varies, but illumination should not be excessive, nor should paintings be hung in direct, unfiltered sunlight. All light, particularly that in the ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) regions of the spectrum, induces chemical changes which age materials by degrading them. The most pernicious photochemical damage is caused by UV rays. IR radiation will cause chemical changes, and it accelerates the destructive effect of both UV light and visible radiation. Although not as profound in its destructive capacity as IR or UV, visible light can cause fading or darkening of some pigments. Photochemical deterioration, which occurs in organic objects such as works on paper and textiles, is cumulative and cannot be reversed. Extremes of temperature and humidity are also bad for paintings and they should be stored at temperatures within the range of 68-72 degrees F. The overall wattage of a light source is the main determinate of how much infrared and ultraviolet radiation is emitted. Remember, using low wattage lamps, the better off you are in protecting your art.
Types of Light Sources
Standard incandescent light bulbs create a warm color that brings out the yellows and reds in art while flattering the blues and greens. They do generate some heat, however, and must be placed far enough away that the heat doesn’t affect the artwork.
Halogens cast the purest white light, making them ideal for illuminating most art. They do generate a lot of heat, however, and must be placed far enough away that the heat doesn’t affect the artwork. The halogen light source produces a pure white color of light which enhances all colors across the spectrum.
Fluorescent lighting distorts the color of artwork, and the high level of ultraviolet rays emitted by fluorescent lights damage works of art by causing accelerated fading. Fluorescent light sources are not recommended for lighting artwork.
Surface mounted picture lights hang directly over a painting or are attached to the frame. These lights, due to their close proximity to the art, are the most likely to affect the art. Works of art on paper, which include prints, drawings in all media, pastels, photographs and works on related materials, are among the most vulnerable to excessive light and fluctuations of temperatures and humidity. They should not be exposed to direct light, unfiltered fluorescent lamps, or the heat of incandescent bulbs. The ultraviolet rays from fluorescent tubes will cause structural damage and oxidative reactions. Limiting light exposure protects paper and pigments from chemical and physical deterioration.
Adjustable Accent Lights
Recessed adjustable accent lights are available in primarily incandescent and halogen sources. In today’s lighting fixtures, the MR16 halogen accent light is the preferred fixture for lighting art over traditional incandescent sources. The small size, high output and dichroic characteristics of the light bulb emit a cool beam of light that is art friendly. In case you are wondering, dichroic is a lighting term for a type of reflector that allows the infrared heat and ultraviolet radiation to exit the back of the lamp. Used in conjunction with a UV filter, the MR16 light adjustable accent produces hardly any damaging light and can be used on even the most sensitive and priceless works.
Recessed optical framing projectors are available in primarily incandescent and halogen sources. One again, the MR16 halogen accent light is the preferred light source for lighting art over traditional incandescent sources. The Phantom Contour Projector, for example, produces no harmful light rays or heat that will damage art. For this reason, many museums, private collectors and art galleries use projectors to enhance their art. Another advantage to using a Phantom optical framing projector is the unique ability to shape the light to the exact contour of the object without unsightly shadows created on the wall by the frame. The result is a magical “lighted from within look” that can only be appreciated when seen in person or by photography.
Position and Intensity of the Light
Place the light at a 30-degree angle to the work of art to minimize glare. Add 5 degrees to the angle for a larger frame, to avoid casting a shadow. Subtract 5 degrees from the position to accent the texture of a painting. You can offset the light in the ceiling to counteract glare from the normal viewing angle.
Avoid Heat Damage
Place lights far enough away from a painting to avoid possible heat damage. Heat can crack oil paintings. Take special care when using hot halogen lights. To test the heat from your lights, put your hand between the art and the light source. If you can feel heat from the light, it could potentially damage an oil painting.
A general rule of thumb for accenting a piece of art is to light it three times brighter than the rest of the room. So if you have other lighting in the room it is best to install dimmer controls.
Illuminations is the best in fine art lighting design and installation!
You want to make sure your art is displayed and presented in the best possible way. That’s why you’ll want to talk to our experts here at Illuminations Lighting Design.
Illuminations Lighting Design is located in beautiful Houston, Texas, and while we provide service over the Gulf Coast area, we always love to hear from River Oaks, Memorial, West University, Bellaire, Southside, Heights, and Royal Oaks, or whichever part of town you call home… But don’t forget that we provide expert Electrical Contracting in Austin, Beaumont, College Station, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio, and Midland as well. We are experienced, award-winning lighting designers, not some fly-by-night outfit that wants to turn a quick buck at your expense. There are so many ways do a job incorrectly, so we urge you to call us, because… We’ll do it right!
Give us a call today at 713-863-1133 and say “Howdy”! We’d love to hear from you!