Like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder. But before a piece of art can be enjoyed and appreciated it needs to be seen... in the right light!
The purpose of lighting artwork is to create a focal point in the room to highlight a feature, such as a sculpture or painting or ornament. Ideally you should light a picture and the frame, but not much of the wall. This should create an eclipse of light around the picture, creating a strong point of interest within the room.
Generally two types of light are used to illuminate artwork:
Mains-voltage halogen, candle bulbs and strip lights
Low-voltage halogen bulbs
Low-voltage halogen lighting is often the preferred choice for lighting pictures as they emit a whiter light than a mains voltage and there tends to be very little colour distortion, which makes colours appear sharper and more life-like. This is particularly evident with a black and white picture. Incandescent lighting tends to make black look grey and white look off-white, so the overall effect is a grey, dull picture.
Incandescent lights (standard light bulbs) give off a warm glow that will distort colours by emphasising the warmer side of the spectrum, such as reds and yellows, which can work well for modern art pieces.
The positioning of lights is a key consideration when it comes to illuminating artworks. Remember that light will generally reflect off pieces, bouncing off at the same angle as it strikes it. Thus it is crucial to take the degree of the beam, as well as the angle of the light, into account when planning your lighting. Generally a 24-degree beam is best for highlighting a piece of art.
The size of your picture also determines the placement of your fittings. A bigger picture requires the light source to be further away, or that the degree of the beam is wider and lights up the entire artwork. If you place the light too far away, it will light the picture plus the surrounding wall, and you will lose the impact of the artwork.
Remember that there is a difference in the intensity of the beam at the light source, compared to when it hits the picture. A larger picture requires a greater intensity of light and therefore you either need to use a bigger globe, or ideally use two fittings so that the picture can be lit from both sides to achieve maximum effect.
Take everything you know about lighting artwork and forget it completely when you light your mirrors! Mirrors are not lit in the same way as paintings. In fact, the complete opposite applies. Instead of shining light onto the mirror, the light needs to shine away from it. This will illuminate the image the mirror is reflecting instead of reflecting the light (glare) of the fitting.
Lighting works of art can be tricky as there are a number of factors to take into account, but with strategic thought and careful planning the right lights will work to bring your art to life in a visually powerful way.