The Art Of Lighting Dark Art









Did you buy a fine art painting only to be disappointed that it isn't as bright as you expected? Well TURN ON THE LIGHTS. No really, all kidding aside; you need to light your painting properly to show it off in its' best light.

Every movie star knows they look better in well-designed lighting. Every owner of a fine restaurant knows this too.

Not only have colors and color preferences changed over time, but so has the paint used to paint things. Old paintings aren't painted with modern paints; their coloring is subtler than modern paint colors. Older art work can appear dark; it needs to be properly displayed using appropriate lighting.



No - at least not any more than light hurts you. You're not trying to give your art a Mediterranean Tan, and there's no reason for this to be expensive! Displaying artwork properly won't harm it and will make it look wonderful; you need to use the proper picture light, at an appropriate distance. This will brighten the work considerably and won't harm it. 

Dark colors blur boundaries. To enhance a strong, dark piece, you can also lighten the color of the wall where you hang your artwork.



1. You've put your art somewhere. On a scale of one to ten, with ten the darkest, how dark is the room surrounding your art?


2. Is the art itself mostly dark colors, black and white, or a mix of light and dark colors?

You'll need to compensate for any darkness, in the art itself or in the room, by choosing an appropriately bright light. The darker your room and artwork, the brighter the light you'll need. Intensity: The general rule for accenting a piece of art is to light it three times brighter than the rest of the room.


3. Decide how you're going to provide power to your lighting.

Artwork lighting is available as plug-ins, direct wire, battery operated, and battery operated with remote control.


4. Choose the right type of bright bulb.

Picture lights use four primary light bulb types: incandescent, halogen, fluorescent,andLED (light emitting diodes).

Incandescent bulbsprovide the truest natural light option; they're the oldest and still the most prevalent type of electric light.

Halogens are energy efficient and provide a warmer glow, but they put out a lot of heat! They cast the purest white light, but they must be placed far enough away that the heat doesn't affect the artwork. If you are going to use halogen, consider placing a UV filter over the bulb.

Fluorescent bulbs use less electrical energy and last longer than incandescent bulbs; this makes them more 'efficient' than incandescents, but the ultraviolet rays they emit accelerate fading and aging of the art, and distort the colors. We don't recommend fluorescents for art for the same reasons we don't recommend displaying art in direct sunlight; ultraviolet rays cause rapid fading and discoloration. You have to be very careful with fluorescents, only using fluorescent versions whose illumination is similar to natural light and that produce little heat. Also, fluorescent bulb fixtures hum - in other words, they make a lot of noise.

LED bulbs use considerably less electrical energy, have a long life span, cool operating temperatures, but don't provide the most natural spectrum of light so they can change how colors appear in your art. However, a lot of galleries prefer LEDs because of this limited spectrum. They don't emit a lot of heat, or art-damaging ultraviolet rays or infrared light.


5. Know your art medium.

Is your art work a black & white, sepia or color photo? Is it a print? Is it a drawing? If a painting, what medium was used to paint it? Is it painted using acrylic or oil or watercolor or tempura or what? Is it a sculpture?

A broad-based light source is best for lighting an oil painting. Oil paintings can be difficult to light because of the spectral highlights that are created when intense light is directed at the painting.

Any type of light source can be used with acrylic paintings; they're usually not glossy and consequently don't have the glare problems associated with oils or artwork framed under glass.


6. Is your art framed under glass?

Artwork placed behind glasswill have reflection and glare problems; it's better to use non-reflective glass and very careful lighting placement.

Small frames can't support an attached picture light but the light can be mounted behind them on the wall, or you can place the light fixture on a nearby stand and point the light fixture at the art.

A substantial framecan support the weight of an attached picture light. When choosing a picture light, consider the frame's width and depth.


7. Is it Sculpture?

To highlight all dimensions, you should really light sculpture from three different angles with three different lights. If that's impractical, you can use a single light source and carefully choose the angle of light. The angle you choose for the light is totally subjective so experiment with how the shadows fall on your piece as you change the lighting angles. Your sculpture may look best lit directly above the piece with a recessed light, or lit from below, or lit from one side to create a desired shadow effect.


8. Fixture Styles

Picture lightsare available in a variety of styles and finishes and come in lengths ranging from 12 to 48 inches . Both traditional and slimline picture lights use incandescent lightbulbs, and some are battery-powered.

Picture lightsare usually hang directly over a painting or are attached to the frame. They also can attach to the wall behind the painting. A traditional picture light is about three inches in diameter. A slimline picture light is smaller than a traditional picture light, about one inch in diameter.

Mantel lights and spotlightsare placed in front of the artwork and usually sit on a mantel or a shelf. They light the artwork from the bottom and are less noticeable than a picture light.

Track lighting is the most flexible way to light art. A track can hold several lights. Track lighting can be used to light a wall evenly from floor to ceiling or to accent one or more pieces of art.

Recessed lights lie flush with the ceiling and are very subtle, but they have a limited range of movement. Recessed lighting is commonly found in newer homes, installed when the homes are built.


9. Light Position, Angle, and Intensity

To Reduce Glare:

  • To minimize glare,place the light at a 30-degree angle to the work of art.
  • To avoid casting a shadow, add 5 degrees to the angle for a larger frame.
  • To accent the texture of a painting, subtract five degrees from the position.

To 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 is too hot and could eventually damage an oil painting.


  • The general rule for accenting a piece of art is to light it three times brighter than the rest of the room.


10. Using Existing Lights

Most homes are designed with some recessed lights built in, usually over high-visibility areas such as a fireplace. If recessed lights are not adequately lighting your artwork, you may be able to solve the problem simply by adjusting the angle of the light or changing the bulb in order to achieve the desired effect.


11. Installing Lights

Installing a picture light is simple so don't be shy! Try it. If you can screw in a light bulb, or change a battery, then you can install a picture light. And if you're scared, find the nearest child aged 6 to 12 and ask them to help. Really. It's that easy.

Track-light installation, on the other hand, while not Rocket Science, is a job best left to someone who understands electricity, but once installed, it's easy for anyone to change track heads and point the lights in different directions by just turning them.


12. Color Online

Actual colors in 'real life' may vary online as much as approximately 15% from what is shown here on the internet.

Read about this in our FAQ on COLOR ONLINE: Trials & Tribulations at this link:

We do our utmost to accurately represent color. Remember however that computer monitors vary in the way they display colors.

This means you may see something differently on your monitor than we see on our monitors. Nevertheless, we do our utmost to accurately depict colors!


All Content is © Debra Spencer, Suit Yourself™ International. Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.


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All Content is ©2020 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.

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All Content is ©2020 Debra Spencer, Appanage™at Suit Yourself ™ International, 120 Pendleton Point, Islesboro Island, Maine, 04848, USA 44n31 68w91 Technical Library FAQ Index ISSN 2474-820X. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce in part or in whole without express written consent. Thank you.
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