When hanging artwork it is important to consider the effects of light upon the art piece.
Both for creating the best conditions for its viewing and also for preserving its surface quality and color.
Yet too much light or the wrong light can result in damage that will hasten the fading, discoloration, or even the destruction of practically all artworks, photographs, works on paper, books, fabrics, documents, and just about any other item, you have in your collection or your family archive.
We have some tips and advice below on how to protect your artwork from light damage.
Important things to consider are what is the best light for art, what light damages art, which art is most vulnerable and how can you reduce risk of damage to your art!
What Is the Best Light for Viewing Artworks?
The best light for viewing artworks is almost always natural daylight (except in cases where the artwork is designed for viewing under certain conditions).
Daylight enables art to be seen in its most natural conditions without distortion to colors that can be caused by artificial lighting.
What Type of Light Damages Artworks?
Although we have just talked about daylight is the best light for viewing art, it is actually damaging for artworks due to high levels of ultraviolet light and heat.
You would have noticed that stepping into an area of direct sunlight either in a house or outside is significantly hotter!
Ultraviolet light energy also ruins art and photographs through photo-oxidation, which can cause photographic prints to yellow or get brittle over time.
Which Artwork Mediums Are the Most Vulnerable?
Works of art on paper are the most vulnerable to damage by light exposure as the photons in the light slowly degrade the organic material in the paper, ink and dyes.
This means that prints, photographs, watercolors and other art works need to have special consideration when choosing a location for their hanging.
Oil and acrylic paintings or those with organic materials such as resin and wax are also vulnerable but not as much so as those on paper, and they can withstand brief periods of daylight exposure, with minimal long-term effect.
Textiles and in particular silk are extremely vulnerable to light damage and it would be best to avoid hanging textile artworks or prints on silk anywhere that receives daylight.
How Can You Reduce the Damage Caused by Daylight?
If an artwork is hung in a location that receives regular daylight exposure during the day there are several options for reducing the risk of damage.
UV filters can be applied to the windows that the daylight comes through, these can be applied directly and will have minimal or no effect on the view outside.
Alternatively, mesh blinds or light-filtering curtains can reduce the direct light and heat exposure to the artwork while letting daylight into the room.
It is also important to consider the location of the artwork when it is being hung and if there are concerns about the paint, ink or surface due to daylight exposure then to find a location where there is either no daylight exposure or it is very brief in the day.
For example an acceptable location would be under a skylight where direct daylight would be only for a small period of the day.
A bad location for hanging an artwork would be directly opposite large patio windows where there would be extended periods of intense daylight.
An alternative option is to make sure any artworks receiving direct light are in glazed frames and have UV filtered glass that can filter up to 99% of ultraviolet light from getting to the artwork.
This can give peace of mind that the artwork is as best protected as it can be.
What Is the Safest Type of Light for Artworks?
The best artificial light source for lighting artworks are LED lights as they have no ultraviolet light, no infrared light and do not project heat onto the art works.
Fluorescent lights, although better than daylight, can project a lot of unnecessary heat and can have insufficient filtering for ultraviolet and infrared light and often are the wrong colour temperature for the artwork and will distort the colours viewed.
Museums across the world have been upgrading their outdated fluorescent lighting to new, modern LED light setups.
In the past museums would need to put ultraviolet filters over the inefficient incandescent bulbs but the new LED lights make it simpler as they give off no ultraviolet light and are far more efficient on their energy usage and also the heat they give off.
Museums also make sure that when artworks are lit they have predominantly direct light from spotlights where the levels can be controlled individually for each artwork and the overall gallery lights can be dimmed so light is only on the artworks and not needing to uniformly light the room.
What Can You Use to Light Art at Home?
For getting the best and safest light levels for your art at home the best options are to use LED picture lights above the artworks which can be installed by an electrician and the wires hidden in the wall and run up to the ceiling.
Alternatively LED spot lights can be installed in the ceiling with a fixed point location, where they can be rotated from.
Or for those with a large collection or where they regularly change the artworks on display, lighting rails can be installed where LED spotlights can be attached and moved at any time.
To ensure the artworks are portrayed accurately you would want to find lights which a high CRI (Colour Rendering Index).
To keep your artworks safe, it’s important to limit the direct daylight they receive, particularly if they are of sensitive mediums such as photos and watercolor paintings.
Putting them in locations that are out of direct sunlight or that only receive it briefly is the best solution.
And where possible, lighting with ultraviolet free light from LED lights.
If you have concerns about your artworks’ installation and keeping them safe, we would recommend seeking professional advice on their hanging position and location.
If you want to improve your artificial lighting situation there are many providers of specialist picture lights which look modern and elegant, or you can look into having spotlights installed at ceiling level.