Welcome to Ruby Watts online | 01273 282340

The artwork you choose to hang on your walls reflects your style and personality, it’s an extension of who you are and what inspires you. Artwork can say a lot about the homeowner and can be a source of daily inspiration. But why have a beautifully curated gallery wall if nobody can see it after the sun goes down?

You want to be proud of your artwork collection, it deserves to be seen and appreciated! Read our top 5 tips for lighting artwork and achieve a museum-quality illumination at your home.

1) Avoid direct natural light

This is the number one rule! Natural sunlight is usually our best friend when it comes to lighting a home. However, it is suggested not to hang paintings in direct sunlight because the UV and infrared radiation can be harmful to the art. Instead of hanging your paintings in direct natural light, place them on a north-facing wall or any wall that has indirect natural lighting.

2) Create layers of light

This is a number one rule for lighting your home, and it’s not limited to lighting artwork. Layers of light create ambiance in a room and give it more dimension.

You don’t need to light the whole room with downlights and spotlights, you don’t want it to look and feel like an office! Adding layers of light on a lower level helps to create ambiance and bring attention to certain areas where the action takes place. With layers of light around a room, the attention will be drawn to your artwork if you light it properly – find out how in the next paragraphs!

3) Use high quality LED lights

LED lights will allow your artwork to be seen in the best light possible. They have a long lifespan and give off little ultraviolet radiation and heat. It’s important that you use high quality LED lights for your artwork. A cheap LED light will give off poor quality light and distort the colours of the artwork.

  • Although you can use warm or cool colour temperature for lighting your artwork, but we always recommend the optimal colour temperature of 2700 Kelvin.
  • It’s of utmost importance that the LED lights have a colour rendering index (CRI) of minimum 95. If you can, use LEDs with a CRI of 100. The CRI is a measure of how true the light emitted by a bulb is to the light of the sun. A perfect score of 100 CRI is a light source that has exactly the same rendering of colours as the sun, which will allow the colours of your artwork to be vibrant and lively.
  • Always use low glare downlights and picture lights to light artwork
  • Never use halogen or incandescent lights – they are inefficient and produce too much heat which can cause damage to your art.

4) Don’t think spotlights are your only option

There are two popular ways to light artwork: traditional and modern. We are fans of mixing it up because some art will look better when lit in a traditional way and other pieces will require a modern approach.

In all cases, keep it simple. You should match the picture light’s finish (brass or chrome) to the rest of your scheme, but you want people to focus attention on the artwork, not what’s lighting it. Art is at center stage here!

Traditional Picture Lights

Traditional picture lights providing lighting from above work best on oil paintings. When a painting is lit from above, our eyes are tricked into thinking that it’s evenly lit, and this will bring attention to the unique texture of oil paintings.

If you use lighting from above on glass framed pictures, it will create reflections on the glass, so only use traditional picture lights on paintings without glass frames.

Pro Tip: Use a frame fixed picture light instead of attaching it to the wall. This ensures the light to disperse evenly and can do wonders for your artwork. If your painting is not framed or has a small frame, you should consider installing downlights or spotlights instead of traditional picture lights.

Modern Downlights

Modern downlights or spotlights can be used for all artwork. As each house and each artwork is different, you should always consult the placement and angle of downlights with a lighting consultant.

There are a few things to consider, such as the picture size and type, the ceiling height, and the positioning of the artwork. You need to adjust the beam width to match the size of the picture – a wide beam will be ideal for lighting a large painting or a selection of paintings, and a narrow beam will work best for smaller pieces and will provide the focus over a special artwork that you want to draw the most attention to.

When lighting artwork, the suggested angle for the light is 30 degrees. However, this angle might not work for some paintings, it depends on the size, texture, and even content of the painting.

Pro Tip: Downlights are recessed ceiling fixtures, which means they can’t be moved without drywall surgery. They’re a good choice if you know where the artwork is going and that you’re going to keep it there. However, if you’re unsure or your art collection is changing regularly, consider installing surface mounted directional spotlights. They’re much more flexible and will allow you to relocate a painting, and then adjust the direction and angle of the light without needing to remove drywall from the ceiling!

5) Set the same lighting levels for daytime and nighttime

While most areas of your home need different brightness levels during the day and during the night, things are a bit different when it comes to lighting artwork. Normally, we recommend to set your dimmer for a bright light during the day, but low intensity light at night time.

However, setting artwork lighting levels to night-time is enough to light your pictures during the day, and will create a dramatic focal point at night. If the brightness of your artwork lights was set for normal daytime settings, you’d risk it looking like it’s for sale in a gallery.

What brightness levels to use for artwork lighting then? A general rule of thumb is, artwork lighting should be 3 times brighter than other lighting in a room. Apply this rule to your general settings for nighttime, and increase brightness of your artwork lights until you’re satisfied with the effect.

Finally, much like art itself, artwork lighting is subject to the taste of each person. We hope that you enjoyed reading these 5 tips on lighting artwork! Ruby Watts is a decorative lighting retailer, which means we don’t offer architectural lighting through our website at the moment. However, we offer architectural lighting advice and products to clients through our bespoke lighting design consultancy.

Book a free initial consultation with our lighting expert Sophia now, we would love to help you!

Book a free initial consultation


Read more about our lighting consultancy