Living with Art: Lighting

[singlepic id=311 w=320 h=420 float=left] I'm not sure where the past two weeks went, but somewhere during that time I finally managed to finish my first project for my new category, Living with Art. My hope for my Living with Art posts is to inspire you, and me, to find ways to get some of those artworks we all have out of storage and up onto the walls. Or wherever.

One question I hear a lot from people buying artwork is, "how do I light it?" Of course there are so many ways to effectively light pieces of art. What you do depends on your situation, obviously. Some people are able to install beautiful built-in art lighting systems to showcase their collections (for a funny client story about this read to the end of this post). If you have the means to do that, then by all means, do that. I personally can't, so I will be dealing with some more easy-access alternative ideas. But before I get on with it, a story about picture lights:

My first solo show was at a local restaurant, which was funky and fun but very dark---lit only by a few strings of holiday lights, and little night lights over the tables. With a collection of dark, subtle work behind glass to display, I was concerned the art would not be seen at all. So I suggested that I buy inexpensive picture lights for each piece. The owners were hesitant, concerned that it would detract from the ambience of the restaurant. But, thankfully, they let me go ahead with the lights. As it turned out, the lit pastels added such a pleasant lighting effect to the room that when my show ended, the restaurant owners bought all of my lights and used them in subsequent shows.

In her amazing book, The Not So Big House, architect and author Sarah Susanka suggests the use of a lighted picture at the end of a hallway "so that you have something to walk toward." The idea is to open up a potentially claustrophobic space, and make it more inviting. With this project I have followed her advice and lit a painting in my own home's hallway.

For this installation, I am using a fairly standard picture light with a cord. There are many, many different options available, but this particular one came from Lowe's and cost about $26. It comes in a sort of brushed stainless finish or a polished brass finish. Neither of which suited my particular decor, so I ended up sanding and painting a brass one with a bronzey, hammered-finish metal paint. Originally I wanted to age the brass...  I don't want to go into it but suffice it to say, if you buy this particular light, don't try this at home. It isn't really brass and you will be disappointed with the results.

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Installation of the light couldn't be simpler---two screws to hold up the bracket and set screw to hold the light securely, and you're done. I've added a few touches to make the installation look more clean and professional. First I painted the cord with some leftover paint from the wall, then I used a staple gun to secure the cord behind the picture and behind the old radio beneath it. This keeps the cord straight and taut for a more custom look. And that's it! This light comes with a cord switch that can be installed anywhere on the cord. I didn't add it, but if I did I would again paint it to match the wall, and put it directly below the bottom of the frame so it would be hidden in shadow but easy to reach. And that's it! The hallway looks great with its new painting and light.

Oh, and as for that story... a young couple bought a pastel from me at one of my earliest art fairs. They were concerned about lighting it, so when I delivered the painting, I brought them one of the same lights I used in this post. They were inexpensive and I wasn't using them, so I thought it would be a nice thing to do. That was maybe five years ago. When I went to get the lights out for this project, I found an extra bag of hardware containing a bracket, cord switch, screws and allen wrench. I realized to my embarrassment that this hardware went with the light I had given away---the couple had no way to hang the light. I ran into them at a show recently. I told them what I had discovered and they started laughing. Their inability to hang that one free light had led them to install a professional, hardwired art lighting system that I'm pretty sure cost at least twice as much as my painting did.