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Seeing in Different Ways: A Liz Magor Backpack Project
Seeing in Different Ways:
A Liz Magor Backpack Project

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events

Conservation Corner Back

Lighting Your Art: Balancing our need
to see with our need to protect

by Rebecca Pavitt
Pacific Conservators

Lighting art to its best advantage has come a long way from the days of those dinky over-the-picture wall sconces. The principles that make retail merchandise “pop and sizzle” can be applied in our own homes, provided we modify them to suit the special needs of our more permanent collections.

Art Lighting

Light draws attention to artwork but it can also put sensitive materials at risk of fading or other damage.

Effective display lighting has two components: general light and accent light. Accent light captures our attention by its intensity – in retail situations up to five times brighter than general lighting. Retailers however, are in the enviable position of not having to worry about the long term effects of light damage. Still, museums, galleries and knowledgeable collectors can modify standard lighting design practices to suit the needs of their more fragile displays. Before we can talk about tweeking though, we need to understand a couple of lighting terms: Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT) and intensity:

CCT: The higher the temperature the bluer the light; the lower the temperature the redder the light. Northern blue light is in the range of 9000 degrees Kelvin, summer sun 5500 K, cool white fluorescent 4200 K, tungsten halogen 3000 K, incandescent tungsten 2500 K and candle light 1500 K. High temperature blue light has higher energy than low temperature yellow/orange light (its wavelength is close to ultraviolet ) and can fade and damage fragile artworks faster than low temperature light.

Intensity, the illuminance that reaches the object being viewed, is measured in footcandles (imperial system) or lux (metric system). One footcandle equals about 10 lux. A general feel for what lux actually describes can be gained by comparing the light levels recommended for certain tasks. The general lighting in a lobby might be anywhere from 20 to 200 lux. High contrast tasks, such as reading a typed page, can be comfortably performed for short periods at 200-500 lux. Low contrast tasks, such as reading mechanical drawings, would require 1000-2000 lux.

Museum guidelines recommend that very light sensitive media and materials such as watercolours, colour photographs, oil paintings with dyed glazes and silk, be displayed for limited periods at 50 lux. Oil paintings, on the other hand, are usually exhibited at 200 lux. Light impervious materials like stone or ceramics can be exhibited under much more intense conditions.

But how do we know what colour temperature and intensity to use? If artists create their work using high energy north light, shouldn’t it be exhibited under similar light? Happily, high light levels and temperatures aren’t necessary to show art to best advantage. Research into visual psychology and museum lighting shows that the human eye is very good at compensating for lower light levels. In fact, the lower the light intensity, the better things look in lower temperature light. Experiments show that paintings exhibited at 200 lux look best at 3700 degrees Kelvin. Fragile pieces, that should be displayed under lower intensities, will look their best when lit with incandescent lights such as tungsten halogen or standard tungsten.

If general lighting is kept at the lower levels of lobby lighting, for example, 20-100 lux, accent lights can still create a dramatic impact at 50-200 lux. The requirements of the art determine the optimum light intensity, which in turn determines the optimum light temperature.

In the real world it may not be possible to keep to precise museum standards, but by understanding the general principles of lighting design and how the human eye sees under different light intensities and temperatures, we can take steps to display our collections to the best and safest advantage. Light sensitive pieces can be grouped together and shown in the less public (dimmer) areas, and highlighted with low energy accent light only when we actually want to show them off. Public areas with more robust artworks can be modified with drapes and dimmers to keep the light levels down when we are not using them.

Understanding the language of light, basic lighting design and visual psychology, allows us to communicate clearly to lighting designers and lighting retailers, so that we get lamps and results that best suit and best protect our collections.

For more information visit the FACTS (Fine Art Care and Treatment Standards) website at www.artfacts.org.

Last issue: The Double-sided Emily Carr Painting
Next issue: Heritage Colours

 Fri, Feb 1, 2008