How to Light Artwork

RICHARD HULL

RICHARD HULL

Lighting plays a significant role in artwork display. It can be subtle and often the best art lighting is designed to be unnoticeable. We’re often called upon to consult on the lighting for spaces under construction, but mindful lighting can also be implemented in existing spaces.

When you hang artwork, if it seems dull or not as impactful as you hoped, additional lighting is likely needed. If artwork is hung near a natural light source, this need may only become clear at night. Lighting can help bring out textures from brush strokes in paintings and can make colors glow.

Types of Art Lighting

The style of lighting can have a big impact not only on the artwork, but on the aesthetic of the space. Here are a few popular options for light fixtures and benefits of each design.

Example of Spotlighting

Example of Spotlighting

Picture lights

The most traditional option, picture lights mount directly above a piece of artwork. This is a great option if you want to spotlight the artwork, and if you don’t intend to change the artwork layout. These permanent fixtures come in numerous sizes and finishes. Depending on the style, these help enhance a traditional or vintage aesthetic.

Track Lighting

This adjustable lighting option is the most customizable type of fixture. A great option for dynamic compositions such as gallery walls, track lighting allows you to add, remove, and rearrange spotlights in order to achieve the desired amount of lighting. If the layout of your artwork is in flux or is regularly refreshed, track lighting can provide flexibility to highlight a wide range of artwork.

Wall Washes

The most subtle options for lighting, wall wash fixtures are typically set into the ceiling, and coat a wall with light. This minimal option is versatile and makes any artwork on the wall glow, regardless of scale.

Conservation Concerns

When selecting lighting for artwork, preserving the work is an important consideration. Art can be susceptible to overly bright and overly hot fixtures. Opting for LED over halogen is a safe way to prevent heat damage. Most LEDs also emit little to no UV rays, which can fade pigments over time. It’s best to select bulbs that mimic natural light to avoid casting blue or yellow tones over the artwork.

If you’re installing light fixtures, it’s important to ensure the artwork is removed and protected during the construction. Any amount of dust can damage the surface of artwork, especially dust from plaster of drywall. These materials are abrasive and its particles can ruin the surface of plexiglas and other delicate materials.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to best approach art lighting, we recommend consulting this article from Architectural Digest.

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Meet Our New Team Member: Brontë Mansfield

Brontë Mansfield.jpeg

At the start of the New Year, Brontë joined the DeGroot Fine Art team as a Project Assistant, focusing on marketing for new projects. Here’s how Brontë came to the art world and our company:

In 2010, Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei unveiled a new installation at Tate Modern in London. The installation, Kui Hua Zi, spread 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds over the floor of a single gallery. Each seed–every one of the hundred million–was shaped, fired, and painted by hand. It took over a thousand workers in a Chinese town more than two years to produce all of the seeds.

And there I was, 17 years old and standing in front of all of those seeds, the first time I set foot in an art museum. If I had scooped up a hundred of the porcelain seeds in my hands, I would have held more seeds than there were people in my hometown in rural Wisconsin. Another handful and that would probably be more than all of the people I had met in my life.

After years of cornfields and football, I did not know what to do with myself in a bustling foreign city. But then I found subways, coffee shops, bookstores, and–mostly importantly–all of the free art museums in the city. Even at seventeen, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life around art.

I returned to the states to go to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a freshman, I was hired as an assistant to the Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Chazen Museum of Art. One of my first days at the museum, I was tasked with helping reframe a six-foot-long ink drawing by another famed Chinese artist, Xu Bing. I am proud to say that I didn't buckle under the high pressure and have been professionally handling art ever since.

During my time at University of Wisconsin-Madison, I specialized in Victorian art history and literature, writing my thesis on nineteenth-century paintings of mermaids and Darwinian theories of evolution–but also wrote for the school newspaper and worked as an editor at the campus magazine. In 2014, I was awarded a Beinecke Scholarship to study at the graduate school of my choice. I decided to leave academia and pursue journalism, to help share stories of art and culture to as many people as I could.

In 2017, I received my Masters in New Arts Journalism from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). During graduate school, I worked in the school's Marketing & Communications department and was also asked to assistant teach a class on contemporary art history. Even though the art I knew best was made before the Titanic sank, I threw myself into the world of modern and contemporary art–and even started working as a studio manager for a Chicago-based artist.

During graduate school, I focused on audio production and storytelling. In addition to my work as a freelance audio producer, I have worked as a production & recording assistant for the Art Institute of Chicago and recently joined the faculty at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, teaching podcasting and video essays.

I am thrilled to be able to merge my background in both fine art and journalism in my new role as Project Assistant at DeGroot Fine Art. I look forward to sharing more stories from the world of art consulting with our clients and anyone interested in collecting, preserving, and supporting fine art.

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Conserving A Family Heirloom

A portion of the damaged frame

A portion of the damaged frame

While the majority of our clients are corporate entities with large collections, we also collaborate with a select group of private clients to assist with their personal art collections. A recent connection from a previous project reached out to us to discuss a number of updates needed for their artwork. After a few conversations, we met with the client in their home to reappraise their collection and look into potential acquisition options.

While reviewing the artwork, we were immediately drawn to a painting in the living room that looked like it had a story behind it. Hanging above the fireplace mantel, this traditional oil painting depicted a lively scene with a mother and child, who seemed to be dancing in a kitchen. An impressive, ornate frame that expanded out from the canvas encompassed the painting. The artwork, while stunning, seemed to have suffered a bit from age and had a dim surface over the composition. The frame, too, was a bit worse for wear with one of the intricate ornaments snapped off and sitting next to the painting. The frame’s gold foil seemed a bit dull and chipped.

Our client told us that the painting was a family heirloom, collected by his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States at 13 years old. A beautiful work of art that was clearly much beloved, we were quick to suggest that conservation help enliven the painting again. Painting restoration is a great option for protecting an artwork over time. You can read more about artwork restoration and conservation here.

The Conservation Process

The newly conserved painting

The newly conserved painting

We were delighted to bring the painting and frame to a local and well-established conservation firm. A family business, it seemed especially fitting for revitalizing a family heirloom. The skilled conservator first stabilized areas where the paint had cracked. The surface of the painting was then cleaned, removing dust as well as an older layer of varnish. A few small areas were retouched with paint specifically formulated for restoration efforts. Once this phase was complete, a thin layer of archival, reversible varnish was applied to the surface of the painting. This specific type includes a layer of UV protection, which helps to preserve the colors in the artwork over time. Reapplication of varnish enhances the details of a painting, illuminating delicate brushwork and subtle changes in color. This process can make artwork look brand new again.

The frame was repaired as well. The conservator was able to reattach the broken ornamentation and reapply the gold pigment. By the time the work was complete, the artwork looked like it had traveled back in time. After reinstalling it back above the mantle, the client was able to enjoy his artwork and connection to his family’s history.  

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Sourcing Artful Design

A recent project in a Bank featured Cody Hudson paintings.

A recent project in a Bank featured Cody Hudson paintings.

As art consultants, we work hard to serve any art-related need a client may present to us. While much of our role involves advising on which artworks a client should purchase, we also help provide visual elements that may fall outside the definition of “fine art”. This could involve sourcing functional objects like furniture, fabrics, or accessories for a dining area that still require an artful touch.

A tea towel designed by Cody Hudson for Norden Goods.

A tea towel designed by Cody Hudson for Norden Goods.

Artists as Designers

Many artists use their creativity in a variety of fields, and can offer unique visual options outside of their fine art practice. Chicago artist Cody Hudson is an iconic example of a visual renaissance man. His fine artwork practice includes paintings on linen, steel sculptures, and screenprints. Outside the gallery context, he has also collaborated on graphic design for Target and Warby Parker, and partnered with Nike to design promotional materials and running shoes for the 2012 Chicago Marathon.

Art in Everyday Objects

Translating fine art principles into functional objects can elevate the overall experience of an environment; seeing how an artist’s mind approaches design can have a powerful impact. It presents an opportunity to connect to artwork in a new way. Having artwork on the wall adjacent to artist-designed accessories offers a chance to embrace the client’s art collection in alternate media, creating a dynamic dialogue between fine art and design in their space.

Collaborating with Interior Decorators and Architectural Designers

Many decorative and design-based projects require professionals beyond our immediate area of expertise, which is why we love to partner with interior decorators and architectural designers. Interior decorators bring a wealth of knowledge about the details needed to make a space visually cohesive, and artwork complements that. Occasionally recommending artist-designed details helps blend the vision of the interior decorators with the fine art collection connected to that space.

Similarly, architectural designers have extensive knowledge about how a person navigates through space and the structural components needed to execute the visual design of a space. We work closely with these designers to select artwork that balances the visual elements they’ve included, ensuring that all elements are harmonious and that the visual intent is clear. During these types of projects we’ll review furniture textures and color, materials used throughout a space, and aspirational goals of the client to best determine what artwork to recommend for the project. For example, clients with a crisp, modern design sense may benefit from artwork with organic texture, such as a wood sculpture, to add a warm element that balances their cool aesthetic.

Supporting artists who work in multiple visual fields provides a creative roadmap to make artwork accessible in non-traditional ways. It can also offer an interesting layer to the story of an art collection; artwork can appear in furniture design, textiles, and accessories as small visual clues that add a layer of interest to the experience of a place.  

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Art Conservation

National Portrait Gallery, London

National Portrait Gallery, London

While we absolutely hate to see it, damaged artwork it is a reality that we encounter from time to time. Whether it is a torn painting, a broken frame, or a dusty dirty textile, artwork can be greatly susceptible to damage if not properly protected, stored or shipped (check out our recommendations for treating your objects with care here). Luckily, we have relationships with top level art conservators that help our clients navigate these situations. 

What is the purpose of art conservation?

Art and object conservation refers to the scientific practice and profession of preserving artwork and artifacts from deterioration and repairing damage that has occurred. The primary aim of art conservation is to stabilize the work from further damage while retaining the maximum amount of original material, and secondary is to improve the appearance of the work of art. Art conservators use precise techniques to clean, repair, reassemble and at times restore works of art that have been damaged from time, environment stresses or accidents. Conservators also employ techniques for preventative conservation and scientific technology such as x-ray imaging to study artwork. 

What is the difference between conservation, restoration and preservation? 

The Art Conservator's Alliance explains these terms in detail:

"Art conservation includes principles and practices of technical examination, documentation, and treatment for objects of material culture. The intention of art conservation is to improve the condition of an artifact by stabilizing physical condition problems and addressing surface disfigurement arising from deterioration and/or damage. In doing so, the art conservator strives to retain as much original material as possible and to employ the best quality materials and the most carefully considered methods available."

"At times a conservation treatment also requires restoration, which is defined as the preparation and incorporation of replacement parts and surface finishes (i.e. 'compensation for losses') to allow proper visual interpretation of an art object and to recapture an acceptable esthetic appearance..."

"Another often-used term is preservation, which encompasses all of the varied activities involved in preventing damage and reducing the rate of deterioration for art objects, collections, and structures."

http://www.artconservatorsalliance.com/what_is.html

Want to learn more?

Here is a great link to a glossary of conservation terms compiled by the Smithsonian Institute:  https://www.si.edu/mci/english/learn_more/taking_care/painting_glossary.html

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