Lighting Tips for Metal Wall Art
by Eric Waddington
We receive a lot of requests from our clients for tips and suggestions when it comes to setting up custom lighting for their metal wall art. As a result, I figured I would put together a few tips and tricks to give you some ideas and point you in the right direction. Please leave your feedback below if this was helpful, or if you have any additional insight or personal experience you can add!
Track Lighting vs Ambient Lighting
Track lighting will always give you the most control over the appearance of your artwork. With metal art in particular, the angle and intensity of the light will directly influence the effect of the grind patterns. A large flood light could overpower the grind pattern and cause a glare, while dim lighting may not provide enough contrast for the grind pattern to show. The happy medium is to provide some focused lighting, angled from above or below right at the artwork. Track lighting gives you the most control over this, and sets of track lighting can be found just about anywhere - Ikea and Amazon.com are good places to start.
Ambient lighting can be effective, depending on the sculpture. High-quality metal wall art will have crisp, textured grind patterns with vibrant metals, which can pick up and reflect ambient lights. This can even give your metallic artwork a two-toned effect, pulling in some of the natural reflections of the ambient colors and lights. Just know that there will likely be a trade off with the loss of some of the intensity of the grind pattern.
Fluorescent vs Quartz Halogen vs LED Lights
This is a topic that comes up VERY frequently with our clients! As you look through our website - the pure metal designs in particular - you will see some photographs with a crisp white/silver reflection, and others with a softer, two-toned silver/golden reflection. This is not a variation in the metals and it is not fancy photography! This is simply a representation of the effects of using different lights. Some bulbs are designed to create a warmer, golden hue, while others are designed to create a bright white hue. Typically fluorescent lights create a white/silver reflection and quartz-halogen lights more of a warmer silver/gold reflection. LED lights can typically be found in both styles.
- Fluorescent Lights: If you are looking for a more crisp and clean, modern/industrial, or sleek metallic look, then go with fluorescent lighting. It works great with the edgy/abstract designs and really gives it a zing. Aluminum in particular has a very vibrant undertone, which is accentuated with fluorescent lights.
- Quartz Halogen Lights: If you want to bring in some classy/contemporary metal designs but with a softer, golden finish to compliment earth tones or more classical settings, then go with quartz halogen lighting. This works beautifully with some of the more fluid and calming designs.
- Colored Lights: Feeling crazy and creative? Swap out your track bulbs with colored bulbs and get a funky red, blue, or yellow reflection in your artwork! The grind pattern will capture and reflect the colored light and give you a fun nightclub-like appearance.
Nicholas Yust recently switched over to LED lights in both the Yust Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio and the Fringe Gallery in Salt lake City, Utah (primarily to save money on the electric bill and reduce the constant bulb replacements) and it has worked out beautifully. If you go with LED, he recommends a minimum of 75W comparable output. Having multiple angles of light is ideal. For example, if you can mount 3 lights, the 2 outer lights should be outside of the edges of the art and angled in. So line the middle bulb up with the center of the artwork, then try to go a few feet from the center on each side for the outer bulbs (so if you are using track lighting, this would require about a 60"-72" track, depending on the width of your artwork.)
Angle & Distance of the Lights
We recommend about a 30-60º tilt, and the lights should be mounted to the ceiling (or a hanging track) about 2-3 feet from the artwork (although that will depend on the size and intensity of the bulb.) The halo (the outer edge of the circular/ovular shape that the light creates on the wall) should be a little bit bigger than the artwork. Obviously the shape will not be a perfect circle since it is casting down at an angle, so you just do your best to maximize the flood of light over the artwork without wasting too much of it on empty wall space, but not too close that it doesn't reach the edges of the art.
SUMMARY: PLAY WITH THE LIGHTING!
Proper illumination can make or break your wall display, particularly when it comes to personal taste and desired effect. Just because the artwork doesn't look exactly like the online photographs when you take it out of the box doesn't mean you didn't get what you paid for - it just means you may not have the proper lighting set up yet! You will be SURPRISED at the way the grind patterns will jump off the metal when the lighting is set up properly (particularly with our artwork and Nicholas Yust's signature grind patterns.)
Lighting metallic artwork effectively can be somewhat difficult and the results will vary depending on the lighting you implement. To get the very best effect, play around with different lighting techniques before you install any track lights. Take the panels and see how they look in natural, quartz, fluorescent, and even colored lights. Different types of lights at various angles will bring out the grind patterns and natural metallic undertones in very unique ways.
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