Lighting Sculptures and Collectibles

Maybe you’ve fallen in love with a sculpture and brought it home from your travels. It might be a cool, antique deco tiger, an Inuit sculpture in whale bone or a beautiful Korean wood carving. Maybe you have a piece of functional art, like a mechanical clock or a collection of hand-made pottery, that you’d like to highlight. Perhaps you’ve got a collection of crystal animals, porcelain figurines or retro salt shakers. Whatever your three dimensional objet d'art or collection, you will want to display it for all to see—and lighting is an important part of showing it off to its best advantage.

Ambient Light Not Cutting it?

Sculpture in Shadow

When you have an especially beautiful sculpture or collectable, your first instinct is to place it on a mantel, a shelf or a table for display. Sometimes the overhead lighting is enough to bring out its depth and detail, but usually, it won’t show off a piece of art to its best advantage. It’s meant to provide general illumination, not to bring out the angles, curves and texture in an interesting object. If you place your most treasured things on tables or shelves, then they may actually be in shadow, and that hides their beauty.

Display and Illuminate

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Ideally, your sculpture or collection should be in a room that’s well lit overall. If you can place it on a pedestal, then that’s the ideal way to display it. However, any unshaded surface will do.

Many galleries use a single backlight at floor level behind the sculpture, especially if it’s close to a wall. This is to bring out the details in the rear of the piece, and it should be warm in tone and not too bright. Once it’s lit from above and below, the final step is to place at least one bright light at an angle that will bring out the detail in the piece.

Find its Good Side 

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The placement of the spotlight is going to take a little bit of thought, and you’ll need to start by figuring out which angles would work best. One way to do that is to take a bright torch or work light and shine it onto the sculpture from different angles. Have someone stand in the places where people would most likely view the piece and tell you which angles do the best job of bringing out its surfaces and textures. Then, you’ll have several good ideas for spotlight placement.

With two or three options in mind, see which angles are attainable by mounting a spotlight to a wall or the ceiling, or by placing one on a piece of furniture. Then, take a look at our selection of spotlights and adjustable lamps and find an effective and economical solution. You’ll also want to give the issue of the light’s tone and colour range some thought, but the best choice will depend on the materials and colours that make up your sculpture or object and the setting it’s in.

Please give us a call if you need technical advice or help finding the perfect light fixture for bringing out the best in your sculpture, three dimensional art or collection. For tips on lighting two-dimensional art, see our recent blog post, Principles For Lighting Prints and Paintings.