The Art Gallery Shall Be Illuminated! Part 2

Part 1 of this blog series detailed some major problems with the lighting in my former teacher’s art gallery. I explained how the spotlights on the track weren’t adequately accenting the art work on the walls, and how the light bulbs in the hanging fixtures were washing the color out of the vintage furniture.

This week, the owner of Pegasus Lighting, Dr. Tom Farin, stopped by Paul’s art gallery to assess the situation in person and to offer some solutions. Remember how we were hopeful that different, more powerful fixtures could be placed in the track to limit costs? We weren’t even on the right “track.” Here’s how Dr. Tom set us straight.


There are some important things to notice in the photograph above. First, observe Dr. Tom’s expression of concern. You can tell that the lighting in this room has seriously unsettled him. And it’s easy to understand why: He’s literally surrounded by major problems. To his left and right, you can see the differently colored light bulbs in the RLM shades, and, directly above, you can make out how CLOSE the lighting track is to the wall.

Dr. Tom and I sit down to discuss what he has just witnessed.

“We’re on?” he asks.


“OK. So, I was going to suggest a couple things. One is that the LED track lights, which are about one FOOT from the wall, are far too close to the wall. Now, the electrician who installed the track may have encountered a problem I can’t see, but from a lighting point of view, there’s no question that the track has to move out about three to four feet.”

So, the LED fixtures aren’t the problem at all. The problem is that the track was installed so close to the wall that the spotlights aren’t able to spotlight. They’re so close, they do what’s called “grazing,” a lighting technique in which light is shined UP or DOWN the surface of a wall to show off that wall’s texture. This is generally NOT what you want from a spotlight in an art gallery.

“The whole idea of a track light is to create what we call accent lighting. You want to accent that particular piece, that’s being lit by that particular track light fixture. And when the track fixture is so close to the wall, it can’t do that.” Dr. Tom holds his hands apart. “Only back here can it really highlight the wall. So, that’s one thing.”

In fact, the track fixtures are so close to the wall, you can see “scallops” of light. Scallops are parabola-shaped highlights that occur when a light bulb is placed very close to a surface, as in wall-grazing.


The purpose of accent lighting is to accent, not to graze. In fact, grazing creates shadows! This speaks to the importance of adjusting your track lights to make sure they are always spotlighting what you want to spotlight and not just “pointing off into space,” to use Dr. Tom’s phrasing.

“I mean, that provides drama. If this glass,” he points to a glass of water, “is being highlighted, you don’t want to shine light here [next to the glass]; you want  to shine light here [on the glass]. The juxtaposition of light and dark, light and dark, creates drama.”

So, Dr. Tom had talked about the track being too close to the wall and had reminded me of the relationship between adjusting accent light fixtures and creating visual drama. There was one more thing. Remember how the overhead lights were washing out the furniture?

“Paul has eight RLM shades in the gallery. You know, they’re metallic and kind of big. In them, he has two or three LEDs that provide a bluish kind of light, and then he has some CFLs [Compact Fluorescent Lights] providing a very warm light. So already it looks odd. Reddish over here and blue here. So I suggested he try to find an incandescent globe light. Find a good wattage that works for his area. And not only should the RLM light bulbs look nice themselves, they might provide good general light.”

Dr. Tom explained that incandescent globe lights come in a variety of shapes. So, Paul could find some handsome, frosted, incandescent globe lights that would provide a warm light and look great.

Final diagnosis for Studio Design Gallery? The track is too close to the wall for the accent lighting to highlight the paintings, and, for the general lighting, the light bulbs have totally different color temperatures and are unattractive. So, Dr. Tom recommends for Paul to have the track moved three to four feet out from the wall and purchase eight good-looking incandescent light bulbs for his RLM shades. If the landlord moves the track out, the total cost of the lighting upgrade should be about 12 bucks.

Dr. Tom and I walk back over to the gallery and discuss these potential solutions with Paul.

What did Paul say? What will he do? Tune in next time to find out…

Tom Sowders

After majoring in creative writing at NC State, I worked in the home remodeling industry. Then, I attended graduate school for a really long time and gained experience as a writer and writing instructor. I live in the Raleigh-Durham area with my wife and baby boy, and you can find me around the Triangle anywhere there's good music and/or NC-style BBQ.