Caring for your art and the 3 evils

A little care will help your art continue to delight you for years

Whether your art collection consists of one piece or many; whether it cost a fortune or not, you chose it because you connected with it in some way. A piece of original art can bring a daily inspiration, injection of energy or moment of calm in a busy life.  Caring for your art, means that it looks as fresh in ten years’ time as the day you first hung it.

Know your art

Each painting is made up of a support – what it is painted on – and a medium – what it is painted with. The care of an oil painting on canvas will be different from a charcoal on paper. So knowing a little about your painting will help you tailor your care. It’s worth asking the gallery or artist for any advice when you buy. However in general there are three evils – temperature, humidity and light.

The three evils

Temperature

Don’t hang your piece about a radiator or working fireplace. The fluctuation in temperature will not do your painting any good. I know this is a tough one, because a lot of the prime space is probably above a radiator. If you must, at least you understand the danger and accept the risk.

It’s so tempting to hang a painting above a fire or radiator, but fluctuations in temperature will not do it good

Humidity

Likewise humidity is a real killer. Variation in humidity can lead to the expansion and contraction of natural materials such as wood and cotton canvas, leading to warping of stretcher bars. This can then cause the canvas to sag or ripple. Damp can lead to foxing on works on paper. Foxing is when small brown blotches appear. It could be due to mould or contaminants in the paper. Moulds feed on the paper itself, as well as any dirt or organic material on it, for example, finger marks, food stains and squashed insects.

It is recommended not to hang paintings on a newly plastered wall for at least six months.

Foxing is caused by mould and contaminents, but luckily a skilled restorer should be able to remove it – not something to try at home!

Consider putting little bumper pads at the corner of frames to form a barrier between the piece and any damp in the wall, but also to allow circulation of air.

Sunlight

Direct sunlight is another no no. While watercolours or other works on paper have a reputation for fading in strong sunlight, any pigment will fade or alter over time, even acrylics and oils. The UV causes irreversible damage to the pigments. Good framing and varnishes with UV protection will go some way to protecting the painting, but nothing prevents it totally. In museums the climate is carefully controlled and particularly works on paper, are regularly rested to protect them.

In other words hanging original work in conservatories or bathrooms is not wise. However, some of these environmental ills can be minimised via proper framing.

Framing

Framing is a real skill and though expensive, will protect your beautiful artwork

Decent framing not only enhances your painting, it is crucial to protecting and conserving it over time. It’s far better that the frame gets chipped or scratched rather than your artwork. So though it is expensive, it pays in the long term.

You need to ensure that framing is done to ‘conservation’ standards. All this means is that nothing in the framing process or materials will impact on the artwork. For work on paper it is normal to use a mount or mat to separate the paper from the glass. The glass is a physical protection to fragile paper, but it could stick to the glass or the painting could get rubbed.  The mount needs to be acid free, otherwise the chemicals in the board could eat into and discolour the paper. Likewise there needs to be an acid free barrier between the board at the back of the frame and the painting.

The type of glass used is also important. Ordinary glass does not absorb much UV, however you can get (at a price) glass which absorbs far more and also anti reflection glass.

Sealing the frame will stop damp, dirt and insects (silverfish like the sizing in paper) getting into the frame and damaging your precious art.

In the UK look for a member of the Fine Art Trade Guild: https://www.fineart.co.uk/

Cleaning

DIY restoration is not advisable

Glazed work should be sealed and can just be dusted, but work without glass needs a little more care. It’s worth asking the artist or gallery for any special advice, but in general avoid touching the paint, dust with a soft white cloth or even a brush if there is a lot of texture in the surface. Don’t use water or chemicals and if in doubt ask an expert.

Check

Once a year check the wire/string to ensure it has not stretched or frayed. Check for any signs of damp on the back of the painting.

Repair

If the worst happens and your artwork gets damaged don’t panic. If it’s the frame you might be able to touch up a scratch or chip, replace glass etc. You can get wax filler in multiple colours from framing supply shops. A glazier will be able to cut glass to size (measure it twice!). But if you are not confident, then head to your nearest trusted framer. If the painting is damaged you should seek advice from a restorer or the original artist. This is not a time for DIY, however slits in canvases can be patched and water stains lifted, foxing can be bleached, so all should not be lost.

A final thought

This is not about care per se, but I’m an advocate of moving paintings around in your home every year or so. You will see them literally in a new light and with fresh eyes. You don’t want them to become wallpaper.

You might enjoy this post about hanging your art: https://lizchaderton.co.uk/art/ten-top-tips-for-hanging-art/

If you have any tips to share about caring for your paintings, please comment here and if you have a burning question about collecting and caring from art, please let me know!

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