How to care for your works of art at home

on Thursday, 25 July 2019.

Works of art are lovely to display at home, but are very susceptible to damage by light, heat, humidity and dust. Colours tend to fade in direct light, temperature fluctuations cause paper to move, becoming distorted, or very dry and brittle. Here, I will be sharing some tips for the long term storage and display of your watercolours or other works of art at home.

Ideally, priceless heirlooms or antique paintings and prints are best stored long term in acid free packaging away from light and heat. However, you probably want to be able to display these so that you can view and enjoy them.

Displaying in a Frame:

It is best to remove artwork from old frames and mounts to prevent further damage, if there are any nice or valuable frames, these can be re-used providing the mount and backboard are changed, or kept separate to the item. Display your framed artwork in a place away from direct light and heat sources (not above a radiator) to protect sensitive media, such as watercolours and inks, all of which are susceptible to irreversible light damage.

Colourful inks can be susceptible to light damage

To display your artwork, choose a framer who does conservation standard framing, most reputable framers will do this. To find an accredited framer, the Fine Art Trade Guild  is a good resource; you can search for a Guild certified framer in your area by postcode.

Conservation framing uses high quality acid and lignin free, alkaline buffered mounts and reversible hinging to frame works of art, so unlike with standard or shop bought frames there will be no damage from the board, mount and wood that is often used. Ordinary paper, cardboard and wood backboards contain high quantities of acid which will break down paper fibres and cause discoloration in the form of brown stains, and adhesive tape can cause staining to paper and become loose as it ages.

Adhesive tape has caused permanent damage the pages of this book

Storage:

If you are happy to store them in archival packaging, acid free materials will prolong the life of these items, so that they may be enjoyed by future family members. There are many packaging options available to purchase: An acid free folder is ideal for individual works of art or up to 10 items. Or for large collections of artwork and other paper based material, an acid free box would create a stable inner climate for the artwork, to prevent damage from environmental fluctuations caused by central heating. If items are kept in drawers, it is useful to line drawers with a sheet of acid free paper to protect the artwork from acid and lignin damage from close proximity with wood.

Look out for old packaging, such as envelopes, cardboard boxes and yellowing glassine paper (glassine is thin tissue paper with a smooth shiny surface), as these will cause damage to paper. Sorting your collections into new, safe packaging can be a great project to do at home.

Above: an example of an archival folder for a single document or artwork

How to manage deterioration factors:

Light
• One way to manage light exposure is by frequently changing/rotating the pictures you have on display, so that they are not on display in the same position and with the same lighting for years on end.
• You can also buy UV light filtering film to go on your windows which will help to reduce UV light exposure.
• Turning electric lights off when they are not in use and closing curtains and blinds when you are away will also help.

Environment- temperature and humidity
• Avoid attic and basement spaces as these tend to have unstable temperature and humidity- basements can be particularly damp
• Where possible try not to hang or display artworks near or directly over a radiator or heat source
• Outside walls can be prone to damp, check before hanging or displaying an artwork

CMAS conservators would be happy to advise on safe packaging or framing techniques for your artwork. If you have any preservation or conservation queries, please do not hesitate to contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or to find a conservator in your area, go to the Conservation Register where you can search for a conservator by location or specialism.

Sophie Coles, Conservator

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