Updated: Aug 5, 2022
The relationship we build with our art collection is very personal, and the connection grows stronger the more frequently we contemplate our pieces. Naturally, we would want to prolong the life of our treasures.
Numerous things could have harmful effects on your pieces, and with the cost of art restoration ranging from $200-$300/hour, you'll want to focus on what you can do to avoid that.
With that said, it does not need to be an extensive process, and typically a regular dusting and a thorough examination from time to time, along with a couple of other preventative considerations, should do the trick.
Hanging & Positioning Art
There are several considerations to take into account when hanging original artworks beyond what looks aesthetically pleasing. If you keep these in mind, you can dramatically extend the life of your artwork.
While we all like how beautiful things look in natural light, there is a reason most artworks are lit with artificial light, especially if they're older pieces. If you notice fading or changing of colors, specifically in blues and greens, it's typically a good indicator that the positioning in your home isn't ideal.
Everything will fade over time, but watercolors and other works on paper are notorious for fading or bleaching quickly when displayed in a sunny setting.
Things like UV protective glass & plexiglass, films, and blinds can help in situations like this for some pieces but only prolong the degradation.
You can also choose lower wattage light bulbs to help reduce heat and discoloration.
2. Moisture, Temperature Changes & Fireplaces
Frequent or large temperature changes can be damaging to artworks, as well as high levels of humidity or dampness.
Bear in mind that strong sources of heat can cause warping or discoloration in some mediums. That's why it's always important to consider the environmental elements surrounding your artwork.
Art experts recommend keeping artworks between 69.8 - 75.2 degrees F and 21 - 24 degrees C with a 55% humidity level. Keep your artwork away from spaces that might experience ongoing fluctuations in temperatures, moisture, and humidity. So, be conscientious of heating and/or cooling unit locations, radiators, fireplaces, air vents, and high wattage light bulbs that can all have damaging effects.
Works on paper or those with delicate surfaces may not fare well in humid environments like bathrooms, basements, etc. as artworks on metal or acrylic glass usually fare better in these conditions.
Investing in a humidifier or dehumidifier for certain spaces may solve some of your issues as well.
In regards to High Heat & Smoke, it's important to remember that strong sources of heat can cause warping or discoloration to some mediums, so be careful when placing your art near fireplaces, smokers, radiators, etc.
It's not a bad idea to have a smoke detector installed 100 feet from the art in the home. Make sure it's not a heat detector, as it does not protect from cooled smoke entering your home from a distant fire.
It's also a good idea to have a backing board behind the frame. Polypropylene honeycomb boards and boards that have a plastic core with aluminum skins are preferred. Double walled boards are only recommended in storage settings where a fire suppression system is in place. Boards without channels are a much safer choice.
When placing your works under protective glass or plexiglass, keep in mind, that plastic thermal protectors & insulators are less likely to transmit heat than glass. In extreme heat, plastic sheets will bow toward the heat, eventually craze and bubble, while glass is more heat stable; it's a thermal reservoir, so it will transmit the heat to the material behind it.
3. Accidental Bumps & Intentional Touching
Something that's often overlooked is its likelihood of getting bumped or knocked and people touching the art with bare hands.
Whilst your hands might look clean to the naked eye, our hands and fingers carry an immense amount of dirt and natural oils that can leave a lot of residue on the painting's surface, causing stains and damage to canvases.
So, avoid touching a painting with bare hands. Professionals typically wash their hands before working with artwork, hold it by the frame only, and use simple white cotton gloves for art handling.
When moving artwork to a different location, carry both sides of the frame to ensure that its weight is evenly distributed during its relocation.
You'll want to ensure that your pieces are out of the way of traffic paths, chair bumps, wagging tails, children's hands, etc. to avoid any unwanted damage to your treasures. Never lean a canvas against anything that isn't a flat surface as it might stretch it. Always lean it against a wall or on a table or ledge.
4. Hanging fixtures v. weight
Once you determine the perfect location, there are a couple other considerations you might want to think about, like an investment into proper framing which can protect not just the artwork, but the wall as well.
You'll want to consider things such as the weight of the piece and what you'll be using to hang it, especially if it's on the larger side or irregularly shaped.
The strength of the wall might not always be a good match for the weight of the piece. For particularly larger works, where a picture hook, nail, or screw won't hold, you may need to acquire adequate fixings.
While there are varying sizes of picture hooks, for seriously heavy pieces, you'll want to consult your framer for advice. They can add a suitable D-ring for hanging, advise on the best hanging wire, and offer best practices. They can also tell you if you're going to need to drill into your wall and use a wall plug and screw.
In an ideal situation, they should be hung from wood studs behind drywall or plaster with more than one anchor point to ensure that their weight is evenly distributed.
Once you have your one-of-a-kind treasure in place, you'll want to do what you can to ensure it remains looking its best for many years to come. There's a handful of things collectors can do to maintain their collection if done regularly can prolong the life of their art.
5. Dust Regularly
There're a couple of methods that the professionals have used for years that you can try, though when in doubt ask a trained professional.
The simplest way to clean your painting is to lightly dust it with a soft, natural hair, DRY brush (avoid dust cloths and feather dusters as they can catch textures).
With gloves, holding the painting upright and at a forward angle (so the dust doesn't fall back onto the painting), you'll want to softly swipe away dust and accumulated soil off the artwork going in the same direction for the first pass, and then a second pass in the opposite direction. Using an artist or makeup brush works really well for regular dustings.
Acrylic paintings tend to be more glossy and low-maintenance compared to oils which are more prone to accumulating dust on the surface. Do remember to dust off the framed works from the back too. This will prevent unwanted particles from entering the frame and harming the work.
It's important to check for any signs of deterioration whilst you dust, and keep an eye out for flaking paint. If flaking paint is present, DO NOT dust the artwork!
If you choose to frame your work under glass to protect your piece and simplify your cleaning process, keep in mind that they will be vulnerable to dampness and mold from moisture accumulation due to poor airflow.
6. Perform Dampness checks
You should periodically check your artwork for signs of dampness or foxing.
Foxing is caused by mold and iron contaminants in paper pieces. It shows up as discoloration and distinctive brown marks on your pieces. This initially appears on the backs of artworks, so it's always a good idea to take them off the wall and give them a look over a couple times a year. Works on paper are probably the most susceptible to dampness.
7. Do not use water or cleaning products!
Many are abrasive or have color-changing properties, and while Windex is good for everything else, it and other chemicals will wear away at the materials and can damage your artwork permanently.
Water can even change the dimension of the fabric tension, wash out additives in the paint, change certain colors (for example, those with copper in them), etc.
Considering the investment, why take the risk?
So what can you do?
In a pinch, let's say you need to remove something more substantial than a speck of dust but do not need a restorer (yet). You've decided to take the risk and give it a go yourself.
There's a method some museums and historians will use from time to time that is less likely to damage the artwork by reacting with or washing away the elements. That is spit.
Yep, you heard me. Saliva does not have the same structure as water, so it's a less damaging alternative in a bind.
You're NOT going to spit all over the painting, but instead, moisten a cotton swab and lightly swipe the surface, careful not to pick up any layers of paint.
Anything you eat or drink prior can affect the saliva and damage the artwork.
Test it first in a discrete corner if possible
Avoid abrasive cloths and absorbing materials like sponges and certain fabrics.
Never clean using food methods as they can leave crumbs and bacteria that can irreversibly damage your piece.
Bonus #8: Moving & Storage
There's times, maybe when you're remodeling or moving, and you need to temporarily store or ship your artworks.
Improper packing can cause many types of damage to artwork – from superficial to tragically irreversible. By keeping these key things in mind you'll be less likely to accrue damage during the process.
Allow pieces covered in glass or plastic for extended periods the opportunity to breath
While plastic is great for waterproofing, it can lock in moisture and humidity allowing mold to grow. Cotton sheets are actually a good option: they stop direct sunlight, reduce dust build-up, let the painting breathe, and don't scratch its surface. You can also try non-abrasive polyethylene foam pouches. They're lightweight, breathable, economical, and provide some protection from physical damage as well.
Always avoid storing artworks in attics or basements
Invest in a humidifier/dehumidifier for stuffy storage spaces
Keep your artworks separate from each other, and always avoid laying them next to or on top of each other.
When shipping, invest in corner protectors and hardboard & if you can't find a box to its size, pack the sides down to avoid it moving around. Any space between the artwork and the box side should be filled!
Compare the cost of shipping your works ready-to-hang with the cost of shipping them rolled in a tube, plus the cost to re-stretch or re-frame your works upon arrival.
If you'd like a more in-depth review on packaging your pieces for shipment or if you should ship them rolled, luckily Agora Gallery has 2 fantastic guides that cover this in great detail.
When prolonging the life and enjoyment of your art, protection and preventative maintenance should be high on your priority list.
Whether you're an avid collector or art lover, all you need to do to get motivated to maintain these treasures is to remind yourself how much money restoring and repairing the work would cost. Like they say, "precaution is always better than the cure!"
If you're unsure whether your artworks need some additional TLC, feel free to check out this article that'll go over a few key things to look out for.
If you move a lot, or like to redecorate and want a quick checklist to keep all these concerns in mind... I've made a checklist to make my life easier and I feel it would be rude not to share.