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The Art of Preservation

Art – paintings, sculptures, tapestries, drawings, whatever the genre it represents is something unique, beautiful, and deserving of special care. Artworks may be masterpieces or done by upcoming artists, the support used may be paper, canvas or cloth, whatever the medium involved all artworks need to be cared for in a special manner. Would you leave a diamond unsecured or an exquisite crystal piece on the floor, the same applies to paintings, they require and demand care if they are keep giving you viewing pleasure for many years to come.

Let us explore the elements that are the main threat to artworks:

Light: With light we walk a fine line, you need good light to view the works with all their details and nuances, at the same time too much can fade the colours and as a heat source, light can damage the works by drying them. When placing lights make sure that it does not reflect on the artwork, this is the ideal distance to be maintained. Also avoid direct sunlight by not placing the works opposite windows which not only could fade the paint but also discolour the paper. Another good idea of reducing the effects of light is to use non-reflective glass or UV-coated glass while framing paintings.

Humidity: Damp can cause pictures to ripple. If the ripples touch the glass, the picture might stick and be hard to remove. Damp also encourages fungal growth - likely to show as brown stains. It is always best to avoid hanging framed pictures in humid conditions i.e. bathrooms. Allow six months before hanging pictures on newly plastered walls.
Ideally, cool storage is desirable for archival materials. Fluctuations and extremes in temperature and humidity levels can have a detrimental effect upon the preservation of archival materials. Try to keep the temperature at one level 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; don’t change settings for nights or weekends. While this may be difficult to maintain in a home, the perfect temperature is recommended to be 67 degrees Fahrenheit or about 20 degrees Celsius the humidity level should be about 47 percent. Keep objects away from heat sources such as furnace vents, fireplaces, warm lights, and direct sunlight

Pests: There are a variety of insects that can damage paper, photographs and leather artifacts; primarily, silverfish, firebrats, carpet beetles, and the book louse. In general good housekeeping is the best method of deterrence. Regular inspections of stored collections provide the cheapest and safest method of safeguarding against infestation. Screening on windows and doors will aid in keeping out larger pests. In addition, fresh flowers and plants should be inspected before being placed in the vicinity of your artworks. When infestations are suspected, sticky insect traps can be placed under cabinets and cupboards. These traps do not poison insects; they aid in assessing the numbers and types of insects that are present. In general, insecticides should not be used on or in the vicinity of archival materials. Insecticides can cause fading and discoloration of paper, leather, and parchment. If you find an infested item, place it in a sealed plastic bag and contact a professional immediately.

Pollution: Dirty air! You may wonder at the term, but air pollution does not merely affect our health, but also the health of your paintings. Tiny microscopic particles of pollution settle on the artwork and affect the paint and the appearance of the work. Research shows that not until at least 12% of the work has been affected will the normal human eye be able to detect the effects of pollution.

Mold: Areas of high humidity and damp are highly susceptible to damage by mold growth. Any appearance of mold must be immediately removed; the best way is to use a soft brush and low suction vacuum cleaner. In case a vacuum cleaner is not available brush the mold onto a paper and then dispose off it. The aim is to not let the spores of mold spread in the air. Also remember not to use the brush again without cleaning it effectively.
So now that you’ve read about the factors that can cause damage to your artwork, let’s see how their effects can be prevented or mitigated:

Framing: While framing ensure that the board and mount are made of acid free materials. Paintings, especially those made of natural pigments, like the traditional Warli artworks, should be framed under glass so that the pigments do not flake due to environmental factors or accidents. Canvas works on stretchers may sag over time, it is best to get them tightened or re-stretched at a professional framers, every five years.
Storage: At any point of time if you need to store any artworks, especially paintings need extra care. Place them flat in a crate if possible and ensure that the wood used for the crate is acid free. Paper works and photographs need more care while storing. Keep a regular check on stored artworks to prevent the prevalence of pests, mold etc.

Cleaning: Clean artwork gently, dust frames or treat with a soft brush, rather than applying water or cleaning fluids. At all times ensure that cleaning fluids or water do not touch the varnished surfaces of oil paintings. Do not directly spray cleaning fluids onto the glass of a painting; apply them on a duster first. Frames can also be susceptible to damage from cleaning fluids, dust them carefully instead. In the case of photographs or prints make sure you don’t touch them directly or you could leave prints. If by accident any artwork does get wet, dab it gently and leave it to dry, never rub!

Moving artwork: Paintings are at risk when you move them so do not do so until absolutely necessary. Remember to clear the way of furniture and other obstructions. If you feel that you can manage moving it on your own, carry the painting with the artwork facing you. Remove all items like jewellery, belts etc to avoid scratching or tearing the surface of the painting.

Most people spend a huge amount on the artwork they purchase; unfortunately none of the artwork will come with a maintenance manual. If you practice the suggestions we have outlined above you will be able to enjoy the viewing pleasure of your artworks for a long time.

Fast Facts to preserve your artworks:

  • Avoid direct light, frame artworks using a UV-coated or no-reflecting glass
  • Do not place paintings near a heat source or air-conditioning vent
  • Mitigate the effects of pollution by framing all works using acid free mounts and boards
  • Never spray insecticides near or on stored artworks
  • Regularly inspect and clean stored artworks
  • Place paintings flat in a crate while storing
  • Never spray cleaning agents directly on a painting or frame
  • Remove mold using a soft brush and low suction vacuum cleaner
  • Be very careful while moving artworks

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