Years ago I made the mistake of storing a few of my paintings in the loft of a shed for the winter. I am embarrassed to admit this, and it was a stupid mistake, but I have certainly learned from it. The roof had a leak that I was unaware of. Water ran on several of my canvases, and damaged them beyond repair.
I decided then to always store my paintings safely inside, or find a place to hang them somewhere before being sold – and to learn everything I could about the preservation of artwork.
Unless you are an artist who sells everything as soon as you create it, you will probably have to consider ways of safely storing your artworks. What follows are some important tips for caring for and handling paintings, which will help to prevent different types of damage, including scratches, scrapes, mold, cracking, and flaking.
Tips for Carrying and Handling Paintings
- Only handle one painting at a time. Carrying stacks of small paintings should not be done, as they may be scratched or dented from the weight. Larger paintings should be handled by two or more people.
- Keep your hands clean. Also consider wearing clean cotton gloves before handling artwork. This will protect the painting from fingerprints.
- Remove jewellery such as rings and watches, as you may accidentally scratch the painting while carrying.
- Never lift a painting from the top, but carry it with a hand at each side, being careful not to touch the painted surface.
How to Care for Paintings – Dusting and Cleaning
- Dusting Paintings
Only dust a painting if there is no flaked paint on the surface. Use an artist’s paint brush (soft, natural hair, clean, 5cm width) or piece of velvet. Place the painting on a cushioned surface and lean it toward you so the dust falls as you gently use the brush. Brush slowly, carefully, and with no pressure in one direction until completely dusted, then switch directions for a second pass. Avoid dusting for matte surfaces, and never use feather dusters, stiff brushes, or moist dust cloths.
- Cleaning paintings
Never use household cleaners or similar liquids to clean paintings. If it is an expensive painting and in desperate need of cleaning, hire an art conservator for the job.
Storage of Paintings
- Never store paintings in the basement or attic as they are usually dry or damp. If you do store in those places, make sure you have adequate and consistent temperature and a dehumidifier.
- If you have to lay paintings on top of each other or against each other, use padding. A painting rack is the best thing to use if you have to store many.
Never leave your paintings on a concrete floor, since dampness will be absorbed into the painting.
- If storing for long periods of time, lay it against acid free paper or board, and on a flat surface. Use a dry, clean cloth to entirely cover the painting. If planning on storing in this way for a long period of time, take it out once in a while to give it air. This will prevent mold and humidity build-up.
- Avoid sudden changes in temperature and humidity. With higher temperatures and humidity, the canvas will become slacker on the stretcher. When the temperature and humidity lowers, the canvas will appear tightened. Consistent changes of temperature may cause flaking and cracking in the paint. For optimal settings, try to keep temperature at 21 degrees Celsius and humidity at around 55%. Over 70% humidity may cause moulds to develop, which will need professional treatment.
- Never store your paintings near a source of heat, such as a heater or fireplace, as this may cause paint to become soft.
- Always store paintings where there is no contact with sunlight, as this may cause pigments to fade.
*These tips are meant as a guideline only. If you have additional concerns or questions about a particular piece, enlist the help of a qualified art conservator.
How do you care for your own artwork? Do you have any storage and handling horror stories to share?
Thank-you for reading and may you have a wonderful day!