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How to Care for Your Artworks like a Museum Conservationist

Questions like…

How can you preserve the quality of your artworks from deteriorating in value?

How can you prevent your artworks from becoming perishable?, and

How to Care for Your Artworks?

…are asked by even seasoned collectors and artists with decades of artsy experiences on their resumes.

It doesn’t take to be a museum conservationist to figure out the basic etiquette for handling, cleaning, transporting or displaying artworks.

Whether you’re an artist or a collector, the original art you create or collect deserves a long life. It should look vibrant and new for as long as possible. It should appeal to the viewer through its authenticity and originality.

In this article, I am going to discuss a few simple ways to care for your art that will keep it looking flawless for years (or even decades!).

Whether you’re an artist or a collector, the original art you create or collect deserves a long life Click To Tweet

The Basics Of Caring For Your Art

Use Acid-free materials: Acid-free materials have a neutral Ph, and are specially constructed with art conservation in mind. Sometimes they are called “archival” because they’re often used to store art for a long period without doing any damage. Look for materials (papers, mats, and adhesives) that are marked “acid-free,” or else you risk having your art permanently ruined with yellow marks.

Handling: Make sure to lift your art from the sides. Carrying from the sides will reduce stress and keep the structural integrity of the work intact. For framed or stretched artworks like paintings or prints, avoid lifting it from the top frame.  Avoiding smudging is necessary. Also, try to avoid touching the surface of the art with your bare fingers. Human fingers are naturally moist and oily and can leave traces of grime, sweat, and oil when they come in direct contact with works like oil paintings. Wearing a pair cotton gloves will prevent physical contacts of your hands with the artwork. Margaret Harupt, the Deputy of Collection Management and Conservation Services at AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) listed 10 reasons why the “hands-off” approach is so necessary to the preservation of works of art.



Protecting your Art for Shipment: The artwork should be adequate with shredded pieces of newspapers, bubble wrap or at the least, peanut foams (less recommended), to avoid movement in transit. Since an artwork is as delicate as precious, it is.

Store your Art Properly: If you have a lot of artworks that are not on display, invest in a storage system.  The best way to house works on paper is to keep them in large, flat drawers, with acid-free tissue paper sandwiched in between each layer. Paintings are best kept in racks. Sculptures can be stored in shelves, large boxes, or dolly (if they are particularly heavy); and covered with a protective plastic sheet.

Framing and Matting Your Art

Framing and matting are the standard methods for supporting and protecting art. They limit damage from heat, light, pollution, as well as the dangers of handling.

Matting: Mat is used for 2-dimensional artworks, such as works on paper. Paper tends to be very vulnerable, so getting this kind of art matted is a good idea. As discussed above, always choose archival materials that are acid-free. They will last a long time without discolouring your work. You’ll want to purchase both mount (for support) and an overmat (for the actual frame). Matting boards come in a variety of thicknesses, called plys, and either a 4-ply or an 8-ply should be sufficient. If you’ve never matted anything before, you can always get it professionally done, or with the help of a mat cutter or you can learn to do it yourself. There are numerous tutorials online offering distinctive and detailed explanations as well.

Care for Your Artworks_Framed Images_Artailer

Framed. Image courtesy of NCInDC via Flickr.

Framing: Framing is reserved for paintings, but it can be used for works on paper as well. It’s a more complicated structure than a mat, but the same protective principles apply. Many artists choose not to frame their works on canvas, but if you would rather have the protection, make sure to choose a frame that complements the work. Either glass or Plexiglass (an acrylic material) can be used as a transparent layer of protection in front of the art. Framing is also something you can learn to do yourself; Apartment Therapy has a great step-by-step tutorial for framing your art on a shoestring budget.

Environmental Concerns

The environment that surrounds your art is unpredictable – it can fade, stain and ruin your artwork, depreciating its value quickly. Here are 4 of the worst environmental offenders, with them are mentioned the methods on how to reduce their damaging effects.

Water: Getting your art wet is one of the fastest ways to ruin it. Even storing your art in a damp environment can cause mould growth, paper wrinkling, and unsightly stains. Typically, art gets wet when it’s stored improperly, so make sure to protect your work by storing it high up and wrapping it in thick, waterproof plastic. Never use cardboard, cloth, or paper for storage. If the art is kept in an environment that might get wet (such as a basement) or if the art is going to be in storage for an extended period – the water will seep right through the cardboard and onto your art. When dealing with water, one must be cautious and careful.

Pro Tip; store your art high up & wrap it in thick, waterproof plastic, to prevent it from… Click To Tweet

Care for Your Artworks_Paper, Circa 31. Image courtesy of Thomas Hebert_Artailer

Paper, Circa ‘31. Image courtesy of Thomas Hebert via Flickr

Heat and Humidity: Avoid storing your art at either high or low humidity conditions. High humidities cause an excess of moisture in the air, which can lead to mould, fungus, and mildew. Low humidities can promote dehydration, making your artwork and the framing materials become brittle. Although not acting as fast as a high humidity environment, cracking, flaking, and splintering can occur after a prolonged period. The ideal temperature to store art is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the ideal humidity is about 50 percent. Keep your art away from the sun and invest in an air-conditioner or a humidifier, depending on what the environment is like where you live. To deal with heat or humidity go hand in hand.

Pollution: Airborne pollution can have a corrosive effect on metals, marbles, and limestone, and causes deterioration of organic-based materials. Unfortunately, pollution is part of life when you live in an urban environment, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to protect your artwork from this danger. Install an air-conditioner or air-purifier, or consider moving to a less polluted area to combat the effects on your art.

Light: When light reacts with oxygen molecules, the process can create discolouration and fragility in organic materials.  Works on paper are especially vulnerable to light exposure, so extra care should be taken to provide a controlled setting for these works. Avoid hanging them directly across from the windows and keep the lighting low. There are also glass framing options to keep out the ultraviolet rays. This is a popular choice for artists.

Preparing Your Art For Travel

Artwork is shipped all over the world every day. If properly packed, it usually arrives in excellent condition. For works on paper, wrap them in acid-free tissue paper and place them in a rigid portfolio made of thick cardboard or foam core. Unframed works can also be carefully rolled, and transported in a tube. If possible, framed works should be shipped without the glass. They easily get shattered, even in the best conditions. Replace the glass with Plexiglass and pad it with bubble wrap.

Crating is a good option for larger works or multiple 2-dimensional works. Make sure to include a layer of protective foam core between each layer for shock absorption. If you’re looking for in-depth instructions, Red Dot Blog, a marketing blog for artists, has good advice on how to ship your art for about $100. This is affordable and comes with good rates and discounts.


Care for Your Artworks_Fine Art Crates. Image courtesy of Reuse Warehouse_Artailer

Fine Art Crates. Image courtesy of Reuse Warehouse via Flickr

Transporting Your Art

Now that your art is ready for travel, what’s the best way to get it from point A to point B without it being damaged? Sending art by road or by air are the two most common ways to transport art, and here are several options for your consideration:

Rent your vehicle: Under this scenario, you have the benefit of knowing that your art is being handled and stored properly. The downside is that not everyone has the time or resources to make a cross-country trip to deliver an artwork. This is also off limits to international destinations.

Commercial movers: Some commercial movers specialise in moving valuable objects, but most are not able to provide the environmental controls that especially fragile artwork may need. One needs to instruct them well and keep a constant eye on them.

Fine Art Movers: They may be more expensive, but these movers can provide the personals skills and controlled environment that you need to ensure the safety of your art.

Parcel Service: Convenience, fast service, and economy of price, all make parcel service a good option. However, there may be restrictions on size and weight that you need to look out for. One should research well before choosing the respective service.

Airfreight carriers: This is an excellent way to ship artworks that are too heavy or large for parcel service.

Caring for art is challenging, but with a little practice, you can make sure that your paintings, prints, and sculptures remain just as beautiful as the day they were first created.

What are your best tips and tricks for caring for your art? Let us know in the comments below!


Featured ImageMy Teeming With Life Universe, Mixed media, 40 X 48 X 1.5, by Andrada Anghel via Artailer.


  • Lee

    February 19, 2017 at 7:35 am

    One thing I feel is missing. Pollutants, particularly from people who are smokers and the long term effect on their artwork. What is the best way to clean artwork? Acrylics versus Oils, etc.

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