Sunday, December 12, 2010

Care & Feeding of Your Artwork

At the end of any paintings conservation project, I always have a discussion with the client about the care of the artwork. Here are a few things that come to mind immediately:

• Hang the painting on an inside wall to minimize the effects of humidity changes. Cycling changes in temperature and humidity will create what are called "conformal" changes in the painting and can lead to premature cracking. Each of the 7 layers of a painting will respond differently to changes in temperature and humidity. Create a comfy environment for your artworks.

• Try not to hang the painting above a fireplace, near heating or ventilation ducts, or near a wood-burning stove because of the temperature changes the painting can experience.

• The painting will be stable in an environment with temperatures comfortable to humans and a relative humidity between 50 and 70%. Lower humidity can lead to the canvas support becoming more brittle while higher humidity (above 80% RH) will promote mold growth.

• If possible, do not store the painting in an attic, garage, basement, or anywhere near a water supply such as a water heater or washing machine. Store in a suitable archival container at least six inches above ground. Contact your art conservator before storing any valuable paintings.

• Nothing should ever be in direct contract with the painting’s surface during transport or in storage such as bubble wrap, plastic sheeting, cloth, or cardboard. Silicone release paper or glassine is acceptable.

• Do not attempt to clean a painting yourself unless you know a lot about the surface chemistry of paintings. Even if you are an artist, it does not immediately qualify you to clean paintings unless you have training in this specialization. Instruct the house keeper to not attempt to clean the paintings or frames. To remove dust, use a soft camelhair brush only unless there is visible lifting, flaking, or powdering of the paint film. If so, then contact your art conservator. Resist the temptation to use any solvents, household cleansers, dish soap, or water on the painting surface or it can be irrevocably damaged. Do not attempt to clean it yourself unless you are willing to have a conservator repair it after it is damaged. If one must clean it, use cotton swabs and saliva. Roll, do not rub. Yes, white bread can be used but it is probably going to be a waste of time and good Wonderbread. Disregard folk remedies, that is, wine is best consumed and not applied to paintings and onions are better in the stew than on your painting.

• Do not allow the contact of direct sunlight on the paintings or there will be an eventual color shift as a result of UV light. This will also affect many varnishes which may turn yellow.

• Viewing of the artwork may be improved with attention to light sources and direction. Paintings are best lit with indirect, low light illumination with minimal UV light and low heat. It is not advisable to affix a painting light to the frame because it will heat and cool the painting at the top and there will be too much UV light unless the bulb is filtered. Spot lights at a distance with UV filtration are best.

• Conservators should be consulted about the use of glazing (glass or acrylic). There might be reasons to consider it.

• In serious cases, micro-environments are needed to control all the
environmental factors. I am guessing this may be more than most collectors would need.

• Lastly, hands off and cigarette smokers have to go outside to exhale.

Enjoy your paintings.

Chris J. Kenney
Paintings Conservator

Monday, November 5, 2007

Ballpark Estimate

We are often asked for a "Ballpark Estimate" for a painting conservation treatment without actually seeing the artwork. Art conservation can be a complex endeavor..... like the field of medicine for example. Without examining the patient, a physician can not easily diagnose a condition, recommend treatment, or estimate costs to cure a disease. Physicians, software engineers, automotive technicians, etc., all sell their most valuable resource: time and experience. Likewise, conservators may charge $100 per hour or perhaps twice that. Restorers, picture framers, artists, and others with less training and experience may work for much lower rates but with unexpected results ranging from wonderful to incredibly distressing.

We schedule appointments to examine your artwork(s) at a minimum of $100 for one item (painting and frame) and up to $350 for more comprehensive reports. There are many factors to consider: the extensiveness of the report, photo-documentation, research, telecoms, administration, travel, etc. This actual evaluation at our studio/lab may require an hour of your time but much more for us after you leave as we continue our testing and documentation. 

A typical evaluation may include the following:
· Carefully remove the painting from its frame
· Perform solubility and other testing of surface dirt, varnish layers, pigments, binding materials, etc.
· Assess physical conditions; structural problems relating to tears, paint losses, flaking, stretcher bars, etc.
· Determine if it has been previously “restored.”
· Generate a Treatment Proposal, discuss treatment options and create the Estimate.
· Discuss the Conditions for Conservation
· Plan a time table for completion of the project.
· Discuss your expectations and possible outcomes.
· Discuss limitations and risks.

Sometimes we send the client off to lunch in beautiful Santa Cruz to give us more focused time to perform the evaluation. Sometimes paintings are left at the studio/lab for a more comprehensive examination if the project seems complex, difficult, requires research, is extremely valuable, is of significant cultural or art historic value, or if it is a large artwork.

If any of the following reasons apply, you definitely want to make an appointment:
· Your artwork is a family heirloom
· You love your art no matter what its value
· It is in poor condition but you think it can be improved in the proper hands
· It is irreplaceable and has great sentimental value to you and your family
· It has artistic, historic, religious, or cultural value
· It has moderate or exceptional monetary value
· You want to develop a relationship with an art conservator as a consultant
· You plan to store or transport your art safely
· You are concerned with the long term preservation of your art collection
· You intend upon acquiring more art for your collection and need some guidelines
· You have created a realistic conservation budget and are now ready for us to help

If driving to Santa Cruz is not convenient for you, we can bring our "mini-lab" to your home for the assessment. We bill $1.5/mile for travel (portal to portal) plus a one hour minimum consultation fee of $125. Payment is required at the time of the evaluation. 

It works better for all parties concerned to schedule an actual appointment rather than rely on "when we are in the area" which never really happens anyway.

So what about the Ballpark Estimate? Art conservation is a laborious endeavor and certainly not inexpensive. You must have a realistic budget to make the best use of our time and your time. The cost for an art conservation treatment will be about as much as having your auto repaired or going to the dentist.

The first step is to talk on the phone and/or send an email with a photo. If you can identify the artist, that will help us begin any research and be prepared for your appointment. Please call us between 10:00 am to 7:00 pm to have a chat about your artwork. We are available 7 days a week and the best time to call is 1:00. Even if you choose to do nothing to your artwork, you will undoubtedly learn a great deal and will enjoy the experience.

You can find our main website at:
or email us at:

Chris J. Kenney, MA
831. 464. 1418