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