Original art is a significant investment for most of us. It is also one-of-a-kind, original work that can't be easily reproduced, if at all. In this guide, we'll go over professional recommendations to protect our investment in art.
Preventing physical damage
Probably the first thing to consider when protecting your artwork is where to hang it?
According to the Smithsonian:
"The best place to hang a painting is on a wall which has a wall stud where you can securely anchor the wall hooks, away from any heat source, in a place of relatively stable and reasonable humidity and not in direct sunlight."
So that means avoiding places close to windows, above a fireplace if you use it often, or a place with high humidity.
You also want to secure it well with a proper hanging hook and hanging wires. I have an entire guide dedicated to it.
Humidity and temperature
Canvas vs. Paper vs. Wood vs. Metal
Artwork comes on a variety of surfaces. Acrylic and oil paintings are usually painted on stretched linen or cotton dusk canvases. Some artists work on wood panels. Art reproductions and prints are often printed on paper or metal.
The artwork on metal or acrylic glass can typically handle humidity and temperature variations. They're well suited for bathrooms and kitchens.
Paintings on canvas and wood are not very fragile, but they don't like very warm or humid environments. Their ideal conditions are 55% humidity and a room temperature around 68 F.
Paintings on paper are the most fragile: heat, direct sunlight, and moisture should be avoided as much as possible. That's why they're most often covered with UV-protective glass.
Cats love it, Paintings...
Direct sunlight, in general, should be avoided. However, there're a few caveats.
Most original oil paintings are varnished as the last step. The varnish will protect the artwork from dust, yellowing, and UV rays. It is still possible for it to crack or fade if subjected to bright sunlight for long periods of time, but oil paintings typically handle Sun better than other mediums.
For works on paper, especially watercolors, direct sunlight is the worst enemy. The paper itself becomes brittle and the painting will quickly fade.
High-quality work on paper, therefore, is typically placed under UV protective glass or plexiglass. The non-glare, UV protection glass not only protects your artwork from sunlight, but the non-glare glass also makes it easier to see the artwork surface when it is displayed.
Kids love it, Paintings...
Finger painting is a real painting technique used by many artists, including very young ones.
Yet, your paintings don't like to be touched. Our hands and fingers have a lot of dirt and natural oils that, combined, would leave a lot of residue on the painting's surface. So the first rule of thumb is, avoid touching a painting with bare hands.
Professionals typically wash their hands before working with artwork, hold it by the frame only, and use simple white cotton gloves for art handling.
natural-hair brush only
If your painting is dusty, the best recommendation I found is from the Smithsonian:
"Provided that there are no signs of loose or flaking paint, a painting may be safely dusted using a clean, soft, natural-hair artists' brush (3.5cm to 5cm tip). The painting should be positioned on a clean padded surface and held upright at a forward angle so the dust falls away from the face of the painting. Brushing is carried out slowly and gently in one direction across or down the painting followed by a second brushing in the opposite direction.
For matte surface paintings [...] brushing should be avoided.
Never use dry or moist dust cloths, stiff bristle brushes, or feather dusters to dust a painting."
Long and short-term
At times, you need to take your artwork off the walls and store it temporarily somewhere. Maybe during remodeling or moving. A few of my personal recommendations for storing art:
1. Paintings on canvas need to breathe, so avoid covering them with glass.
2. Similarly, covering artwork tightly with plastic isn't the best idea since humidity can get to it, and mold might start growing
3. Cotton sheets are actually a good option: they stop direct sunlight, let the painting breathe, and don't scratch its surface.
4. My favorite option is to use non-abrasive polyethylene foam pouches. They're lightweight, economical, and provide some protection from physical damages as well.
Loose Stretched Canvas
Canvas for stretched paintings can become loose over time. This can be due to high humidity, changes in the frame tension, or simply due to the age of the artwork.
There's an easy and safe fix, however. Tight'n'Up spray made with acrylic binders can be applied on the back of the painting. In my experience, spray the back of the painting generously and let it sit for 24 hours. You might have to "air out" the work too for a few days. And problem solved!
This spray also helps with sagging canvases, wrinkles, and ripples on the canvas surface as well.
Plexiglas/Acrylic Cleaner and Polish
If you have acrylic/plexiglass prints, or artwork covered with plexiglass, then you might want to get this spray.
Plexiglass is lighter and safer at home than glass. For this reason, Art House SF prefers framing our paper artwork with glare-free museum-quality plexiglass. However, plexiglass is less scratch-resistant than regular glass. Over time, if you notice small scratches or just want to refresh your plexiglass surface, this spray by Brillianize is your best friend.
And by the way, New York MOMA, Smithsonian, National Park Service, and Disneyland are using it too.
Professional Art Restoration
For major art repairs or for expensive paintings, I'd recommend reaching out to professional art conservation and restoration services. They can clean your paintings, revarnish them, or touch them up. For old or damaged canvases, they can line, patch or re-stretch them.
A list of reference materials used for this guide: