Art Care and Conservation

The term 'Conservation' means a careful approach, which comprises the processes of stabilization, preservation and often restoration, using reversible materials, which will not be hazardous to the object. Conservation can broadly be of two types:

  • Preventive conservation in which regular maintenance and care are taken to prevent the onset of damage or future problems to the object. Proper environment, storage, display, etc. are all essential to forestall deterioration.
  • Interventive conservation in which any treatment to an object in the form of cleaning, mending tears, in painting, removing old and improper restorations, etc. is carried out.

Few Basic Rules For All Art Connoisseurs

First time art buyers should follow certain rules to keep their art works in the best of conditions. Art collectors should always keep in mind that art needs special care and is more than just a commodity.

  • Never lean the front or back surface of a stretched canvas on a pointed or sharp object. This will leave a dent that will disfigure your work. If you must lean it against something, lean it on the wood of its stretcher bars so that nothing presses against the canvas.
  • Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will fade the colors in your oil painting. Take care to avoid direct sunlight.
  • Dust your artwork with a soft and a dry cloth. If the surface of your painting looks dry and dull, you may want to have it varnished. Varnish is a protective surface, which will not only enhance the image, but will keep the surface intact and safe from cracking.
  • If you must transport the work, lay a flat piece of cardboard, mat board or similar firm material over the front and back surfaces, and then wrap it in bubble wrap or Styrofoam wrap. Try not to keep it wrapped up for too long as to avoid moisture buildup, which might cause damage to the work.
  • Never expose your painting to extreme heat, extreme cold, or to extreme humidity.
  • If something goes wrong with the artwork bring it to a professional conservator who can fix it properly. Don't do it yourself! Bring it to someone who knows what to do.
  • If you ever need or want to do away with the artwork for any reason, always contact the artist, who should be informed of the work's new whereabouts so he or she can update the work's provenance records. Never, ever destroy or throw away an original work of art!!!

Caring For Works of Art On Paper

Although works of art on paper such as prints, drawings, and watercolors are inherently fragile, they can be easily and effectively protected from damage and deterioration. Preservation measures include:

  • Proper storage and handling, including framing.
  • Protection from light.
  • Protection from unsafe temperature and relative humidity conditions.
  • Protection from pollutants and airborne particulates.

Tips For Proper Storage And Handling For Works of Art On Paper

  • Works of art on paper should be touched as little as possible.
  • Be sure that your hands are very clean, or wear white cotton gloves. Better yet, mat, frame, or store the works in a manner that permits viewing and transporting without direct handling.
  • Because paper is damaged by prolonged contact with acidic surroundings, the choice of storage and mounting materials is crucial.
  • Mats, folders, and mounting adhesives must be chemically stable, non-staining, and permanent but reversible.
  • Although framers are more knowledgeable today, some are still unaware of the importance of using preservation-quality materials. It is essential to find one who does. A paper conservator or a major museum can refer you to such a framer. If your works on paper were framed commercially before 1980, poor-quality mounting materials may have been used. One common sign of poor mat board is browning of the cut edge of the window opening. If you are unsure of how to identify the material in your framed artwork, consult a paper conservator.

The Essentials Of Proper Framing Are

  • A mat window and backboard made of 100% rag board or the lignin-free, alkaline-buffered mat board especially for preservation purposes
  • Be sure that your hands are very clean, or wear white cotton gloves. Better yet, mat, frame, or store the works in a manner that permits viewing and transporting without direct handling.
  • Attachment of the artwork to the mat or mount by hinging with high-quality Japanese paper and a permanent, non-staining, reversible adhesive. Homemade starch paste is the choice of conservators. Avoid commercial tapes, including those advertised as archival. If you want to try to do your own matting, a paper conservator can advise you about sources of supplies.
  • Protective glazing, either glass or rigid acrylic should cover the artwork. The artwork must not be in direct contact with the glazing material. Ultraviolet filtering products, available in glass as well as plastic, are recommended to protect against the most destructive component of light. Note that acrylics carry a static charge and must not be used with pastels, charcoal, or other powdery or flaking medium.
  • An additional protective layer of sturdy, lignin-free cardboard at the back of the frame. The frame should also be well sealed to discourage entry of air.

Caring For Your Unframed Artwork

  • Unframed works of art must have individual protective enclosures. Although matting is preferred, sturdy individual folders are an acceptable alternative. Like mat board, these folders must be made of lignin-free, buffered stock that is rigid enough to provide adequate support.
  • To protect the edges of the artwork, folders should be somewhat larger than their contents. Objects in folders or mats should be stored flat in lignin-free boxes such as heavy-walled Solander boxes, the traditional choice of museums.
  • Oversized works of art are best kept in the drawers of flat files (map cases). These files should be made of metal rather than wood since wood gives off acidic gases.
  • Wood files can be used if the interior of the drawers is sealed with a water-based polyurethane coating and lined with a suitable barrier material such as lignin-free board or 5-mil polyester film (Mylar). If you purchase storage drawer units, anodized aluminum or powder-coated steel is recommended.

Protection From Light

Light causes fading of certain media, especially watercolor, pastels, and many drawing inks. It can also darken or embrittle paper. Light damage is cumulative and irreversible.

  • Because all light will cause damage, conservators recommend that no work on paper be permanently displayed.
  • The best display conditions are those with low light levels and no daylight. Block windows with shades, blinds, or curtains.
  • Light sources containing ultraviolet (UV) rays are especially harmful. UV is found in all daylight, most abundantly in sunlight, and in the emissions of certain artificial lights, such as most fluorescent and metal halogen lamps. Ordinary household bulbs (incandescent or tungsten lights) contain negligible UV and are therefore recommended. These bulbs give off heat, however, and should not be placed near the artwork.
  • Special filters are available to screen out UV radiation. Inexpensive plastic sleeves can be purchased for fluorescent tubes.
  • Windows or cases can be covered with stick-on UV-absorbing films, or rigid sheets of UV-filtering plastic or glass can be used in frames or windows.

Protection From Gaseous Pollution And Airborne Particulates

Dust and soot will soil delicate, porous paper surfaces and are difficult to remove safely. Ubiquitous pollutants from industrial gases, auto emissions, and heating compounds are readily absorbed into paper, where they form harmful chemicals that discolor or embrittle the paper. In addition, sources of internal air pollution, such as copying machines, new construction materials, paint fumes, new carpets, janitorial supplies, and emissions from wooden cabinets, can attack paper.

Controlling air quality is often difficult. Probably the most practical way to protect art on paper is to enclose each object in protective housing made with appropriate materials.

When Disaster Strikes

Although hurricanes and earthquakes may be rare, water accidents are common. Even a small amount of water from a leaky roof or pipes can do significant damage to a paper collection. Things to keep in mind are:

  • If objects get wet, call a paper conservator or a museum immediately. It is important to dry paper right away before mold sets in.
  • Wet objects in frames with glazing must be removed from their frames.
  • If you are hesitant to handle the damp paper, expose the object by removing the backing from the frame.
  • If the collection is too large to dry right away, freezing may be necessary.
  • Always speak with a conservator first.

When To Call A Conservator

Qualified conservators specializing in paper must be employed to do treatment of art on paper.Some conditions, which need immediate attention, are:

  • Wet or moldy materials or those with actively flaking media have high priority. So do brittle or fragile papers in danger of splitting or tearing.
  • Because they can stain within months, recently applied self-stick tapes or labels should be removed immediately.
  • Objects stuck onto brittle or acidic cardboard may not require emergency action, but they should be separated from their mounts as soon as possible.
  • When in doubt about the urgency of treatment, show the object to a paper conservator.

Deterioration of Paper

Several important objects are made of paper, whether they are valuable paintings or books. Paper can get damaged in several ways, but there are ways to conserve it and give it a longer life.The causes for deterioration of paper are as follows:

  • Seasonal shifts in humidity and temperature causes painted canvas to contract or expand resulting in disturbing the bond between the paint film and support. The paint film is pushed upward, often till it fractures.
  • Artist's technique and choice of materials.
  • Deterioration of glue size in the ground.
  • Aging paint film tends to lose its elasticity and becomes more susceptible to flaking, cracking and cupping.
  • Water damage, fire damage, or physical damage from a blow can also cause the paint film to flake.

Cleaning Measures And Techniques

A few simple measures can give a piece of art a much longer life. All you are required to do is to remember a few basic things:

  • Clean the surface and the back of a painting from time to time especially if it is kept in storage.
  • To prevent dust accumulation on unglazed surface of paintings they should be hung inclined top forward.
  • Accumulated dust should be blown of with compressed air or vacuumed off with a soft clean brush.
  • For dirt that cannot be blown or vacuumed, the use of distilled water or saliva on white cotton swabs is the best method. Small swabs should be used to clean small areas.
  • To clean Oil paintings, cotton swabs dampened with saliva removes accumulated dirt. Mineral spirit should be used in small quantities only where the dirt is a little greasy without dissolving the varnish.
  • To clean Acrylic paintings solvent-based resins can be used. However, since the solubility gap between paint layer and protective varnish is very small one has to be very selective about such solvents.
  • To clean Egg Tempera and Encaustic paintings, slightly damp cotton should be rubbed and then the surface should be buffed up with a piece of silk cloth. Dents and bulges in a canvas should be dabbed with a moist squeezed out sponge. Doing this will shrink the canvas around where the bulge is. Excess dampening could result in excess shrinking which may cause flaking of the paint. So the canvas should be moistened as sparingly as possible.
  • Using a backboard acts as a preventive measure and an effective way for added protection of a canvas. It acts as a physical barrier to water spillages and the accumulation of dirt. It also prevents moisture changes that may cause possible harm to the paint on canvas.
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