Care & preservation of art on paper

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All artworks on paper have the possibility that time will fade or discolour both the paper and the media used (paint, ink, glue, ect). If the materials used are high quality it will assist this not to happen, but much relies on environmental conditions.

Manufacturer of art supplies usually offer information on the archival nature of their products. If you are concerned about the expected life span on an artwork on paper contact the artist directly and ask about the quality of paint or inks used and whether the paper is acid free.  The answer doesn’t mean that a particular artwork is better or worse than another offered on eBay as there are many factors involved with the value of art. It does however offer a suggestion of how well the piece will withstand time. Archival quality materials and acid free papers will last much longer, unfortunately for buyers they are more expensive.

If you wish the artwork to have the longest life span possible there are steps that you can take.

What follows are some general rules to protect a print, drawing, watercolour, or any other work on paper.

1. Ensure that mounting board, backing tissues, etc are all acid free (remove it from its packaging when it arrives as it often is not acid free). Framers and art suppliers can offer acid free board & tissues. What happens usually is long exposure to acid (years framed with a mount board that contains acid) will discolour the paper to a yellow stain where it has been in contact, this is irreversible damage and will lower the value of the work.

2. When mounting make sure the adhesive is minimal and acid free. Often on old books you can see the staining where people have repaired them with sticky tape. (Traditionally acid free glue and rice paper are used to create hinges at the top rear of the mount board, allowing the rest of the print to hang free behind it).

3. Fingers leave thin film of acid & grease on prints so only touch print at side edges or use gloves. Hopefully a seller will handle the artwork minimally before sending. Always make sure hands are clean. Serious collectors use white cotton gloves to handle artworks (You can purchase white gloves in the cleaning isle of the supermarket).

4. UV and bright light deteriorates ink and papers (this is why galleries take such care in lighting, and museums often wont allow flash photography). Do not hang in bright lit area or in full sunlight. Fluro lights emits a considerable amount of UV, whereas incandescent or tungsten lighting are the safest. For the same reason that plastic goes brittle left out in the sun or humans get skin cancer the ink will be faded and paper will deteriorate. Serious collectors of fine art prints do not hang them on the wall but rather keep them in portfolios or boxes  (In the dark), only to bring them out to have a enjoyable study themselves or to show interested guests.

5. Some pollutants in the air deteriorate inks. Hang behind glass, or store in box to protect. But make sure glass surface doesn't sit flush against the print surface (a mounting board is used around the edges of the print to raise the glass surface and separate glass from paper) so as not to restrict the natural movement of the paper. Most quality art papers, have a porous nature which allows it to expand and contract with changes of temperature and humidity, which is good for  the expected life of the artwork.

6. Ideal temperature to store prints is a cool dry location at 18 - 24celcius, humidity 45 - 55 percent (according to one high quality French art  paper manufacturer). Dampness causes brown spots known as foxing (often seen in old books) which eventually rot the paper. Some insects are partial to eating papers and certain pigments and these also tend to flourish in areas of high humidity.

These are all long term treatments that apply to all art on paper. Don’t worry too much about brief exposures. In summary: Use acid free for storage or framing, don't hang over a heater or in bright sunlight. Where possible keep art on paper flat (not rolled).

We hope some of this information is of help.

This guide was written by :
Di Mathews  (art certificate, bachelors of visual fine arts, former Artist in Residence & Childrens art tutor)
Bob Mathews  (diploma applied arts, diploma art education, post graduate diploma in fine arts, former art teacher for NSW Education Department)

Art on paper by DIAVMA
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