Fine Art Care

As for any artwork, caring for fine art paintings requires a certain understanding and attention to detail. This article addresses some important characteristics of the medium and offers guidance to help keep your paintings in good condition and safe for future generations. While acrylic and oil are not the only techniques of painting, they are the most common and thus the focus of this article. The most prevalent causes of damage to both acrylic and oil paintings are inappropriate storage, displaying works in areas with fluctuating temperatures, over exposure to light, fluctuating humidity levels and airborne dust and dirt. These dangers should be kept in mind whenever you hang or store your paintings.

Whether you are hanging your paintings for display or storing them sudden environmental changes should be kept to a minimum. The following are commonly acknowledged as acceptable environments for paintings: during Winter 18 to 21ºC (65 to 70 ºF) with relative humidity of 40 to 45%, during Summer 21 to 24ºC (70 to 75 ºF) with relative humidity of 45 to 55%.

Perhaps Obvious, but Still Worth Mentioning

  • Paintings should be stored at room temperature but a more serious threat than temperature is humidity and exposure to airborne dust and dirt
  • Do not clean a painting by yourself. Always seek professional help and remember that conservators strive to minimize interventions (hands on restorative work) because many restorative treatments for paintings can never be reversed
  • Never hang near ventilation systems or close to a space heater
  • If you feel your painting needs surface dusting, never use a conventional feather duster. It risks scratching the surface of the painting. A soft brush, such as an artist’s paintbrush that is made of goat’s hair is adequate. Badger and sable hair brushes also work
  • If works are not on display: Keep exposed canvas/linen, paper backs away from any protrusions; stack the works upright with rigid dividers (thick cardboard for example) separating the paintings. Unless you have a set of shelves whose back is larger than that of the back of the painting, stack the paintings against a wall face to face
  • If works are not on display: keep them stored in a room with a temperature that you would be comfortable living in (~20 degrees Celsius, although acrylics should be stored at slightly less than room temperature so that the paint film is less likely to soften) and a climate (40-60% RH) that is not susceptible to sudden drastic environmental changes

Pastel Paintings

Your new pastel portrait is a hand-painted work of fine art. I use the best archival materials for its creation. If properly taken care of, your portrait will last for many lifetimes. Pastel is one of the most permanent art mediums in existence. Many pastels painted over 200 years ago are still as bright and fresh as the day they were created.

The artist’s pigments in my pastels are the same as those used in fine oil paints.

The only difference is that with pastel the pigments are not mixed with a liquid binder which may degrade over time. The pure, bright hues will not change or yellow. I make many of my own pastels by hand so that I can mix custom colors not available in manufactured pastel sets. The 100% rag board or sanded paper support for my pastel paintings is made of the same natural fibers as artist’s canvas and will last as long or longer.

Your pastel portrait may shed a few particles of pigment when new. This is normal and will not damage the image. The surface will become more solid with time and shedding will stop. Please do not attempt to rub or brush away fallen particles, as you may mar the surface of your portrait. Lightly shake them off and store your unframed portrait flat in its case until you take it to your framer.

Care of Your Pastel Portrait

You will receive your portrait in a custom-made protective case. This case is fine for short-term storage, but to protect and preserve your portrait while it is on display, you should have it professionally framed behind glass. Please choose your framer carefully. Discount framers may charge less, but they often save money and cut corners by using non-archival, non-acid-free framing materials. These materials may harm your portrait. It’s worth choosing the best quality framing materials so that your family can enjoy your portrait for many years to come.

What to tell your framer
You want acid-free, archival framing materials. The backing board and mats, if any, should be museum quality. 100% rag board and acid-free foamcore is best. Cheap mat board or brown cardboard backings will stain and yellow your portrait within a few years. Do not spray any sort of fixative or coating on your portrait in the framing process or allow your framer to do so. Your portrait has already been fixed with an archival spray.

Further coating or fixing may change the colors in your portrait, damage the paper or dislodge the pastel particles from the surface. Careful handling is a must. Do not touch the painted surface. Putting fingers or other items on top of the portrait or allowing it to be rubbed or flexed will damage the surface. Keep it flat, supported from underneath and facing upwards to protect the pastel surface.

Choose a framer who is experienced in working with fine art pastels. A framer who works mostly with posters and printed reproductions or oil paintings may not realize that pastels take special handling. Do not risk the welfare of your portrait in the hands of an inexperienced framer.

Do not use Plexiglas™ or non-glare glass to frame your portrait. Plexiglas™ holds a static charge that may pull pastel particles from the paper and in time create a “ghost” image on the underside of the glass. This will probably not seriously harm your portrait,

but it will obscure your view of it! Non-glare glass makes your portrait appear blurry and dull in color, and it is best avoided. One good approach for framing your pastel is to use a reversed double mat, with the larger window underneath. This creates a gap behind the mat where any fallen particles will be invisible. Another is to use a spacer strip between the glass and the painting so that no mat is necessary.

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Oil Paintings

Oil painting, which became prevalent in the 1400s, consists of pigments suspended in oil — the carrier. Today, the most commonly used oil is cold-pressed linseed oil known for its durability, the fact that it is quick drying and because it yellows less than other oils.
However, other oils are still used to achieve different effects of viscosity or consistency; this is one benefit of using oil instead of water as a carrier.

• Oil paintings are more likely to crack than other kinds of paint
• Oil paintings can flake due to the hardness of the material
• Oil paintings can take up to a year to fully dry; those which are not fully dried are most sensitive to light or dark
• A coat of varnish can be applied as a protectant by a professional only after the painting has fully dried.

If properly cared for, oil paintings can last for centuries. Like all paintings your works in oil should be kept clean and free of dust but deep cleaning and other interventions should always be left to a professional.


Pencil Drawings

Pencil sketch portraits can last a lifetime and give you many years of pleasure. However, it’s quite a delicate medium so here are some tips on how to care for pencil portraits to ensure they stay in the best possible condition.

When you order a family, child, or pet portrait, it will be 100% hand-drawn, and heavily-worked in pencil. Although I will spray it with a clear fixative for protection, it will still be prone to smudging and must be handled with great care until framed.

To minimise movement in transit, your portrait will arrive secured to a foamex board with small glue dots which are easily removable.

However, I recommend leaving it attached to the board until it is ready to be mounted and framed. This will help prevent smudges and creases. Avoid placing anything on top of the portrait – I place a sheet of tissue paper over the top to prevent the pencil being transferred to other objects.

I always recommend using a professional picture framer – it will be a little more expensive than doing it yourself, but they will give good advice regarding the choice of frames and mounts, and will use good-quality materials that shouldn’t react with the paper. A professional finish can make a huge difference to the final appearance, and ensure that you are delighted with your pet or

family portrait for many years to come.

It is important that you hang your picture in an area that is not subject to high humidity, such as bathrooms, or in direct sunlight, which may lead to premature fading of the pencil.


Hanging your Artwork:

Choose a dry place indoors out of direct sunlight. Sunlight, even filtered through a window, is the enemy of all fine artwork. It degrades paper and canvas and may fade pigments. Dampness may damage paper and even allow mold to grow on paintings. Outside walls, basement walls and stone or concrete walls may transmit dampness, so avoid hanging art on them. An interior wall without nearby windows is ideal. Bedrooms, sitting rooms and hallways are often the best places for fine artworks. Bathrooms and kitchens may have very damp air, so please avoid hanging your fine artworks near showers, tubs and stoves.

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