Art comes in many forms including paper, canvas, textile, sculpture, and more. Most people don’t think about maintenance for their artwork, it is just hung and then the piece is never given another thought outside of admiration. Unfortunately time and the natural elements can damage our valuable treasures, presenting the need to conserve or restore them. But what does this entail?
The difference is that Conservation means to stop any progressive deterioration that is occurring, where Restoration is a cosmetic treatment that is intended to return the object to its original appearance while retaining it’s patina. The reason we are concerned with either are value. It could be monetary value, such as a valuable or historical piece of art, or sentimental value such as a family heirloom.
Let’s address works of art on paper first, and then move on to canvas. These are the two most common artwork mediums. Some of the main culprits for degrading and devaluing your works are Humidity, Moisture, Light, Heat, Pollution, Insects, and Acidity.
It is best to keep artwork at 50-70% humidity. After that, mold begins to form. In Louisiana and Texas, humidity is more of a problem than in other parts of the country. What humidity does with artwork on paper causes a condition called foxing. Foxing is a chemical reaction to the mold and fungal spores mixing with the iron salts present in most paper. This reaction stains the paper an orange brown color; the color of a fox. Mold also feeds on sizing, which causes paper to begin to weaken and become brittle.
Moisture contributes to moil. Different types of light, such as Ultraviolet light, causes fading and yellowing while accelerating acidity. Heat or High temperatures accelerate deterioration of paper, while also increasing the damaging effects of any acidic content. Pollution causes discoloration and disintegration of paper fibers. Pollution can also penetrate the surface of the paper and embed itself below that surface, damaging the integrity of the piece as well. One issue most people don’t consider is insects. Insects feed on the paper and can also leave waste, staining the piece.
Acidity is a major factor in the degradation of precious artworks. Paper is made of wood or cotton pulp, or a combination of the two. Paper made from cotton is the best choice and has the most neutral PH. It is referred to as “rag” paper. Paper made from wood pulp is the most acidic and volatile. In contrast, cotton has long stringing fiber. Just imagine how stingy cotton balls are. To further illustrate the acidity in inexpensive papers, think about newspaper. Newspaper is the most inexpensive paper and is constructed of mostly wood pulp. If you leave newspaper out for a day or two, you notice how orange/brown the side facing becomes in contrast to the side not facing the sun. When exposed to light and heat the acceleration of deterioration is very obvious.
Now addressing the issues with canvas. Most of the same culprits are detrimental to painting on canvas as well, but their effects might surface slightly differently. When it comes to canvas you may notice the following culprits effects might be slightly different. For instance, the moisture could cause your painting to “bloom” which is clouding or spotting on the painting varnished surface. It can also cause the “ground” to fail, which causes the paint to flake off. The ground of a painting is the first layer applied directly to the cotton or linen canvas. Most of the other detriments discussed above are very similar when dealing with canvas or paper.
So now that you know the perils, how do you combat them?
If you have a piece of artwork in good condition, the most important thing you can do is to preserve it with proper framing. Always try to find a framer that is PPFA (Professional Picture Framers Association) certified. Only those with high levels of knowledge in the framing industry are awarded this degree of excellence. When framing, ask you framer to use the following Archival or Museum Quality framing components on works of art that are on paper:
- Cotton Mats – Referred to as “Rag” or cotton mats. These are the only non-acidic mats.
- Dead Air Space – The artwork should never come in contact with the glass. If no mat is used to keep it off the glass, you should request a spacer to be hidden behind the glass to keep moisture from being trapped on the piece of art.
- UV Glass – Always use a glass with ultraviolet blocking filters to keep the art from fading.
- Museum Mounting – Use a Japanese Rice Starch and Mulberry Paper Hinges to hold and suspend the art in the mat window opening. NEVER use any gummed adhesive or tapes. Many believe the myth that surgical is acceptable, but it is not approved by the Library of Congress for works of art on paper and therefore should not be used.
- Dust Cover – A paper dust cover not only finishes the back aesthetically, but also keeps insects and pollution out.
- Line the Rabbit – If you are framing a canvas, make sure mylar tape is used to seal the acidity on the edge of the frame away from the canvas edge.
So you didn’t know better, or you acquired an object that already has damage. How do you repair that damage? Many times when pieces look hopeless, we can reverse much of the damage.
With Paper you can:
- Surface Clean – Just as it sounds, you can clean the surface of the paper and remove much of the pollution and atmosphere grim.
- Flatten – Flattening the wrinkling of the paper by carefully moistening and then removing the moisture under weighted pressure.
- Bleach – Through a very careful chemical bleaching process, which does not compromise the paper, much of the foxing and staining can be removed.
- Thymolize – By applying thyme oil (which is a natural anti-fungal used holistically), it acts as an anti-fungal and mold retardant.
- Weave and Fill Paper – Just like it sounds, paper is made and used to fill any voids in the print.
- Restore Pigment – Pigment is applied in areas that are badly void of color.
- Hydrated – The paper is fed with restorative solutions combating some of the brittleness from being so dry.
- Paper Support – In cases where the paper is SO brittle that it will just fall apart, the print may be mounted to a board with a non-acidic, neutral PH adhesive.
- Archival Mist – It is a spray that neutralizes acid in the paper. While it won’t reverse the aging, it will stop the process. It is an antacid for the paper.
With canvas you can:
- Remove the varnish.
- Remove and kill mold.
- Line, or Reline the Canvas – This involves, making a solution of beeswax and rosin and mounting the compromised canvas to a new linen substrate.
- Fill the Void, Texture – Once lined, we make a mixture of paris chalk, boiled linseed oil, and make a picture “putty” that is tinted. That is then used to carefully fill any missing area where the canvas has been torn. Before that dries, we take a piece of canvas and mimic the texture. Then after dried it is painted, carefully not blending or over painting any good areas.
- Feed the Oil – Using a combination of oils to feed the painting to restore the color and vibrancy. It is similar to using hand lotion to make skin look healthier.
- Inpaint – This means painting the missing areas.
- Varnish – Finally, use a coat of varnish to seal. Varnish is a protective coating that is meant to protect the art itself. Is it intended to be removed when it ages, and then reapplied.
You clean your carpet, drapes, and your clothes. So don’t neglect your art. Preserve it for future generations to enjoy.