How do you protect your artwork from damage? By knowing the risks and taking precautions. There are a few different things you can do to make sure that your artwork is well taken care of, from deciding on how it should be stored or shipped to adding protective layers. This blog post will go over some helpful tips for how to protect artwork from damage such as: apply a fixative, use plexiglass with UV coating, frame your paintings, use protective folios with plastic sheets, keep artworks away from direct sunlight and extreme temperature and humidity but these are just some of the 17 tips I will cover so keep reading to learn more.
Looking after drawings
If you work in charcoal, pastel, conte crayon, or pencil on your drawings, make sure they are properly fixed or mounted. Spray them with a fixative, almost upright, using the container’s lid as a shield and keeping the spray nozzle at least 8 inches (20cm) away from the surface. Allow a day for the fixative to dry before handling them.
If you can get your hands on one, use a mouth atomizer to apply a fixative rather than an aerosol fixative instead. This ensures that you have total control over how much fixative gets applied and also ensures that nothing but fixative is sprayed.
Even after drawings have been fixed, they are never completely protected. Because the medium rubs off in any case, I prefer to use a sheet of tissue or layout paper over the top of my drawings, since this protects them from rubbing against one another, even if they are carefully stored in a drawer.
These sprays form a protective layer over the surface, shielding it from dust, moisture, and the effects of light. This is particularly important for mediums like charcoal, pastel, and pencil, which are prone to smudging or fading.
The fixative essentially “fixes” the particles in place, reducing the risk of them being disturbed or eroded over time.
Additionally, it helps in preventing yellowing, ensuring that the colors and tones of the artwork remain true to their original hue.
By creating a barrier against environmental factors and handling, fixative sprays help maintain the artwork’s integrity, ensuring that it can be enjoyed in its intended form for years to come.
Mouth atomizers, while primarily used for applying paint or ink in a fine mist, can also be ingeniously adapted for applying protective coatings to artwork.
By filling the atomizer with a clear fixative or varnish, artists can evenly and gently coat their creations. This method is especially useful for delicate or textured surfaces where a brush might disturb the medium, like pastel, charcoal, or pencil drawings.
The fine mist from a mouth atomizer ensures a light, even layer without the risk of over-saturation, which is crucial for preserving the integrity of the artwork.
This application method allows for control over the amount and distribution of the protective layer, ensuring that every part of the artwork is covered without altering its appearance.
By using a mouth atomizer to apply a protective coat, artists can effectively safeguard their work against smudging, dust, and fading, thereby extending its longevity and maintaining its original quality.
Folios and plastic sheets
The simplest way to keep your work absolutely clean and flat is to file it in a folder with a zip closure, such as an artist’s portfolio or a bookleaf plastic file.
My portfolio with a zip has a leather backing and hard-cover with metal rings. It wasn’t cheap but I have taken it to Europe and back and it has withstood the miles of travel.
I have used this method and have drawings and pastels in storage for over 25 years still looking as fresh and new as the day I made them.
Being high quality plastic also means I can take them out to show people and they are at a low risk of being damaged.
Folios are an excellent method for protecting and storing artwork, especially for pieces that are sensitive to light, dust, or physical contact. A folio is typically a folder or a large envelope, often made of sturdy, archival-quality materials. Here’s how they can be used to safeguard artwork:
- Physical Protection: Folios provide a hard, protective cover that shields the artwork from physical damage such as creases, bends, or tears. This is particularly important for transporting artwork or for works that are not on display.
- Environmental Shield: They protect artwork from environmental factors like dust, moisture, and light, which can degrade or fade the artwork over time. The use of acid-free or archival-quality materials in folios ensures that the artwork doesn’t deteriorate due to chemical reactions.
- Organization and Storage: Folios help in organizing artwork, making it easier to store and categorize different pieces. This is especially useful for artists with a large volume of work or for collectors who need to keep their collection orderly.
- Accessibility and Presentation: They offer a convenient way to present artwork professionally. Artists often use folios to carry their work to galleries, clients, or interviews, allowing for easy access and display.
- Versatility: Folios come in various sizes and materials, accommodating different types of artwork, from paper-based media like drawings and prints to small canvas paintings.
By using folios, artists and collectors can ensure that their artwork remains in pristine condition, whether in storage, transit, or during presentations.
Don’t store in shipping tubes
Never keep drawings or pastels or anything artwork on paper stored rolled up in cardboard or plastic tubes. These tubes are meant to be a temporary home while artwork is being shipped but they are not meant to be forever homes.
Keeping an artwork rolled up in a tube will permanently roll the paper up and some of the medium or pigments may actually detach from the surface and come up when the papers are unrolled.
Acid free paper
Also try to use acid free papers whenever you are creating your drawings. This will help keep your artworks in better condition for longer and will minimize yellowing.
Looking after paintings
Looking after a painting is slightly different than looking after drawings. Paintings should be kept on stretchers and away from direct sunlight or anything that could cause it to fade, like hanging above a radiator for example.
Hang paintings correctly
Also try not to hang paintings too high up the wall where they wouldn’t get much light but also avoid keeping them in dark places either because then you won’t see how beautiful they are!
Stop moving paintings around
Paintings can easily become damaged just by moving things around, so make sure your artworks are well taken care of before putting them anywhere; if something happens while painting is being moved there may not even be any insurance coverage available. If an artwork does happen to fall down (like off the walls) make sure it’s put back together properly.
Apply a varnish
Lastly, ensure your paintings have had a good quality varnish applied to the surface. This does not need to be gloss but can also be matte.
The purpose of the varnish is to apply a thin protective film between the elements and the painted surface. Ensure you use a varnish that has some UV protection. Not all do and it’s not the end of the world if you can’t find a varnish that does.
The great thing about a good varnish is that it can act like a protective barrier that can be reapplied over the years, ensuring long lasting protection.
UV Acrylic Varnish
UV acrylic varnish provides a multifaceted layer of protection for artworks, safeguarding them from various elements that can cause damage over time.
Here’s how it works:
- UV Protection: The primary feature of UV acrylic varnish is its ability to block ultraviolet (UV) light. UV rays can be highly damaging to artworks, causing colors to fade and materials to degrade. By filtering out these harmful rays, the varnish helps in preserving the vibrancy and integrity of the artwork’s colors for a longer period.
- Physical Barrier: This varnish forms a clear, protective coating over the surface of the artwork. It acts as a shield against dust, dirt, and physical wear such as scratches or minor abrasions. This is especially important for works that are frequently handled or displayed in high-traffic areas.
- Moisture Resistance: UV acrylic varnish is also resistant to moisture, reducing the risk of water damage, mold, or mildew, which can be particularly detrimental to artworks made with sensitive materials.
- Chemical Stability: Acrylic varnishes are known for their chemical stability. They do not yellow over time, ensuring that the artwork remains as true to its original appearance as possible. This is crucial for maintaining the aesthetic quality of the piece.
- Flexibility: Unlike some other varnishes, acrylic varnish remains flexible even after drying. This flexibility is important for canvases and other materials that may expand or contract with changes in temperature and humidity.
- Reversibility: Many UV acrylic varnishes are designed to be reversible, meaning they can be removed without damaging the underlying artwork. This is important for conservation purposes, allowing future restorers to clean or treat the artwork as needed.
By applying UV acrylic varnish, artists and conservators can significantly extend the lifespan and maintain the aesthetic quality of artworks, keeping them safe from environmental factors and the effects of aging.
If you do decide to go down the framing route I suggest you keep it simple as what the end goal here is to protect your artwork from damage and not framing for decorative purposes.
A good frame should entice the viewer to enter the picture rather than divert attention away from it.The frame should not be more of an artwork than the artwork itself!
You can buy ready-made frames in most large stores or office supplies such as Staples. I used to use what I called “click frames” which were just plain composite hardwoods with 4 clips that would ‘click’ into place over a piece of clear perspex or plexiglass (glass like plastic).
You can place the artwork in-between the wood backing and perspex and it would be protected from most of the elements.
Use professional framers
If you have some money to spare, then I do encourage professional framing where molds and backing are made to size and the framer can also suggest a suitable glass or plastic if the need arises.
Plexiglass or Perspex is better than glass
I always state that glass or plexiglass should cover every artwork being framed unless it is an oil painting or acrylic painting. Both stand up well to the elements but gouache, watercolors, pencils, watercolor pencils, inks etc do not and so they should have some protection.
How do I protect my artwork?
You might want to consider keeping your artwork inside so they will not get damaged from sun exposure, rain etc though if you have an outdoor space then perhaps having them under cover would help protect them too?
If you are creating artwork for the outdoors ensure you have used mediums and materials designed for outdoor use (acrylics, synthetics, resins etc) and not those that are not (charcoal, pencils, pastels, watercolors etc).
You can add a layer of glass but does glass actually protect artwork?
Does glass protect artwork?
Yes, glass provides extra protection but it can be difficult to handle; you would need a solid frame for the artwork and also something which supported the weight of the glass.
This is why I suggest working with a professional framer as they will have the experience as well as all the tools required to do the job right and safely.
If you are able to, ask your framer if they have UV filtering acrylic rather than glass as this will help filter out some of the damage from sunlight and it also won’t shatter like glass if something hits the glass.
Not only that, acrylic plexiglass is also lighter than actual glass, this makes hanging much easier and cheaper as you will not need to cater for glass weight when calculating how much load a wire and hook needs to take.
Other ways to protect your artwork from damage
While I have gone through some of the methods on how to protect artwork from damage, there are additional ways to protect your artwork, such as using an armature or wooden stretcher bars like these ones shown here how they keep your paintings safe from warping. Below I have more.
Avoid direct sunlight
Another way to protect your artwork from damage is by making sure it’s not exposed to direct sunlight which can fade the colors and warp the paper or timber frames.
Keep artworks away from windows or glass surfaces that allow light through as much as possible, if you do need to hang them somewhere with a lot of natural lighting make sure they are hung at an angle so less sun reflects onto its surface. Again, use UV filtering acrylic instead of glass as this will help the sunlight issue.
Minimize how often you move them around
Moving your paintings around too frequently can be another source of potential damage for those works on canvas especially because this type of painting generally needs more support than others like oil paintings or watercolors since there isn’t a hard board underneath providing reinforcement just fabric stretched over stretchers bars which aren’t always enough to minimize direct impacts.
Minimize exposure to humidity, heat or fire
Artwork should never be displayed near sources of heat or fire, but this also goes for humidity. You want to avoid any area where the temperature fluctuates too much because it can cause warping in some paintings and damage others particularly if they are made out of paper since these works are more sensitive than oil on canvas painting already due to how delicate paper is.
Avoiding Temperature Fluctuation
Temperature fluctuations can not only lead to potential warping issues with certain artwork either depending on how far along said changes occur, but direct sunlight exposure over time will contribute to fading colors so try your best by giving them a home without windows, especially areas that see little light overall like walk-in closets work well as storage spaces for artworks.
Never clean artwork surfaces
This may sound crazy but there are people out there who spray oil paintings with Mr Sheen. DON’T! It will be a huge mistake because it breaks the chemical bond between oil and canvas which means over time, your artwork’s color may change.
Paintings only need a regular dusting and not a wipe down with any water or chemicals. Use a simple feather duster and that is it.
Handle with gloves
It is best to handle paintings with gloves. Why? Because oils from your skin can cause damage by sticking to the surface of artworks, especially if it’s an acrylic painting (acrylic paints are water-based). Plus you don’t want any prints on them either!
Handle frames carefully too
Framing is how your artwork holds its shape and how it hangs on the wall or stands upright. You definitely need a frame but make sure that they aren’t crooked because this will be noticeable when hung up and/or displayed in exhibitions and for sale.
If there appears to be any damages like chips off paint, cracks etc then get rid of them immediately before hanging them back up again!
Eeek, I have mold on my drawings
If you find what looks like mold growing on your drawings or just behind the glass it means you have failed to control humidity, moisture, lighting and correct surface materials. If that is the case then not all is lost, MoMA has a few points to consider.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.