How to Clean, Care for, and Store Your Art
Paintings on canvas, drawings, prints, and photographs all require upkeep—according to a professional art restorer.
You've taken time to identify and acquire just the right pieces of art to make your living space come alive, but do you know how to take care of these framed pieces? Proper cleaning and storing techniques are important so as to ensure that your art will last for a lifetime (or several, if you intend to pass it down to future generations).
Rob Delamater, co-founder of Lost Art Salon in San Francisco, California, says that caring for your art can be much easier than you think and offers recommendations that he says, "are so basic, they might be a bit surprising." Delamater and his team care for a collection of over 10,000 original 20th century artworks. "At the same time, we're not a major museum with unlimited resources for things like conservation and restoration," Delamater points out, "so we've learned how to care for our collection using simple and affordable approaches, most of which anyone can do at home." If you're unsure just how to properly care for and preserve your masterpieces, follow these expert tips and tricks.
Cleaning and Care
For the most part, paintings on canvas are very resilient and "respond well" to a light cleaning, as Delamater says. Because oil and acrylic paintings dry to a very hard and impermeable surface, he suggests that you simply use a soft brush (like a clean paint brush) or cloth to gently remove accumulated dust from your artwork. "Adding distilled water to a clean white cloth can be used to clean grime, and with some gentle soapy water (an olive oil based liquid soap is perfect) you will be able to remove grimier blemishes," he recommends. "Of course, if this is a work of great financial value, or the paint has become flaky and brittle, then leave the cleaning to a professional."
Alternatively, cleaning paper-based artwork requires a more delicate hand. "The biggest enemy of works on paper is light," explains Delamater, "so if you do not want them to fade or change color over time, make sure you hang them in a spot that doesn't receive direct sunlight." Paper is inherently fragile and the art mediums used on paper (such as watercolors and pastels) can easily be disturbed, so there's not a lot you can do at home to clean them. "However, you can protect them," he offers. "Keep framed works behind glass that provides substantial UV protection (not all glass does) and make sure that any mats used are acid free," Delamater suggests. Whereas years ago, acid-free mats were more expensive and less readily available; today, a beautiful, acid-free mat is easily sourced from any quality framing or art supply store.
When not displayed, the same meticulous care should be taken for storing your artwork. "When it comes to storing art, the biggest mistake I see people make is just stacking up a bunch of framed pieces in a closet or storage space," says Delamater, which is a huge no-no in his recommendation.
It's important to pay attention to the simple details. Something as small as a hook can cause unwanted damage, thus putting you on the hook for a pretty penny to try to repair the piece—that is, if it can be repaired at all. The hanging hardware on the back of one painting can easily scratch the front of the piece behind it, so never stack your artwork front to back in storage. Instead, Delamater says it's best to follow this simple rule: "stack pieces up front to front and back to back." By doing this, he says you will be sure to "help keep the most important part of the artwork safe."
Additionally, he suggests adding a slab of inexpensive cardboard between each piece to separate them. Preserve your collection and these measures will ensure that when you're ready to hang your prized piece once again, it's in good condition.