How to Keep Your Art Healthy
You take your car in for service every so many miles to help ensure it doesn’t die while navigating traffic. There are women who religiously schedule hair appointments to ensure their roots don’t show at any point in time or to trim their hair to keep it healthy. You go to the doctor once a year for a physical check-up. These are physical and material things that people to do make sure they are healthy and don’t have an unexpected cost down the road.
While all of these are important, we feel that you should add an annual check-up to your artwork. Most people ignore their art and photos until they see a problem. They inherit items and don’t evaluate them or deal with the issues until the problem is unavoidable. It’s kind of like ignoring a $50 oil change for so long that your engine stops working. You now need to spend $2000 to fix a $50 maintenance issue. Ignoring your art and photos is not a solution.
There are four main types of photo damage, and most of them stem from poor handling or storage:
- Environmental deterioration – This is caused by excessive humidity, extreme shifts in temperature, storage in a hot attic or damp basement, leaving a photo in a hot car, displaying over a fireplace, air contaminants like smoke, and more.
- Chemical deterioration – This is usually a dark room issue. There is fixer damage from the photo not being washed properly or insufficient fixing from using expired chemicals in the dark room.
- Physical deterioration – Poor handling causes this damage. You’ll see scratches, abrasions, acid burns, water damage, and more on the images.
- Biological deterioration – While similar to physical, this damage is slightly different because things like fingerprints, spit, food can damage and change the emulsion of the photo. Bugs and rodents also love to eat photos made out of cellulose and gelatin.
TIPS ON HOW TO KEEP YOUR ART HEALTHY
The best way to handle this damage is to prevent it from happening. There are steps you can take right now (both as a DIY and by visiting a professional) to help keep your artwork healthy.
- Make sure your home is clean. Paintings absorb the environment in which they inhabit. Dust, dirt, smoke, etc. can cling to paintings and produce a film on the front of the painting. Check the back of the painting for dust. You can use an old brush to lightly brush away the dust on the back.
- Keep paintings away from the fireplace. People love to decorate by putting a painting above the fireplace, but it is one of the most harmful places for paintings. They absorb the smoke and require a deep cleaning by a professional to remove the soot.
- If you decide to hang the painting above the fireplace or in the kitchen, consider adding glass. Glazing the painting will add a level of protection against smoke, grease, and more. It won’t protect the art from everything, but it will help.
- Address humidity. You want to keep your humidity around 50% in your home. Humidity will affect your art. Too much humidity causes the art to warp. Too little humidity will make the art crack. You don’t have to live in a museum, but having a dehumidifier or humidifier on hand will help if you need it.
- Bring your painting to a professional for a light cleaning as needed.
- Protect them from light. Switch your light bulbs to UV filtration bulbs. Tip the shades up in your home to help keep direct light off of your photos.
- If you inherit a photo in a frame, keep it in the frame until you have a plan or remove it and immediately place the photo in the proper storage.
- Pay attention to your acid-free materials. Sticky pages are terrible for photos whether they’re acid-free or not. If you’re creating a scrapbook with acid-free pages, do not place foam stickers or decals on the pages. Those items leach out onto the photos and defeat the purpose of using acid-free pages.
- Keep your fingers off of your photos. The oils on your hands will imprint on the image and can cause silvering to a dark room black and white image. Fingerprints almost always show up on any digital scans, so it is best to keep them away from the surface of your images.
- Look hard at your color images. Most people do not notice the fading until the image is almost gone. If the color photo is no longer vibrant, then you should digitize or copy it straight away before it is completely gone. We’ve restored a number of wedding photos where the detail in the dress is unrecoverable due to fading. It’s important to evaluate before that happens.
- Look at the back of the frame. If the paper is ripped but everything else looks like, add paper to the back of the frame. It will keep bugs and dust out of the frame. If the paper is ripped and you can see gaps, dust, or anything else suspicious, bring it to a professional for a refit.
- Refit your frames with conservation materials. If you see a burn mark on your art, you can have the piece re-matted. Swap out your old glass with conservation glazing to help protect the piece from light. It’s inexpensive to have a piece refit, and a new mat and glazing can make the photo look brand new.
- Clean frames with a vinegar-based solution – not ammonia. Conservation glazing is sensitive, and ammonia-based cleaners can strip the protection and streak the glass. There are many green products out there that should be safe to use. Make sure you spray the cleaner to your cloth and not the glass.
- If you are going to hang a piece of art in a wet environment (bathroom or kitchen), take the piece to a professional and let them seal the art properly. This will help prevent moisture leaking into the art.
- Take the slides out of the carousel. Put the slides in acid-free sleeves and store them in a binder box. You can do the same thing with negatives, and there are sleeves for almost every type of format.
- Keep films in their metal cases. Film is more resilient than anyone gives it credit for, and the metal cases help stabilize the film.
- Store slides, negatives, and film in a cool, dark, dry area. Avoid places that experience drastic shifting temperatures.
- VHS tapes will die. They only have so many plays in their lifecycle, and the machines to view it are no longer being made. It is an obsolete technology and should be converted to DVD or a digital file.
You can save money, time, and heartache by checking up on your photographs and artwork. If you store them properly, protect them from the elements, and treat small issues as they pop up, your art will last a long time. If you’d like to learn more about photo restoration, visit our guide to photo restoration.