Caring for Your Art

Sitting on your sofa you notice it, a cobweb going from the ceiling to the corner of the painting on your wall. Or maybe its a finger smudge on the glass of the drawing of your grandmother, giving her, when seen from the right angle, a mustache! Poor grandma.

You've filled your house with art. It all looks wonderful! Each piece is something you love. But, they have been sitting there on your wall quite awhile now and you are starting to notice that your art collection needs a little TLC. Just what should you do to keep your collection in good shape?


First off, if you haven't already, you should document all of your art. This is not the most intuitive first step but it is good to have a snapshot in time of your collection for many reasons. A simple inventory, with pictures, of what you own is helpful for insurance purposes, if you want to remotely show your art off to your friends, want an artist or art dealer to know your taste in art, and is a baseline for the condition of your art.


One of the best things you can do to keep your art in good condition is to place it in the right spot. There are aesthetic concerns, but there are also condition concerns.The following are tips on where, and where not, to hang you painting or drawing:

- Keep It Out of Direct Sunlight -  Direct sun is one of the biggest reasons for your art becoming dull, faded and lifeless over the years. The fact that it happens slowly with repeated exposure over the years makes it hard to recognize that degradation is happening. But if you documented the work while it was in good condition you can compare your photo with the original work and see if it is starting to fade. Works on paper fade the fastest and easiest, even with UV glass.

- Keep Your Art Away from Moisture - Bathrooms are a terrible place to hang a framed drawing, print or a painting on canvas. The moisture causes warping of frames and stretchers, the buckling of mattes, and can even cause mold. The same moisture that collects on your mirror after a shower also collects on your painting surface which then causes it to collect dust more quickly, if not actually damaging the painted surface. It is also good to be careful in the kitchen near sinks and the stove where steam is common.

- Stay Away from Tight High-Traffic Places - Busy narrow hallways or entrances to homes can easily lead to artworks getting bumped and scratched. Frames are made to protect a work of art, but even repairing or replacing a frame can get quite expensive. Plus, art looks its best when viewed from an appropriate distance. That distance is often not available in a tight space like a hallway.

Paintings and framed drawings, like anything else in your home, need the occasional maintenance or upkeep. Generally speaking, if you have put the artwork in an appropriate setting, little is needed to maintain the work. But, everything gathers dust or cobwebs if given enough time. The following are ways of doing routine maintenance of paintings and framed art on paper.

Routine Maintenance of Paintings

- Dust regularly - a little feather dusting will go a long way. The top edge is where most dust will collect, make sure you get the top!

- If there seems to be a collection of dust on the top or front surface of a painting, use a mild cleanser, like glass cleaner, on a lint-free rag to gently dab and wipe the surface - DO NOT SPRAY CLEANER DIRECTLY ON THE ARTWORK!

- Once a year, or every other year, check the back of the painting for any changes to the canvas and make sure the hanging wire and hardware are still sturdy.

Maintenance Problems with Paintings

The following problems are considered more than routine maintenance.

- Canvas sags or hangs a little loose on the stretcher? While checking the back, if your canvas has wooden wedges wedged into the corners of the stretcher, these can be gently tapped further into the corners to help tighten the canvas. If you do this but the problem keeps coming back there might be some structural problems with the stretcher. Contact the artist or a frame shop to properly diagnose the problem.

- Stains on the back of the canvas keep growing.  This is not a good sign. This means that a chemical in the paint, or under the paint, is eating its way through your canvas. With oil paintings, this generally means that the canvas was not properly primed and the oil in the paint is in contact with the cotton canvas. It may take decades for the problem to cause severe damage, but it is a problem that should be addressed when noticed. Contact an art conservator.

- A hole or tear appears in the canvas after an accident. Don't fret! If the tear is not too big, it can be repaired. If the artist is knowledgeable, they may be able to fix it for you. If not, contact an art conservator.

Routine Maintenance for Framed Art Under Glass

- Like paintings, a regular dusting is necessary, especially along the top of the frame.

- Clean the glass a couple times a year.

           - Remove it from the wall and lay flat to do this. If the art is hanging vertically the glass cleaner can run down the glass and collect in the
             bottom ridge of the frame and eventually come in contact with the matte or art. The matte and paper should always be dry.

          - Use a foam glass cleaner instead of a liquid glass cleaner. Foam glass cleaner only goes where you want it to.and suspends the dust and dirt
            particles for easier cleaning.

- While cleaning the glass, check the hanging wire and hardware to make sure it is sturdy.

Maintenance Problems with Art Under Glass

- If your art on paper is fading, it is most likely getting too much sun. Move your art to a less sunny location and make sure the glass protects against UV rays.

- If there is discoloration around the edge of the matte your art was framed with a non-acid-free matte. All mattes should be made of acid-free matting or it can discolor the art around the edges. Replace the old matte with a new acid-free matte as soon as possible. If the image allows, the matte could be made smaller to cover the stain.

- If there is discoloration in the middle of the art on paper, that means that the backing board behind the art is not acid-free or something has come between the backing board and the artwork or the glass and the artwork. If you feel up to it, carefully take the art out of the frame and check to see if anything is between the backing board or glass and the art that is causing the problem. Remove the item causing the problem and re-frame. Otherwise, bring it to a frame shop and have them determine the cause of the problem..

- Discoloration in the middle of the art on paper could also mean that the artist used inappropriate media on the paper. If the medium is oil-based, they did not prime the paper enough to protect it. Take the artwork to a conservator to determine the cause of the problem and the remedy.

Finally, if your art collection is so large that you need to store pieces for a time, there are helpful ways to store the work. The storage location should be clean and dry. Do not store in a basement that can be humid. A closet in a room with seasonal heating and cooling is an ideal place for storing art. Before storing, use the tips above to clean the artwork, just like you clean your seasonal clothes before storing them. Then cover the artwork with something to protect it from dust and incidental bumps while getting other things out of the closet. Wrapping the art with craft paper is ideal. The paper can breathe and is easy to put on and remove. Plastic can be used but, if there is any humidity, the plastic can trap the moisture between the plastic and the art. If it is an expensive piece of art there are special sleeves that can be used - contact a conservator or art gallery.

If these simple steps are done properly, you will enjoy your art for decades and be able to hand the art down to the next generation knowing that it is in as good a shape as the day you bought it.