Art Conservation Practices

Art Conservation Practices during picture framing

Art Conservation Practices

In addition to looking great on your walls, framing your important pieces of art offers essential protection, especially for artwork that is fragile or vulnerable to outside elements.

All artwork is at risk to the elements as soon as it’s released. Threats that are seemingly harmless can be catastrophic for valuable and fragile pieces of art, including daylight, light, and even air (particularly the water and oxygen that make up the air).

Our veteran framers are well equipped to protect valuable and fragile pieces of art. They start by working with a frame that provides a protective envelope to slow down the effects of outside elements. The framers will also assess the specific hazards threatening your art to choose the right materials to minimize them.

We follow these fundamental standards when conserving art:

  • Glass or acrylic glazing must protect all art materials that are susceptible to damage from UV light
  • Interior structure isolates the artwork so it does not come into contact with the glazing
  • Matting materials that are somewhat alkaline (in most cases) and made from 100% cotton fiber to act as a buffer between the artwork and the acid atmosphere.
  • Isolate all materials inside the frame that threaten to damage the art inside it (e.g. acids in the wood)
  • Sturdy framing envelope that also allows for some movement when hygroscopic materials (e.g. paper) experience changes in humidity.

Environmental Considerations

Where the piece of art will be displayed or stored is important to consider anytime you frame artwork. Here are some of the primary culprits to consider. Let us know where you will be hanging your piece of art so we can take the best approach to protect it.

Light

It seems harmless enough, but light can be detrimental to your art. That’s because it degrades organic materials, plastics, and dyes. It speeds up oxidation, which also speeds up the chemical breakdown of each of these substances. The most damaging type of light is ultraviolet (UV) light.

Types of papers that are especially vulnerable to UV light include photographic prints, newspaper print, and papers made from unpurified wood pulp. You should never expose any type of glazed picture to sunlight, as this can have an immediate and permanent impact.

Fluorescent lights and incandescent lights can also be hazardous to art because they emit UV rays. LED lamps do not emit significant UV and may not be as harmful. Regardless, you may want to affix ultraviolet filtering sleeves to windows if your artwork may be exposed to UV light.

Humidity

Unfortunately, the raw materials that artists use for painting, drawing, and printing are mostly made of water in their natural state. These materials, called hygroscopic materials, are therefore naturally drawn to moisture.

When there’s too much humidity in the air, there’s a high risk of mold. In addition, dyes can fade and paper can swell and become wrinkled, especially when its held within a frame. If there’s too little humidity, paper can become brittle.

Aim to keep the relative humidity levels for paper artwork at 30 to 50 percent and keep it as steady as possible. Air conditioning can help you control the humidity, especially during the summer. In the winter, a de-humidifier can help keep the air from becoming too dry.

When we frame your artwork, we can help mitigate some of the risks associated with uneven humidity levels. We can use hygroscopic materials in the frame envelope. Depending on the risk, these can range from a rag board to silica impregnated materials. We can also install humidity indicator cards in the frame backing so you can always monitor the humidity level inside the frame.

Pollution

Living in the city has its drawbacks. When it comes to framed art, the biggest one is pollution, specifically sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Ozone (O3). While these gases all occur naturally in the atmosphere, they also come from power plants and automobiles and can easily make their way indoors, especially if your home or gallery has open windows or doors.

Other pollutants that can damage art, especially art that’s enclosed in a frame or display case, include acids from wood, pollutants from the glues inside composite wood materials, and off-gassing from wood. Finally, particle pollution that comes from dust, dirt, and soot are a threat to art. These materials can wear down art and also create a warm environment for mold and the growth of other biological agents.

Heat

Materials of all types age faster when they’re exposed to heat. Art can become brittle when it’s exposed to heat. If the heat is accompanied by humidity, then dyes can fade or the art can wrinkle. If your piece of art will be under a spotlight throughout the day, for instance, the heat inside the frame will be higher during the day than at night. The change in temperature will cause quick fluctuations in humidity, which can damage the piece relatively quickly.

Tips for controlling your environment

When you get your artwork framed, we can add a frame envelope. This is the only protective layer that’s close to the artwork. In order to be effective, though, the environment in which you exhibit or store the artwork needs to be controlled. Here are some tips for how to do that:

  • Monitor space light levels and filter all UV sources
  • Maintain steady humidity levels in rooms where artwork is stored
  • Never expose your framed artwork to direct sunlight
  • Keep air conditioning on during the summer, even if nobody is home.
  • Be aware of micro-climates within your space (i.e. outside wall temperatures) that can impact humidity within the space
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