Care of art and frames

I sometimes get asked for tips on how to preserve and look after art. As an archival minded artist (and frame designer) I can definitely offer some advice on what to avoid and how to make sure that your art works are in top shape for generations to come.

1. UV protection is VITAL

The average home nowadays can tend to have a lot more light flowing into the rooms than ever before. Big galleries and museums can control the amount of UV exposure to their collection , but at home we have to take extra precautions, depending on the medium and substrate. UV light can cause fading to artworks, and can also cause the substrate (eg. canvas or paper) to become yellowed and brittle. There are also thousands of different pigments in use, with varying levels of lightfastness.You are unlikely to have any information on these matters when you purchase an art work.


- hang canvases in positions where there is no very direct sunlight
- Works on paper are even more vulnerable to fading, (this is just one of the reasons why we use glass when you are getting works on paper framed, so careful selection of glass product can provide up to 99% UV block, conserving both the pigment and the paper.)


Let the art work value to you (both material and/or sentimental), be your guide when deciding how far to go with conservation materials. While not every work on paper needs the best conservation quality materials, a good custom framer should be able to offer you different levels or options as to what is going in to your frame. (be wary of framers that send off to factories, as conservation is not their priority.) Be equally wary of up-sellers who suggest you use conservation materials on a cheap print.

Another option a good framer can offer you is archival matting and backing, or a ‘regular’ semi-conservation that still offers some protection. What you don’t want is to find out is that your artwork on paper was framed with cardboard or mdf backing  that in five years has turned your art yellow. Be aware also of mounting and lamination processes that glue the paper permanently to acidic board with acidic glue. Some artworks on watercolour paper (prints, photos, paintings) will be sent to you in a tube, and to flatten them, framing factories put them them into a vacuum press (standard practice) and glue them onto an mdf board. “Cockling” or a slight ripple in a work on paper is something that artists actually value and enjoy, so weigh up the protection factor against a perceived “flatness”. Paper has a “memory”, so allowing it to gradually flatten between two clean boards should be the first thing before framing, and say no to th glue down if your work on paper has any value.


WHITE FRAMES - There are few tips here for touching up and maintaining the frames on your art works.

It’s very popular to have white frames on both paper works and canvasses. White frames , when fresh and clean, tie in beautifully with many decors, but as anyone who has ever owned a white jumper knows, white gets dirty very fast. Finger prints, dust, drips, it all shows up to ruin your clean look. But Windex (or other ammonia-based cleaners) and a microfibre cloth work WONDERS on a white frame. A quick clean and they will be sparkling and fresh again. A white paint pen can camouflage any small dings and scratches.

BLACK FRAMES - Sometimes it easy enough to touch up a black frame with a paint pen or a little acrylic black paint, the main issue that arises is matching the patina (the finish ,i.e.: how matt, satin or glossy the surface is, as several mouldings have a slightly satin look that is hard to match.) Grainier black mouldings are best for re-touching if scratches appear.

CHOOSE DAMAGE RESISTANT MOULDINGS - Happliy, there is a trend currently toward more robust, rustic finishes and raw timber, both of which are very sturdy compared to painted finishes on frames, something to consider if you are renting or moving around a bit.


Cotton and linen panels can start to sag after a few years, depending on the humidity and other conditions of the environment. An archival system might include some corner wedges, which in theory can be tapped to slightly open each join, hence applying a little more stretch to the fabric. A quick and easy way to give your canvas a more taught surface, is to sponge the reverse side with clean water and allow the canvas to dry in the sun or use a hair dryer on the back The natural fibres of the canvas will contract a little with this technique.


3M and similar sticky hooks, popular with renters, can be a bit risky, especially with works behind glass. I have re-glazed enough works behind glass to see this often enough. Make sure you know the kind of wall you have and the hook you use is strong enough to support your artwork. Sticky velcro picture hooks can be a great temporary option for lighter works on plaster walls, but for heavier framed works a bit of extra effort is worth it in the long run. For a work up to 6-8kg, a brass hook with nail can be enough. For heavier works, If you can’t find a stud in the right area, consider using a dynabolt (attaches more firmly to a plaster wall) or get a handy person to use a hammer drill and plug if it is a brick wall.


Unfortunately, no matter how good your materials are, it’s almost impossible to make an artwork waterproof. When storing art work with your furniture, check out the humidity and airtightness of the space in which your art works will be stored. No art work can withstand the damage that will happen due to exposure to dampness or humidity. I have reframed several pieces that have been damaged in storage.

Even in your own house, try to avoid storing art works in a damp area. 

Hanging art works on canvas or works on paper in a bathroom is a recipe for rapid deterioration. If the work is not of much value, it may be worth the pleasure it brings while you are soaking in your tub. We have actually created custom art works on aluminium (moulded into a stretched canvas shape) , in lightfast materials which are much better suited for bathrooms and even outdoors.

Article by Jennifer Webb, Artist in Residence and Director at Port Art Gallery

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