The Art of Caring for Art

THE ART OF CARING FOR ART


The Definitive Guide To Protecting Your Art Investment 


The Art of Caring for Art 


This week I was intrigued to find out that one of Pablo Picasso’s best known works has been sold in a New York auction for $45m (£35m UK).

Honestly for that money I would sell you my entire portfolio, have it framed, send a team out to hang it, give you a 30-day money back guarantee, and take you out for a coffee. Dang, I might stretch it to a beer or two if you’re lucky – subject to the $45m reaching my Pay Pal account of course.

Femme Assise, Robe Bleu otherwise known as ‘Seated Woman in a Blue Dress’ features one of the artists many lovers, Dora Marr. 
The painting has a unique history in that during World War II, the Nazis seized the painting but they were intercepted by French Resistance fighters. It is one of Picasso’s most well-known and arguable one of his best portraits, inspired by love. 

Painted in 1939 when Picasso was 58-years old and the woman was 39. Marr was actually the principal model for many of his weeping women portraits between the 1930’s and 1940’s.

It still wasn’t anywhere near enough money though to beat the most expensive Picasso work sold to date though. That title is still retained by Picasso’s ‘Les femmes’ d’Alger’ which was the most expensive of his works ever sold in auction for $179m in May 2015.

If you want to purchase something a little more exclusive though you will need to dig much deeper into your pockets. ‘Will You Marry’ by Paul Gauguin fetched $300m, ‘The Card Players’ by Paul Cézanne was once sold for $274m and Jackson Pollock’s ‘No. 5’ which was created in 1948, managed to still beat this latest effort by fetching $165.4m.

If you were thinking of spending that kind of money on my work, you would be guaranteed a few beers, and a supply of Pringles. I might even mow your lawn for an entire summer season and do a few odd jobs around your home. I make exceptional coffee for example, and I'm told I can be quite entertaining. Mostly. Ok, sometimes, but I make great coffee. 

Now I imagine that each of those artworks were supplied with an original frame. If they were my best advice is to not change it for something you would buy from IKEA, in fact don’t change it at all. Keep the original frame. Please. 

THE ART OF FRAMING ART

Not everyone though has the luxury of being able to afford such a piece of artwork, and when we mere mortals do buy a piece of artwork we either buy it pre-framed, or an original from an independent artist, or we will buy a print and either frame it ourselves or send it to a local framer. 

What is so important about framing art is that the frame can make a huge difference to not only the painting but its entire value.  For example swapping out the frame from Femme Assise, Robe Bleu, with one purchased from a local thrift store would kill the value of the artwork, but a poor frame can detract significantly from the painting too and make it much less visually appealing. I've seen great art ruined by poor framing, and not so great art become better with the right frame. 

A frame isn’t just there to look nice though, whilst it can complement an artwork and make it even more visually appealing, it also offers protection. 

When I recommend frames to my art buyers I run through a checklist to make sure that the frame not only fits and complements the work, but it also fits in with the environment. Sometimes I create a piece of work and have an idea as to just how it should be framed, other times it is purely down to what the customer feels is more suited. 

My checklist covers the basics, where will the art be displayed, will it be displayed in an area with lots of light, will it be exposed to sunlight, the general décor and design of the space the work will be hung in, and if the art will ever need to be transported and how frequently.

I also consider whether the frame should include glass, and the structure of the walls. I have come across some frames which were heavy enough to bring down stud walling, so a quick check of what the frame will be hanging on and against is always a must.

I also look at how the frame can help in keeping the work secure, and particularly when I work in corporate environments. I have lost count of the number of hotel stories over the years when hoteliers have told me that the paintings and prints in the guest rooms and even lobbies have gone missing. 

Using something like a Spring Lock which needs a special security tool to release the art from the wall is always a good idea if you are concerned about the works going astray. 

It’s not just the hanging environment which needs to be fully considered, the medium the artwork is on should also be taken into account. 
When you buy my work from Fine Art America and Pixels, you will know that the work will last a very long time. I always advise buying the frames offered by Fine Art America, not because it earns me a tiny commission, but because they really are exceptional quality.

It’s important to consider the quality of the frame and especially if you are buying prints. If a print which hasn’t been printed using dye-sub or Gliclee printing methods is hung on the wall without a frame, then chances are that the picture will fade quickly. 

Equally if the artwork is behind glass, some of the cheaper frames which include glass might not offer the protection from UV light that you actually need. If you purchase a good quality artwork and want it to last for generations, then paying a little more is way more economical than buying something that could end up doing more damage to the work.

BE SENSITIVE


the art of art restoration 


When you frame any art work you need to be sensitive to the artworks previous history. Always take some time to research how a particular piece or style has been framed in the past. I appraised a piece of art for a friend a year or so ago and could tell immediately that the frame the piece was in, wasn’t of the right time period for the art. Whilst it was an original painting, the frame was about fifty years too young. 

When we enquired with the seller, it was confirmed that the frame had been changed at some point in the past because the original frame needed to be completely restored and it would have cost the GDP of a small country. If the frame is damaged in any way, you might want to think about getting it restored, but never over restore a frame. In some cases, the frame can be as valuable as the art itself even if it hasn’t been touched.

You will also want to make sure the environment you hang the art is suitable. Damp rooms are always going to be a disaster. Most people would never consider or think it worthwhile to get an expert to come in and carry out a full UV test to confirm any humidity levels.  
Those kinds of tests are usually undertaken by the most serious of collectors and museums, but if the art is valuable, you will want some assurance that where you hang it isn’t going to eventually destroy it.

A good frame can often regulate the humidity of a room, and counter any other factors such as light and particularly where the light is bright and has high UV levels. There are three things which worry me about hanging any artwork, damp and water ingress, light and fading, and fire, all of which can lead to the artwork being lost.

Not all artwork needs a frame of course. Stretched canvases can look stunning even when not framed and in many cases the artists intention was for the work to never be framed in the first place. Just make sure to never frame a canvas with a float glass though.

There are various levels of framing a piece of artwork depending on where, how, and why a piece of art will be hung. Museums will go all out to ensure that their artworks are protected by the best frames, but if you just want to protect the artwork for future generations, you might want to look at conservation framing instead. 

Another option is to use commended framing which guarantees a level of protection and also considers much more the aesthetics of the frame and its design. Generally speaking this is perhaps the type of frame most buyers will actually require, it’s a compromise between the lower end of the framing spectrum and the higher end.

Budget framing though is perhaps where many buyers will currently be looking for framing art hung at home, but budget framing whilst it might be visually appealing, doesn’t really offer anything in the way of protection.

Economy framing is often called minimum framing, and that is what you get. A minimum level of protection and aesthetics, but the cost is extremely low.

Something else to consider when framing your art is whether or not the art will be displayed behind a float glass. The immediate question is why do you want float glass at all? For most, it is because they wish to protect the art behind the glass in some way.

2mm float glass is the most widely used, it is priced to offer good value, and it is good for most works which are not being displayed in a professional or commercial environment such as a gallery, but it can give the artwork a green tint, and it can be highly reflective. Not great when using in well-lit areas.

If the green cast is something that you wish to avoid, then you need to consider using a colour neutral float glass offers exceptional image quality, and it’s not overly more expensive.

Colour neutral glass can also be supplied as laminated glass. Essentially it is bonded with a thin plastic film and the lamination offers more UV protection. This type of glass is ideal in public spaces because should the glass get broken, the lamination can hold the structure together, and there’s less risk of the broken glass damaging the artwork.

It works a little bit like putting a screen protector on your smartphone, you kind of know that when you drop it from anything higher than an inch, the screen will probably shatter, but it will stay in place. However, most neutral float glasses I have come across are way tougher than the average smartphone screen. 

Many glass manufacturers will have bespoke names for their colour neutral glass ranges, in the UK for example, Water-White, and Optiwhite are some of the more popular brands, but the principle behind this type of glass remains broadly similar. In short, it is a low-iron glass which is made from carefully selected raw materials.

Other glass types include anti-reflection and reflection free technologies, with some manufacturers making glass which has less than 1% reflectivity. These glasses are generally conservation grade, and where a standard UV protection glass may give you around 70% UV protection, some of the latest glass technologies can give you 99% UV protection and offer even higher contrast levels, in fact some of the newer higher end glass is on a par with museum float glass these days.

Museum float glass is an investment but it is the glass which will offer the most protection. If the work behind the glass is either worth preserving or is valuable, the cost is going to still be considerably less than trying to repair a damaged work. 

Museum glass tends to need good lighting and it is used when you need maximum clarity and UV protection. Generally 99% UV protection is a must, and light reflection should be less than 1% which is the lowest level of anti-reflection available with UV protection.

Brightness, clarity, contrast, colour, all become much more vibrant and defined behind museum glass. It is like going from Black and White TV to Ultra 4K, but yes it is more expensive.

UV light and fading is a particular problem with any artwork. Again, if this is going to be a concern, make sure that you keep the artwork away from bright lights and sunlight or use a UV resistant glass.


the Definitive Guide To Caring for and restoring your art 


THE MOUNT-BOARD

The glass is out of the way but there is still much more to consider when framing a piece of artwork though. When a mount-board is required the ideal is to ensure that it conforms to the Fine Art Trade Guild requirements for ‘Museum’ level 1.  

Mount-board should meet a specification in order for it to be deemed appropriate for professional level framing. Standard mount-board’s can be used for commended, budget, and minimum framing requirements, but for anything which involves the conservation and preservation of prints, you need to make sure you are using the very best mount board’s.

If you want museum level framing then your options for mount board’s become more limiting. The only real option is to use a Cotton mount-board if you are intending on framing a highly prized work. 

Some framing markets internationally don’t distinguish between museum and conservation mount-boards, and in some regions the term conservation and museum framing is reversed with conservation framing meaning the highest quality of framing, nothing is ever simple is it?

The purpose of a mount-board is to keep space between the artwork and the glass, and it can also be used to enhance the artwork with the use of colour and design. In short, it looks nice and has an actual protective use. Except when it doesn’t.

Whilst a majority of mount-boards will add visual appeal to artwork and can offer some additional protection, some mount-boards can actually either detract from the artwork, or can cause damage to the artwork.

In the UK, most conservation level boards will have no optical brighteners, and I am sure that this is something which will apply to this class of board throughout other regions too. They are generally lignin-free, alkaline-sized, pH neutral and are calcium carbonate buffered to enhance their useful lifespan by minimising the effect of atmospheric pollutants.

In any conservation level board you will want to ensure that the core is made from alpha cellulose fibres, and have a soft, natural, white colour that will remain white. 

When choosing a mount-board you need to also be aware of the differences between each manufacturer’s versions of the boards. There are significant differences in the protection afforded between many of the different brands, so if you do have collectible, historic, limited editions, or pieces that you just need to preserve, my advice is to visit a specialist framing centre. 

Whenever you visit a specialist framing centre, check out their credentials and ask them lots of questions. What type of board do they use, is it acid-free, what is the expected life of the board, what is it made from, and where was it made. Any reputable framing specialist will welcome these questions and will be able to answer them, if they can’t then it’s perhaps not the best idea to leave your cherished artwork with them at all.

TURN OFF THE HEAT

If you care for artwork properly and just so long as it was printed using non-fading inks on acid free supports and papers, or was painted using artist grade paints and materials, it can last for generations and indeed in most cases for centuries.

I mentioned my three worries earlier, but there are other things which can cause real problems with artwork. 

If I could maintain my home at a constant humidity and temperature I would, but then my home isn’t a museum or high-end gallery, and neither do I own a Picasso. What I can do though is to minimise the environmental factors which I know can damage the artwork I do own.

With modern homes come modern features, and radiators should be renamed art killers. Hanging a work above a radiator is one of the worst things you can actually do with a framed or indeed non-framed piece of art.

Temperatures can go from one extreme to another and they can do so very quickly. If it gets cold our instinct is to turn up the thermostat and generate a little more heat to make us comfortable, but our artwork is screaming at us every time we do this.

Extreme and rapid temperature changes can dry out wood and canvas, in fact most mediums, and it is this dramatic change which often results in adhesives failing. 

Dampness as I mentioned before is one of my particular pet hates, and something I have witnessed happen with a very expensive signed print a friend owned. 

Moisture can cause the surface of the work to ripple and if the ripple then touches the glass, there is a likelihood that at some point the work will stick to the glass. If this happens, hope and pray that the work is insured, and take it to a specialist who deals with this kind of conservation and restoration because you won’t find a suitable method of recovering this situation on YouTube.

Also if you have newly plastered walls, avoid hanging anything until it is well and truly dry. Not only will the strength of the wall be unable to support the weight of the artwork, but moisture in the new plaster will seep into the work and cause major damage.

If you find that you do have some water or moisture damage the immediate things to do are to remove the artwork from the source of the water problem, lay the artwork on a flat dry surface and evaluate the extent of any damage which has been caused. 

At this point you should tackle the source of the water problem, but more immediately you should contact an expert art restorer or your insurance company. You will be limited in what you can do unless you are a professional art restorer, so just getting the work into a safe place is the first priority to avoid any further damage.

Remember also that water can weaken the bond between the paint and the surface, so when you store them try to keep them horizontal and paint side up if they’re wet, oh, and try not to panic.

HANGING YOUR ARTWORKS

I mentioned earlier that I always advise hoteliers and commercial clients to secure the artwork they have to the walls using something like Spring Lock hangers. Spring Lock is a brand name and many other types of secure fastenings are available, but their use isn’t just for commercial premises where people might be tempted to take a memento of their visit. 

At home using these types of fastenings can increase the overall security of the artwork. Whilst nothing will stop a determined thief from taking the art, (other than maybe a Colt 45 which is likely to land you in a spot of trouble), there are things that you can do to make stealing the art a lot more difficult.

When it comes to glass, security glass is also available, although sometimes this might not be quite as see through as the specialist float glass produced specifically for art. Of course it’s not just the art thief who will want to tear down your art, children often want to add a splash of colour to a faded Matisse. 

Safety glass is a consideration, but fitting a security lock or hanging solution to the frame can also stop those little hands from tearing it of the wall. You would be surprised how many times I have seen this happen, and the cost of the locks isn’t all that expensive.

Placement of the art is also critical to how it can be seen. Most pictures are best viewed at eye level, although I prefer raising them ever so slightly so that the viewer has to slightly look up a little. Galleries tend to do that and there seems to be some evidence that when they present the art in this way it can actually sell better.

You don’t have to keep everything symmetrical if you don’t want to but everything should have some sort of ordered appearance. Making sure you measure appropriately is a good way to ensure that nothing looks odd or disorganised, unless of course you want an artistic, odd and disorganised look and feel. I have no idea why there seems to be a current trend of leaning artworks on the floor against a wall, to me it just makes it look as though you haven’t got around to hanging it. I don’t know, maybe it’s a trendy thing to do?

HANDLE WITH CARE

It goes without saying that any artwork should be handled with care but how many of us take it as seriously as the museums and galleries?
Keeping an eye open for obvious issues is something that you should be doing frequently. If you find that the work is suddenly becoming discoloured or it has faded, it is always best to get it checked out sooner rather than later. 

The earlier the issues are found, the cheaper the restoration process will usually be. If you notice insects under the glass it could be because any tapes have become unstuck, but the issue with insects is that they like to chew on fine art. Most insects seem to have impeccable taste, and it is usually the most expensive artwork you own that they will try consuming first.

Varnish can become discoloured and I have seen this happen in commercial premises where there is little protection between the outside elements and the artwork. It is usually in a foyer which opens on to a street, or opposite an open window, and toxins, sunlight, and every other issue can start to take its toll.

Expert art restorers will be able to replace the varnish but please do make sure that it doesn’t become too cracked first, any damage could in time damage the painting underneath.

Also worth checking periodically is the hanging wire, make sure that it’s not corroded or that it has started to fray or become loose. 
Stretched canvas paintings and indeed prints can sag over time but this too can be resolved by an expert in the field. They will re-stretch and tighten the canvas and your work will look as good as new.


handle with care Protecting Your Art Investment  


BE CARING

Whenever a friend has a problem with their artworks I usually get a phone call for advice. Whilst I’m not an art restorer and wouldn’t even attempt restoring a piece of art, over the years I seem to have become someone who people tend to rely on to signpost them to good people who can help them.

In the past year alone I have seen a piece of art which the previous owner had tried to re-varnish on their own but with yacht varnish, a slashed work which has fallen off the wall and impaled itself on a fire stoker, and a work which had faded dramatically over the past year, despite surviving for the previous hundred or so years. 

So checking your artwork periodically is the best thing you can do. It doesn’t matter how much the art cost you, if you love the work and want to keep it looking as pristine as possible there are some simple things that you should and definitely shouldn’t do with it.
So here’s a quick checklist which should hopefully help you to preserve your artwork!

THE CARING LIST
  • Forget any old wives tales about cleaning a painting. There are hundreds of ways to clean it properly but a million ways to get it wrong.
  • Never use soap or domestic detergents and water to clean off your artwork. Soap will seep into any cracks and will harden and create a misty effect. Whilst the painting might smell really nice, eventually the chemicals might start reacting with the surface too. 
  • Keep artwork out of direct sunlight and especially if the work was created in watercolour or pastel.
  • Never be tempted to grab a cleaning cloth and start rubbing any marks off the artwork. Whilst this might remove the mark it’s likely that it will also remove the paint and could damage the support too. Ideally a specialist restorer should be called in as soon as possible.
  • If you are intending on using float glass, never let the painting touch the glass, and especially if it was painted using watercolours. Moisture can seep in and suddenly your landscape painting becomes an abstract. Use mount-boards and spacers if you need to provide some distance between the art and the glass.
  • There are specialist chemicals which can be used in the process of art restoration, if you need to have a work cleaned, always seek specialist advice. A professional will know how chemicals will react with different mediums and will be able to safely use them without damaging the artwork.
  • Never be tempted to skimp on hangers and wires. Always use the appropriate wall fixings and make sure that your wall is able to support the weight of the artwork. It’s surprising just how much a solid wood frame, float glass, and the painting itself can weigh.
  • Never use tapes which are not specifically for use with artwork to secure any backing and mount-boards. Any tape you do use should be ph. Neutral and should only really be used to seal the frame back to prevent dust ingress, mites, and other insects.
  • Never use mount-boards or backing boards which are not acid free. Any acid will eventually start to corrode the artwork and in most cases the price difference between a poor backing or mount-board and a good quality acid free one is minimal.
  • When storing artwork for extended periods of time, don’t use plastic wrap. Moisture and condensation is likely to build up. Use cotton sheets whenever possible.
  • Never use float glass with canvas. Canvas needs to breathe and if it is under glass you could trap moisture inside the frame. Canvas tends to move around a little over time due to changes in the atmosphere so leaving the canvas exposed will give it the room it needs too.
  • Never lean anything against any artwork. Not too long ago I looked at a piece of art which had a hardback book on top of it for many years. When the book was removed, other areas has faded and there was not only an impression of the shape of the book, but in one small area a hole had started to appear. It might not weigh much, but something as simple and as light as this book caused considerable damage in the year that it had been stored.
  • If you need to dust off artwork always use a clean soft rag or duster to gently sweep away any dust residue. Never be tempted to use chemicals or water.
  • If you plan on transporting your artwork perhaps when moving home for example, make sure that you protect it well. I generally have transit cases built by a local carpenter who makes sure that only natural wood (not treated with chemicals) is used, and there is no insect damage to the wood. Bubble wrap and cardboard are also usable for short term moves, but if you can first cover the art in a cotton sheet you will add a further layer of protection.
  • Use specialist cleaners for float glass and never be tempted to use water or domestic cleaning products. More often than not a soft cloth without chemicals works just as well, although it might take a few moments longer.
With proper care most artworks can last for many generations or even longer. As long as you check them as frequently as you can and hang them appropriately, most artworks will look as good as they today in ten, twenty, or thirty years’ time. 

There is one more piece of advice though that I always mention to anyone I know who collects art, and that is to make sure your insurance covers any accidental damage to any piece. 

Often you need to advise them to list specific valuable items on your policy to make sure you are covered, in other instances you might have to pay a separate insurance premium, or the existing premium might increase. But for peace of mind it is better to do this than then have to worry if or when something goes wrong. 

I believe any art is too valuable to cast aside, even if it was painted by your five year old child. Art is a snapshot of history, or a snapshot of what the artist was thinking of at the time. If we can preserve it however we can, we should.

ABOUT M.A

Mark A. Taylor is a UK artist who for more than 30-years has been painting landscapes and abstracts using both traditional and digital methods. His work is available here on his Pixels portfolio site.  

If you need any advice on framing Mark’s art, please do contact him through his Pixels site or through the contact form on this site. 
You can also buy Mark’s art from more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada, including Deck the Walls, The Great Frame Up, and Framing and Art Centre. You can also follow Mark on Facebook right here, and on Twitter @beechhouseart

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