If you’re new to art collecting, you’ve probably come to realize that there’s more to it than purchasing the artwork. Once you are the proud owner of a piece, you become responsible for its safe-keeping, cleanliness, maintenance, and preservation. And if you’ve decided not to display it for whatever reason, you’ll need to store it properly so that it retains its beauty and value. This sense of accountability should apply to all of the pieces in your collection, regardless of the price that you paid for them. After all, you never know — that small painting that you bought on a whim may someday be worth exponentially more than what you originally paid.
You are no longer just an owner of these works; you are their protector. But how can you ensure that your collection is financially secure and physically preserved? Read on. We have the best practices for caring, cleaning, displaying, storing, and recording your inventory.
Hang artwork with proper fixtures
Using improper hanging methods runs the risk of the painting accidentally falling off the wall, potentially breaking the frame and scratching the paint. For hanging light-weight pieces on plaster or drywall, a pack of small nails may be all that you need. Medium to heavy-weight pieces may require picture-hangers, big nails, wall anchors, and screws. But before anything, flip the painting over to look at the back. You should find that there’s a hanging wire or D rings attached to the frame. Find the center. Uneven distribution of weight can damage the painting, stressing the backboards and frames which can lead to creases and rips.
Avoid direct sunlight
Photographers love natural lighting because it is the most flattering, making people and products look better than they do in real life. However, natural sunlight, particularly direct sunlight, can cause chemical changes to occur in pigments. Under prolonged direct sunlight exposure, watercolor paint can fade and paper can become brittle. And while oil and acrylic paintings are more durable, they are not susceptible to fading under the harsh sunshine. Some collectors may protect their paintings by using a non-glare glass or plexi-glass that shields against UV rays damage.
Don’t touch paintings with bare hands
When it comes to your paintings, follow the same rules as you would in a museum. You and your guests may have clean hands and therefore, feel you won’t leave dirt particles that can stain the artwork. However, natural oils and sweat can do as much damage to a painting. Also, any amount of pressure could be enough to poke a hole or a dent on the canvas or chip off the paint. If you must touch the painting because you need to move it or clean it, handle it with clean or gloved hands and by holding the frame only.
Clean with caution
Harsh cleaning chemicals can do serious damage to artwork. To avoid heavy buildup of dust and grime, clean paintings regularly with a dry, soft brush, such as a toothbrush for children, which has softer bristles. Experts also recommend using a clean natural-hair brush to dust the canvas lightly. Never use feather dusters on a painting, which has been observed to scratch the paint. If you’re dealing with a significant stain, it may be best to have a professional art cleaner do the job.
Store paintings properly
Whether you’re storing your paintings short-term or long-term, careless storage practices can result in the demise of your precious collection. You can’t just lean a painting against a wall in the low-traffic room, drape it with a sheet, and think it will be protected. Pests and dirt can still make their way into the frame and canvas, giving you an unpleasant surprise when you come to retrieve the artwork later.
And if the room is constantly damp, prolonged humidity could cause the frame to expand or canvas to shrink, resulting in warping or rippling in the paint. Mold and mildew also thrive in high humidity. Imagine discovering that fungi have not only grown on the painting’s surface but have also penetrated through all the layers, including the frame.
Therefore, attics and basements are the worst places to store precious artwork because these locations are prone to fluctuating temperatures. Store artwork in areas with consistent temperature and is neither too dry or damp. You may even consider using a climate-controlled storage unit.
One of the best ways to store art is by first wrapping it in brown paper, followed with a layer of bubble wrap. However, be careful that you’re not trapping moisture or dirt in the painting when you wrap it. Before wrapping, make sure both the painting and wrapping materials are clean and dry. You should also use frame corner protectors, which can come in cardboard or bubble plastic. Not only does it protect the painting’s finish, but it also keeps pests and moisture from entering.
Also, it’s best to store paintings vertically, preferably off the floor. A simple solution would be to use shelving or risers. Laying framed canvases flat may also lead to impressions from the stretch bars. And the last thing you should do is stack the pieces on top of each other.
Transport with care
If the painting is to be moved to another location, protect it from potential damage during transit by packing the plastic-wrapped painting with a custom-sized Styrofoam in a sturdy box with dense packing material. Bubble wrap is great for protecting artwork from dents and scratches. For an added layer of protection, reinforce with tape.
Maintain both physical and digital records
The bigger your collection grows, the more important it becomes to keep track of your pieces. Don’t forget the artwork that you have in storage. But also, don’t get too comfortable with the artwork hanging in your home just because you see them each day. Understand the fluctuating art market and the need to revisit your collectibles every so often, whether to check on their physical preservation or potential changes in value.
You should be proactive about maintaining a complete inventory of your collectibles, which should include images of the pieces along with provenance information. Keep physical and digital documentation on everything related to each piece of artwork, including invoices, storage receipts, accredited appraisals, general assessments, and records of physical condition checks. Doing so protects the value of your collection and is a practice maintained by art collectors that may want to sell the artwork or pass it down as part of an inheritance.
Art experts agree that tracking your art in an online collection management system like ARTDEX is the best way to safeguard your investment. ARTDEX gives collectors like you a platform to maintain a photo inventory and condition report for each piece of art you own.