Paper Paintings Conservation

A. Handling

While handling artworks on paper, avoid touching the surface of paintings. If it is really necessary to touch the surface, keep your fingers away from the image. Artworks created in charcoal and pastel requires extra care because the medium can be smudged that may damage the image easily. As far as possible, you are advised to keep artworks on paper framed with an acid-free mount that will minimize friction and keep the work static. You need to be very careful while moving and handling prints, for the printed papers are easily stained with moisture and oils present in our skin.

B. Displaying

Room/ Hall

  • Ensure that the room is not dusty.
  • It should not be too hot or damp.

Wall

  • Be sure the wall is not damp.
  • There should not be direct sunlight on the wall.

Hanging

  • Ensure that the painting is properly framed so that it will hold for longer period of time.
  • Some space should be left between the framed painting and the wall so that the painting does not accumulate dust and absorb moisture. You can insert small wooden blocks in the blank space.
  • Check that the string used for hanging painting is strong enough.

Lighting

  • Avoid direct sunlight on the painting.
  • Don’t use strong artificial light for extended period because the heat produced from the light may damage the surface medium of the painting.
  • Don’t use strong artificial light for extended period because the heat produced from the light may damage the surface medium of the painting.
  • Ensure that the light is of approximately 200 lux. You can use camera’s light meter to measure the light level.

C. Cleaning

If the paperwork is faced with an acrylic or glass sheet, you have to clean the sheet regularly. To clean the sheets, spray glass cleaner onto a soft cloth and wipe the sheet with it carefully. But don’t attempt to clean the paper surface, for the medium can be smudged. Only the fully qualified, professional conservators can carry out the cleaning of the paper surface.

D. Framing

Paperwork can be badly affected by humidity, light and temperature changes as paper is highly sensitive to the atmosphere and environment. Paper reacts to the materials which it is in contact with like dust, mounts and tape. This kind of situation causes fading of the medium, mount burns, rust and brown spots on the surface. It also increases the brittleness of the painting surface.

E. Framing a Paperwork

  • A mount works as a protective boundary around the artwork, and between the work and the acrylic or glass sheet. Thus, acid free mount should be used. Such mount protects the surface of the painting.
  • Be sure about the reliability of the frame material. Nowadays fiber frames are available in the market, which appear like wooden ones. But they may not be as strong as wooden frames. But fiber frames may be safer because they are not attacked by the pests.
  • While framing the art works, a face of acrylic or glass can be used. While displaying larger artworks, acrylic face works well as it is lighter. But it is more prone to scratching. On the other hand, glass can withstand minor scratches, but it is heavier and the incidence of breakage is higher. If the glass breaks, the artwork itself may be broken and damaged.

F. Storage

The best way to store works on paper is to use chest, which is also used for architectural drawing, or other specially designed case that protects them from dirt, humidity and sunlight. Inert and acid-free portfolios or folders can also be used within such cases or chests. But they must be placed horizontally. Glassine or acid-free tissue paper should be kept in between if several works have to be stored in one folder or drawer. You should not use normal plastic sleeves for storing paper works. A stable storage environment should be maintained by avoiding fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The environment for the storage of artworks should be dry, cool and having good air circulation. It is better to seek professional advice for other storage requirements specific to your own collection.

G. What Causes Damage ?

  • Heat is a key element that increases the speed of environmental chemical changes that deteriorate and distort paper. This makes the paper surface brittle, dark and yellow.
  • Because of light, mediums like water colour and ink can be faded. Light also changes the structure of the paper and damages the surface if exposed for longer period.
  • If there is high humidity in the place where paintings are stored, bacteria and other micro-organisms can grow on the surface, leading to 'foxing' or rust-like brown spots on the paper surface. Foxing is also appears in certain types of paper because of their content. Hence, it is better to avoid using such paper.
  • Humidity and heat also cause the damages like the growth of mould on the surface and holes in the paper due to insects.
  • Acidic mounts can cause 'mount burn' or the browning of the edges of the artwork in contact with the mount. Inappropriate mounting and framing lead to the damage of artworks on paper.
  • Pollutants in the atmosphere may speed up the distortion and deterioration of the paper surface and lead to changes in the color of the medium.
  • Stains on the surface may appear due to the adhesive used to fix the work to its mount. So, you should be very careful while using adhesive.
  • Curving or undulation can wrinkle, distort and tear the surface of paintings. This happens if the surface is restrained by not allowing it to change naturally with changes in temperature.