by Tanya Singh
The thing about art is, the more you contemplate it, the better you start to understand it. Similarly, the care and time that you put into purchasing, installing, and protecting a work of art, only makes you appreciate it more. Especially when the work is installed in your home, every little effort, whether cleaning it or even just aligning it into place, makes the connection or the bond that you have with the piece stronger and deeper.
With that said, we would also like to mention that art does not need any extensive care or special protection facilities. Just a regular dusting here and a thorough examination there should do the trick. After all, art is a great investment and your dedicated care and protection might actually benefit you in the long run. Who knows, some years down the line your original work of art might even sell for millions, but it would all be for nothing if the work is not its finest condition.
Whether you are an experienced art collector or an emerging one, or have just been gifted an original work and are clueless about caring for it, here are the things you need to know to keep your works of art clean, fresh, and safe.
Protecting Your Art
The first step to protecting your work of art is to ensure that it has been properly framed. As Gill Chilton, the author of Cleaning And Stain Removal For Dummies said, “Protecting your artwork often starts with a quality frame job.” Whether it is a canvas or a photograph, the quality of the frame determines the life of the artwork. If the work is not framed properly or the material is of poor quality, irreparable damage might be caused to your artwork. The frame might deteriorate over time and the stretched canvas may loosen up, forming creases in the artwork and cracking the paint. If a paper drawing is not sealed properly, moisture might enter the frame and cause the paper to fade or even tear. Therefore, making sure that your artwork gets the perfect frame is an absolute necessity for the sake of its longevity.
Useful Article: Caring For Your Art – Framing Art
Before getting ready to install the work, you should always ask the gallery or the artist for any special instructions required for maintaining it. Inquire if the oil painting has been varnished or about the last time the sculpture was sent for polishing. It is always better to take precautionary actions than to bear the consequences later.
The most important thing about protecting your art, however, is keeping it far, far away from moisture and sunlight. While moisture can significantly damage the work of art, the harmful rays of the sun can cause the pigment to lose their hue. We discuss both of those topics in depth in out Caring For Your Art – Lighting Art article.
Every medium has its own visual characteristics which also means that every medium also has a different set of instruction in regards to keeping it clean. Acrylics tend to be more glossy and low-maintenance as compared to oils which are more prone to accumulating dust on the surface. Metal sculptures may require polishing from time to time whereas wooden sculptures can go years without any substantial maintenance needs.
Refer to the guide below for instruction on cleaning and protecting works of art of different mediums.
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Perhaps, the easiest to maintain, acrylic paintings can be cleaned with a dry rag. Acrylic paints are dry and their surface is smooth, which is why they can easily be wiped using a clean, dry rag. Alternatively, you can also make use of a dry paintbrush to dust off any particles from the surface. Do not use water or cleaning products to clean an acrylic painting.
Oil paints are a much denser medium than acrylics, not only because they use oil as the soluble but also because the pigment itself is much thicker. These paintings usually take three to five days to dry on the surface and months to dry up completely. Even after thoroughly drying, the surface is a little sticky and is a magnet for dust particles.
The best way to clean an oil painting is to use a moist cloth and rub lightly over the surface. You can also make use of masking tape to peel off the dust. Simply cut a small piece of tape, place it lightly on the surface and peel off. The dust will be transferred to the tape. Make sure that you use masking tape only. Any other tape might cause the paint to peel off along with the dust particles. A substitute for masking tape is a piece of white bread. This technique has been used by professionals for ages and proven to be quite effective.
Metal and wooden sculptures both require only a regular dusting. However, over the years the metal might start to rust or change color. You cannot prevent the rusting but you can send the sculpture to a professional for polishing, or even do it yourself if you are familiar with the procedure. The polish is available at any hardware store. Make sure you check the medium and the kind of polish that will be required before purchasing it. Wooden sculptures, on the other hand, do not deteriorate easily. You only have to make sure that you keep them away from fire and excess moisture.
Drawings on paper and photographs are usually framed with a glass. The cleaning procedure for these works is the same as the way you would clean any mirror or window. Purchase a glass cleaning liquid from the grocery store and use a piece of newspaper or kitchen paper towel to wipe off the accumulated dust. Microfiber cloths are also a great option to clean such artworks.
Please note that cleaning glass with a wet rag is an absolute NO. This will leave little marks on the glass which will obstruct the view and even damage the glass in the long run. Do remember to dust off the framed works from the back too. This will prevent any unwanted particles from entering the frame and harming the work. Checking the backs of such works from time to time can also help you detect any moisture accumulation in the wall behind. The moisture can actually travel from the wall to your works and completely destroy it.
Regularly inspect and dust off the frames, backs included. Dusting prevents unwanted particles from entering inside the artwork, while visual inspection will help you detect any moisture accumulation early.
Do note that these guidelines are only meant for a regular maintenance and cleaning. If you suspect any real damage, consult a professional immediately. Additionally, these are just the mainstream categories of art. In cases of mixed media artworks and other collective items, it is best to consult with a professional or the artist himself for a day-to-day procedure.
Keeping the art clean and protected should be of utmost importance to you, whether you are an avid collector, an investor, or just redecorating your home. If you are looking for motivation to get up and dust off your paintings and sculptures, simply think of how much money restoring and repairing the work would cost you. After all, precaution is always better than cure!
Need some specific advice regarding your art collection or help in starting afresh? Benefit from our curatorial services! To know more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
So, what are you waiting for? Put on those cleaning gloves and get to work. Remember to analyze the material, use your discretion and only then, begin the cleaning process. If you have any queries, consult a professional. You can also ask us in the comments section below or email us at email@example.com.
Read the other articles in our Caring for Your Art series here – Caring For Your Art – Framing Art, Caring For Your Art – Lighting Art and Caring For Your Art – Displaying And Installing Art.
Tanya Singh is a budding art historian and writer. She is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies at the LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. With a versatile portfolio, she has over three years of experience in writing as well as editing.