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Art 101

How to Store Paintings

Discover how to store paintings with our 7 practical tips. Want to avoid fingerprints, tears, warped pictures, broken frames, or sagging canvases? Here’s how to conserve artwork at home or in storage.

By Tatty Martin

Whether you’re an experienced collector or a first-time buyer, you need to know how to care for your paintings. It’s easy to haphazardly toss them into a box and forget about them - especially when you're busy packing to move homes, galleries or offices. However, there is a science behind promoting their longevity. Storing paintworks requires specific conditions to ensure that the paint, canvas, and frame are not damaged and that you get to enjoy the work for as long as possible. Here is how to store your painting collection like a pro. 

 

Avoid direct sunlight and high temperatures 

UV-rays from the sun can cause paintings to fade over time. Likewise, the sun can also weaken the canvas with repeat exposure, making it less durable. Too much sunlight will result in the colours appearing less vibrant and the painting itself becoming fragile. Furthermore, heat is a no-no. High temperatures can cause canvases to expand, yellowing of the paper and even cracked paint. Too much will naturally warp or even spoil your image. 

Top tip: Storing encaustics? Wax-based paint can melt very quickly in high temperatures. Be careful when considering your storage space for them. 

 

Works by Gina Soden and Bruce McLean

 

Keep your paintings in a dry location 

Paintings don’t like moisture. When moisture meets canvas, it can lead to mould or even mildew forming. It’s not good news if you spot mould on your canvas because it’s near impossible to remove. So, keep your paintings away from humid environments. With this in mind, you also want the conditions to be consistent - rapid changes in temperature or humidity are more damaging than gradual shifts in climate. This helpful guide explains where to safely and stylishly hang paintings at home.

Top tip: The museum standard for oil and acrylic paintings is a humidity level of 45% and a temperature of 18-20 degrees celsius. The ideal temperature range is between 15-18 degrees for paper works like prints, engravings and watercolours. Humidity should not be more than 45%.

 

Don’t store canvases on the floor 

As a general rule of thumb, don't leave canvases on their backs. Canvases stored on the floor can be easily damaged. Something could fall on them or be inadvertently placed on top and deface them. Stacking canvases on their backs can cause the centre of the canvas to loosen over time. That causes a warped, sagging effect. Similarly, you may start to see the stretch bars show through the canvas material as the cover presses down - adding a texture you may not have bargained for. Side note: keeping them upright is a helpful way to create more space, too. If you can continue to hang paintings in storage, this is also an option. 

 

Cover your canvas prints

If you’re taking paintings to storage, it’s also wise to cover them with a light cloth. Got any old bedsheets lying around? They will do the trick. Make sure to completely cover your piece so no dust or debris can come into contact with it. Another option is to protect your artwork with brown or acid-free paper before adding a layer of bubble wrap. In addition, to prepare your painting for storage, use a clean microfiber cloth to remove any dust from its surface. What’s the point in keeping dust out if you’re already trapping it in?

 

Work by Lee Yuan Ching

 

Protect your watercolour paintings 

When storing watercolour works, place an acid-free card on either side of the painting (especially if it is unframed) before popping it into a plastic sleeve. For paper paintings, unlike canvases, these should be stored flat to avoid changing the shape of the paper.  

Top tip: do not roll or fold your painting up. Keep the artwork in its original state to avoid lines forming or ruining the paintwork. 

 

Invest in a mirror box or a crate

Mirror boxes can save your paintings from the sun, moisture, unwanted pests, and various other forms of damage. They are sturdy, single-walled boxes, usually corrugated, and intended to hold a host of flat items such as paintings, mirrors, photographs, or any other narrow artworks in need of protection during transit. Wooden crates are also a protective storage method. The downside to mirror boxes and wooden crates is that they can be costly and consume a little extra time to put together.

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