Our much-loved artwork can sometimes be at risk of damage. Whilst some issues may be accidental, others will happen over time due to environmental factors. To ensure that all of your paintings are safe, here are some guidelines to follow.

How to protect your canvas painting

Oil paintings and acrylic paintings have similar issues and environmental needs. These should be considered when displaying your painting to ensure that they do not degrade over time. 

Framing and hanging your canvas painting

When choosing a frame you should ensure that it does not have any chemical contaminants or pests. Acidic contaminants come from old materials, but these can also be found in contemporary frames. If you have a framing specialist, ask them to use conservation-grade materials. 

If you are choosing an antique frame, have this checked by a trained frame conservator if you have any doubts about woodworm or other insects. If the frame has been in storage, ensure it is cleaned with sensitive techniques to avoid contamination from vermin droppings or mould.

Whilst the paint itself can sometimes be preserved under varnish, any exposed canvas can become damaged in sunlight. Framing your painting behind UV glass will ensure preservation.

Decide a room for your canvas painting by thinking about the amount of sunlight and the humidity. A small amount of sunshine is not a major issue for most oil or acrylic paintings, but a direct afternoon glare should be avoided. Around 16-26 degrees celsius is the recommended temperature for these artworks. Also consider the heat from any artificial light, as high wattage bulbs may produce a similar warmth. 

In deciding where to hang your canvas painting, you should first consider whether the wall is strong enough for the screws or nails, especially if the piece is large. Frequent causes of accidental damage to a painting and frame are due to insecure hanging methods.

Warping and cracking canvas paintings

Various reasons can be behind cracked paintings and warping canvases. Older oil paintings will almost always have a slightly cracked appearance if you look closely, this is the ‘craquelure’ and unavoidable due to the ageing process. 

However, there are many reasons for cracking paintings which can be avoided. The pressure being placed unevenly upon the canvas can cause circular cracks in places where a singular point has been pressed upon. This most often happens during storage, where warping can also occur if the canvas is too tightly bound. Click here to see more information on how to safely prepare your painting for storage.

Fluctuations in heat or humidity will contribute to cracks which lead to paint loss. Paintings should be kept at a steady temperature to avoid this outcome, which can take years for the true damage to show. 

Make sure the frame is appropriately sized for the painting. If it is too much of a tight fit, the canvas may warp under pressure.

Cracked paintings can be restored, if there is significant cracking or warping to your canvas this should be looked into professionally before the original paint begins to fall away.

 

Mouldy canvas paintings

Damp conditions can severely dull down a painting over time, with oil paintings being susceptible to an effect called blanching. This is when the varnish appears to have a white veil covering it, often trapped under the surface. 

The growth of mould on the back of the canvas can also be a hidden danger to the artwork. To avoid this issue, ensure that your painting is kept to a recommended humidity level and temperature.

If your painting has already been affected by mould, please get in touch with us to resolve the issue before it progresses.

 

Atmospheric contaminants on canvas paintings

Smoke from open fireplaces can drastically dull down a painting and cause uneven temperatures. It is best to avoid a spot near an open fire or a room which has frequent use of candles as not to drastically reduce the vividity of your artwork.

Nicotine can cause a painting to yellow, avoid smoking indoors to keep your artwork bright and clear.

Dusting your paintings should be done very lightly, but often enough to not let any layers build up. Dust can get caught especially in acrylic paintings with a lot of ‘impasto’ or raised paint layers. A gentle clean is needed, as not to break any delicate areas. Dust can hold many different elements from the atmosphere and some can be damaging to the artwork if they are left to linger upon the surface for too long.

Sometimes staining can be historic, this means the darkened canvas has debris from centuries past. It may be the case that your painting needs a professional clean and varnish removal if it has been affected by historic, smoke or nicotine discolouration. 

How to protect your watercolour painting

Watercolour paintings are very susceptible to the elements, like other works on paper such as prints, mezzotints, lithographs and text documents. Their fragile nature means that they need a suitable environment away from sunlight and humidity. 

 

Framing and hanging your watercolour painting

Watercolours are very sensitive to acidic elements from inappropriate or old mounts. Ensure the frame for your watercolour painting includes a good quality, acid-free mount. Make sure that the paper is entirely flat and not pressed against the glass.

UV-proof glass is essential for watercolours, as they can fade very easily. Even with this protection, they should be hanging in a room with very little natural light to avoid degradation.

 

Mould and foxing on watercolours

The most common issue with discolouration on watercolours is called ‘foxing’. This is when rusty spots appear on the paper. The porous paper used for watercolours also attracts mould growth. To avoid foxing or mould damage, make sure that the humidity is kept level at approximately 45% with a temperature of 15-18 degrees celsius.

Please speak to us if your artwork has foxing or mould, as it can become worse over time. Our specialist paper conservator can remove the damaging element and help you to prevent it from returning.

 

Staining on watercolours

As most watercolour paintings are kept behind glass they may be less susceptible to atmospheric contaminants such as nicotine and smoke. However, these airborne particles can still affect the artwork, so make sure they are kept away from these elements if they are not protected in a sealed frame. 

If your watercolour has any issues with staining, please contact us to discuss cleaning recommendations from our specialist paper conservator.