How to Care For Your Works on Paper | Framing, Display, Storage, Conservation and Restoration
Collectors often ask us how to best care for their works on paper. Indeed, as strong as they are aesthetically, this medium can be constitutionally delicate. That being said, there are key ways to support the lifespan of a work on paper; to ensure it remains intact for the next generation to behold. As custodians, it’s critical that we care for our works on paper just as they culturally care for us.
Mounting and Framing
Perhaps the most critical aspect of caring for your art is framing. At the frontline of the work and external world, how long your work on paper survives sits in direct correlation to how well it’s framed.
One aspect of framing is mounting. Mounts are made of specific acid-free (also called neutral) boards, backed with a neutral sheet of paper. While acid-free board more than suffices in most cases, for extra special works there’s Museum Board - the 100% cotton mat board that is the Fine Art Trade Guild’s recommended museum-quality creme-de-la creme of mounts.
In terms of the frame itself, effectiveness is dependent on how good your framer is. What may seem a simple task - placing a picture inside a frame - is in reality, studded with pressure points. Careless handling and packing can leave your work prone to dampness (leading to rot, blurring, mildew and mould), contaminated air (which can discolour and stain) or excess heat and dryness (causing the paper to become brittle).
Essentially, to effectively frame is to create a sealed unit. Within this unit, there should be a gap between the paper and the glass, without which your work on paper may irreversibly adhere to the glass. This gap is most commonly created through a window mount. Alternatively, you could opt for a shadow box frame, in which the work sits back from a protruding, glazed frame. Another solution is a spacer: a small device that wedges a gap between the work, laid flat over a board, and the frame’s glass.
Charles Blackman's 'Untitled (Wistful Woman)' is a monotype, or unique print. It has been expertly box-framed with Museum Board, the creme de la creme of mounting boards.
For the best results, avoid hanging your framed works on paper directly above active fireplaces, radiators and heaters. When it comes to light, the stronger the light source is, the higher the risk of fading with the most corrosive form being ultra violet. To ward against this, UV protected reflection control glass is available such as ‘Artglass’; otherwise avoiding direct sunlight is a good compromise.
Something else to consider is what wall you display the work on. It’s sensible for example, not to use an outer wall (meaning the walls that constitute your house’s external bounds) as these are the most prone to weather-induced dampness. If you do however, at least place corks between the wall and frame’s back to encourage air movement.
On a larger scale, climate can also be a factor. Works on paper displayed in Australia’s more humid regions, like Sydney or Queensland, may experience accelerated deterioration. This can be countered by maintaining a controlled or air-conditioned climate.
How do I Store Them?
If you are not planning to frame your works of art in the near future you may need to consider storage. When it comes to storing works on paper safely and securely, the system you engage is key. Avoid extended exposure to the open air – here dust, dirt, smells, moisture and heat threaten to wreak damage. Do not store contaminated and healthy works together - paper sicknesses spread.
Silver-fish, wood-worm and mould, oh my!
Pests operate in two ways: within and on the paper. Silver-fish and wood-worm for example, feed on the cellulose in paper and are best deterred by papers with built in germicide. Like any insect, the prevalence of paper-hungry pests is tied to climate, season and region. Woodworm for example, can be an issue in Anglesea and Ballarat, while borer bugs appear towards Mildura.
Moulds are another threat to your work on paper. They will grow on paper with a relative humidity above 70% and should be expertly and expediently treated.
There’s also foxing to consider. While not much is known about foxing, it is generally understood as an age-related fungal growth that manifests in spots and browning. The good news here is that foxing does not necessarily impair the paper’s integrity and can be left untreated. With the help of a conservator who specialises in paper however, you can remove its unsightly blemishes. A good conservator can fix and de-fox.
Fear not, if your work on paper does endure damage, there are restorers and conservationists who can help. Other than that, just use common sense: keep it away from excessive humidity, dryness and contaminated air; avoid harsh direct light and handle with care. Most damage is wrought by human carelessness – but love your work on paper and it will love you back.
For any questions or help expertly framing your work on paper, get in contact.