Want to Keep Your Fine Art Looking Great? Here's How.

By Troy Beglinger, Beglinger Fine Art, January 29, 2017

Picture Frames

While just about everyone enjoys fine art of one kind or another, very few ever learn how to properly display and care for it. Because of that, countless unique artworks are destroyed by improper handling, display, and storage techniques each year. However, there are some very simple precautions you can take to ensure the artwork in your care can withstand the test of time.

Start With a Good Frame

While many people may think little of the need for a good frame, they are always worth the investment. A good frame, after all, can help to keep dust, light, moisture, mold, pests, and pollution away from your valued artworks. Plus, as any art investor knows, using the right frame with your art can add to its percieved value, much the same as how beautiful grounds add to the value of an estate.

While your framing choices may seem to be highly subjective, there are a few things to think about when selecting a frame. Namely, does it match the style of the work; and, if so, does it bring attention to the elements you wish to enhance? Also, think about the space in which you are planning on displaying the work. What color, scale, style, and texture of frame would work best with the room's decor?

Often, people who collect and display contemporary art, like my own, will opt for a cleaner, more minimalist frame. Collectors of more vintage works, however, will typically select a frame that reflects the era and culture the piece originated in. In either case, the frame will also ideally compliment or mimic the subject matter. For instance, a dark, warm toned still life of wine and grapes, could be paired with a dark, warm toned frame with a Bucelatti-style grape leaf motiff.

Keep It Safe

When mounting and matting an artwork, care must also be given to the quality of materials being used. In order to prevent damage to your fine art, you should assure that you are not introducing it to harmful chemical elements. One of the main issues, in that regard, comes from the acids and tannins in paper products. So, it's vital to only use acid-free, alkaline-buffered (pH neutral) paper, 100% cotton rag matting, and moisture resistant backings. Likewise, any adhesives used should be archival in nature, such as PVA glue (Jade 403), wheat paste, rice starch, acid-free linen tape, or Tyvek tape.

Light can also wreak havoc on artwork in a relatively short period of time. Too much light, and not enough UV protection, can wash out colors and cause fading within just a few short hours. To avoid that, a UV protective acryllic plexiglass is ideal, such as Tru Vue's "Conservation Clear" product line. That way, you can not only keep your fine art safe from light, but also drastically reduce reflections, enhance clarity, and resist damage due to scratches and stains.

In general, fine art display and storage areas should also be kept environmentally stable, with a 40-60% relative humidty, and a temperature of 59-77 degrees Farenheit (15-25 degrees Celsius). Going beyond those ranges, or even going from one extreme to the other, can cause organic materials to undergo chemical and physical changes. When that happens, artwork can become brittle, hazy, warped, or cracked.

Fix It or Ditch It

When the frame you want to use just can't do the job anymore, you need to make a quick decision before the condition of your fine art begins to suffer. If the frame holds no special significance, the choice is easy enough, since you can simply buy a new one that appeals to you. On the other hand, if the frame is historically valuable, you will have to weigh your options carefully, depending on how dedicated you are to preserving the original frame.

If preservation is important to you, you can try having the frame professionally cleaned and repaired by a conservator. However, doing so can often be expensive and time-consuming. If you are only interested in keeping the look of the frame, you could hire a craftsman to replicate it for you, instead. However, if the frame is ornate, doing so can be even more costly and time-consuming than using a conservator. Due to that, many collectors choose to simply have a plaster cast made of the original frame. That way, they can quickly and easily create affordable, matching frames for the other works in the display area.

Light It Right

Once you have everything else "just right", your final step is to make sure your fine art has proper lighting. This includes keeping artwork away from the harsh light coming from south facing windows and overhead skylights. As such, UV protective film and/or shades should be used on the exterior windows of the display area, and replaced every five to ten years, per your manufacturer's recommendations. Interior lighting should also be kept low, and preferably paired with timers or sensors to keep exposure times to a minimum. Pay careful attention to the distance of your lighting to your artwork, as well. If your fixtures are too close to the surface of your art, or their patterns of illumination are too focused (like halogens can be), light damage is likely.

For most illustrations, prints, and watercolors, a surface lighting level of 50 lux (5 footcandles) or less is ideal. For oil and tempera paintings, 150-200 lux (15-20 footcandles) is allowable, while ceramics can typically withstand 200 lux (20 footcandles).

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