Tips for New Collectors on Caring For Your Art
If you are a new or casual collector, it can be intimidating to think about storage, repairs, maintenance, cleaning, and transportation of the artworks. Don’t stress: just stick to some basics and learn the rest as you go.
- Common sense rules.
Curatorial jargon and demanding specifics about temperature and moisture can make it sound impossible for ordinary people to own and care for artworks. If you have purchased rare and extremely valuable old works, you will want to consult professional guardians. Otherwise, use common sense. Keep the works out of direct sunlight, avoid extremes by keeping room temperatures moderate and consistent, and avoid moisture damage by regulating humidity whenever possible. For example, don’t hang fragile watercolours in the steamy bathroom. Avoid grease splatters- don’t hang artworks near the stove! Don’t hang them in the broiling attic or a damp basement laundry room.
- Avoid sharp objects near your art, and don’t lean anything against them.
Common injuries happen with boxcutters or scissors when dismantling packaging, or from a table’s corner or objects leaned against a canvas. Use extreme caution when unwrapping a painting or sculpture. Most canvases are durable enough that you don’t need to panic- but you do need to take care not to lean other objects against them. Paintings can be leaned in stacks- but only if they are the same size. A common mistake is to lean a smaller painting against a big one. It seems to make sense, but it means the larger piece will ultimately dent or split at the pressure points of the small one. When carrying a piece, your fingers should only be on the wooden cradle, not exerting pressure against the stretched canvas.
- Keep your artworks clean.
Use a dry, soft cloth periodically and a feather duster and you’ll prevent the build up of grime. Research the best way to spot clean a work that has been sullied. For example, if the item is a stone sculpture or covered in glass, a clean damp rag will be fine to gently scrub off some dirt. But if the item is a chalk pastel drawing on paper, moisture might smear the media and dissolve the paper. The best way to ascertain cleaning methods is to ask the artist or gallerist at time of purchase. For example, I know that collages where I’ve used ink, graphite, and markers will smudge badly with any scrubbing, dry or wet- but my acrylic paint and weld bond collages will resist quite a bit of water without any damage at all.
If the piece needs a serious cleaning- an accident with a pet or child, a food spill, etc- call a professional to do it. Otherwise, a bit of casual maintenance is all the tender loving cleaning it’s going to need.
- Put yourself in the box when shipping or transporting artworks.
Just as you would put yourself in someone’s shoes when considering how to treat them, put yourself in the box when getting ready to move or FedEx a piece. You’re going into a truck, and you’ll be manhandled by speed bumps, friction against other packages, stacking, jostling, and crowding. You’ll be poked and prodded. You’ll be tossed around by delivery people and sharp turns. You’ll be subject to heat and rain.
This imaginative act answers all the questions you have about how to package your artwork. It needs enough plastic wrapping before going into its box to be waterproof. It needs enough bubble wrap and stuffing support to withstand sharp pokes from any end of the box. It needs to be fixed tightly to endure being tossed around, so don’t put it loosely into the box.
- Practice safe storage.
The rules for storage are easy- just incorporate one through four. Package them safely as you would for transport, or use acid free tissues and cardboard to separate works. Make sure any works stacked together are the same size and don’t lean other objects against them. Wrapping them will help you avoid dust and stains. Keep them in a moderate and dry place, not in a moldy basement.
Don’t be afraid to contact professional care for your artworks, especially if it has been damaged or if you have questions. The art dealer or artist is also a good resource, and you should always feel comfortable seeking their advice or more information about a piece you purchased.
Most important of all, don’t be too precious about the work- its most important role is to bring joy and not stress into your life.
Yes, a glass sculpture might break. Live with that possibility instead of keeping it bound and gagged in the hall closet. Within reason, of course- if you an extremely fragile 1200 year old Byzantine diptych, you want museum quality care and insurance, not a guardian icon for your toddler’s playroom.
But even in the top museums and galleries that have skilled conservators on hand daily, an artwork that gets looked at in the light of day will fade over time.
These works are made of real materials by hand, not machine made, and so they show bristle marks and small scratches and crackling paint.
Take good care of your art and it will serve you and future generations to come. But accidents do happen, even with reasonable care, and if something is injured, don’t get too hung up on it. Restore it as best you can when the time comes, but realize it’s better to live with art than to hide it away in hopes of keeping it perfect.
Lorette C. Luzajic
To purchase artworks shown, if still available, please contact Carrie Shibinsky, Art Bomb curator, at [email protected]
Lorette C. Luzajic is an Art Bomb artist who works with as many media as she can imagine in a single piece of work, as well as through photography and the written word. She is the author of Fascinating Artists: Twenty Five Unusual Lives, Truck, and Other Stories About Art, and Aspartame, poems inspired by art. She is the editor of Ekphrastic: writing and art on art and writing. Visit her at www.mixedupmedia.ca.