Traditional Art Week
You’ve just photographed or scanned your latest masterpeice and uploaded it to deviantart.com and the comments and favorites are rolling in. The image of your work is saved forever in digital form, but what about the work itself? How do you protect the original from a flakey, faded future?\
What follows are the basics with some *bonus* traditional artwork by your fellow deviants.
The number one cause of faded, bland paintings is light exposure
. It’s common knowledge that light from the sun causes skin damage. In the same way, when light hits a painting it causes damage. This can result in yellowing, flakiness, or the dreaded color fade. Once bright magentas and fuchsias can fade to peachy beige in a few hours of direct sunlight.
Pencil, or paint. Oil, acrylic, tempera, watercolor; It doesn’t matter the medium. No work is immune to aging and discoloration, but there are a few options to protect traditional artwork for generations to come!
Before you even begin, be aware of the light-fastness of your pigment choice. Most brands of artist colors use the American Society for Testing and Materials Standard Test Methods for Lightfastness. You may have noticed these letters and numbers on the side of your paint tubes or pencil boxes.
My well used tubes of Daniel Smith brand paint show the lightfastness rating on the side. In addition to Most brands of paint have a color chart on their website with lightfastness ratings available.
The lightfastness ratings are:
ASTM I — Excellent Lightfastness
ASTM II — Very Good Lightfastness
ASTM III — Not Sufficiently Lightfast to be used in artists’ paints
Canvas and paper play the next major role in keeping your works fresh and fade-free. If you’ve ever come back to a pile of newsprint sketches from a life-drawing class to find them yellowed and flaking, then you know the consequences on painting on a surface that contains acid.
To prevent fading and crumbling works that slowly consume themselves be sure that when shopping for a surface to paint on you always buy ‘Acid-Free”. Nearly all watercolor paper and canvas sold at your local art store should be free of acid. Most major US and International brands print acid-free quite clearly on packaging and promotional materials.
If you enjoy painting on found objects, cardboard, or other unconventional or reclaimed materials, that doesn’t mean you're completely out of luck. Use of a inexpensive PH Testing pen that you can usually find at local art, hobby, or photography supply stores can help you identify if you’re working with a surface that contains acid.
Can’t avoid the acid? If you’ve still got your mind set on painting on a surface that contains acid. Gesso, varnishes, and other acid-free sealants such as watercolor ground can also provide a safer foundation for your work.
Once you’re lightfast pigments have been turned into a finished-work on an acid-free surface, you have to decide how to store it.
Acrylic and Oil paintings can be coated in a uv-resistant varnish which bonds permanently with the paint creating a seal that will protect it for generations.
Traditionally watercolors are framed with acid-free mats and backing materials under a UV blocking glass and can be enjoyed that way for centuries. However uv-glass and professional framing can easily cost thousands of dollars depending on the size of the painting.
However, various uv-resistant clear glosses are now available in gel, varnish, and clear spray forms that allow watercolors to be mounted to another surface (like wood or canvas) and displayed frameless much like their acrylic and oil counterparts.
Idaho artist James Castle was born at the end of the 19th century. He used a combination of spit and dust from his family fireplace to make works on discarded paper, boxes, and any other found materials he could get his hands on. His works survive today despite a complete lack of attention to acid-free paper or light fastness of pigment because he bundled his works tightly away from moisture, light, and air.
Using an acid-free portfolio, an old air-tight trunk, or just bundling a stack of art together with paper and twine can protect work. Basically, keeping work sheltered from moisture light and air, work on most types of paper and canvas will be safe for years to come.
How do you store your work? Do you have any tips or tricks that I haven’t mentioned? Please leave a comment below and let me know, I’d love to hear your solutions!