How to Care for Art on Paper

 “La Paloma” by UGallery artist Libby Ramage
 “La Paloma” by UGallery artist Libby Ramage
 “La Paloma” by UGallery artist Libby Ramage

Most of us who purchase art don't give much thought to whether a painting is paper-based or canvas-based if it's a piece with which we've instinctively fallen in love. When it comes to fine arts, rarely do we reject or embrace a piece simply because it is on paper versus canvas, wood, or some other medium. However, each medium is unique and the specific characteristics of the canvas (using the word in the most general sense) are among the elements that make it special.

In our recent series on how to care for our art, we've focused on the types of materials artists use as their medium to paint or draw artworks and how these materials factor into determining the best ways to do so. Now we're switching things up and examining the ways in which the chosen canvas for paintings and drawings is also important in how we preserve and maintain the integrity of our art, starting with a discussion of works on paper.“Bee-Eaters” by UGallery artist Michele ClampSo, what are some of the more important considerations when it comes to caring for your paper works?

In an ideal world, our artworks would remain untouched and unscathed. In the real world, sometimes we have to move our art around, and maybe even store it or transport it. All of these things require a certain amount of handling. No big deal, right? Well, we recently read an article that highlighted how our bodies shed 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells an hour. How stuff works goes on to say:


The dust that collects on your tables, TV, windowsills, and picture frames around your home is made mostly from dead human skin cells.


As unpleasant as all of this sounds, we're attempting to make the point to be extra careful when it comes to handling paper art. With this in mind, avoid anything that could cause damage to these works that are particularly vulnerable and for which their delicate surface could be easily torn or damaged.

How to Mitigate:

It's a good idea to use gloves to move or otherwise attend to your unframed art to mitigate the potential of transferring dirt, skin cells, and oil deposits on paper-based artworks. Cotton gloves are a good choice.

Under all circumstances, treat these works as fragile. Don't apply paper clips or masking tape or other harmful instruments for securing your artwork in place. Utilize a base board for moving your paper art from one place to another if need be.Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Pesky Pollutants

Some commonly found chemicals in our daily universe can alter pigments in our artworks. Human-generated pollutants such as cigarette smoke can also harm our works on paper.

How to Mitigate:

Have you ever questioned whether the filters in your HVAC systems REALLY need to be replaced as frequently as the manufacturer recommends, or if it's just an elaborate scheme to get us to spend more money at Home Depot? It turns out there are plenty of valid reasons to do so, including mitigating pollutants in our homes in order to protect works on paper and other art.

Framing is another fundamental mechanism for guarding our art against both natural and unnatural environmental enemies. As it relates to works on paper, framing art under glass provides critical protection.


Terrible Temps and Malicious Moisture

Major fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause damage and deterioration to already delicate art mediums. In fact, even the sturdiest of mediums can be vulnerable to such changes. A damp and moisture-rich environment can lead to mold growth while very dry conditions can result in breakage and distortions of the paper.Photo by tamanna_rummee from Pixabay

How to Mitigate:

The impact of unstable temperatures and humid conditions is another example of why framing your works of art on paper is one of the best ways to protect them. Though not just any framing mechanism will do.

We’ve talked about it before, but when it comes to safeguarding your works on paper, you don't want to cut corners. Make sure you use a professional framer who offers archival materials including high-quality paper and matting products such as acid-free paper and mat boards. Do a bit of research and ask a lot of questions about the materials they recommend. For instance, did you know there is a difference between mat boards made of wood pulp as opposed to a raw pulp? Even the adhesives a framer uses are important with safer options including wheat starch paste or Japanese paper hinges for securing works to the mat board.

As it relates to temporary storage, if circumstances necessitate the need to stash your art for a while before you can frame it, make sure to avoid damp, musty environments. Additionally, consider using a storage container made of high-quality materials such as acid-free boxes. These containers are also helpful in keeping the bugs at bay.

Let There Be (Not Too Much) Light

In recent articles, we've talked about the hazards of ultraviolet rays and the wrath too much light exposure can slowly and subtly unleash upon your treasured artwork. This is especially true when it comes to works on paper. Prolonged exposure can cause the colors to fade and deteriorate the paper canvas.

How to Mitigate:

Avoid displaying your fine art in rooms for which they may have prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. In this same vein, be deliberate when selecting your artificial light sources and opt for LED over fluorescent or incandescent in order to further minimize exposure to UV rays. Some experts recommend taking it one step further and rotating pieces in and out for display purposes.

We hope these simple tips help you navigate the best ways to care for your art on paper. As with all things art preservation-related, when in doubt, consult a professional.

If you're in the market to add to your collection of original art, you can peruse the latest works by talented artists on our website, which is refreshed and updated with new art weekly.