ART GUIDE - Paper Conservation



art guide
Last Updated: June 2012

Handling

When handling works on paper, you should touch the surface as little as possible. When you have to touch it, keep your fingers away from the image. Works executed in pastel and charcoal require extra care as the medium can easily be smudged, damaging the image. As far as possible, keep works on paper framed with an acid-free mount that will minimise friction and static. Care should also be taken while handling prints, as their paper is easily stained with oils and moisture present in our skin

Display

Wall

Some basic checks for the display wall

  • Ensure that the wall is not damp
  • Also check that there is no direct sunlight falling on the wall

Hanging

  • There should be some breathing space between the artwork and the wall, this will prevent the accumulation of dirt and moisture. This can be achieved by placing blocks on all four sides
  • Ensure that the fittings of the frame are sturdy and will hold for a prolonged period of time

Lighting

The most basic rule with lighting an artwork is to avoid displaying the artwork in direct sunlight. Exposure to strong artificial light for extended period is also not advisable as fixed lights over an artwork may cause localized heating. Lights should be placed a minimum of 10 feet from the artwork to avoid this. The recommended lighting for paintings is 50 lux. Light levels can be measured using a camera's light meter.The most basic rule with lighting an artwork is to avoid displaying the artwork in direct sunlight. Exposure to strong artificial light for extended period is also not advisable as fixed lights over an artwork may cause localized heating. Lights should be placed a minimum of 10 feet from the artwork to avoid this. The recommended lighting for paintings is 50 lux. Light levels can be measured using a camera's light meter.

Cleaning

If the paperwork is face with a glass or acrylic sheet, this will need to be cleaned regularly. To do so, spray glass cleaner onto a soft cloth and wipe the sheet with it. Never attempt to clean the paper surface, as the medium can often smudge. Cleaning can be carried out by fully qualified, professional conservators.

Framing

Why do works of art on paper need protection?

Paper is highly sensitive to the environment and is adversely affected by light, humidity and temperature changes. Paper also reacts to any material with which it is in contact, including mounts, tape and dust. This kind of damage results in mount burns, foxing (small rust-like brown spots), fading of the medium and an increase in the brittleness of the surface.

Framing a work on paper

The frame comprises:

  • A mount that forms a protective boundary around the work and between the work and the glass or acrylic sheet. It is important that the mount is acid free which means it has archival qualities.
  • The frame around the mount, traditionally made of wood and available in a variety of finishes. However, of late, fiber frames simulating wood finishes are also available. Since they are not of organic material they are less susceptible to attacks from natural elements and pests.
  • A face of acrylic or glass. Acrylic is lighter and works well while displaying larger artworks, but is more prone to scratching. Glass can withstand minor scratches, but it can be heavier and the incidence of breakage is higher, increasing the risk to the artwork itself. Both are available in museum grade, non-reflective varieties.

It is important that works on paper be opened every couple of years to air the artwork, and clean any dust that might have accumulated inside the frame.

Storage

If you are not displaying your works on paper, the best way to store them is in a plan chest (used for architectural drawing and blueprints) or another specially designed case that protects them from humidity, light and dirt. Acid-free and inert folders or portfolios can also be used within such chests or cases, but must always be placed flat or horizontally. If you are storing several works in one drawer or folder, interleave them with acid-free tissue paper or glassine .Normal plastic sleeves are not recommended for storing paperworks. A stable storage environment is very important, and fluctuations in temperature and humidity, particularly in the short term, must be minimised. The best environment for the storage of artworks is a cool, dry one with good air circulation. Always seek professional advice for other storage requirements specific to your collection.




BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOGRAPHS

A missing corner before treatment

A Missing Corner of the Photograph Before Treatment

A missing corner after treatment

A Missing Corner of the Photograph After Treatment
 

A Torn Etching before Treatment


A Torn Etching Photograph Before Treatment

A Torn Etching after Treatment


A Torn Etching Photograph After Treatment
 

Abrasion of Painted Surface before Treatment


Abrasion of Painted Surface Before Treatment

Abrasion of Painted Surface after Treatment


Abrasion of Painted Surface After Treatment
 

Brittle pen think Illustration before Treatment


Brittle Pen Think Illustration Before Treatment

Brittle pen think Illustration after Treatment


Brittle Pen Think Illustration After Treatment
 

A foxed + discolored lithograph with tide lines & liquid stains before Treatment


A Foxed and Discolored Lithograph With Tide Lines & Liquid Stains Before Treatment

A foxed + discolored lithograph with tide lines & liquid stains after Treatment


A Foxed and Discolored Lithograph With Tide Lines & Liquid Stains After Treatment
 

An object with fungus before Treatment


An Object with Fungus Before Treatment

An object with fungus after Treatment


An Object with Fungus After Treatment

Causes of Damage

Works of art on paper can be damaged by excessive or bad lighting, extremes or fluctuations in temperature and humidity, environmental pollutants, insects and pests, and poor handling, storage and framing.

  • Light causes mediums like watercolour and ink to fade. Light also alters the structure of the paper, damaging the surface.
  • Heat is a catalyst that increases the speed of environmental chemical changes that deteriorate paper. This leads to brittleness and yellowing or darkening of the surface.
  • In high humidity, bacteria and other micro-organisms can grow on the surface, leading to 'foxing' or rust-like brown spots on the paper. Foxing is also encouraged by certain types of paper because of their content.
  • Heat and humidity also lead to insect damage, including holes in the paper and the growth of mould on the suface.
  • Atmospheric pollutants can speed up the deterioration of the surface and lead to changes in the colour of the medium used.
  • Acidic mounts can lead to 'mount burn' or the browning of the edges os the work in contact with the mount. Bad mounting and framing is the leading cause of damage to works of art on paper.
  • Cockling or undulation can distort, wrinkle and tear the surface of paperworks. This can be caused if the surface is restrained and not allowed to change naturally with changes in temperature
  • The adhesive used to fix the work to its mount can also lead to staining on the surface.

Expert Opinion

Saloni Ghuwalewala - Paper Conservation

Qualifications:

Saloni Ghuwalewala is a paper conservator with a Master's degree in Art Conservation from Queen's University, Kingston, Canada, and a Bachelor's degree in art history with a minor in chemistry from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, USA. She works privately, and treats works of art on paper (watercolours, prints, pastels, miniatures, etc.) as well as documents, letters and photographs. Her list of clients includes several institutions and an array of individual clients.

Services offered

  1. Interventive conservation treatments, both in-lab and on-site.
  2. Treatment proposals and estimates.
  3. Surveys and examinations of collections and individual objects.
  4. Consultation on mounting and framing.
  5. Consultation on preventive conservation.
  6. Conservation education services in the form of lectures and articles.


It is important to note that it is our intent not to in any way alter the originality of the object/painting. All methods used are reversible in keeping with the ethical code of the conservation profession.


Contact details

Saloni Ghuwalewala
Vallabh Niwas, 1st floor
31-A M.L.Dahanukar Marg (formerly Carmichael Road)
Mumbai 400 026
India

Tel: 022-23521346 / 23512985
Email: ghuwalewala@vsnl.com