Published on 11/14/2017

Safely Storing Artwork

By Shaila Bringhurst


If I asked you how to wrap a painting to keep it safe for long-term storage, what would you say? Years ago, I would have said wrap it with Saran Wrap and make sure not to put anything pointy or heavy near it. However, did you know that Saran Wrap can create mold over time? It traps moisture and, with the humid environment, will mold any good acrylic or oil painting unless there are slits for the painting to breathe. Before storing any artwork, be sure you know what you are doing!


Climate Controlled

First and foremost, only store artwork in a climate controlled unit. Ideal humidity is between 40-50% and should not fluctuate more than 5% within any 24-hour period. The temperature should maintain 70-76° Fahrenheit. Rapid changes in temperature or humidity can cause the artwork to expand or contract, so stability is crucial for lasting storage.


Acid Free Dividers

Handle paintings and drawings with cotton gloves to avoid staining them with the oil from your hands. Keep the artwork upright and off the ground—preferably stored like books on a bookshelf. You can put paintings in cardboard boxes to protect them since cardboard is more breathable than plastic. If you have them close together, separate them with acid-free tissue paper or acid-free foam core. Many professionals use crescent board to separate artwork when transporting them over long distances. If you decide to keep the artwork in its frame, check that the backing is acid-free. If it is not, the back will age more quickly than the artwork and will stain the back of the painting. The key is to make sure it is acid free and breathable.

Don't Forget

Oil Paintings: Oil paintings can take up to a year to dry. Don't wrap or store them until you are positive the paint has had sufficient time to harden. If you are ever in doubt, seek professional advice. 

Cleaning: You should clean the artwork before storing it, and microfiber cloths are the best for this process. The frames should also be cleaned with wood or metal polish to help repel dust particles. 

No Tubes: Paper has memory, so avoid storing photos or flat artwork in tubes. It is better to have them flat with acid-free foam core or tissue paper between them. 

Avoid Walls: Consider keeping your artwork away from the storage unit walls. If the unit next door spills liquid or has bugs, your artwork will be at risk.

References

"How To Store Your Art Collection Like and Expert." Artwork Archive. https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/how-to-store-your-art-collection-like-an-expert.

Sara Estes. "Burning Questions: What's the Best Way to Store a Painting Long-Term?" Burnaway: The Voice of Art in the South. May 16, 2016.  http://burnaway.org/feature/whats-the-best-longterm-storage-for-paintings.

"How to Store your Unframed Art." FrameWorks: Custom Picture Framing & Gallery. July 13, 2016. http://www.kingstonframeworks.ca/how-to-store-your-unframed-art.