Caring for your oil painting will ensure its longevity. There are preventative measures that can and should be taken when owning an oil painting. If properly cared for, oil paintings can last for centuries.
Oils are one of the most sensitive means of artistic media, and damages are common. Handling of the artwork, changes in temperature, lighting, hanging, and storage can all cause different types of damage, including the cracking of paint, distortions of the canvas, fading and discoloration of the painting.
Here are some tips for proper care, acquired from a variety of sources:
- Oil paintings yellow over time, this should be considered an unavoidable and perhaps even an attractive trait.
- Oil paintings are more likely to crack than other kinds of paint.
- Oil paintings can flake due to the hardness of the material.
- Oil paintings can take up to a year to fully dry; those which are not fully dried are most sensitive to light or dark.
- A coat of varnish can (and should) be applied as a protectant by a professional, but only after the painting has fully dried.
- Cigarette smoke will deposit a thin oily film on your Oil painting, resulting in staining and discoloring. Nicotine from just average smoking will stain a painting in a very short time, and will require professional care to clean. Please, try to avoid smoking around your artwork.
Framing, and the question of whether or not to use glass is really one of personal taste. Here are my thoughts on that.
I think a proper frame can greatly compliment a work of art, however, a frame is only a supporting actor, not the main event! If we receive frequent comments on our frame, we probably have not properly framed the artwork.
Glass or No Glass:
Many people feel an Oil painting is more vibrant and beautiful when you can see the texture of the brush strokes and the subtle nuances contained within, and I tend to agree with that. While it is not all that common to see Oil paintings with glass over them, there does seem to be a trend towards this in museums – strictly for preservation purposes.
One distinct advantage to using glass is that it can greatly reduce the need to clean the painting as often. Cleaning a painting can be risky business if you are not sure how to properly do so. Glass also provides additional protection against scratches and scuffs.
If you choose to use glass, keep in mind that the glass needs to be spaced so it does not touch the artwork. REPEAT: the glass must not touch the painting! A professional picture framer can advise you in this regard as well as recommend a quality UV protecting glass that will preserve the clarity of the artwork.
Handling of the artwork too often will inevitably lead to damage. Be certain to take preventative measures when handling your painting. Whenever you need to take down the painting from the wall for any reason, handle it by the frame or edges, without touching the painted surface. Always wash your hands before handling an oil painting as contaminants from your hands can damage the surface.
Never lean the front or back surface of a stretched canvas on a pointed or sharp object, no matter how small; this will leave a dent that will disfigure your work, or worse, can puncture the canvas. If you must lean it against something, lean it on the wood of its stretcher bars so that nothing presses against the canvas – even for a short period of time.
Punctures and tears are not the end of the world, but can be costly to repair. If the painting does get a rip or puncture, contact me, or take it to a conservator for repair. Do not try to repair it yourself. I can usually repair a piece and it is completely invisible to the eye.
Use great care when transporting the piece. This is where most damage occurs. If I shipped your painting to you then you probably noticed that I packed the piece very securely. The most important thing is to put something solid on both sides of the canvas to prevent scratches and punctures, and secure it so it cannot scratch the surface. In a move from one home/office to another, be sure to seal and insulate. This will prevent destruction from hot and cold temperature changes, as well as bumps and bangs. At the very least, bubble wrap your painting, even if moving it in a protective cover. This way, if the cover is punctured, you still have a safety net.
Changes in temperature will cause your painting to stretch and shrink, just as a door frame does from winter to summer months. This can cause cracking of paint and/or canvas. Some variation is inevitable, but to avoid severe changes, hang the painting somewhere in the home or office where humidity and temperature are reasonably constant. Avoid hanging the painting near doorways, windows, and air ducts (this includes fireplaces that are used often). Bathrooms and kitchens are also a bad idea for your oil painting due to humidity, smoke, heat etc.
The following are commonly acknowledged as acceptable environments for paintings: during Winter 18 to 21ºC (65 to 70 ºF) with relative humidity of 40 to 45%, during Summer 21 to 24ºC (70 to 75 ºF) with relative humidity of 45 to 55%. The most important thing is to avoid large and/or frequent swings in temperature.
Lighting, whether natural or artificial, will have negative effects on your painting in the long term. Never hang your painting in direct sunlight! This will cause fading of the paint, as well as frequent temperature change from day to night, which will cause cracking. Try to hang the painting on an outside wall (but not near a window) to avoid sun damage. In choosing the correct artificial lighting, try flood lighting, or if using spots, use a low frequency bulb, as a high concentration of direct light will have the same effect on your painting as sunlight.
Hanging your painting is an important consideration. In addition to temperature and lighting concerns, you also want to consider ‘people’ damage. Avoid hanging your painting in an area where people may bump it or rub against it. Your painting should theoretically be hung at eye level, but in narrow spaces like hallways, a bit higher is a good idea. You should typically allow 10 to 12 inches of space above furniture to prevent mishap. I mentioned damage from smoking above, so hang posters in your smoking area.
Purchase strong picture hooks and insert them properly into the wall, and then hang your painting on it with the help of the wire. For larger pieces, use two picture hooks which are appropriate to the wall and strong enough. From time to time check the wire to make sure that it is in good working condition. If required, change the wire.
Store your painting with the same consideration that you hang it. Basements and attics are not generally suitable locations. Temperatures are typically very dry or very wet in these environments, and can fluctuate greatly. Cover your painting on both sides with bubble wrap or corrugated plastic, box it up in cardboard, and store it in a closet that remains as close to room temperature as possible. If you do store the piece, store it upright. Laying it flat can cause the canvas to sag over time and become loose. It has also been suggested that paintings stored in complete darkness can tend to yellow faster, so keep that in mind.
Like all paintings, works in Oil should be kept clean and free of dust, but keep in mind that cleaning your painting can be risky. I would not recommend dusting a painting for the first year or so, just to make sure the surface is hard enough. Never use a conventional feather duster as it can scratch the surface of the painting. Very lightly and infrequently dusting with a soft brush, such as an artist’s paintbrush that is made of goat’s hair is adequate. Badger and sable hair brushes may also work. A lint free silk cloth may also be used. Do not spray anything (anything!) on the artwork. When it comes to deep cleaning and repairs, rely on experts and professionals only.
If the surface of your painting begins to look dry or faded and the colors seem to be duller, then it is time for a new coat of varnish. I will always varnish the piece for you at no charge if you cover the shipping. If you take it to a local source for varnishing, please contact me first to discuss. I cannot be responsible for what another person does to the painting.
Please feel free to reach out to me any time with any questions or concerns about caring for your oil paintings!
~ David Fedeli
P.S. If you ever need or want to get rid of a painting for any reason, always contact the artist, who should be informed of the work’s new whereabouts so he or she can update the work’s provenance records. Never, ever destroy or throw away an original work of art!!! If you absolutely can’t keep it for any reason, please offer to give it back to it’s creator.