Preventive Conservation: What You Can Do

While conservation treatments are best left to the professionals, there are some preventive measures you can take at home to ensure a long life for your art.


Keeping stable temperature and humidity levels is best

The most important thing you can do to prevent problems is to keep your art in a suitable environment.  Luckily, paintings do best in conditions that are comfortable for people.  Keep temperatures around 68º to 70ºF, and relative humidity between 40% and 60%.  (You can buy a inexpensive hygrometer to measure relative humidity at any hardware store.)  Paint layers swell in high humidity and contract in low humidity, and large or rapid fluctuations in humidity can cause cracking, cupping and flaking.  High humidity levels also encourage mold growth, which can weaken or stain the canvas.  Stable conditions are best.  For this reason, paintings should never be stored in basements, attics, or garages where conditions can vary drastically.  Paintings are best stored upright in a closet with a piece of cardboard or foam board protecting each side.

When deciding on lighting for displaying your artwork, avoid direct sunlight which can fade pigments and cause the painting to heat up and dry out. Picture lights attaching to the top of the frame are also dangerous, as they can heat the painting unevenly or even fall off, causing damage.  Fluorescent light, like sunlight, is high in ultraviolet (UV) light which can fade colors and can damage oils. Incandescent light has a lower UV content and, when used in recessed ceiling fixtures or mounted spotlights or track lights, are best for home display.

Proper framing and hanging is also important. We see many frames and paintings that sustainHanging-hardware-eg damage due to improper hanging. When deciding on placement, avoid hanging paintings above fireplaces as they will accumulate soot and be subjected to environmental extremes.  Hanging art above heating or air conditioning vents or in bathrooms should also be avoided. Paintings should be hung from picture hooks rather than nails, which can bend, and hanging hardware should be securely attached to the frame, not the stretcher. A double strand of braided picture wire should be attached securely by “D” rings to the sides of the frame. Offset clips, never nails, should be used for securing your painting in its frame. This image shows properly attached hanging hardware.