Archival Framing Tips: Works on Paper

Paper is sensitive stuff. Art Appraisers frequently see valuable art that has suffered from fading and damage or is susceptible to environmental stresses. There are many factors that affect the life span of works on paper: lighting, environmental conditions, and framing can result in yellowing, brittleness, spotting, and overall deterioration. Colors can fade, clarity will decrease, and eventually, the value of the image will diminish. According to Holly Hackwith, International Society of Appraisers Accredited Member, when it comes to the value of art, “condition is everything”.

So, how can you tell if your art is at risk? According to the Institute of Conservation, there’s a few common telltale signs to look for. We offer tips to increase the life of your art.

  1. Do you notice that the media’s color has faded or the paper has yellowed? Direct sunlight and interior lighting emit varying degrees of the damaging ultraviolet light that causes paper discoloration and faded inks. Move your art out of the sunlight and replace the existing glass with glass that is specifically manufactured to block the harmful UV light.
    This print has been in a frame for 40 years, and the fading is obvious. Image via silversolvent.blogsopt.com

    This print has been in a frame for 40 years, and the fading is obvious. Image via silversolvent.blogsopt.com

  2. Examine the interior edges of the mat board around the art. Contact with boards containing unpurified wood pulp may turn paper brown and brittle. ‘Mount burn’ describes the brown marks around the edge of an image where an acidic window mount has ‘burnt’ the paper. Brown ‘air-burn’ marks can also form through gaps in old wooden backboards. Replace the mat boards and backing with acid-free or PH balanced boards.
    Direct contact with a mat containing acid can lead to mat burn. Image by spencerart.ku.edu

    Direct contact with a mat containing acid can lead to mat burn. Image via spencerart.ku.edu

  3. Look at the paper from the side, and see if you notice cockling  or undulation. Handmade paper does not always lie flat, but if the paper is badly distorted, wrinkled or even torn at the corners it has probably been taped to the mounting board. Humidity causes paper to shift and it works best to dry mount it. Take the art to a professional framer and have the piece re-mounted.
    Humidity or water damage can cause paper to cockle.

    Humidity or water damage can cause paper to cockle. Image via the Fine Arts Conservancy

  4. Do you see spots forming in the paper? Brown spots called ‘foxing’ are caused by bacteria or mold which generally grows on acidic paper when the humidity is high. Try not to hang pictures directly against the interior of the outside wall of a building: the comparatively low temperature can cause condensation and mold growth inside a frame. Conversely, a radiator or spotlight dries the air out, and concentrates dirt by convection currents.
    Brown spots called foxing are due to mildew or mold.

    Brown spots called foxing are due to mildew or mold. Image via conservationofpaper.org

The Institute of Conservation provides in-depth descriptions and suggestions on their site:  http://www.conservationregister.com/PIcon-careprintsdrawings.asp

Most art collectors do not live in temperature, humidity, and light controlled environments, so it’s critical to take necessary steps to conserve your investments from the very start. Conservation framing is often a one-time expense that will lengthen the life of your art dramatically, and create enjoyment for years to come. CAC provides recommendations for framing, conservation, and restoration.  Please email holly@corporateartco.com to learn how we can help you preserve the value of your art.

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