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Conservation Framing 1.0

Western artwork

Previously, we covered how one should properly preserve artwork, emphasising that the main method of artwork preservation is proper mounting. By using the appropriate mounting and framing methods for different types of art, you can minimise the ‘aging’ of artwork. Just as people age, artwork can also undergo wear and tear over time due to its environment or treatment. This guide will detail how to properly preserve artwork through modifications to its environment. 

Because artwork comes in many forms, we will demonstrate the two most common types of art now and other types later on. If interested, you can read our blog online for free for the latest news and information. 

Photography and Artwork on paper:

The major factors that affect artwork printed on paper is ultraviolet radiation and humidity. Ultraviolet radiation, otherwise known as UV rays, will damage the internal structure of the paper. Thus, if paper is exposed to UV rays for a sustained period of time, wear and tear will occur due to damage of the paper’s structural integrity, consequently damaging the color of the work through yellowing and fading of existing colors. High humidity, on the other hand, may promote the growth of mold, cause the appearance of spots, and may accelerate the rate of deterioration of the paper.

While not the only factor, mounting and framing are essential to artwork preservation. For example, photographs could use methods such as “Box mounting” or “Suspended mounting”, as well as methods such as “Cardboard frame mounting”.

Glass and plastic protective frames do not differ widely in its protective effects, but they should not directly compress the artwork. The benefit of this is that condensation on the glass or plastic due to humidity or temperature will not affect the actual artwork itself. However, if the frames do touch the artwork, the effects of condensation could cause the artwork to adhere to the frame over time and ruin the artwork. 

If you do not prefer “Box mounting”, the alternate recommendation would be “Cardboard frame mounting”. The benefits of the latter are two-fold: the aesthetic benefit, as well as the practical benefit of separating the artwork from the glass/plastic, decreasing the potential risk of condensation damage to the artwork. 

In addition, when mounting artworks, one must be sure that the frame is sealed on all four sides to prevent dust collection and oxidisation.

Aside from the actual frame type, the accessories are extremely important as well; for example,  in regards to the type of cardboard and framing glass or plastic. 

When choosing plastic or glass panels, you should consult a professional to ensure that the cover chosen is capable of filtering out 90% or more of incoming UV radiation. A cover with UV filtering capabilities will not look different from a normal frame, but has added benefits for the preservation of the artwork. In fact, museums have specially made UV plastic frames that not only can protect from UV rays, but also reduce refraction and reflection, allowing for an optimal viewing experience from museum patrons. 

When choosing cardboard for “Cardboard frame mounting” methods, the best option is to choose acid-free cardboard, which has neutral or very weak alkaline properties. This prevents acid degradation, and will not affect the appearance of paper-based artwork.

If your artwork is very valuable, every element of framing and mounting must be meticulously selected. For example, the acidity and alkalinity of the glue and cardboard, as well as the method with which the artwork is adhered to the grame can affect its value. This subject will be covered in the future. 

Painted Artworks:

As mentioned before, controlling the lighting, radiation, temperature, and humidity can reduce the rate at which the painting ages. Additionally, using different framing methods can protect the painting. However, another aspect of protection comes from the painting itself, which is to add a layer of protective varnish in order to strengthen the painting, lengthening its lifespan. With varnishing, protecting it with plastic or glass frames may not be necessary, as it may hinder the enjoyment of the painting. However, this is at the discretion of the individual as there are a few ways that paintings can be displayed. 

One method is to use the tray frame, an L shaped frame that ensures that the edges of the frame will not touch the painting, protecting all 4 sides. 

The traditional framing method uses a common frame and can be fitted with a plastic or glass  for additional protection. However, due to its typical wood composition, it can produce acidic by-products when interacting with its environment. Thus, it is recommended that paintings are kept at a distance from their frames in order to prevent deterioration. However, if the desired visual effect is for the edge of the painting to be in contact with the frame, one can consult a professional in framing to treat the edges of the frame with linen or specialised tape to ‘separate’ the frame and painting. 

Paintings must be stored in a humidity-free environment. If the painting is not dry, but is stored behind a glass / plastic panel, it is advised that the back is left open, so the painting can still be aerated. 

In conclusion, protecting artwork can be done in two main ways: adjusting its environment (including temperature, humidity, and lighting), as well as its framing and mounting.

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