plexiglass

Storing Works of Art on Paper

When prints and drawings are not framed and displayed, it is crucial to store them properly. Whether you have a few prints to keep safe or are building large-scale storage solutions, there are a few main concerns, solutions, and best practices to keep in mind when storing works of art on paper.

We recently acquired these works of art on paper for a corporate client. Millee Tibbs,  Air/Plains series , 2013

We recently acquired these works of art on paper for a corporate client. Millee Tibbs, Air/Plains series, 2013

Keeping Paper Safe

All artwork should be handled carefully, but works of art on paper can be especially delicate. Paper can fold, curl, crumple, or easily tear when it is not matted and framed. Keeping the paper flat and secure is a primary concern in the storage of prints and drawings. This can be achieved by storing works in frames, in stacked mats, or in archival boxes. Paper used in older works is often not archival–meaning its chemical composition inevitably breaks down–and the paper becomes more brittle as it ages. Storing works properly can help mitigate damage to older pieces. Today, many works of art are specifically made on archival paper to prevent decay. 

Protecting Pigment

The medium used to create an image on the paper can also impact storage and conservation efforts. Over time, ink used in prints can off-gas onto other surfaces. If the print is stored in a frame with glass, the print can sometimes leave a faint “ghost” film where chemicals from the ink have interacted with the glass. If a print is stored in a stack with other loose prints, it can off-gas onto the other works of art. In this situation, interleaving sheets of a thin, archival, pH neutral type of paper called “glassine” can prevent damage. Glassine also prevents certain drawing materials from rubbing off of paper. Pastels and charcoal are especially prone to losing pigment.

Another concern when storing artwork is light. Exposure to sunlight can fade works of art or bleach the paper. Some types of prints are especially sensitive to this. For example, Japanese woodblock prints from the 19th century and earlier were often made with organic pigment that loses its vibrancy or fades to gray. The purple pigment used in these prints is a “fugitive” color and it is now very rare to find vibrant purples in Japanese woodblock prints. This is why we always recommend framing art in UV-filtered Plexiglas to protect work from light damage. (Check out our earlier blog post dedicated to using Plexiglas!)

Colors fading in Japanese woodblock prints via  Viewing Japanese Prints

Colors fading in Japanese woodblock prints via Viewing Japanese Prints

Environment, Pests, and Pesky Situations

Environment is also an important factor in creating the proper storage conditions for works of art on paper. Artwork should be stored in an area away from major activity, far from any food or beverages, and in a secure location.

It is important to store art in a place with consistent, controlled temperature and humidity. According to a guide to storing works on paper published by the University of Illinois, “A frequent recommendation is a stable temperature no higher than 70° F and a stable relative humidity between a minimum of 30% and a maximum of 50%.” 

Paper is sensitive to moisture and can buckle when exposed to changes in humidity. Additionally, wet environments can produce mildew or mold, which can damage art. Works of art on paper and books are susceptible to foxing, or the spread of reddish-brown spots on paper caused by fungal growth.

Bookworms aren’t just people who love to read–they are any type of insect that eats paper. Ironically, these insects are not worms, but moths, beetles, and roaches. Keeping art away from any and all vermin is very important when storing work.

Solutions

Many of these concerns can be addressed by storing pieces in an archival box, like a Solander box. Solander boxes–also called “clamshell cases”–were developed by a botanist named Daniel Solander while he was cataloging the collection of the British Museum from 1763 to 1782. These boxes now come in standard sizes and can also be custom made. They protect from light, dust, vermin, and accidents like flooding. It’s a simple solution that can protect your artwork for many years to come.

Whatever your art storage needs, we are available to consult on creating the best environment for your artwork–on and off the wall.

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Exploring and Understanding Gouache

Written by Bynn Shen, Spring 2019 Intern

When it comes to paint mediums, many people are aware of watercolor, tempera, acrylic and oil, but one medium that is often overlooked is gouache (pronounced “gwash”). Gouache is seemingly a mix between watercolor and tempera paint. It can be used like watercolors–thinning the pigment down with water and layering the colors–as well as thick and heavy like tempera paint straight from the tube. As an artist myself, I found working in watercolor difficult at first. I was unable to figure out a fitting paint to water ratio without the paint being too thick and too thin. That being said, there are many strong watercolor and gouache pieces which take advantage of the ability to layer colors. Watercolor dries with a satin finish while gouache dries matte, so if that aesthetic is desired, gouache is an excellent option.

Comparing gouache and watercolor through wet on dry and wet on wet techniques, washes, and testing the opacity of the two mediums by layering paint on top of a line of graphite.

Comparing gouache and watercolor through wet on dry and wet on wet techniques, washes, and testing the opacity of the two mediums by layering paint on top of a line of graphite.

History

Gouache has been used in paintings since ancient Egypt. Egyptians used binding agents of honey or tragacanth glue with the pigments. Following that, the medium appeared on illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages. Although gouache was prevalent throughout the history of art, few acknowledged it or recognized its value. In 18th century France, the term gouache was developed and applied to the opaque water-based medium. Gouache was used by artists in combining different mediums to create a more unique surface in pastel paintings, as well as being used as a base layer in oil paintings. By this time, gouache began to include modern-day ingredients of gum arabic as the binding agent with an opaque white pigment, such as chalk. During the 20th century, the medium was manufactured in tubes, allowing artists to easily access it and use it outside of the studio.

How Artists Use Gouache

Landscape and nature painter Albrecht Dürer utilized both watercolor and gouache in his paintings. Because these two mediums are similar, they can work together to improve one another. In Wing of a Blue Roller, c. 1500 or 1512, Durer rendered a hyper-realistic view of a bird’s wing by using the buildable properties of gouache and watercolor. In instances like this, an artist might first put down a watercolor base to draw and plan out the values, then build the composition up with layers of gouache, creating structure, color, and details. Watercolor and gouache work very well together and can be layered to create depth and realistic effects.

Gouache vs Watercolor

Gouache and watercolor share many similarities, but one of the key differences is that gouache is much more opaque and mud-like than watercolor. In fact, the word “gouache” is derived from the Italian term guazzo meaning “mud.” For the most part, watercolor and gouache behave in the same way, but with watercolor, there is no real way to apply thick paint without it still appearing transparent. Because watercolor is watered down pigment, it has a tendency to bleed into other colors blurring the edges whereas gouache allows for clean and crisp edges. Even if the gouache was watered down, the paint would still remain opaque. Watercolor dries relatively matte but if more paint was layered on, it develops a satin sheen, while gouache dries matte no matter what.

Casey Matthews

Casey Matthews

Gouache in Contemporary Art

Today, it is not as common to see paintings only using gouache as most artists use it along with other mediums. Casey Matthews is a Florida-based painter who marries many different types of mediums and household objects to create pieces. His work includes many subtleties in color and line variation.

Spanish painter Annabel Andrews uses acrylic and gouache by laying down thick layers of paint which builds texture. Her work is very geometric with solid filled shapes sometimes accompanied by lines or other elements to help tie the piece together. The shapes are painted in a quick manner, not overly concerned about uneven edges or misalignment with other shapes.

Framing works with gouache

Because gouache is almost always done on paper, it is important to limit the amount of sun exposure to the piece. With too much sun exposure, the colors may start to fade and become less saturated than when initially put down. A good way to ensure your gouache painting is fully protected is to frame with UV filtering plexiglass and avoid direct sunlight. To learn more about plexiglass for archival use, read our blog post here.

Rebecca Shore

Rebecca Shore

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Handling Artwork During Construction

Whenever you are renovating or undertaking construction projects in a home or office, it is important to have a plan for protecting your artwork. We assist clients with managing artwork relocation at any scale and there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when planning changes to your space.

When to Remove Art

Making structural changes to your space? Make sure to remove artwork before starting construction.

Making structural changes to your space? Make sure to remove artwork before starting construction.

In any environment, renovations can be messy and pose risks to artwork. Any scale of renovation will create dust, a common culprit in artwork damage. Drywall dust contains abrasive particles, including fiberglass, which creates scratches or blurring on the surface of plexiglass, a common material used in archival framing. Because these dust particles often spread a large distance during construction, our rule of thumb is to remove all the artwork on the renovated floor when possible. Best practice is to take the artwork off the wall before construction begins.

We work with a team of professional art handlers to review the construction area and remove all artwork that could be affected. When removing artwork we carefully document each piece of art, noting its size, condition, and any inventory or asset number associated with it. This helps us strategically plan how best to reinstall the artwork once the space is fully renovated.

We carefully wrap all of the artwork and relocate it elsewhere onsite, or transport the artwork to a secure art storage facility.

Reinstalling Artwork

Supervising an art installation

Supervising an art installation

Executing a construction project to completion is complicated, and as the process ends numerous questions arise. We are often asked when artwork should be brought back to the space. To help clients navigate these final stages, there are a few key considerations when deciding a timeline for reinstallation. First, you should ensure that all electrical work is completed before art returns to a space. Lights must be installed and operable, and no wiring should be loose. If the ceiling is open, or if wires aren’t fully integrated into the wall, the space is not yet safe for artwork.

Next, all walls must be fully completed, sealed, and painted before reinstalling artwork. This ensures that the source of dust is eliminated and that the artwork is safe from scratches or paint drips. Best practice is to remove artwork for any amount of painting, even touch-ups.

The final phase before a space is ready for artwork is installing or reinstalling furniture and large appliances. In both commercial and residential spaces, moving furniture can easily scratch, bump, or knock over artwork in its path. Mistakes happen, even with the most diligent of movers. Artwork should be the last thing that moves into a space before people occupy it. It’s the final touch of color, texture, and personality that completes a newly-renovated or constructed space. By waiting to install artwork last, you are protecting your investment and the aesthetic of the new space.

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Using Plexiglass for Archival Artwork Care

PLEXIGLASS VITRINE & LABEL COVERS

PLEXIGLASS VITRINE & LABEL COVERS

In art consulting, one of the most common materials we work with is plexiglass, a common type of acrylic. This transparent thermoplastic has many applications and uses, and requires specific care. When maintained correctly, plexiglass can be a long-lasting material that protects artwork from the elements.

Acrylic in Framing

When framing works on paper, plexiglass is used to protect the surface of the art. Sometimes referred to as "glazing", this plexi is available in many varieties and can be selected based on which characteristics will best fit the artwork’s needs. A common archival consideration with framing artwork is using glazing that blocks UV rays. UV rays from the sun (or even from older lighting fixtures) can damage and fade pigments in artwork, which can lower the aesthetic and financial value of a piece.

If a work on paper has an especially intricate surface texture, another option is to select a non-glare plexi. This is available with UV protection as well, and has a matte finish that makes it easier to see the details clearly.

Vitrines

Three-dimensional artwork can benefit from acrylic’s archival protection as well. Sculptures that stand on pedestals can have custom plexi boxes, also known as vitrines, built to protect them from the elements while still allowing the work to be viewed clearly from 360 degrees. Other artifacts or wall-mounted sculpture can be encased in plexi shadow boxes that mount inside of frames, which protect works displayed on a wall.

Label Covers

An important part of any artwork collection is signage that adds context to the art. We fabricate labels out of vellum, custom paper, or mylar to indicate information about artists and their work. We use thin, custom-cut acrylic is protect these labels because it is easy to read, clean, and reuse. The labels can have holes drilled to accommodate installation hardware, or fit inside aluminum sleeves depending on a collector’s design preference.

Advantages of Acrylic

We use plexiglass when designing custom frames and displays for artwork because it provides customizable archival protection. Acrylic doesn’t interact with chemicals on the surface of artwork, and when correctly implemented the artwork won’t leave a stain on it. Acrylic glazing is durable and doesn’t come with the risk of shattering like glass. To ensure long-term protection, we take certain precautions including never using products designed for glass, like Windex. We use cleaning materials designed for plexi, sprayed onto archival paper to apply it keeps the acrylic clear and minimizes scratches. Although plexiglass is easier to scratch than glass, these can be buffed out by using specific care products.

Acrylic has broad applications in protecting artwork, artifacts, and historical documents. It’s one of the easiest archival materials to maintain when cleaned and treated correctly, and is a minimal investment that can showcase items in a collection while shielding artwork from being directly touched, dust, and UV rays.

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