Original works of art are made with durability and longevity in mind, though there are a few simple things you can do to enhance their life span. Below are basic tips for the care and maintenance of your artwork.
Artists use everything from oil paints to watercolors and sometimes an unusual combination of several media on a wide variety of surfaces. Most paintings are framed without glass, making them highly vulnerable to their surroundings, particularly sunlight. Pastels are an exception and they should be framed only under glass (thermoplastic has a magnetic pull).
Oil paintings are quite durable provided they have been properly varnished. They can even withstand touch, which makes them the best option for children’s rooms. Keep oil paintings clean by wiping them gently with a damp cloth. You won’t damage your artwork since the oil is impervious to water. Acrylic paintings, by contrast, should be dusted lightly with a soft brush.
Photographs and Prints
Works on paper are generally more delicate than works on canvas and should be framed behind glass. Make sure the framer uses acid-free, archival materials to ensure no harm comes to your artwork. Frame photographs and prints behind glass if you’re worried about scratches; use a clear acrylic sheet for a lighter-weight alternative. Use a lint-free cloth to clean either surface and be sure to spray the cleaning solution on the cloth, not the piece itself. Also, avoid hanging photographs in direct sunlight or in settings that are very humid. These conditions can cause your artwork to fade or ripple.
The primary concern for wood products is water damage since no finish is ever completely waterproof. It is also important to protect wood pieces from sudden changes in temperature or humidity, which can cause cracking or warping. Keep wood away from heat sources and the bleaching and drying effects of direct sunlight. In the most humid climates, the fungus may pose a secondary threat. In this case, regulate indoor humidity and keep objects from direct contact with the floor. To keep wood furnishings and artwork clean, dust regularly with a brush or lint-free cloth. Some objects gain tremendous character over years of contact and use, but if you would like to keep the finish of your wood piece in pristine condition, handle it only with cotton gloves.
Glassworks have to be handled with extreme care and safety. Make sure your hands are clean but don’t wear gloves, which may be too slippery. Avoid lifting glass pieces from handles, corners, and other protruding elements. Cleaning the glasswork depends on the type of glass from which it is created. Cast glass is best simply dusted with a soft brush. Glass lighting may be cleaned with a basic glass cleaner – just make sure to clean it when it is at room temperature. Glossy blown glass can be wiped with a soft cloth moistened with water or any other non-abrasive cleaner.
Though a relatively hard medium, ceramic pieces are very brittle and may crack, chip, or break if handled or used improperly. Ceramic sculpture is displayed in an enclosed cabinet or case, and will be protected from dirt and dust. If you need to clean your ceramic piece, consult its glaze. Unglazed pieces can be brushed with a soft make-up brush or paintbrush, or sprayed with canned air. Glazed pieces are best washed in lukewarm water and a bar of gentle soap. Extreme fluctuations in temperature or humidity can be harmful to delicate pieces. Even oven-safe stoneware dishes should not be placed directly into a hot oven. Instead, allow the dish to heat up along with the oven.
Whatever their surface treatment, metalworks are often finished with a protective wax, lacquer, or paint. If your metal artwork is placed outdoors, its surface may need protection from pollution, dirt, and natural elements. Ask the artist what kind of changes you can expect so you won’t be surprised later on, and have him guide you to the best protective strategy. Metal pieces or architectural elements placed indoors can be cleaned with an oil-based polish and then buffed with a dry rag. Bronze, however, should only be dusted with a lint-free cloth or feather duster. For heavier bronze cleaning, use distilled water, then dry the piece thoroughly.
Proper care for jewelry depends mainly on the materials used to create it, though a few common-sense rules always apply. For example, remove jewelry before heavy exercise, strenuous work, or contact with chemicals. In particular, keep it away from the chlorine bleach found in household cleaning products or swimming pools – it will have a damaging oxidizing effect. To prevent scratching, store individual pieces in separate compartments or wrapped in tissue paper or cotton pads. Earrings require regular maintenance – clean them with rubbing alcohol each time you wear them and avoid wearing them to bed. Other pieces should be wiped gently with a soft, lint-free cotton cloth after you wear them. Use jewelry cleaning solutions and ultrasonic cleaners only with caution: these products can damage soft stones or settings. When in doubt, get your treasured pieces cleaned by professionals.
To ensure they receive proper air circulation, many fiber works are generally left unframed. Fiber wall hangings benefit from limited handling and occasional vacuuming, using a gentle attachment, to keep them free of dust. Consult the artist about the best way to hang the piece – it’s often best to attach a fabric sleeve to the back and mount it using a wooden plank. Use soft, cool lighting near these pieces to prevent the breakdown of individual fibers. Fiber floor coverings may be spot cleaned with a commercial cleaner or cleaned professionally as needed. Limit direct sun exposure to all fiber pieces in order to prevent fading or discoloration.