Australian Fine Artist

Archiving and Conserving Art

Venue: McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park

Care and Conservation of Works on Paper

Presenter: Jude Fraser, Manager Consultancy Programs.
Information from the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation University of Melbourne.

The two hour session at McClelland Gallery was for collectors, artists or anyone who had an interest in art, producing art or collecting of a variety of objects. As a practising artist, I wanted to learn more about conserving and archiving from the beginning, meaning from my studio and the initial creation of the artwork through to assisting clients to better care for their purchases from me.

This included consulting on storage of my materials, storage of and archiving artworks – especially those on paper (short and long term) and plans for storage facilities for the growth and expansion of my studio.

I was able to consult on these issues as well as get information about where to obtain quality archival materials in Victoria. It was a very well spent session and I have gained a lot of useful information not only for myself but for anyone I will be doing business with in the future. Hopefully this article will also be of help to readers of this blog.

Contact details and information have been placed at the end of this article with permission.

The CCMC supplies a fee for service in the following areas of Conservation:

  • Paper/Photos
  • Paintings
  • Objects (including sculptures)
  • Textiles
  • Frames

When assessing a piece the following deterioration factors are taken into consideration:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Light (access to, presence of various light – sun, UV, light bulbs etc)
  • Pollutants and Contaminants
  • Biological Attack/Pests such as Insects
  • Physical Damage (tearing, creasing etc)
  • Poor Quality Storage and/or Display

Controlling these factors are the preventative measures that will ensure a longer lifetime for any piece of art, including oil paintings, which contrary to popular belief, can be damaged by  sunlight, heat, humidity and pests just like works on paper. They may not show it and it may take longer but regular checking of all your acquired art will make sure that it lasts longer.

Preventative measures may include controlling:

  • Rates of temperature increase in the room or storage area
  • Elevated RH levels in the air
  • Water or leakage problems
  • Pests (which increase with humidity and warmth)
  • Mould
  • Foxing (little brown spots and marks on paper)
  • Distorting or buckling

Recommended storage for works on paper include:

  • The centre of your house where the temperature is more stable
  • Avoiding attics, basements and garages

Health tips for handling works on paper and books

  • Be careful when handling mouldy books or paper. Breathing in mould can be dangerous to your health, especially if you suffer from asthma or any lung problems. Use gloves and cover your face with a face mask for breathing protection.

General Problems You May Encounter

Handwritten pages that are old and have been in humid conditions may have ink that has bled through from one page to another making it difficult to read. A common problem in Asian and South East Asian countries and Northern Australia.

Fading is a problem as pigments and dyes will fade over time. This is increased by their exposure to light. Visible light is accumulative, which means that the damage will build up over time. Paper tends to go brown or darker in some cases and pigments can disappear off a page. this may mean that you need to decide which works you want to display in a room and swap them out on a regular basis, or make copies of the originals and display only the copies with the originals safely stored away.

Some paper can be treated by a “washing” technique which involves the use of a blotter to pull out the contaminants. The paper will never go back to pristine condition however. This will only help to improve the look and conserve the paper.


  • Photographs are prone to fading.
  • Colour and black and white photos will fade at different rates and some colours will fade differently to others.
  • One colour such as cyan may disappear before others.
  • Dye based prints are not as good as pigment based prints.


You may not think of it but dust is abrasive and can wear down surfaces of images. Dust also attacks moisture so will cause mould. Air borne chemical and contaminants can also cause reactions in paper products. This can be from insecticides as well as other chemicals in the house.

Preventative Measures

Storing in an archival box slows down changes in paper.

If hanging, try not to hang opposite a window with light streaming in on to the work, above a heater or open fireplace or in or near a kitchen, bathroom or laundry.

Check regularly, including on the back, for signs of insect damage (flies, silverfish, ants) or moisture.

Keep the area clean, regular cleaning and disturbing will help prevent insect infestation.

If the work is not in a frame or covered handle it with cotton gloves as the oils in your skin will also damage it. This include photos which can end up with fingerprints permanently etched into them from the oils naturally on the hand. Mylar sleeves are best for covering photos.

Recommended Mounts for Works on Paper and Photographs

  • Museum Board
  • Conservation Board
  • Photo Mount
  • Japanese Tissue Hinges
  • Attach with Wheat Starch Paste not sticky tape.
  • Photo Corners
  • Archival Starch Paste instead of regular glue.
  • Archival Back Board on Frames
  • Non Acidic Adhesive Tape

Recommended Methods for Hanging

  • Hang from 2 points on the wall not 1 to help prevent the frame from falling off the wall
  • Make sure the frame is secure (contents)
  • Check the backing board
  • Do not hang fragile works in high traffic areas or near doors
  • Avoid humidity (kitchens etc
  • Avoid direct sun
  • Check for insect damage regularly
  • Only handle when necessary
  • When in doubt about damage consult a conservator

The Role of a Conservator can include:

  • Removal of acidic backings
  • Reduction of stains and discolouration
  • Removal of sticky tape
  • Stablisation of flaky paint
  • Flattening out of buckled works
  • Repair of tears and losses (bits missing)
  • Replacement of linings (books, frames)

Remember that the best way to conserve is by acting proactively. Protect your valuable artworks, books and photographs before they are damaged. If you are unsure how to do this, consult with a professional conservator. It is easier to protect than try to remove or repair damage.

When you purchase art, ask the artist how to best display your  piece so that you will have many years of enjoyment from it. A well trained and educated artist will have an idea of how to assist you in this.

When purchasing from Janice Mills Fine Artist (CreArtive), you should receive a care sheet for your artwork purchase. If you have not got one, remind me and it will be supplied. This along with Certificates of Authenticity are the extra services that I now provide my valued clients.

Conserving Advice and Services
Jude Fraser: Manager, Consultancy Programs CCMC

Archival Materials and Materials

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