Whether you are a budding artist with limited space for paintings and utensils, an art collector, or you recently inherited artworks and are not sure what to do with them, one common issue arises: how to store them properly and where. Artwork in general, and oil paintings in particular, need a special environment when it comes to storage. Here is how to make sure that your art collection is stored properly:
1. Find the right place to store them
Storing oil paintings starts with finding the right place for them. You need a space that is cool and relatively dry. An attic or a basement does not offer the right environment because they are either too hot, cold or humid.
Exposing artwork to heat dries out the oil paint, which speeds up the aging process. On the other hand, moisture affects the adhesion of paint layers, causing paint loss and promoting the growth of molds in the form of black points on the canvas. Low humidity is preferable. However, if the air is too dry, the paint becomes brittle, resulting in mechanical damages to the painting when trying to manipulate it. The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute recommends storing paintings at an average temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity of 45% to 55%.
It is challenging to ensure this type of environment at home. A great option is a climate-controlled self storage unit where the average temperature and humidity stays constant throughout the year regardless of the outside weather. Depending on how large your art collection is, you could opt for a 5×5 storage unit or a larger, 10×10 unit.
2. Prepare paintings for storage
Ensure that your hands are clean when handling paintings and try to touch the canvas and the frames as little as possible. Dirt and prints from your fingers can cause serious damages to paintings. Wearing cotton gloves is a good precaution, as well as removing jewelry from your hands. If the painting does not have any flaking paint, you can brush the dust using a soft, natural-hair brush. If the canvas is not correctly framed, you should take it to a professional to remediate the situation, particularly if it is a valuable painting. Reframing is not an easy DIY project, and you might end up damaging the painting.
The next step is wrapping the painting for storage. The wrapping must not touch the painted surface, just the frame of the painting. Do not use plastic like saran wrap for paintings. The wrapping needs to be a breathable material, so go for tissue paper, paper towels or soft fabrics.
When moving the painting, use two hands and carry it by the frame’s sides, never by the top. Two persons should handle large paintings to avoid the risk of dropping them or banging them against walls or door frames.
3. Precautions to take while storing paintings in your home or a storage unit
Never stack oil paintings on top of the other. The weight will deteriorate the paintings placed at the bottom. There is also the risk of canvases being damaged by other paintings’ frames. Other important precautions are making sure that you do not put the paintings directly on the floor and that the paintings are not touching.
Even in a climate-controlled space, there might be temperature and humidity variations at floor level, so make sure there is some insulation between the floor and the paintings. The best way to store paintings long term are slotted stands or racks that allow the arrangement of paintings upright without them touching the floor or each other. You could also add a large piece of cardboard between paintings to eliminate any risks of accidents or damages.
4. Get insurance
Whether you are keeping your paintings at home, in a storage unit or displayed on your walls, it is important to buy insurance. Your homeowner’s, renter’s or self storage insurance might cover your artwork against theft or damage. Make sure you check your policy and ask your insurer for details. Most insurance companies also offer separate add-ons for artwork.
However, it is better to purchase separate insurance from a fine arts insurance company for valuable artworks, one that covers your belongings’ real value. The first step is to have the artwork appraised by a specialist. The annual premium for insuring artwork is 1% to 2% of its appraised value.
5. Display your paintings safely
The main purpose of art is to be enjoyed and admired, and you should display your favorite paintings on your walls. There are some basic rules to follow when displaying paintings. First, make sure that the wall you want to hang your painting on does not get too much direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can damage and fade artwork. It is preferable to pick a wall that is in the shade throughout the day. Alternatively, you can replace regular glass in your frame with special glass or acrylic materials that block out UV rays.
Also, make sure the wall does not have issues with excessive humidity or mold. Surface discoloration, brown or black spots, peeling paint or soft and spongy drywall are good indicators of such problems. If that is your case, postpone displaying paintings until after resolving the humidity issue. Measuring the humidity inside the room is equally important. Humidity should be at around 55%, which is ideal not only for paintings but also for humans. You could use a dehumidifier, should the need arise.
Use strong and sturdy painting hooks or hangers that you anchor inside the wall. The hangers are usually labeled with the weight they can withstand, so be sure you get the proper size for your paintings. Use a level and some tape to make sure you align the paintings perfectly. Pay attention so that you do not damage the frame or the canvas while hanging the painting. Ask someone to help you, especially if it is a large painting or you are hanging it higher up on the wall.