Posts filed under ‘Conservation’

The Care and Feeding of Acrylic Paintings Part IV – Cleaning

Over time everything accumulates dust, and paintings are not exempt. Fortunately, acrylic paintings are pretty durable and easy to clean.

If you want to completely avoid all problems of dust and dirt on your art, you have to frame everything under glass. The problem is that this isn’t always possible, or even desirable. Framing under glass is very expensive for larger pieces, and makes them very heavy and hard to hang. And some contemporary art looks better left unframed. (I typically display my larger pieces unframed.)

The best you can do for your art is to keep its environment as clean as possible. If you use your fireplace regularly, the space right over the fireplace is not a good place to hang a painting. Soot will slowly accumulate on the painting’s surface over time. Similarly, a painting hung in a room where people smoke will accumulate smoke particles. It’s best to hang the art in a room that doesn’t regularly get smoke.

If your painting gets a little dusty, feel free to dust it lightly. A lint-free cloth, microfiber dusting cloth, or slightly damp washcloth should work fine. Test a small area first to make sure you’re removing more dust than you’re depositing! Acrylic paint is very durable and waterproof, so a little dusting now and then won’t hurt it.

If something gets spilled onto the painting, it can be gently washed. First try using a damp sponge or washcloth to gently remove the spill. If that doesn’t do the trick, use some mild soap. Hand soap is good; I’d stay away from dishwashing detergent. Try not to scrub the surface too hard. No Brillo! It’s better to let the soap and water soften the stain rather than using elbow grease to scrape the stuff off.

Very harsh scrubbing can potentially lift some color from the painting, unless the painting has a protective topcoat or is varnished. Check the washcloth to see if any paint color has come off (don’t panic if it has, just use less pressure). Most of my paintings do have protective topcoats.

With reasonable care, including cleaning, acrylic paintings should survive for a very long time.

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October 22, 2007 at 11:18 pm

The Care and Feeding of Acrylic Paintings Part III – Hanging

There’s not a lot of trickery to hanging a painting, but I do have a few tips that I picked up while working in an art gallery.

The quick and dirty way to hang a painting is to pound a nail into the wall and just hang the darn thing up! Or even better, reuse an old nail that’s already there.

That works well enough.

But if you want to hang it slightly to the left, or slightly higher, or it’s heavy and you’re worried the nail will fall out, maybe it’s time to get a little more serious about hanging.

First of all, I recommend using special picture-hanging hooks rather than plain nails. These special hooks do a fantastic job and are much less likely to pull out of drywall or plaster than a plain nail. The hook holds the nail at a fixed angle and doesn’t allow it to wriggle or bend. It’s the wriggling and bending that cause nails to fail. These hooks are shown below.

Ook Hooks These hooks are made by the “Ook” company, and are available in home-improvement and home decorating stores.

Second, I recommend using two hooks for all but the tiniest paintings. This will keep the painting hanging straight even if it gets slightly brushed or bumped. With only one hook, paintings get skewed very easily. Also, with two hooks, the possibility of one hook failing is less likely (because each is only holding half the weight) and even if one does fail, the other one is your safety backup.

If you insist on using ordinary nails, I recommend that you position at least one of them in a wall stud. Use a stud-finder (available at any hardware or home improvement store) to locate your wall studs, and pick the one that’s closest to where you want the painting. The second nail (you ARE using two nails, right?) doesn’t necessarily have to go into a stud (though that would be great), just position it so that the painting hangs where you want it. The center of the painting will rest exactly halfway between the two nails, assuming you put both nails at the same height. (Below is a detailed description of measuring for precise hanging from two hooks).

Let’s hang that painting precisely where you want it.

First, pick the location for the painting. Make a tiny dot on the wall with a pencil that shows where you want the top center of the painting to be. Measure this carefully, because everything counts on this being accurate. If you can recruit some help, have your assistant hold the painting where you think you want it, so you can step back and view it from all angles to make sure you’re happy with the placement. This is easier than hanging it up and THEN deciding you want to move it.

If you’re only using one hook (tsk), hook the end of a tape measure from the center of the paintings’s hanging wire, hang the full weight of the painting from the tape measure, and measure the distance to the top edge of the painting. Place the hook that distance down from your dot on the wall. Make sure you’ve got the bottom of the hook, the part the wire actually rests in, at the measurement. I’ve nailed more than one hook in with the nail on my mark instead of the bottom of the hook. It’s an easy mistake to make! But if you get it right, when you hang the painting the dot on the wall should be exactly at the top edge of the painting as you intended. (If you’re within 1/4 inch, that’s pretty good.)

If you’re convinced that two hooks is preferable (yay!), the measurement becomes slightly more complicated, so bear with me.

First you have to decide how far apart you want the hooks. I’d put them about 1/2 to 1/3 of the picture’s width apart. So, for a 24-inch-wide painting, put the hooks 8-12 inches apart. To make sure, look at the wire on the back of the painting. Depending on how it’s wired, you might be constrained in how far apart the hooks can be. If the wire is only 12 inches long due to the construction of the painting and its frame, you’d better keep the hooks no more than 6 inches apart.

Now that you’ve chosen a reasonable spacing for the hooks, measure that out on the wall, centered on your dot. You need to put two more dots at the same height as your original dot, each half the hook spacing from the center dot. You can erase the center dot now. You’re left with 2 dots, spaced the same distance apart that you want the hooks to be. But they’re at the level where the top of the painting is supposed to be. Now comes the hard part.

Use your tape measure to figure out where the hooks will land on the wire on the painting, e.g., 12 inches apart or whatever your spacing is. Hold up the painting with one finger on the wire at one hook’s location and with the end of a tape measure at the other hook’s location. You want your finger and the tape measure to hold the full weight of the painting, because the wire stretches a little when it’s hanging. Measure the distance to the top of the painting (or the frame) for the one hook. Now transfer that distance down from both dots on the wall. Those are where the bottoms of the two hooks should be when you nail the hooks into the wall.

Hang the painting on the hooks. If you can only get it on one hook, don’t worry. Just scootch the painting, still on the one hook, all the way toward the other hook. That should free up more wire and give you enough slack to reach behind the painting and pull the wire over the other hook. Once you’ve got both hooks on the wire, slide the painting back to the correct location to straighten it. After you’ve done this maneuver once or twice, it becomes second nature.

If the painting is slightly tilted, you’ll need to slide it slightly to the left or right to get it to straighten. Once you think you’ve got it centered, knock it slightly to make sure it’s stable. If it tilts when bumped, it’s not quite perfectly centered. Once you’ve got it centered, slight bumps won’t knock it out of alignment. Cool, eh?

Check how close you came to your target marks on the wall. If you’re within 1/4 inch, you did really well!

If you’re not happy with where the painting is hanging, figure out how far up or down (or left or right) you want the painting to move from where it’s hanging right now. Then take down the painting and move both hooks by that amount. You want it higher by an inch? Just move both hooks up one inch, and you’ll be fine. The easiest way to remove those specialty picture hooks is to twirl the nail to loosen it from the wall, then pull it out gently. They leave very tiny inconspicuous holes, which is another benefit of using them over regular nails.

Congratulations! You’ve selected some beautiful original art and successfully hung it in your home! Stand back and enjoy it, you’ve earned it.

October 19, 2007 at 1:20 pm

The Care and Feeding of Acrylic Paintings Part II – Lighting

What’s the right way to light a painting?

Too much light is not only unpleasant, causing glare and reflections, but it can actually damage the painting over time. And of course too little light means you can’t see your art!

Sunlight is always too much light. It will fade all art over time (not to mention rugs, curtains, and upholstery). If you have walls that receive direct sunlight (through a window or skylight, for example) those are not the best places to hang fine art paintings.

What about those cute little lamps that hook right onto the painting’s frame? They look so professional, so museum-like, but actually they’re not a good idea. Even though these lights are not terribly bright, the fact that they’re so close to the surface of the painting means that they do cause fading over time. So, no frame lights.

The best lighting for art is recessed ceiling lights. Placed about 2 or 3 feet from a wall, they wash light down across the wall. They can appear quite bright, but being much farther away from the painting means they are much safer for the artwork’s longevity.

It is not necessary to install specialty lighting to illuminate your art collection. As long as you can see the art, it’s lit well enough! But if you do have the opportunity to install recessed ceiling lights, track lights, or other specialty lighting, you will be amazed how good your art looks. Good lighting makes art “pop”.

October 15, 2007 at 9:31 pm

The Care and Feeding of Acrylic Paintings Part I – Storage

Let’s talk about the best way to store art.

Of course the absolutely best way to store a painting is to hang it up on a wall in your home and enjoy it!

But you might not be able to do this right away. Maybe you don’t have any hooks. Maybe you’re moving, remodeling, or redecorating. Maybe you have other things hanging that you plan to remove but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Whatever the reason, you don’t have a place for it to hang just yet. In that case, you’ll need to store it.

Let’s store that painting so when it does come out of storage it’s undamaged and ready to be hung and enjoyed!

The first rule of art storage, and this applies to ALL forms of art, is to let nothing touch the surface. Delicate works of art like watercolors can be scratched. Glass can be scratched or even broken. Plexiglas is notoriously easy to scratch. And a painting on canvas (such as acrylic or oil) might actually deform if something leans against the canvas, either from the front or the back. Please don’t let that happen! If it’s only a short time and there’s just a small dent it should relax out after you remove the offending item (give it a couple days), but if it happens over a long time the canvas can become permanently deformed. And the paint might get scratched or chipped if the item is sharp and pointy.

It’s best to store a painting, especially a large one, upright rather than lying flat. But I’ll let you bend this rule if you really have to. If the only place the painting will fit is under your bed, so be it. Just please remember it’s down there and rescue it before too many months or years go by, okay?

The best location to store a painting is in a climate-controlled interior space. Like your house! If the temperature and humidity are comfortable for you, they’re perfect for your art.

A garage or attic is not a good place to store art. The high heat in the summer and/or extreme cold in the winter are not good for the longevity of your art. Please protect your investment and keep it inside the house.

I think a basement that never gets below freezing is okay, just please keep the painting up out of any possible flood zones! Water is terribly damaging, more to the structure of the painting (the wood stretchers and the canvas fabric) than the paint, but mold can discolor the painting itself too. Best just to keep the painting out of the damp altogether!

If you can find the space, leaning the painting against a wall so that the front of the painting faces the wall is the best. The back of a closet works well for this. This will protect the front of the painting from scuffs, while still keeping the canvas upright. Second best, as mentioned before, is lying flat under a bed where it won’t get kicked.

When you buy one of my paintings, whether in person or by mail, you’ll get a nifty clear plastic bag along with the painting. I strongly recommend keeping it in the bag until you hang it. If it’s framed, this is less important, but for an unframed piece it’s crucial.

One annoying thing about acrylic paint is that it remains flexible and therefore very slightly tacky, pretty much forever. This helps it withstand changes in humidity and temperature without becoming brittle over time the way oils do, but on the other hand it also means that acrylic paintings are more prone to sticking to stuff. Now don’t worry, I don’t mean it sticks like glue! But if it leans against something or rests on top of something, it might get a little too cozy with that something and resist being separated after a while.

So please leave your painting in that protective bag I gave you (to which it will NOT stick) as long as it’s being stored. I’ve stored acrylic paintings in these bags safely for several years, as well as subjected them to tests using weights, and I’m confident they’re the best way to keep your painting safe while it’s in storage.

But I do hope you’ll pull it out of storage and hang it up as soon as possible!

October 12, 2007 at 12:46 am 2 comments


Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Follow me on Twitter: @barbarajcarter

Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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