As a service provided by FAE, the following informational posts cover a series of art related subjects, designed to demystify working with fine art, and tips on how best to use the FAE Website. The FAE Design Blog table of Contents has been divided into the following categories:
Please do not underestimate the importance of a proper frame for your painting or fine print. Framing is an important design decision that can either enhance or diminish your art viewing experience. The framing decisions you make will not only affect the look of the artwork and the environment into which it will be placed, but its long-term well being as well.
How the artwork will be used can inform frame choice. If it is framed for a collection or museum – because it will most likely be moved from place to place over time – the most important consideration is that the frame compliments, enhances and protects the artwork. If it is to be installed in a commercial setting where it is most likely permanently placed, in addition to helping to enhance and protect the artwork, it needs to fit in with the overall design of the room.
For your artwork to have the best chance of retaining its value, it is best to be sure that the frame shop you have chosen practices archival framing techniques. Essentially, Archival or Conservation framing means that anything used in the framing of an artwork will not damage the artwork over the long term and will, in most cases, help to protect it. This is most important with works on paper.
How to find a good Framer?
If you are working with a designer, they will most likely have several framers they regularly work with to recommend for your specific need. If you are not working with a designer, and you feel uncomfortable making this type of decision yourself, a good frame shop will normally have an experienced person on staff who can assist you in making good framing decisions.
One of the best ways to find a good framer is to contact several art galleries around your area that do not have framing departments and ask them who the best conservation framers are in the area. Although conservation framing is more expensive, the extra expense will pay off down the road.
How to help the framer help you get the most suitable frame?
For a framer to be most effective at suggesting proper frame designs for your artwork, it is best to not only take the artwork to the meeting, but to also take:
• Photos of the entire room in which the artwork will reside
• Measurements of the wall onto which the artwork is to be hung
• Information and visuals on how the artwork will be lit.
And if the artwork is to be hung over a sofa, a chest, or a fireplace mantle:
• Be sure to provide the height of the object the artwork is to be placed above
• Provide the height of the wall above the object to the ceiling molding above.
Following are a few things you may want to avoid or at least think about when choosing a frame for your artwork. I was going to call this section “Framing Don’ts” but as with just about every rule in this world, there are always exceptions.
Over-framing can relate to the disproportionately large size of a frame to the artwork it surrounds, or the inappropriate ornateness or finish of the frame related to the period, style, and subject of the artwork. Sometimes, to make a small artwork appear more significant looking, a much larger frame (or mat-and-frame combination) is employed, sometimes to the point of totally overpowering the artwork. I have seen this technique used often on late impressions of Rembrandt etchings. To make them more important looking, a small etching is surrounded by a complex frame, often 10 to 20 times the size of the actual etching.
Under-framing is when an artwork is not provided the frame it deserves. For financial and sometimes practical reasons, artists who paint in oil and acrylic on canvas will either not frame or put strip molding around the artwork to protect the artwork’s edges, assuming that the person who buys the painting will frame the work to their own specifications. Some galleries will not frame any of the work they have for sale of this type for that same reason.
The 50/50 rule
This rule pertains to the width of two-part frame assemblies, that is, a liner to its frame or a mat to its frame. The rule states that both these elements should never be perceptively the same width. So, the mat width on a fine print should never be, or look, the same width as the frame that surrounds it. If the mat was there first and it is decided that it is to be kept, the width of the frame that is chosen for the work needs to be significantly smaller or larger to feel right.
In most cases, like clothes, it is usually appropriate to dress an artwork to fit the room in which it is to be sited. This means the room will often dictate the type of frames that will be appropriate to choose for that space. It is normally inappropriate to put a driftwood frame above a Louis XV gilded commode in a period room.
Keep original frames
Frame styles change with the fashion and period in which the artwork was created. Sometimes the original frame on an artwork does not fit a contemporary space so it is decided that the frame needs to be changed. Separating a period frame from an older artwork can actually reduce the value of the artwork. If it is decided a change of frame is necessary, it is wise to store the original frame so it can be reused later.
There is a lady who owns a major American modernist painting for which the artist personally made and decorated the frame. She personally disliked the frame, so she had the painting re-framed to suit her home and the original is stored at a local art warehouse. The painting is loaned out to museum shows with great regularity and when it is, the art movers take the painting to the warehouse, change out the frame to the artist’s original frame, and send it out to the museum. When it returns, the process is reversed, and the painting is returned to her in the frame she prefers. If she had discarded the frame, she would have thrown away many thousands of dollars in value.
For more information about Framing Artwork, visit these other blog posts:
Designing a place to store the parts of your collection that you do not currently have on display is not as difficult as it may sound. One can either procure off site storage at a bonded fine art storage facility, or make space at home by assessing the dimensional space the art will take up that is currently resting and building rack spaces that are designed to safely accommodate it, taking into account your future needs.
Rather than provide a “do this for this situation” scenario, I thought it better to show the solutions we devised to store art in our home and gallery. These storage solutions have served us well and can be adapted to fit most any circumstance. They range from a large painting storage built into a living space and a framed works on paper storage in a closet in our home, to public and behind the scenes storage in our gallery.
Visible Large Painting Storage:
We had more large paintings than we had room for in the gallery, so we built large painting storage at the end of a room that was originally an artist studio. The storage had to be functional and a decorative element in the space. It also had to be easily removable if we decided not to store works there in the future.
Since our house is in a flood zone, we created a plinth to put the artworks on and designed drawers on rollers that would fit within the body of the plinth, as deep as the plinth itself. The drawers hold plastic tubs for storage. We used 2 5/8 inch galvanized chain link fence posts for the vertical supports and a smaller diameter 1 5/8 inch of the same material to support the shelves.
The plinth was built in individual sections and the vertical support pipes were designed to be easily removed. In fact, if in a hurry, the pipes and plinth can be removed by two people in about two hours. We used carpet on top of the plinth to protect the frames and edges of the artwork. So that we could minimize the visual clutter of the artwork and fluted cardboard separators, we had motorized white scrims added that can hide the artwork from view when wanted.
Built-In Storage in a Walk-In Closet
To store a collection of framed small works on paper, we had shelves built into a walk-in closet located in an unused bedroom.
Since most of the framed works were small in scale, we did not need extra strong supports. A system of 3/4 inch high grade plywood boxes were built and the sides were drilled so the shelves could be supported with shelf support pegs. To keep the temperature and airflow appropriate for works on paper, we had an HVAC register installed in the closet (shown below) and used louver doors that acts as a return (shown above). Since the house is adequately secure, we were not concerned about security here other than keeping honest people out.
We used foam core separators for this rack space as it is less likely to scuff antique frames than regular cardboard. It does not matter if the artworks extend beyond the front of the end of the shelf, as long as the separators are cut to accommodate the extension and there is enough room opposite the shelf for the artworks to be removed with ease. Make sure that all framed works on paper will fit the rack spaces in their upright configuration, as they should never be stored sideways or upside down.
The carpet is cut pile and the front of each shelf, in this case 3/4 inch plywood, has been rounded so the carpet can be wrapped to form a soft bumper.
Holes were drilled all around the supports so four shelf support pegs can hold each shelf wherever needed. The holes for the shelf support pegs need to be drilled close to the front edge of the box sides as shown below.
Unframed Works on Paper Storage in a Public Gallery Space
We cleaned up a poorly used closet off one of our gallery spaces and turned it into a works on paper storage and viewing space.
We built shelves for thirty 16 x 20, fifteen 20 x 24, and sixteen 24 x 30 standard sized archival boxes to store unframed works on paper the gallery has in inventory.
The three pull out shelves designed into the cabinet allow easy handling of the boxes and serves as a platform to show artworks to clients.
Although the shelves are thin, they can handle the weight of a fully laden box because the weight is spread out across the entire shelf and the box is supported around the shelve’s edges.
This system of shelves can easily be designed to fit most anywhere. For instance, if there was no room anywhere else in the house for storage, a sculpture stand could be made on wheels with shelves on one side allowing the unit to be turned against the wall to hide the boxes from view. About the only place this type of box should not be placed is on the floor, especially under a bed. (Artworks should never be stored under a bed.)
Housing Artworks In Gallery Storage Areas
At Valley House, the main storage area is not open to the public like in some galleries. Because of this, the racks are designed for function, not looks.
The racks on this aisle are designed to handle mid-sized artworks. The depth of the rack on the left is 54 inches deep. This depth was accomplished by designing 48 inch deep racks and moving them off the wall by 6 inches. The 54 inch depth was chosen to allow a 48 inch wide painting with a large frame to fit the rack properly. All the separators are 54 inches deep and hit the back wall to keep the artworks properly separated so they don’t scrape against each other when moved in and out. The aisle between the racks is 56 inches wide. This is so that, a painting can be pulled straight out of the rack without being obstructed by the opposing rack.
There are three 2 x 4’s that make up each of this rack’s vertical support sections. Supports are on 24 inch centers so each shelf, made of carpeted 3/4 inch plywood, has 22 1/2 inches of usable space. This narrow shelf width will support most any two dimensional artwork that is placed on it.
The shelves in this section are held up by one of two types of support. The first is a 1 inch wood dowel that is slipped into a 1 inch hole drilled through the side of each of the shelves’ 2 x 4 supports. It was drilled taking into account the ultimate height of the shelf. Depending on the length of the dowel, it can either go through the 2 x 4 and stop on the other side or stick out on both sides to provide support to the shelf next to it.
The second type is a 1 x 2 inch stick, cut to the width of the 2 x 4. Here it is drilled with counter sunk pilot holes and then affixed to the support with sheet rock screws at the height needed. A 48 inch long 1 x 2 could have been used instead of the shorter ones if more support was necessary.
In the same storage space, seen below is a rack designed for smaller scale framed works. The structure is the same as the larger racks but this section is only 30 inches deep. Because the shelves have to support less weight, they are supported with a KV shelf support system.
The 2 x 4 supports have been routed to allow the KV clip rails to be flush with the surface of the 2 x 4. This allows the shelves to properly fit between their supports.
I hope these art storage solutions are helpful and inspire a plan to build proper storage for artworks that are on sabbatical. Long term storage of artworks haphazardly stacked in a closet, or worse, under a bed is asking for trouble.
Following is a List of Things to Think About While You are Planning a Storage System for Your Collection.
Determine if you want on or off-site storage
Determine if you want other people to see your storage area as it may make a difference on how you want the racks finished out.
Determine how much storage you need now and project how much you will need in the future, considering what you are collecting and your collecting history.
Determine if you need climate-controlled storage for what you are collecting; works on paper will need it, but ceramics may not. If you are not sure, consult a conservator in the field you are collecting.
Be sure that the width of the rack you design is, or is less than, 1/2 of the distance to whatever immovable object is in front of it, whether it is another facing rack or a wall.
Be sure that you consider the weight of the artworks you are planning to store and determine if the structure you are designing will support that weight comfortably.
With that in mind, be sure the distance between the vertical supports is not too great when designing your racks. Remember that with every inch of extra distance between the vertical supports their is space for another artwork. This extra weight may cause the shelf to bow and eventually fail. A shelf made from 3/4 inch plywood that is expected to support large glazed artworks should not be any wider than 24 inches. To support really heavy works, there is nothing wrong with laminating two shelves together.
Always use cut pile carpet on a shelf rather than closed loop. The loops can catch on the edges of a frame or cause a wood frame to splinter while an artwork is being slid in or pulled out.
The separators used should be either foam core, fluted cardboard, or pure fluted polypropylene sheet. Acid free fluted cardboard would be a preference over regular but is not always practical. (Be sure to slide artworks slowly back and forth into their rack space. This will help slow what I call “rack rash.”)
It is important that, whatever type is chosen, all separators properly fit the depth and height of the rack. They should minimally stretch from the back of the rack or back stop to the front of the rack in length and be about 1/2 inch below the shelf above it in height. (Please do not use separators that are not the right depth. You may not know when a short separator is not properly protecting the artwork next to it and damage can easily happen when a work is moved in and out.)
It is always a good idea to provide movable shelf supports so they can be moved when wanted. However, it is my experience that once you have established heights for each shelf and have cut separators to the proper size, you will most likely not move the shelf heights again.
So, you have decided to paint the living room. While the workers do their thing, you have determined that the furniture can be moved to the center of the room and be protected via drop cloth, but where and how should you temporarily store your art for the next two weeks while the paint dries?
As with my post on transporting an artwork in your car, I will make suggestions on how to temporarily store artwork by safely stacking two-dimensional works against a wall using protective materials that would be found in your home or could be picked up at a local U-LINE, Lowes, or Home Depot. If you are lucky to live with museum quality works, you might want to call an art moving company to carefully pack and move them to a bonded climate-controlled storage facility and read no further. If your artworks are not of museum quality, carefully stacking them against a wall and providing protection at any points of contact can work just as well.
Deciding Where Your Artwork Should Be Stored
Choose a climate-controlled space to store your art. One of the best storage spaces might be a rarely used guest bedroom where the artworks are out of normal traffic patterns and the door can be shut to keep out roaming pets. A deadbolt lock installed on the door would also keep out wandering “guests.”
Since many homes these days have climate zoned spaces so you are not senselessly air conditioning rarely used areas, if the “guest bedroom” you are planning to use is not in a frequently used zone, be sure to adjust that zone’s temperature a day or two before you are planning to move the artwork. This will allow its temperature to normalize to the rest of the house and confirm that the HVAC equipment is working properly. Remember the main things to worry about are temperature, humidity, and airflow. The atmosphere of the storage space should be close to the living room they came out of.
Find a wall where the largest artwork you are storing will fit so its entire top frame edge is fully resting against it. If the artwork is not a work on paper and not hinged, it can be place in any orientation, so its smallest side should be leaning against the wall. If it is a glazed work on paper and/or hinged, it needs to always be kept upright. If you have many artworks, they can be divided into multiple stacks, especially if there is a lot of weight involved or a large size differential between artworks. It is often a good idea to group the works in general size categories, like large, medium, and small, and stack them accordingly.
If there is a bed in the room, place an old sheet over its bedspread and then lay the smaller works face up across the bed so they are not touching each other. The sheet will keep your bedspread from getting dirty from dusty frame backs. Although for the short term it is not necessary, if you are concerned about dust, cover the artworks loosely with a thin clear plastic drop cloth so anyone entering the room can see that there is artwork covering the bed.
Since water leaks do happen, I highly recommend placing something on the floor to stack the artworks on. This could be a couple of 2 x 4 boards placed perpendicular to the wall and far enough apart so the artworks straddle them comfortably, or setting a folded fold-up table on the floor against the wall and placing a rubber backed bathmat on it so the artworks will not slide on the table top.
Do not stack the artwork over or in front of an HVAC register or return. It is alright to stack the works next to a return but not a vent that would blow hot or cold air directly onto the artwork. Be especially careful of large light canvases, as they can easily be blown over if a vent is blowing air behind a leaning work.
Note: As these artworks may have been hanging in your living room for a very long time, take the opportunity, as each is taken down, to dust the backside of their frames before moving them to where they will be stored.
Preparing and Properly Stacking Your Artworks
The type of artwork and how it is framed will determine how it should be stacked against a wall. In an ideal situation each artwork would be properly wrapped for its type and how it is framed, and then each would be boxed or at least separated by a sheet of fluted cardboard, foam core, sheet insulation or other type of light stiff separator. Since we are talking about stacking the artwork against a wall for a couple of weeks, following a few rules of thumb will achieve pretty much the same outcome without all the packing. So, here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to prepare and stack your artworks.
Create a Working Inventory
Create an inventory of the works you will be moving to your designated storage space. Index cards work well here as they can be put in the order they will be moved and stacked. Be sure that along with the information that identifies each artwork, you include the artworks’ total framed dimensions, including their depth. Also note if any of the artworks’ supports are paper and are glazed as this will normally indicate that they must be stacked upright. You may want to circle the hinged artworks, showing you cannot change their orientation the way you can, in most cases, with an oil on canvas or panel. The cards should be sorted so that the largest work is on top and the smallest is on the bottom.
Note: As opposed to the way almost everything else in the universe is measured, artworks are measured using height before width, and then depth.
Take a tape measure to the space you are planning to store the works and make sure that the largest artwork will fit the available wall space considering its proper orientation.
Using Risers to Raise Artwork Above the Floor Level
To determine the length of the risers that will keep the artworks off the floor, let’s say they are 2 x 4 boards, add up all the depth measurements on the cards you anticipate will be in the largest stack and add 12 inches to account for the separators if you are planning to use them. Also consider the angle against the wall of the first artwork in the stack. It does not matter if the boards are a bit too long, you just don’t want them to be too short. The risers should be placed perpendicular to the wall and far enough apart so the smallest artwork in the stack will sit on top of them. If the frames are fragile, you may want to cut two 3.5-inch strips off one of your separators and place it on the 2 x 4 risers before you start stacking artworks.
General Rules for Stacking
As a general rule, artworks should be stacked in a graduated order with the largest against the wall and the smallest being the last work added. If the first work placed is facing the wall and it is backed or has stretcher braces, it may have a smaller work stacked against it.
If the artwork is not backed or has stretcher braces, each new work that is added to the stack, whether using sheet separators or not, should either match or exceed its predecessor in either height or width, not both. This way, it will span an unprotected canvas and have at least two points of contact at the top, or upper sides of its frame.
Using Separator Sheets to Protect Artworks
As mentioned above, it is always best to use separators between each artwork in a stack. I would recommend sheets of fluted cardboard, foam core, sheet insulation or other type of light stiff separator material. For each artwork added to the stack, place a separator sheet that is larger than the work it is placed in front of. That does not mean that it needs to be cut down to fit, it just means that the sheet should not be smaller.
Note: Do not use soft materials to cover or wrap artworks such as blankets or sheets unless they are all glazed and backed works. Cotton blankets would be preferred over wool, especially if the artworks are pastels. Pastels should never be stored with their faces at a forward angle or face down. It would be best to place a glazed pastel, face up, on a bed.
If you have more artworks than separator sheets, the face-to-face, back-to-back method of stacking may be appropriate. That means you should start your stack with a separator sheet against the wall and then place the first artwork, so it faces the wall and the top of its frame is in contact with the separator sheet and not with the wall. The second artwork should be placed, using the “at least two points of contact” rule, with its back to the first work. Then place a separator sheet against the face of the second work and repeat the process.
Stacking Without Separator Sheets
If you are planning on stacking without separator sheets, certainly not recommended by me, you have to be extra careful how and where each artwork makes contact with the artwork in front and behind it, and the “at least two points of contact rule” needs to be strictly adhered to. Also, if their weight and center of gravity is not a problem, they should, in most cases, be stacked face-to-face and back-to-back. When stacking, the artworks that are placed back-to-back should be touching all around. The works that are stacked face-to-face should not touch except at two upper points of contact. Where the frames touch, two folded washcloths can be used as protection by laying them over the frame where the contact is made.
Note: While works are stacked this way, they should remain undisturbed until they are unstacked to be reinstalled. Do not pull several works in the stack forward to show off a work, and under no circumstances pull a work from the center of the stack. If a work is needed, carefully unstack the works back to that artwork.
The Issue of Weight
Weight is a factor that may determine how many works should be in each stack. Large glazed works with heavy frames weigh a lot. You may not want to place any more than three or four works in a stack of artworks like this. Canvases with strip molding may not weigh a lot and therefore it might be realistic to stack more. Bottom line; you don’t want to stack so many artworks together that a single person could lose control of it if they were supporting it while another person was flipping through the artworks.
Determining an Artwork’s Center of Gravity
You will need to determine the center of gravity for the first artwork that starts a stack and ideally, each artwork that follows as they are placed. This can be determined by setting each artwork vertically on the floor in the orientation it will be stacked. It will normally want to fall forward or back depending on its center of gravity. (Whichever way it wants to fall, that is the side that should face the wall.) This means that if you are using separators between each artwork, they should be stacked in the direction that they would naturally fall. Works that do not easily fall one way or the other have a neutral center of gravity so they can be safely stacked either way.
Properly Setting the Angle of the First Artwork
The angle at which the first artwork is placed against the wall in a stack is very important! If the angle is too little, even if you have determined that its center of gravity will tend for it to naturally hug the wall, it sets up a situation where if other artworks are not stacked properly, it could allow the stack to fall. On the other hand, if the angle is too much, it will place undue stress on the stack because with every degree of extra angle added, the stack becomes progressively heavier with the first artwork that started the stack bearing the greatest weight. Also, instead of the possibility of the artworks that are stacked with too narrow an angle falling over, too much of an angle could cause the artworks at the end of the stack to start sliding out from the bottom. Also, the change of angle related to the height of the artwork also must be considered.
It is best to keep these issues in mind when determining how far the bottom of the first artwork should be away from the wall when setting the stack. Unfortunately, there is no formula that I know of that is a standard rule of thumb to determine the perfect angle, especially with all the unknown variables when you start. So, the best I can do is let you know how I do it:
I place the top of the first artwork so the side to which it naturally wants to fall is against the separator sheet that is leaning against the wall and its bottom is sitting on the riser about 4 inches away from the wall. I then pull the top of the artwork away from the wall about an inch to feel the weight of its resistance. If it seems too little, I will move the artwork’s bottom away from the wall another inch and try again until it feels right. If it seems like it is heavy or has too much resistance, I would move the artwork’s bottom toward the wall an inch and try again until the resistance feels right. Then I continue stacking other artworks between separators until I think stacking more would endanger the first artwork or make the stack unstable. I test the resistance of each added artwork as it is placed to be sure it is properly weighted towards the previously stacked work.
I focused on a guest bedroom as a good place to store artworks for this post because most guest bedrooms are properly climate controlled and rarely entered, making them an ideal location for storing artwork. Remember, because of change orders or unexpected issues that pop up during most any renovation project, they are rarely finished on time. For this reason, it is best to store your artworks where they will not be disturbed until they are ready to be put back on the wall. Having to unstack the artwork and move it to a safer location and then restack it will unnecessarily put the artwork in danger.
I hope you have found the information in this post helpful. Although I have mentioned a way to stack the artworks without using separators, I recommend using them. They will provide a higher level of protection to both the artwork and frames, especially if there is a situation where the stack falls over for some reason.
If your storage needs exceed the short term, you may have interest in reading my post, Four Artwork Storage Solutions. In the meantime, happy stacking.
For more information about safe handling of artwork, visit these other blog posts:
Artworks are often at their most vulnerable when they are in transit, especially if the person who is transporting them is inexperienced. So to ease the stress and anxiety of doing so, I though I would share some practical tips for safely transporting artwork in your own vehicle.
For this post, I thought it would be helpful to offer some suggestions as to how to safely transport a single two-dimensional artwork in a personal vehicle. As most people do not have professional packing supplies at home, I will focus on using household items such as blankets, large garbage bags and pillows to be used sensibly in protecting the artwork when it is placed in the automobile.
All the suggestions I have made below come from over 45 years of experience in packing artwork in just about every type of vehicle, and from seeing how artworks have been delivered to us by non-professionals. Every situation is different and none of the suggestions I am making will protect the artwork or you in a serious accident. These suggestions are just “guidelines.”
Will it Fit?
It may sound rudimentary, but whether you are taking an artwork from home to another location or heading out to pick up a new acquisition from a gallery, it is always a good idea to measure the artwork and the space in your vehicle where you are planning on securing it, to see if it will comfortably fit. Also, where it will be placed in the vehicle, the type of artwork, and how it is framed will all determine if it needs to be wrapped, and if so, what level of protection is required. Once that is determined, take that overall packed size into account when measuring.
If you are picking up an artwork, say from a gallery, remember that if it is framed, the size of the artwork documented on the bill of sale or in the catalog of the show is the actual artwork size, not its overall framed size. Call the galley and ask them to measure the overall size of the artwork before driving across town to find out that it will not fit in your vehicle. Also, it’s not a bad idea to let the preparator of the gallery know where you are planning to place the artwork in your vehicle, and where, so they can pack it accordingly and then provide you with its overall packed size before you leave to pick it up.
Is it Safe?
Be sure to think about where the artwork is being placed in the vehicle and what will happen if you must maneuver quickly left or right, slam on the breaks, or worse, get hit by another vehicle. Is it packed and placed in the car in such a way that, if any of these things happen, you and others will be safe from its movement? Will the artwork sustain minimal damage because of how it is packed?
It is important to remove any loose objects from the space in which the artwork is to be placed for travel unless the object is being used as part of the bracing or packing process. We must often move tennis rackets, golf clubs, gym bags and other things from a client’s trunk or back seat before placing an artwork inside their vehicle.
It is best not to take a pet along with you when you transport art. If you must, be sure they are restrained or not able to get into the area where the artwork is placed. I have seen both cats and dogs happily prance across an unprotected canvas in the back of a vehicle. The attention you are paying to your driving will diminish greatly if “Fluffy” decides to take a walk across your newly purchased Monet waterlily painting while you are changing lanes on a freeway.
Preparing Artwork for Transport
I am assuming for this post that you are not planning to wrap the artwork with anything other a plastic trash bag. Most galleries are happy to wrap a work in bubble wrap or other appropriate material if they know you are coming. Most of the suggestions I offer here can be modified to take into account a wrapped work.
Be sure that if you wrap a framed and glazed artwork on paper in an opaque material so you are unable to tell which side of the artwork is up, that you mark it in some way to identify its face and top. A face drawn on the front of the package or a piece of painter’s tape with “TOP” written on it works well. Works on paper need to be carried with the hinges at the top so they do not tear or pull free because they were carried sideways. In the business, when a hinge pulls free separating the work on paper from where it was mounted, we say that the artwork “slipped its hinge.” A phrase every dealer hates to hear.
So, here are several common ways two-dimensional artworks are normally transported in a personal vehicle and my suggestions on the best way to protect them using household materials.
Transporting an Artwork in a Trunk
If your trunk is empty and your artwork comfortably fits; if your destination is not far and you are traveling without other stops; if it is not raining and the temperature is not too extreme; then the carpeted trunk of an automobile is the ideal place for an artwork to travel and you will probably not need to have it wrapped at all. Since it is separated from you and your passengers, it is also the safest way.
If the artwork is not glazed and does not fit snugly, place an open blanket on the bottom of the trunk so the area where the artwork will sit is completely flat. Place the artwork on top of the flat area of the blanket and roll under the outer edges of the blanket like a jelly roll so they form a barrier around the artwork as illustrated below. Make sure the furthest edge of the artwork is resting against the far end of the trunk, closest to the back seat. This will pad all the artwork’s sides and keep it from quickly sliding forward and banging into the back of the trunk during a quick stop. It is my recommendation to never place a blanket over an unglazed work, especially if the artwork’s support is stretched canvas.
Note: About one in every three people who bring artworks to the gallery cover or wrap them in a blanket thinking they are protecting their artwork and its frame if it has one. This is not much of an issue if the artwork is glazed and the glazing is intact. However, if it is an old unglazed oil on stretched canvas that is starting to flake, laying a heavy blanket on it can cause expensive-to-repair damage. For instance, the weight of the blanket can push down on the canvas causing it to become concave and stressed. The act of placing a blanket on the work and taking it off can cause any dry impasto or already damaged areas to flake off. It can also break off partially secured areas of a fragile frame.
If the artwork is glazed with glass, a blanket can be place beneath and around the artwork as previously described. If more protection is needed, a soft blanket can also be laid over the artwork and folded around it. If an over blanket is used, remove it before picking up the artwork to be sure it is carried upright.
Note: Always carry an artwork upright facing you, holding it with two hands from both sides. It is not a good idea to carry it from the top of the frame, and it is best not to carry it around by its hanging wire if it has one. You are making a lot of assumptions by doing so and you have much less control over the artwork.
If the artwork is glazed with plexiglass and you believe it needs to be covered with a blanket for extra protection, put a plastic bag over it first followed by the blanket, wrapping it around the edges of the frame. This will prevent the plexiglass from being scratched by the blanket. If it is raining, you might want to place the artwork in the plastic bag making sure to identify the front and top of the artwork by marking it somehow before taking it to your vehicle.
Transporting an Artwork in the Back Seat.
Transporting artworks in the back seat area of an automobile is not optimal for many reasons but sometimes, because of an artwork’s size and the circumstances, it is all that’s available. So, if it is the only option, here are my recommendations to transport the artwork as safely as possible. When doing so, please drive like you have a baby in the back seat.
All automobiles are a little different. You can measure to determine that an artwork will fit in between the front and back seats, but there are other factors to consider, and one of them is the artwork’s depth. The back door at its fully open position, window down, may not allow an artwork of your measured size to fit past the back seat, and the drivetrain hump in the middle of the back seat floorboard may be an issue. Remember, the designers of your automobile’s back doors thought only about people’s ability to get in and out, they did not care, nor even think about, your need to transport artwork.
Again, be sure that the back seat and floorboards are clear of any loose objects. It is not a good idea to have a loose bowling ball sitting on the back seat behind an artwork.
Transporting a Small Artwork in the Back Seat Area
A small work is best placed on the floorboard facing forward on either side of the drivetrain hump if the vehicle has one. It should be placed at an angle where the bottom of the frame touches the front seat back, and the artwork’s top back side leans against the front of the back seat. To protect the bottom of the frame from any hard surfaces behind the front seat, something needs to be used as a buffer. If the car has floor mats, push the mat forward and curl it up to protect the bottom of the frame where it sits against the back of the front seat. If it doesn’t, a rolled towel will do the trick.
I recommend that smaller works not be placed on the back seat itself, either upright or flat, unless there is something between the front and back seats that will keep the work from falling to the floorboard in a sudden stop. If there is something there that is about the same height of the seat, like a soft gym bag, then a medium size artwork can be placed flat on the rear seat extending over the built-up space between the front and back seats.
Transporting a Medium Sized Artwork in the Back Seat Area
Most often, a larger work will need to be placed between the front and back seats, facing forward. After you know that the artwork will fit, there are four contact points that need to be considered. Also, if the artwork is a hinged work on paper in a vertical format, for reasons we discussed earlier, do not turn it sideways to get it to fit.
Contact Point One: The Front Edge of the Back Seat
Glazed works on paper are most often backed and therefore, a medium sized work on paper can ride with its back side against the back seat, so long as any exposed hardware will not potentially cause damage to your back seat upholstery. A blanket hanging over the glazed artwork can prevent this. (Remember to bag the piece if it is glazed with Plexiglas and mark its face and top before putting a blanket over it.)
A framed or unframed stretched canvas that does not have a backing may be at risk, depending on the design of your vehicle’s back seat. If the seat has a convex shape or has areas that protrude, it may push into the back of the canvas, stretching it out of shape. This is less likely if the canvas has a vertical stretcher brace down the middle that will rest against the seat, keeping the seat from touching the canvas. Without that brace, even if the artwork is packed in bubble wrap, it may be at greater risk from the convex back seat as it could push the bubble into the back of the canvas, placing even more pressure on it.
If no brace is present, there needs to be a flat support behind the artwork, or something else, protecting it from the front of the back seat. The support can be a piece or corrugated (fluted) cardboard, foam insulation, or other stiff material cut to the same size or a little larger than the overall artwork. If these materials are not available, a properly folded blanket can hold the artwork off the seat back to prevent damage to the canvas.
If no flat material is available, roll a blanket from two sides so the distance between the rolls matches the back of the stretcher and the artwork’s frame, and then hang the blanket over the edge of the back seat so it provides a buffer that will keep the canvas from touching the front edge of the back seat.
Contact Point Two: The Floorboard, the Drivetrain Hump, and the Console
The next thing to think about is where the bottom front edge of the artwork meets the bottom of the front seat or the back of the console that divides the two front seats. A floor mat, a rolled-up towel or a piece of clothing can act as a protective buffer to hold the artwork in place and protect it from any metal or hard plastic parts under the front seat or the back of the console. If the artwork is now balancing on the drivetrain hump, you can roll towels or two strips of bubble wrap and place them under each corner to keep the artwork from listing over one way or the other while driving.
Contact Point Three: Protecting the Front of the Artwork.
In a sudden stop or head-on accident, the entire artwork will try to move forward. If it is wrapped in bubble and has a stiff sheet material in front of it like 3/4 inch foam insulation, corrugated cardboard, or foam core, it will sustain less damage than it would without it. If the artwork is glazed with glass, the bubble pack would help contain any broken glass shards. Since we are talking primarily about using household materials, if it is glazed with glass, a blanket over the entire work that is tucked in under the bottom of the frame near each bottom corner, to keep it from tilting back and forth on the hump, is a good idea.
Contact Point Four: Protecting the Sides of the Artwork
After the artwork has been placed safely into the back between the front and back seats, lower both back windows and close both back doors carefully to be sure they do not hit the artwork or its frame. If there is room, snug blankets or pillows on either side of the artwork and doors through the open windows so the artwork will not slide side to side while the vehicle is turning. Roll the windows up and you’re set to go.
Transporting a Large Artwork Flat in the Back of an SUV.
It is always a good idea to know the maximum usable rectangular dimension of the back of your SUV with the back seats down. So you will only have to measure that once, write these dimensions on the underside of the hatch door next to the auto close button if you have one, with an indelible marker.
The advantage of laying almost any two-dimensional artwork flat on its back is that, if the entire back of the artwork is touching a flat surface, the artwork and the entire frame assembly housing it are all experiencing the least amount of stress possible. Also, while in transit, you don’t have to worry which side is up on a hinged work on paper as it really doesn’t matter when it is in this position.
If the work is not packed, set the artwork face up so that the edge of the frame is touching the back of the driver and passenger seats. This way it will not slide forward and hit them in a sudden stop. Placing the artwork on a flat blanket and rolling the sides up to the frame will also protect the artwork’s edges if it slides. A folded blanket behind the artwork will help keep it from sliding back when accelerating. As discussed above, be sure there are no loose objects at the back of the SUV that might slide forward onto the artwork in a sudden stop.
If you want the artwork hidden, and it is a work on paper glazed with glass, a single layer of blanket can be placed over the artwork to hide it. If it is glazed with Plexiglas, it would be better not to use a blanket but instead, place a bed sheet over the work so it does not scratch. If it is an unglazed framed or unframed canvas and the paint is completely dry, a single layer of a light plastic opaque drop cloth is a good solution. Be sure that when it is removed, it is not dragged across the artworks surface but is carefully lifted off.
If you are concerned about moving an artwork yourself, get several quotes from professional art moving companies. Even though they are generally more expensive than furniture moving companies, they carry the proper packing and securing materials on their trucks. Every time we have had furniture movers pick up art at our gallery for various design projects, they have never brought large stiff sheets of foam core or corrugated cardboard to separate or pack artworks with them on their trucks. They only have blankets and stretch wrap. We have often had to loan them the proper materials and diplomatically explain how to use them. They are skilled at blanket wrapping almost any piece of furniture, but you don’t want your fragile unglazed Jackson Pollock to be blanket wrapped and then tied up to the side of a truck. You will be spending a lot of time and money with your conservator if you let that happen.
For more information about safe handling of artwork, visit these other blog posts:
Properly siting sculpture outdoors is a process that requires many considerations. In this Case Study, I will introduce 8 categories of issues that may, or may not affect the decision on where and how an artwork is to be placed. As most every artwork is different, each category will play a greater or lesser role in this process.
My stepmother Erika Farkac ran the Design Department of Lambert Landscape Company, once considered the finest landscaping company in Texas, for over 20 years and then worked independently for another 22. She once told me that in every garden design she created while at Lambert’s, she always included a space for a properly sited sculpture. She also said that only about one in a hundred design clients actually used that space for a sculpture, other than occasionally installing a fountain or something in concrete. So, when a client used the space she provided for a sculpture, to her, it was a small victory.
As I did in Siting Sculpture, Part One, I have listed 8 categories to think about when deciding where to place a sculpture. Each can affect the viewer or the sculpture itself and all will affect every artwork installation in varying degrees. And by making sure that one of the categories is as good as it can be under the circumstances, this may necessitate paying more attention to the others. It is really about finding the best balance of the most important categories for each situation.
For example, a 5-inch-tall sculpture made of plastic that is sitting on a 40-inch stand against a wall may not be much of a safety risk in a home, but in a public place, it is a huge security risk. A 5-ton piece of steel with sharp edges and no barriers around it sitting in a retail mall hallway may not be a security risk, but it is a huge safety risk for those who may accidentally collide with it. Awareness and thinking through all the issues is what makes for a sculpture’s best overall placement.
Most Designers will be thinking primarily about the first three categories on the list as they deal mostly with aesthetics. The other categories are more practical in nature and the ask is: “By placing a sculpture here, what can, and what will happen to it over time.”
As an example, I will use an image from the first blog of an outdoor sculpture, sited in front of a modern house, to discuss how each of the categories apply or why they are not overly important in this circumstance.
First off, I have to say I really like the concept of putting a large round bronze sculpture in front of this modern home that is all about rectilinear form. Although it stands alone as a sculpture, it more importantly acts as a foil for the hard edges of the building behind while adding an appropriate shape to the building’s geometry.
As you can see, the owners of this house decided to site the sculpture in the front yard. They lined it up with the front window of the house so it could be easily seen from inside, and the other side could be seen from the street with the house as a backdrop.
It was also installed to sit in the grass with its supporting base hidden below ground. By doing this, to an observer, the sculpture appears to be balancing miraculously on its edge. One of the best street views is where the photograph above is taken because of the square section of the house that serves as a background here.
The wall to the left of the large window is also a nice background. It would be seen behind the sculpture as a visitor walks down the portico to the front door. As the viewer heads towards the door, a kinetic illusion is created as the sculpture appears to roll away and get bigger in relation to the long wall behind it.
Three lighting fixtures were arranged in a row to light the street side of the artwork. They were placed above ground and their color was chosen to blend in with the artwork. With this installation, I would have recommended that the lights be recessed into the ground and that there be three more lights on the backside so the work could be seen at night from the house.
Because the three existing fixtures were placed above ground and focused up and slightly back to illuminate the street side of the sculpture properly, anyone looking out the window at night will see nothing but shadow and glare from the lights on the street side of the sculpture. There would be no glare from any of the lights and the sculpture would be well lit if all the lights had been installed below ground level.
The surroundings for this sculpture are very good. During the day, nothing is obstructing the view of the sculpture and it is easily visible from all directions. Because there are no paths to, or near the sculpture, the closest view is from the portico unless you venture off into the yard. The sculpture appears isolated, floating in the front yard’s sea of green grass. The only oddness is the three lights poking up, interrupting the space around the sculpture.
Since there are no barriers, it can be approached by animals looking for a place to mark or relieve themselves, or humans that want to get a closer look who will unintentionally wear paths in the grass. This type of sculpture, sited in a location like this, is what I call “Selfie Bait.” With no barriers for protection, it is an open invitation for people to climb inside the ring to mimic Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man for an Instagram post.
This artwork will be in full sun most of the day and will be exposed to all the elements the weather can throw at it. Over time, if it is a waxed bronze, left alone, its brown patina will slowly turn green.
Most people would be concerned that an artwork in such a public space would be stolen. This is always a possibility, but if it’s insured, I would not be overly concerned. The pleasure of living with it and sharing it with my neighbors would trump my concerns if it was mine. There is also the possibility of vandalism, or even neighborhood kids, flying drones through it or using it as a target for any number of ball games.
Because of the hazards and inconsiderate people mentioned above, the connection between the base and the sculpture itself needs to be strong enough to have a 200 plus pound person climb and swing from it. The area of the base itself needs to be large and heavy enough to withstand this kind of abuse. You don’t want a child to get hurt because it fell on them. It is also a good idea to check that your liability insurance is paid up.
Most every sculpture, especially those placed outside, will need occasional maintenance. In this case, a bronze sculpture with this level of exposure to the elements would need to be washed off and waxed at least once a year to maintain its patination. As mentioned earlier, depending on the composition of the bronze used, it will start turning green fairly quickly when the wax has been worn off by the elements.
The idea of having the siting of this sculpture create the illusion that it is balanced on its edge is conceptually appealing. However, having it, or any artwork for that matter, sit directly on grass is a maintenance nightmare unless you have your own private gardener who is willing to hand clip the grass around it once a week during the growing season, or you are willing to do it yourself. In time, a maintenance crew, that may change from week to week, with weed whackers can do serious damage to both the artwork and the lights next to it.
I would have recommended that they skip the idea of balancing the work on the grass and set the work on a brick or concrete base that would accommodate the lights inside it. This way, it would be easy to keep the grass trimmed and the work would not be accidentally damaged by the landscaping crews in the process.
A less expensive option would have been to place the artwork in a bed of ground cover. This maintains a natural setting for the sculpture but protects it from most types of mechanical damage. And if the ground cover was cactus, it would keep unwanted intruders away, but unfortunately, make that yearly waxing a challenge.
The design of this sculpture, and where it is sited, make it immune to most types of natural or man-caused disasters. In its current location, high winds and lightning are its most likely issues but in Dallas, Texas, fire, earthquake, and flood are probably not going to be issues. Because this sculpture has very little surface area for its size, high winds are probably not going to be an issue outside of a direct hit by a F5 tornado and there would be a low risk of a lightning strike. It is actually more likely, that this sculpture will be hit by an out of control automobile than be damaged by any of these other issues, but it is a good idea to think through what could happen for each proposed location.
As it was with my stepmother, I am also pleased to see a house where sculpture has become part of the landscape plan, especially when a work is shared with the community by being placed in a front yard. This is a brave and possibly dangerous act, however. The neighbors probably don’t care about the house next door having a sculpture in their back yard where it is not on public view, but they may not like the fact that their neighbor has decided to impose their taste on them by placing a sculpture in their front yard, where it is visible to all who pass by. It is not a bad idea to keep the neighbors in the loop if you feel the sculpture you are planning to put in a publicly viewed space might be controversial.
If you are not comfortable placing sculpture yourself, be sure to enlist the help of a professional art installation company to work with you to site the piece properly. Many of these companies employ artists and they will be sensitive to your needs and the needs of the work. It is not a bad idea to run through the list of items above with installers to be sure that all the issues are considered before a placement is finalized.
For more information about Artwork Installation, visit this other blog post:
I have been an art dealer now for over 45 years who has been privileged to live and work in a 4-acre sculpture garden, envisioned by my parents, Donald and Margaret Vogel in 1959. As most of the artwork in the garden is consigned by artists and is for sale, it changes with some regularity. As new work arrives decisions must be made as to each sculpture’s siting, presentation, and other important considerations.
The garden is modern and informal with winding paths, a large pond, and is normally accessible to the public when the gallery is open. Exhibitions of sculpture in the gallery often extend out into the garden. Although for sale, sculptures in the garden are not labeled or priced, and are intentionally installed to look like they were placed permanently.
I am betting that for your residential clients you are rarely asked to help with sculpture placement indoors, and almost never outdoors. Unless it is already owned, sculpture is not normally thought of until all the two-dimensional works have been placed on the walls of a home or office.
Among other posts, I will be writing a series of articles related to sculpture placement both inside and outside the home and office, covering tips and ideas that might be useful to you when helping your clients place sculpture. Although some issues are unique to location, many considerations are the same and can be applied accordingly. Below are a few of the things to consider when placing sculpture.
After determining a likely location for a sculpture, look for any unacceptable physical barriers or impeded sight-lines that obstruct access to the artwork.
This category encompasses the sculptures physical placement in a space and how it relates to everything around it.
This category involves every aspect of how the sculpture is either mechanically and/or naturally lit, 24/7.
After determining a likely location for a sculpture, this category involves considering everything around the sculpture, both physical and visual, and how it might affect all the other categories now and in the future.
After determining a probable location for a sculpture, what is the perceived risk it will be stolen, vandalized, or toppled over by some force of nature?
After determining a probable location for a sculpture, is there anything about its location or stability that could cause harm to someone?
After determining a probable location for a sculpture, beyond what would normally be needed to maintain the sculpture in general, it is important to determine if there are any additional maintenance issues created by siting the work in that location.
For any location a sculpture is sited, it is wise to take a moment and think about the area and what types of geophysical or weather related worse-case scenarios might affect the sculpture. If there is a potential problem, planning ahead for an event can minimize possible damage if one is forewarned.
For any location a sculpture is sited, are there any environmental issues such as direct sunlight, excessive moisture, extreme variations in temperature, or acid rain that needs to be considered?
In this series of articles, each of the above topics will be addressed regarding the proper placement of sculpture in both indoor and outdoor settings. I hope that forwarding my experiences with all types of sculpture installation will help you to more easily handle the issues faced when a design client wants to add sculpture to their art collection.
I am always available to discuss questions that may arise with sculpture placement. Just send an email with images attached of the sculpture and where you would like to place the work along with your phone number and I will get back to you as soon as I can. I may not always have a solution, but I bet I will be able to help you ask good questions.
For more information about Artwork Installation, visit this other blog post:
Back when our gallery had a frame shop, the only option to reduce reflection on artworks that needed glazing was to ask for Non-Glare glass. Although this was a poor solution, it was the only solution at the time. Non-Glare glass had one side sandblasted so any reflected light would be dispersed, making the reflection look like a blob of light on the surface of the glass rather than returning a harsh reflection. We refused to use this glass because to actually see the artwork properly. You had to place the glass directly on the artwork, otherwise it would appear like you were looking at it through fog, and it is never a good idea to have glass sitting directly on an artwork in a frame assembly. 1.
Today, the best way to handle the problem of reflection is to use a glazing material onto which an AR (anti-reflective) coating has been applied. This is a similar coating that is now used on eye glass lenses that allows you to actually see a person’s eyes and it all but eliminates glare from oncoming car headlights at night.
The AR coating is designed to disrupt the energy contained in light waves causing them to flow out of sync. Under most conditions, AR glass helps reduce reflections to the point that they are not much of a problem, but it does not eliminate all reflection issues. From my personal experience, the coating’s effectiveness is related to how well lit the artwork is and the direction of the light source.
This became evident to me when a client said she had a problem with reflection on an artwork in her living room. I suggested using AR coated glass thinking that that would most likely solve her reflection problem. I had the glass switched out and she called to let me know that the glass was still acting like a mirror. When I arrived to see what the problem might be, I discovered that, to my surprise, the artwork’s AR coated glass presented the exact same problem with reflection that the uncoated glass did. I noticed the room where the artwork was hanging and the dining room, across from the artwork, were both kept dark. At the opposite end of the dining room was a large picture window that was allowing a lot of light into the dining room. There was a door between the kitchen and the dining room she frequently used and as she walked through the two dark rooms, all she saw when she looked at the artwork was the reflection of the picture window at the far end of the dining room. I suggested that we turn on a lamp next to the artwork and discovered that the reflection issue was greatly reduced.
The takeaway of this story is that if an artwork has AR glazing and is well lit compared to its surrounding area, most reflection sources will be minimized and may not be noticed at all, especially if a viewer is focused on the artwork itself and not on the reflection source. In fact, I have often looked at artworks that have AR glazing and wondered why they weren’t glazed, only to discover on close examination that they were. If an artwork is underlit compared to its surrounding area and there is a lot of reflection, don’t be disappointed, it is just how the AR coating works. The solution is to either put more light on the artwork or reduce the amount of light in the surrounding area compared to what is already on the artwork.
Overhead lighting also helps to reduce reflections compared to lighting with lamps that are at the same height as the viewer. If you are standing beside an AR glazed artwork and there is a lamp on the opposite side of the artwork at the same angle and distance away from the artwork you are, you will see the lamp reflected in its glazing. With overhead lighting, the viewer would have to be looking up from the floor to see the reflection of the light above. AR glazing does have its limitations, but considering its old alternative, Non-Glare, it is a panacea.
As I mentioned in our last blogpost, When to use UV control glazing, the folks at Tru Vue have a good helpdesk and their technical department can answer most any glazing related framing or installation question. Their help desk number is 708-854-2700 and their email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know of no circumstance where it is good for a glazing material to be in contact with an artwork on paper. If there is no other framing choice than to have the glazing material in contact with the artwork, it is better to use Plexiglas rather than glass. Quick changes in temperature and humidity can cause glass to fog over, even on the inside of a frame assembly. If this happens with a work on paper, especially if the glass is in contact with the artwork, the paper can absorb the moisture creating a perfect environment for mold to grow, the paper to be stained, pigments to react adversely, or wrinkling; none of which are going to be good for the artwork.
For more information about Framing Artwork, visit these other blog posts:
Have you ever had a framer tell you that you can protect a work on paper from fading just by putting UV (Ultraviolet) protective glass or Plexiglas on the artwork? Even though your framer is normally the one that suggests when to use UV control glazing, what they tell you may be truthful without being accurate regarding its effectiveness in your situation.
What they should have said is that depending on where a work on paper is hung, UV protective glass and Plexiglass can help protect it from fading. Ultraviolet light is the most damaging part of the light spectrum to fugitive pigments on paper and other materials that are prone to fading, like fabrics and furniture. High end UV protective glazing material is rated to block up to 99% of the Ultraviolet rays hitting an artwork’s surface. Just remember that UV may be the worst part of the spectrum, but it is only a small part of the spectrum that can cause damage. A greater issue is the overall amount of visible light that is hitting the artwork and the amount of time it is getting hit. Think of it as slow or fast fading.
• Little light over an extended period of time = slow fading
• A lot of light over a short time = fast fading
If a work on paper was to be hung in a lightless closet, with properly controlled temperature and humidity that is never opened, it does not matter if it has UV protective glazing or not as it will not fade, at least not from light exposure.
If a work on paper is hung in a bright living room with big curtain-less picture windows looking out over a lake that reflects light into the room, even with UV glazing and protective windows the artwork will fade over time and the paper will darken. In the trade, when referring to the darkening of paper by excessive light, an art dealer would say that the artwork has been “light struck.”
For most light sensitive materials, light damage is cumulative and irreversible. So, what are the best ways of minimizing the effects of light damage to an artwork on paper?
Museums have different regiments they follow regarding the amount of light exposure each work on paper can have. Each work is normally evaluated to determine how sensitive it is. It is then assigned an allowable exposure schedule, amount of time it can be on view, and a maximum allowable light level for the duration of that time. For example, a sturdy work might be allowed to be on exhibit for 4 months at a specific light level and then rest for two years, or for 6 months at that light level and rest for three years. A more fragile work may require lower light and less time on view.
Don’t Panic! The Museum protocol I have just described is designed to meet the museum’s charge to protect what they have collected or are exhibiting. Your clients want something they can hang on the wall and enjoy for the next 20 years. So, to accomplish this goal I suggest the following:
• For works on paper that you or your client consider valuable and want to last as long as possible, definitely use UV protective glazing as it greatly reduces the most damaging aspect of the light spectrum.
• Hang in rooms with minimal light during the day like hallways or bedrooms that are not in continuous use and are normally kept dark.
• Keep lights off when rooms are not in use.
• If an artwork is hung in a room that has windows that allow a lot of light into the room during the day, add blackout curtains to the window that can be closed when no one is using the room. Codes for new buildings in most areas require that windows block a lot of the light coming in for reasons of energy conservation. This can greatly extend the life of curtains, rugs, and furniture as well as the art by reducing the amount and intensity of light entering a room and therefore slow fading.
• Have blackout fabric covers made for the artwork in rooms that window curtains are not an option or skylights let light in that cannot be blocked. They can incorporate a weighted rod at the top that can be draped over the top of the frame with the fabric hanging over the front of the artwork. This will allow quick access to works when you want to view them and they can remain hung indefinably without overexposure to light.
• Keep these works out of often used bedroom bathrooms and kitchens. These rooms often are subject to high humidity and temperatures, and other issues with that I will address in a future post. They are also rooms that would normally be well lit and where you would not normally want artwork that needs protective covers to keep them from fading.
• Place UV tube covers over your fluorescent lights. Of the three main light sources in homes and offices used today – Fluorescent, Incandescent, and LED – Florescent light, for the same amount of lumens output, is the most damaging because it produces the most UV light.
• If LED lights are producing the same number of lumens as your incandescent bulbs do, they are causing an equal level of fading to your works on paper.
One of the main manufacturers of conservation-grade UV protection glazing is Tru Vue. They have an excellent highly informed and well-educated customer support staff. If you need clarification, again no pun intended, as to whether UV protective glass and Plexi will work in a specific application, give them a call.
Tru Vue help line: Phone: 708-854-2700
Note: Not that it is my field but I was informed by the folks at Tru Vue that one of the most frequent calls they get is from signature collectors who have used their products and have had their valuable signatures fade from being out on display in rooms that have too much light. Their glass was doing what it was supposed to but many framers are often not aware that UV glass alone will not stop fading, it only helps to slow it down. The recommendations I have made above should help with this issue. Another interesting thing they said is that often, ink signatures seem to fade very quickly to a certain point and then the fading process seems to slow. So the maximum amount of damage happens in the earliest part of their exposure.
For more information about Framing Artwork, visit these other blog posts:
Over the years, I have witnessed a great deal of confusion regarding fine print editions and what the fraction means, that is usually written in pencil and normally found just below the print’s image in the margin. I have written three short essays to hopefully bring a little clarity to the subject. I have also provided a link to a glossary of terms related to the editioning of fine prints.
An overview of the things that you may find helpful to know regarding the modern editioning for fine prints and what the fraction, found in the margin under the image, actually refers to.
Part 2 :
A short case study regarding the editioning of a series of old master prints by Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 – 1528) called the Apocalypse.
An overview of what I found when I was trying to determine what fine print publisher or which artist was the first to use a fraction to describe the print number and the edition size that is now the universal format. I cannot say I found the first, but I did find an 1895 reference point that will be a benchmark to beat in the future.
A link to a glossary of terms related to types of proofs and related nomenclature. You are welcome to download this Word file and keep it as a reference.
Note: In conveying the information below, you will see that I have qualified almost every example I have used related to editions or a fraction’s numerator and denominator. This is because in every case described below, in the 40+ years I have been dealing with fine prints I have personally run across exceptions, but they are rare.
Part 1: Numbering and Edition Overview:
After a number of prints have been produced by or for an artist, it is a standard practice to use a fraction to identify both an individual print and the number of like prints the artist has declared that will then constitute an “edition.” With few exceptions, this fraction is written in pencil beneath a print’s image at the lower left or lower center margin by either the artist or the publisher. There are several misconceptions as to what the numerator and denominator of this fraction mean related to the edition of fine prints and I hope the following information is helpful when looking for fine prints for your clients.
Because written definitions of what the numerator represents are often imprecise and ambiguous, they can easily lead someone to erroneously believe that the numerator indicates the sequence in which the prints of that edition were printed. (i.e. if the fraction written on an etching is 5/25, this would indicate that this print was the 5th print pulled off the plate in a total edition of 25.) In truth, this number does not relate to the print’s printing sequence but is only a cataloguing device, a way of identifying print 1 from print 2, etc. The odds of this print being the 5th one pulled from the plate is, for various reasons, more than 1 in 25.
It is most often the case that the earliest prints off a plate, stone, or block, depending on the technique used, are often considered by collectors and curators to be better and therefore more desirable impressions than those printed later. This is due to the wear and tear on the matrix from repetitive printing. What is almost in all cases not true is that the numerator of the fraction can tell you if a print was an early impression or not; only its superior quality compared to other impressions of the same print can do that.
The Denominator of the fraction relates to the total size of the artist’s declared edition of like prints. The term “like” prints is important here as it means that the only thing that is different about each print when the edition is finalized is the numerator of the fraction. Everything else, the paper type and size, the inking of the matrix, and the way it is numbered and signed are all the same. It is important to remember that the denominator just indicates the size of the allowable edition, it in no way substantiates that editioning was completed after its size was declared. It is often only the print documentation from the press that produced it, the artists print log, or a well-researched catalogue raisonné that can enlighten one as to how many prints were actually printed of an edition.
It was popular, in the case of well-known artists like Joan Miró, to have their press print multiple editions from the same plate or stone. For instance, Miró would sometimes authorize a second edition on a different type of paper. So, you might see a print by Miró on Arches paper in an edition of 250 in one place and the same print on Japan paper in an edition of 100 somewhere else. Miró would sometimes authorize a special small edition of a print to be published that was in every way like another edition except that instead of numbering the edition in Arabic Numerals, it would instead be numbered with Roman Numerals. The takeaway here is that there may be more than one edition of a print. This usually does not occur unless the artist’s market is big enough to absorb multiple editions.
With most any known declared edition, there are additional like prints called “prints outside of the edition.” Conventionally, beyond the edition defined by the denominator, a certain number of prints will be printed that will be designated as Artist Proofs. They are like the edition in most every way except rather than being numbered with a fraction, the letters “A.P.,” (épreuve d’artiste in French) or a variation thereof, are written instead. The number of A.P.’s varies with how many the artist wants to have printed but it is rare that they exceed more than 10% of the total edition size of like prints.
Again, in the case of Miró and other printmakers who were well known in the latter part of the last century, another type of print designation was used initially in Europe to boost the number of prints outside of an edition. On occasion you will see prints, instead of being inscribed A.P., inscribed “H.C.,” (Hors de Commerce) or a variant, that means amusingly “not for sale.” Prints with this designation can be found occasionally on the market but they were originally intended to be gifted and not sold commercially.
There are other print edition designations that I will not go into here as the chances of running into them while looking for art for your clients is unlikely. Below is a quick history of editions as they relate to old master prints and to the earliest usages of the fraction to indicate edition size. If you find that you have a question about something on a print that you don’t understand, send us an email with an image and we will get right back to you.
Part 2: Old Master Prints:
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 – 1528) was one of the world’s most famous and important printmakers. He produced a series of fifteen large woodblock prints based on, and called, Apocalipsis cum Figuris, known today as the Apocalypse. Outside of proofs printed to test the image and those that were printed to sell or gift, in 1498 the fifteen prints that made up the series were printed with text, some in Latin and some in German on the verso of each image, and bound. Prints that appear on the market today from this edition of books are described as “from the 1498 edition.” This series brought Dürer great fame and notoriety. Because of the popularity of the series, it can be assumed that he continued to print individual proofs from the blocks until he published another bound edition of the Apocalypse in 1511. After that series, where individual prints are now known as “from the 1511 edition,” the woodblocks were printed as the market demanded until they had worn down to the point that they could no longer produce acceptable prints.
Before Dürer’s time and well into the 19th century, the number of prints off a plate, stone, or wooden block was determined by either demand or the condition of the matrix used that allowed acceptable prints to be created. Today, we would call that an “open edition” because the edition size was not declared by the artist. In the case of Dürer’s Apocalypse, there are two actual editions from the same woodblock of each of the 15 Apocalypse prints and many prints outside of a known edition. When dealing with old master and 19th century prints, date of printing, quality of impression, condition, and notoriety of the image are directly related to the print’s value. In the case of these specific Dürer images, as well as many other old master prints, editions and other proofs can often be dated by the paper it was printed on and the watermark it may bear.
Part 3: When the Numbering of Fine Prints Became Popular…
Most likely inspired by the rare book trade, consensus leans toward the idea that it was the fine print publishers in 1890’s France that started numbering the prints of the editions they published. One of the best known and most important printmakers during that time in Paris was Toulouse Lautrec who was a prodigiously active Lithographer from 1891 to 1900. By using the catalogue raisonné Toulouse-Lautrec: The Complete Prints by Wolfgang Wittrock as a reference, a window is opened into the innovations and practices regarding print numbering and editioning during this period. Here are my takeaways:
• Lautrec signed a small number of his prints but although many of his prints are numbered, it is believed that he did not do this himself; they were most likely numbered by the publisher. In many cases, just under half or just over half of the prints were numbered. The number system most often looked like “No: X” and written in pen or pencil. In some cases, stamps were used to number the prints. It is not clear why only half of an edition was numbered as it creates a very ineffective inventory system. *1
• The states (prints that show developmental changes) and edition sizes of most of Lautrec’s prints are known but the edition size was rarely indicated on an individual print. In reviewing all the print entries in Wittrock’s book, there are only five times that a fraction was used to indicate both the prints assigned number and the number of prints in the edition. The first time a fraction was used on a Lautrec print was 1895 on half of the Pan French Edition of 100 prints of Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender, en buste, (Wittrock 99.)
*1 – Today, fine art presses will often publish artists’ prints by offering them studio space, possibly room and board while they are working, and then printing an edition of what the artist produces in exchange for a percentage of the edition. This way a press will have an inventory of prints by artists they respect, and the artist keeps the rest of the edition. It is known that most all of Lautrec’s prints were sponsored by the publisher and very few print editions were paid for by him. This may account for the fact that often, only about half of his prints’ editions were numbered by the press.
Part 4: A Glossary of Terms Related to Types of Proofs and Related Nomenclature
Back in 1989, a colleague named Frederick McElroy, who had a masters in printmaking, and I decided that we would create an exhibition that focused on both the connoisseurship and technical aspects of Intaglio printmaking. One of the dealers we work with in Austin Texas who owns Flatbed Press suggested that this glossary would be a good addendum to the article above.
You are welcome to download the glossary as a word file by clicking Here. You are welcome to print yourself a copy for reference if you like but if you quote any of these entries in a publication, please credit Fredrick W. McElroy and cite the exhibition catalog Connoisseurship and the Intaglio Print, 1989.
For more information about Fine Prints, visit this other blog post: