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Storing Your Art Collection

As the holidays approach, art lovers everywhere are eagerly anticipating new goodies for their collection. Prints, paintings, drawings; they’re all on the list.

But, if you’re a collector, your walls are probably already full of art. Should you try to jam another painting up there, like the big abstract one your sister just gifted you?

Nope!

It’s perfectly acceptable to swap out artwork that’s already on your walls for new art. Seasoned collectors do it all the time. The question is: What do you do with the art you’re taking down?

To make sure your work stays safe while it’s tucked away this holiday season, PatronArt rounded up some of our favorite tips for keeping your art safe and happy. (Don’t worry—you can use these tips any time of the year.)

For a comprehensive guide on how to hang your new art, read How to Hang Your New Painting Like a Pro.

Prepping for storage

Clean your artwork
Who among us hasn’t forgotten to dust our frames? Grab a soft microfiber cloth before you put your art away, and dust around the frame to get rid of dirt. A regular old rag can work, too. Stay away from any cleaning supplies with harsh chemicals, although a special polish for metal might be necessary along hinges to prevent rust.

Take inventory
Creating an inventory of your art is a must if you’re storing anything for a long time. It can be time-consuming (especially if you buy a lot of art!), but your future self will thank you when you’re trying to track down a certain piece three years from now.

You can use something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of your collection. There are also professional art management systems out there for purchase. 

Information to include in your inventory:

  • An allover image of each piece
  • Detail pictures of any existing damage
  • Cataloging info (artist, title, size, medium)
  • Purchase history (receipts or sales records are super helpful here)
  • Condition
  • Location (so you can find it when you need it!)

If your collection is valuable, consider getting an insurance appraisal. If anything happens in storage, your investment will be protected. (This applies to valuable art on your walls, too.) Include the appraisal in your inventory for quick reference. The appraisal itself should be kept on file.

Protect & wrap
Before you start packing up your art, make sure you’ve got the right materials. Using acid-free paper and archival boxes will make sure no nasty chemicals mess with your art while it’s in storage. Here’s a short list of suitable packing materials:

  • Acid-free tissue paper
  • Acid-free archival storage boxes and/or folders
  • Corner protectors (for framed works)
  • Bubble wrap
  • High-quality packing tape
  • Cardboard
  • C-bin (a C-bin is a heavy-duty storage container professionals use to pack and store paintings and framed work)
  • Metal flat files (for flat, unframed works)

You can find acid-free materials and corner protectors at most art supply stores or, failing that, online. You can get everything else at a package delivery company, like UPS.

*Remember: Don’t pack anything while it’s still wet. That might seem like a no-brainer, but oil paintings can actually take a year to fully dry! If you try to pack and store a wet painting, it can damage the surface and ruin your art.

Packing your art

Packing framed art
If you’re packing framed artwork, the first step is to protect the corners of the frame. You can either purchase corner protectors or fashion your own from cardboard or bubble wrap. Then, wrap the entire work in something breathable, like acid-free tissue.

Once you have your piece wrapped, place it in its own box or put in a C-bin. If you’re putting more than one piece into storage, a C-bin allows you to layer, but remember to put a cardboard sleeve between each item to keep them extra safe.

Packing unframed art
If you’re dealing with unframed art, pack it flat. Don’t try to jam it into a packing tube. I repeat: Do not wrap your art in a packing tube. Doing that can warp paint and ink and cause cracking on the surface. This is especially true for prints. Paper has its own form of memory—if it’s rolled for a long time, it’ll be next to impossible to unroll and lay flat later on. Store flat pieces between sheets of acid-free paper and cardboard. Metal flat files and acid-free art storage boxes will help you here.

Plastic: Yay or nay? 
We’re here to put an end to this debate, once and for all. Don’t wrap art that will be in long-term storage in plastic. Plastic traps moisture and heat, two things you don’t want cozying up next to your artwork. That includes ANYTHING made of plastic, like bubble wrap, which is usually fine for padding during short-term transportation.

Beware: temperature, water, and light

Choose your storage area carefully. Temperature, water, and light are the biggest foes your art will face, so be prepared to battle them as you look for storage space. Attics and basements are tempting as storage areas, but basements are prone to flooding and attics can get hot in the summer. Be wary of them. An extra closet or small office usually works better for storing safely over a long period of time—an internal room (one without a wall that borders the outside) is best.

The ideal temperature
Changes in temperature can warp your paintings and the frames around them, too. Cool and dry is what you want to aim for. Ideally, the storage room should be kept at 70 degrees fahrenheit and 50 percent humidity. If you’re storing your art in a public space, ask about climate control. If you’re storing in your home, test the humidity with a cheap digital thermometer.

Overall, keep the temperature steady. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity cause the most damage.

*Rule of thumb: If you’re comfortable in a room, then your artwork will likely be comfortable, too.

Avoid water damage
Water can ruin your art faster than almost anything else, so definitely avoid basements that flood.

If you must put your art in the basement, don’t store anything directly on the floor. Place your wrapped works in a C-bin and then place the entire bin on a wooden pallet or high shelf. If your basement floods, you’ll have some added protection.

Shut out the light
You might be thinking, Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t light a greater threat to the artwork I’ve already got hanging in my living room? We get it. After all, that art isn’t even wrapped and there are windows everywhere in your living room.

First, yes, that’s a valid concern. Light typically has the fastest and most lasting effects on paper, so make sure your hanging works on paper are behind UV protective glass.

But, light affects art in storage, too—it fades color and yellows paper. Your best bet is to stash art in a windowless room. (Or at least one with heavy curtains to block the sun.)

We hope our storage tips keep your growing art collection safe this holiday season, and for many years to come.

Happy holidays!

PatronArt makes buying art from independent artists easy and risk-free. On every order you can be assured the highest satisfaction and security, while knowing you are supporting an artist’s passion. Here at PatronArt, we make art personal.

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