When you create something that you’re proud of, you want it to stay crisp and vibrant for as long as possible. Fortunately for painters, it’s possible to create artwork that can last centuries. In recent years, interest in archival quality supplies and techniques has continued growing, and even hobbyist painters are mindful of their work’s longevity.
It’s worth the effort, and the best place to start is by going over some of the common issues that might arise as a painting ages, and what you can do to prevent them.
Next time you’re at a gallery, look closely at the oldest paintings and you’ll probably see dark lines and cracks across the canvas. They’re easy to spot on just about every painting over a century old, and experts in art restoration will tell you that it’s among the biggest problems they deal with.
When oil paint dries and cures, it undergoes a chemical process that causes it to harden and become more brittle. This process slows down quickly but doesn’t completely stop, making old oil paintings extremely firm, delicate and susceptible to cracking. Acrylics don’t undergo the same chemical process but they’re much more vulnerable to cold temperatures and can become brittle enough to develop the same cracks.
- Oil paint naturally becomes brittle over time, but exposure to certain chemical fumes during the curing process (which can last months, or even years) will speed up the damage, so be careful not to use harsh cleaning supplies near an exposed piece.
- If you’re working en plein air on a winter landscape or otherwise keeping a painting at low temperatures, oil paint will hold up better than acrylic.
Fading colors is probably the most common concern for both artists and art collectors alike, but the good news is that it can be prevented without too much trouble.
Exposure to bright ultraviolet light is the fastest way to turn vibrant colors dull, which is why museums and galleries are careful to keep valuable pieces away from sunlight.
Always be mindful of light exposure when you display your work. Fortunately, windows are great for filtering out the most harmful ultraviolet light, and a frame with a glass front will give you even more protection. Paintings that are kept indoors will usually hold up better than you might expect, even in bright and sunny rooms, but exposure to direct sunlight is best avoided.
- When it comes to fading, not all paint is created equal. Check your paint tubes for a lightfastness rating that tells you how well that particular color will handle long-term light exposure.
- Watercolor tends to be more vulnerable to fading than oil or acrylic paint and will need extra protection from sunlight.
- Be aware that some pigments, like fluorescent colors, will have naturally poor lightfast grading and require extra caution if fading is a concern.
Seeing their painting literally fall apart is an artist’s worst nightmare, and an all-too-real possibility if a little care isn’t taken. When paint doesn’t have enough adhesion, it will slowly peel away from the surface and flake off in chunks. There are a few different things that can cause this and most should be prevented before your brush ever touches paint.
An improperly prepared surface is the biggest culprit behind peeling paint, and it’s not something that can be fixed after the paint has already been applied. Picasso was known to paint quickly and sometimes neglected to prepare his canvases, which is why some of his artwork started to peel years ago despite being stored in climate controlled museum conditions.
Make sure that your canvass is primed, dust-free, and dry before you place your first stroke. Most pre-stretched canvases will already be primed when you buy them but some artists prefer to do it themselves with gesso that’s specially designed for their medium of choice.
- Peeling and lifting can also be caused by over-diluting the paint. The more you water down the binding in paint, the less adhesive it becomes.
- If it’s not a canvass that you’re painting, be sure to research the best methods for the surface you’re using. Objects with high alkaline levels (stones, statues, bricks, and other masonry) will react poorly with oil paints if it’s humid, and can flake off quickly.