Storing your artwork at home

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There are many risks in storing artwork, even if you use a professional storage unit or work with consultants who specialise in this field, but you don’t need to use expensive solutions. You can save a fortune by creating the ideal storage space in your own home if you know what to do. This is a huge problem for all artists, even those who are selling work straight from the easel; how do you store your canvases (whether used or not) and what is the best way to transport them to and from venues?

the plastic needs to come off these

The first thing to tell you is you need to remove your canvases from the plastic wrap they arrive in if they are going to be stored anywhere where there is the possibility of damp. Most of the artists I know work from a studio in their back garden. Yes, these are usually insulated, but in the winter condensation and damp are not your friends. Being wrapped in any kind of plastic can, and does, cause mould. This might not be too much of a problem with unused canvases as you can clean them with bleach and water to remove the mould before working on them. However, if you have finished works and you wrap them in surround wrap or the proper stuff – Saran wrap – and you trap any moisture your paintings will be damaged.

So, first you need to prepare an environment which has suitable conditions for your artwork. Locate a space in your home which suits your needs. This could be a cupboard or a small room in your house. The important thing to be aware of is that the chosen area needs to be a finished space. So, an attic or, if you are lucky enough to have one, a basement, is to be avoided unless it has some kind of climate control. In the USA, many houses have basements, some of which are finished living spaces with heating and air conditioning, which could be suitable. Here in the UK many older houses have attic spaces which have been used for bedrooms so will be properly insulated. But you need to ensure that there are no air vents and windows should be kept closed. If you do have air vents directly into the space, you could have your builder install a cover which allows the air in and out but has a filter to keep air and dust from blowing onto your artworks.

If the space you are thinking of using smells musty consider somewhere else or have the air problem fixed before using it as mould and dust could indicate a bigger problem within your space which may need fixing first.

Once happy with the space, clean it, and remove all the dust and cobwebs (we all have them). You need the space to be as clean as possible before you start.

Next, avoid storing your work against the outside wall. This may not be easy if you are using your spare bedroom but the changes in temperature coming through the wall can cause problems for any work stored there. The ideal situation is to use a room which has no exterior walls. If you are using a cupboard the same rules apply. If the cupboard is located on the exterior wall, it is not suitable.

Apart from the changes in temperature you also need to think about sunlight. If your work is stored in an internal cupboard with doors that is perfect but if it is in a room, will the sunlight hit the artworks and fade them? You can cover canvases with blankets to stop the sun and keep curtains closed but do wash the blankets from time to time and make sure they are bone dry before covering the artwork again. Sunlight really is our enemy. We must always prepare ourselves for the worst as, despite being careful and following best practice to protect your artwork, things can still go wrong.

giant jiffy bags for works with glass

I have covered archiving systems before and will send out an updated blog soon, as my current site is going through an overhaul and some of my earlier blogs have and will be removed, but here is a quick overview.

Having an archiving/record keeping database of your work is absolutely essential for a number of reasons. Should the absolute worst happen, and your entire collection be destroyed, you will want to know what you have lost in totality for any insurance claim you need to make.

My advice is to photograph every piece of artwork and keep a copy on your computer system but print out a copy too for attaching to the outside of the wrapping on your artwork. If there is any damage to the artwork at the point of storing it is best to make a note of this, so you are reminded when opening up the work next time.

Each piece should be numbered, and details of the work kept on your database as to size, medium, name of work, date of completion and price. This information should be both on the database, which you back up, and additionally kept with the artwork. If you get into the habit of doing this right from the beginning, it will make your life easier in the long term.

When storing your work in the room or cupboard you need to think about weight. Placing paintings on top of each other horizontally is a recipe for disaster. You really need to stand your work up vertically and have some kind of shelving if you need to have works stored higher. Make sure the shelving you have can take the weight, too. One lady I know has had her husband make her a huge stacking system on wheels so that she can move it around her very large studio. She keeps finished works on the upper shelves and unused canvases on the bottom. Google for ideas if you are stuck. Pinterest has some great images of ideas too.

storing your work on a gallery wall is the best solution

I haven’t decided yet how I am going to store my work in my new studio, but when I do, I will share with you. For now, my works are in very large Jiffy bags with the number on the outside of each bag and all the details attached to the back of the artwork inside. 

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