Dust collectors. It’s a running joke in my family that I might love a piece of artwork, but my final decision is made on how easy it is to keep clean.
I’m not obsessed with cleanliness, I’m obsessed with spending less time cleaning and spending more time on doing the things I love.
I’ve come by this aversion honestly after making a few mistakes, like buying a painting that was beautifully framed in fabric. Black raw silk that shows up every speck of dust. It’s stretched across multiple angles and has tiny ledges and inset gold beading. Vacuuming it wasn’t my most brilliant idea, and the sticky clothes roller helps, but doesn’t work in all the random angles. Can you hear me sighing? After 20 years, I try not to look too closely and focus on the painting instead.
Then there was my parents’ passion for copper and the many hours of joy I was assigned as a child polishing away the tarnish.
Macramé wall hangings (actually, anything made out of fabric), intricate beadwork or paper that isn’t behind glass, make me grateful they hang in someone else’s home.
So, here are my top tips for cleaning, protecting and looking after your art.
One – Ask the Artist
Ask the artist for their advice and follow it. If that isn’t possible, keep reading, but let common sense prevail.
Two – Dust your Artwork
If they aren’t behind glass, dust will be irresistibly drawn to paintings and wall art. Buy a very soft paintbrush from your hardware store and use it to gently brush off the dust. Keep the brush for this purpose only, and every now and then, wash it with a tiny amount of dishwashing liquid, rinse it clean and dry completely before use. Use a clean, soft cloth to dust the frame. Never use water or cleaning products…nor the vacuum cleaner!
Three – Sunlight is Bad for Art
Avoid direct sunlight on most artworks, including fabric, paper, paintings, wood, leather and anything else that could fade, melt or distort in the heat or UV. My rule of thumb is that if one of the components was once alive (e.g. cotton that made the canvas of the painting, pigments in paint etc), then keep it out of the sun, even if it has been varnished. Varnish can crack or yellow if subjected to prolonged sunlight.
If you are looking for some unconventional ways to hang and display art, read this article.
Four – Carefully Store Art
If storing or transporting artwork, you cannot be too cautious. Canvases are surprisingly easy to dent or rip, glass and ceramic chipped, metal dinged, paper torn, fabrics stained, wood scratched. Wrap it, box it, do what you have to do to protect it. If you are going to be storing artwork for a prolonged period, don’t use plastic as moisture can be trapped and cause mould.
Five – Do What’s Best for the Art
Canvas should never be kept under glass, as it needs to breathe just like a good red wine. On the other hand, artworks on paper are best framed under glass that is UV protected and acid free paper is used in the framing process.
Six – Glass Art
Liquid left in glass can make it go cloudy or stain it, and extreme temperatures (hot or cold) can make it crack. Clean it gently with a dry cloth, or with a damp cloth if absolutely necessary.
Seven – Ceramics
Porous ceramics absorb water like a sponge, so don’t wash them. A soft dry brush as described above for dusting should be enough to clean it.
Eight – Metal Artworks
Avoid using anything abrasive to clean them and for some pieces the patina is highly prized, so you don’t want to polish it off. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case with my parents’ copper artworks.
Nine – When Accidents Happen
Ceramic and glass artworks can sometimes be repaired if broken. Carefully collect all the pieces, avoid them rubbing on each other and take it all to a professional repairer. Canvases also stand a chance for repair, but take it to a professional if the canvas is torn or it needs more than a dust.
Ten – Call in the Professionals
If in doubt, ask a professional, that’s what they are there for. They have the skills and knowledge to help you love and look after your art for years to come.
“Mountain at Dusk” Click photo to see painting details