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Conservation advice

Everyone can be a conservator to some extent by carrying out simple, preventive conservation.

Positioning

Avoid placing artworks in thoroughfares or other places where they may easily come into accidental contact with people. Try to hang artworks on interior walls rather than exterior walls to avoid changes in temperature and humidity. If storing, make sure conditions are secure, clean, dry and pest-free.

Light

Stone and metal are unaffected by light, but dyes and paints fade in both sunlight and artificial light. Artworks made with watercolours and inks are especially vulnerable. Light damage is irreversible – which is why most galleries lower their lighting. Keep light-sensitive artworks out of sunlight and reduce artificial lights where possible.

Humidity

High humidity for long periods can damage all works of art by encouraging mould, insects and corrosion. Prolonged low humidity is a good environment for metals, and thus for some sculpture, because it hinders corrosion, but it can warp and split wood and lift paint from canvas. Keep artworks made of metal and stone in a relative humidity lower than 35% if possible, and artworks made of wood, canvas, paper and other organic materials in humidity between 40% and 60%. Avoid areas of high humidity (for example, bathrooms) and low humidity (around heaters). Try to avoid fluctuations in humidity and watch for mould and insect damage.

Temperature

Indoors, heat generally lowers humidity while cold raises it. Hanging a painting or textile on a cold wall thus risks the problems that come with high humidity. Wax and acrylics have low melting points, and dust can adhere to acrylic paintings in hot weather. Avoid extremes of temperature and changes in temperature. Place corks behind the frame to provide airflow.
Dust: As dust can encourage corrosion try to keep artworks dust-free – ideally by protective glass or acrylic, particularly for paintings, textiles and works on paper. Take special care not to abrade the surface when dusting artworks.

Salt

A problem near the sea, salty air absorbs more moisture and can encourage corrosion. Only air-conditioning can reduce this danger.

Vibration

Avoid transporting artworks without compensating for vibration by careful packing and support.

For more information on how the enemies of artworks operate and what you can do before consulting a professional conservator, see: