Archival Practices: Keeping Art Looking Great Longer

by | Mar 23, 2011 | Blog | 1 comment

An artist decides whether to include archival practices in the making of their artwork to add longevity. Any worthwhile archival process is usually tested to help the work maintain its appearance for 500 years or more using special laboratory “speeded-up” tests. Adding an archival practice into a work of art is not very difficult or expensive, but takes extra time and steps for the artist. It is difficult to tell from the finished piece whether or not these steps have been taken, and is solely up to the artist. Here is a link for an article I wrote listing essential archival practices (such as applying a final varnish with UV protection, or applying a stain sealer onto the initial substrate surface to eliminate future yellowing or staining.) Click here to read more about archival practices. 

It gets tricky, though, if the archival process compromises the aesthetic of the work. For example, let’s say an artist is using paint staining methods onto raw canvas like some of the early Abstract Expressionists or Color Field painters (i.e. Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko, Morris Louis). The final look of these paintings relies on the beautiful matte absorbent quality that staining on raw canvas offers. Absorbent surfaces like these left unsealed will eventually absorb dust from the air, possibly yellowing or darkening the painting in the future. Any finishing sealer or varnish that is applied to protect the work will take away an important part of its aesthetic. An artist can apply matte sealers to try to imitate the matte sheen of the raw canvas, but it will still visibly change the aesthetic. Another alternative is to frame it with plexi or glass as protection. But this will add a reflective pane of glass between the viewer and the work, again compromising the look. These are tricky decisions an artist needs to make. There are many contemporary paintings in museums today that have no final protection (probably all of Jackson Pollock’s work) and museum conservators are having great difficulties in preserving them. As a collector, it is important to inquire from the gallery agent or artist as to what steps were taken to keep the work lasting its best for the longest amount of time. As an artist I feel it is our responsibility to create the best work we can both technically and aesthetically.

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1 Comment

  1. Mie

    I really do hate glass in front of a painting. I understand why for example Van Goghs paintings are protected with glass (dust likes heavy impasto), but it still makes me sad every time I see one. Much less 3D-effect. Also on watercolor paintings it kills the nice matte feeling, but is of couse neccesary especially for those.

    So sad!


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About Nancy

Nancy Reyner is a professional fine-art painter with over 30 years experience using a variety of mediums including oil, acrylic, watercolor and mixed media. She has appeared on television for HGTV’s “That’s Clever,” and authored several best-selling painting books with F&W Media. She currently lives in Santa Fe, NM. Read more.
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