How to Store Your Prints and Works on Paper
Prints, drawings, and other works on paper are often appealing to new art collectors. The lower price points and availability allow for a level of access to quality artwork that is not always possible with other media. Despite this relative abundance, works on paper are delicate, and require careful handling, as well as proper storage, in order to remain in pristine condition.
To reduce the risk of creases, bends, or smudges, paper should not be handled too often. If possible, you should never pinch the sheet between your thumb and other fingers. If you are carrying paper that is large, it is best to hold two opposite corners, as the stress is then placed on the diagonal, rather than with the vertical or horizontal of the sheet. If the work is small, you may carry it by supporting it from underneath. Also, be sure that your hands are clean and dry. If the item is of higher value, use clean, white gloves to prevent leaving smudges on the paper from the oils on your fingers. The sheets should be placed in inert, acid free protective folders or paper slips (plastic slips are not usually recommended) that will allow the sheets to breathe and adapt to changes in the surrounding environment.
Whether your collection is just starting off or already established, it is important to keep good records of the items you have purchased. When adding any notation to your protective folders or slips (accessioning numbers, notes, etc.), be sure to use pencil. Other writing implements, such as pen or marker, may bleed through and cause irreparable damage to the work of art.
If unframed, the best way to store your works on paper is in a container, such as a Solander Box, that will protect them from light, dirt, and moisture. The items should lay flat, so that undue pressure is not placed on any of the edges or corners. Like other works of art in storage, the items (or the container in which they are housed) should live in an environment that is consistent and stable. This means that the relative humidity and temperature should not vary drastically from day to day and that the air quality should be good–indicating a minimal amount of dirt, dust, or other contaminants. Many experts believe that the ideal humidity in which works on paper should be stored falls between 30% and 50% and that the room temperature should be no higher than 70°F. Fluctuations in temperature, in tandem with changes in humidity, will accelerate the rate of many organic processes that result in condition issues.
If storing your items at home, it is best to avoid areas such as the attic or basement. Both of these locations are subject to the most drastic changes in temperature and humidity. In addition, the plumbing and heating systems in most homes can be found in these areas. Should any of these systems break or malfunction, it could result in flooding and water damage. For this reason, your works on paper should be stored above ground level and off of the floor.
Exposure to moisture or water can cause the image to bleed or blister and, as the paper dries, may leave behind staining and “tidelines”. A damp environment can also result in the growth of mold and mildew within the paper, as many older sheets contain the organic materials on which these microbes feed. When the temperature increases, this also increases the rate at which these microbes grow. Eventually, spots of discoloration (known as ‘foxing’) will become visible and apparent. Moisture can also lead to the expansion, distortion, and degradation of the integrity of the paper itself, resulting in the increased likelihood of tears and creases. If the work is mounted or something is affixed to the sheet using an adhesive, those adhesives may disolve–resulting in the work detaching. An increase in temperature also saps the moisture from the paper and accelerates the rate of deterioration, leading to brittleness and discoloration.
In addition to being sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, prints and works on paper are also extremely sensitive to sunlight. Prolonged exposure to natural light can cause fading and loss of sheet integrity. If you will be displaying your collection, make sure that your items are framed and under glass that will filter out harmful UV ray. Works on paper should not be in direct sunlight, but, if they must be, they should periodically be rotated with other items so they are not hanging in the sun for too long. When stored, it is best that the items are kept in a dark collection.
As your collection grows in size and value, it may be the case that an insurance policy becomes necessary, and if the collection is beginning to outgrow your space, you may even want to consider moving it to a dedicated art storage facility. When researching a storage facility, there are several different factors to consider. First, you should be aware of any and all fees that may be assessed when a facility accepts your property, how much it will cost to take your items out to view, and how you are being billed (monthly, annually, by the square foot, etc.). It’s also important to research the types of fire suppression and natural disaster plans that the facility has in place. A basic sprinkler system, for example, would not be ideal for your works on paper.
Once inside, the items can be placed in open storage or client specific storage. Open storage means that your artwork will live next to artwork belonging to other clients. This option is often cheaper, but may not meet the specific requriements necessary to protect your collection and it doesn’t allow for as much privacy. Client specific storage, while more expensive, is often better suited to the needs of the individual and their works of art. Keep in mind that as your collection grows you may have to purchase additional space at a premium. No matter your storage preference, before committing to a facility, be sure to do your homework!
When it comes to storing your works on paper, avoiding high temperatures, humidity, direct sunlight, and chemically active framing and matting materials should be enough to keep your collection in great condition!