Shedding some light on art

Light. Artists and art collectors have a love-hate relationship with it. We need some light to enjoy what has been created. Too much light, over time, will destroy the creation.

Elizabeth Busey. Day’s End on the Ontario Shield. 10 x 28in, Edition of 20, $350 unframed.

Works on paper are among the most delicate of artworks, mostly because of the low pigment load that is required for the thin layer of ink to adhere to the paper. This is why original prints, watercolors, photographs and dyed textiles fade more readily than oil paintings. Certainly today’s pigments are much more lightfast than those of the past, but they are still fragile.

When people decide to buy my linocuts, I do try to tell them how to best care for their new acquisition. But with all the hustle and bustle of an art festival or a new sale, I worry the information gets lost.

So in honor of the upcoming Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts in Bloomington, IN, I’m preparing a small brochure to give to people in hopes that they will find the safest place to hang their new linocut. I’m not an art conservator, so I’ve gathered information from various sources (cited at the end) and I thought perhaps it was good information to pass along.

What should I know about light sources and my art?
All light is harmful to art. Natural light from the sun is the most dangerous — containing both the visible light spectrum and UV wavelengths, plus heat. Fluorescent bulbs emit substantial UV wavelengths. Incandescent bulbs are less harmful in terms of light, but emit heat, as do halogens. LED lights are only now being tested.

Is UV glass enough? Is it worth the expense?
UV glass by itself will not stop fading completely. Remember that it does nothing to stop visible light, nor heat. I do frame with UV glass, which is more expensive, because I want to keep the UV light from the home’s interior lighting from damaging the work.

Where should I hang artwork?
To avoid light damage, hang artwork away from direct sunlight or reflected light. If you have a very light-filled room, this might be a good place for a metal 2-D piece or something in stone. Or a great plant. Instead, hang artwork in areas with less light — like a north facing room or wall. Also, avoid spotlighting the work with a bright or hot light, as this can cause spot fading.

What other things should I avoid when hanging my artwork?
Moderate moisture levels are important in the care of artwork. Most homeowners (except those in the desert southwest) must worry about excessive moisture, which can lead to mold and mildewing of the paper. Avoid hanging original artwork in bathrooms, or in areas of a kitchen that are overly moist. Heat can also be damaging, so don’t place work over heat-generating electrical equipment, radiators or fireplaces that are in use.

In the end, all art is ephemeral, whether it is destroyed by light, insects, moisture or world violence. The best we can do is take care of it in a way that still allows us to enjoy it. Because art that cannot be enjoyed ceases to be art.

Want to read more? Here are three sites that I found quite helpful.

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