How to Care For Your Watercolor Painting

So you just purchased a new beautiful watercolor painting, now what? There are really just a few important things to know about your watercolor painting in order to keep it bright, vibrant, and unblemished.

1. Get your painting framed with a glass protective panel. This is important, a regular frame with no glass will leave your watercolor vulnerable to dust, smudges, water damage etc. Did you know that watercolor can reconstitute itself when water is added? That means the paint can shift, lift, drip etc. A glass front will protect against water damage. It will also keep the dust off. You can’t just dust a watercolor painting as the paper is sensitive to marks and is a delicate surface. A well framed piece will also help keep out insects that can damage the paper. It is very difficult to repair a damaged watercolor painting, so keep it protected.

2. Avoid direct sunlight. Watercolor paintings are sensitive to sunlight. The colors can fade, and the paper can become brittle. I remember when I was working as an exhibit designer for the Hallie Ford Museum. I went to pick up a collection of Hudson River School paintings from a private collector’s house. The owner had a number of beautiful oil paintings, but his pride and joy was a vibrant watercolor painting. He kept a sheet of paper draped over the painting at all times and only lifted it when people wanted to see the piece. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but you do need to be careful of light. The recommended level of light for displaying watercolors in museums is 50 LUX, and it is only recommended for short periods of display. You can measure the light levels with a simple camera meter. However, I simply recommend keeping your painting out of direct sunlight and avoid shining a spotlight on the work. Remember, you bought the piece to enjoy it, so don’t fret too much. Just be prudent.

3. Hang the painting away from household pollutants and high humidity areas. Don’t hang a watercolor over a fireplace, near a stove, or in a bathroom. The soot from fireplaces can damage a work of art. Also, the shifts in humidity that occur in the bathroom or near a stove can cause moisture to build up inside the frame. Eventually, you may have a mold problem and have to take the work to be professionally cleaned. Try to find a location with more consistent humidity levels.

4. If the work does need to repaired, find a professional. Conservators are trained to repair works of art and know how to do it scientifically. You can usually find a good conservator by calling your local museum for recommendations. If you did happen to purchase your work directly from the artist, you can also try contacting that person and ask if they would mind trying to repair the damage themselves.

That’s it. Beyond that, just sit back and enjoy your watercolor painting!

Mildred K. Pearson

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