How To Store & Preserve Watercolor Paintings?

Yes, water colour paintings can fade in sunlight. Prolonged exposure to direct UV radiation is harmful to almost all artwork mediums including watercolor. Ultraviolet rays can degrade the color quality within a matter of days.

If you’re an artist, you’d already know that watercolor painting is one of the most (if not the most) sensitive forms of art. The watercolor paper is relatively brittle and the paint can also be easily ruined or damaged.

However, we still have hundreds of years old watercolor paintings in great condition. It means your artwork can also last for a very long period of time if you use the right approach to store watercolor paintings. Let’s discuss everything you need to know about preserving and strong watercolor painting.

 

 

Start with Quality Materials

The first step to preserve watercolor paintings is to start with a good foundation. It involves using high-quality and durable materials to create your artwork.

Use pH Neutral Material

It’s important to use acid-free materials to create your watercolor paintings. That’s because the acid can lead to degradation and yellowing with the passage of time. Acid-free paper has become the industry standard and you should buy archival paper (cotton pulp) or conservation grade paper (wood-based pulp). Both of these paper types are acid-free and will help your artwork to last for the years to come.

Use Pigment-Based Materials

Watercolor paint is probably the most important part of watercolor painting. Not only does it affect the painting’s longevity but it can also alter the quality of your artwork. While dyes offer brilliant colors, the major problem with them is that they fade away very quickly.

I recommend you use artist-quality paints. These products come with a permanence rating, which is also known as a lightfastness rating. The ratings on artist quality paint are expressed in either ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials) or BWS (Blue Wool Scale).

BWS Rating rating is expressed from 1 to 8 where 1 represents the best and 8 denotes the poorest quality. On the other hand, ASTM is expressed as:

  1. ASTM I: Best quality

  2. ASTM II: Good quality

  3. ASTM III: Low quality

Using BWS 1 - 2 or ASTM I can help your watercolor painting to look the same for decades.

Maintain Cleanliness During Your Painting Session

Maintaining cleanliness while painting can actually help your watercolor painting to last longer. That’s because cleanliness eliminates dust, smoke, dirt, and food residues that can damage your artwork a great deal.

Always clean your hand before starting your painting session and make sure that you don’t touch your painting’s surface. Touching the paper’s surface while painting can resist water and you’ll end up with uneven results.

Your canvas, water, paint, paper, and the rest of the supplies must be free of fingerprints and oil. Make sure that you clean your gear before and after using them.

Consider Environmental Elements

Your working environment can also affect the quality of your painting that can decrease the longevity of your work.

Light

You should limit exposure to UV light and direct sunlight while painting. UV rays can lead to a chemical reaction that results in the crackling of the paint or color fading. If you need to leave but your painting isn’t finished, consider covering it using acid-free materials.

It’s also important to make sure that your painting environment doesn’t have any fluorescent bulbs or incandescent lights because they also emit UV radiation.

Temperature and Humidity

A very high temperature causes watercolor paper deterioration and it’ll become brittle. In addition, extreme fluctuations of temperature can damage the watercolor just like direct sunlight. Therefore, it’s important to choose a dry and cool environment for watercolor painting.

Long-term exposure to humidity will dampen the watercolor paper and cause rusting, rotting, molding, and buckling. The build-up of bacteria and molding can also lead to permanent brown spots on your painting. The paper can also possibly wrinkle by undulating.

Most art galleries and museums have humidity between 50 to 60 percent and temperature below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) and you can follow the same.

Contaminants

Cigarette smoke and sulfur are two of the most notorious enemies of watercolor paintings. They can damage your watercolor painting in a short period by helping dirt and soot to accumulate, especially under moist conditions.

Pests

If you don’t already know, your precious watercolor paper contains glue and cellulose. These materials provide pests like cockroaches with an ideal environment to thrive and they can wreak havoc on your watercolor paintings.

How Do You Store Watercolor Paintings?

 

 

Now that you know the importance of using the right materials and understanding environmental elements, it’s time to learn how to store your watercolor paintings to increase their longevity.

Varnish Your Artwork

Use an archival varnish to preserve your dried watercolor painting. Never apply a varnish to a wet watercolor painting and use gloss instead of matte and satin for the first coat. Varnish offers a transparent coat to your watercolor painting and makes it resistant to moisture. It also improves the elasticity of the paper so that it can stretch on the canvas.

Store Paintings Horizontally

If you have unframed paintings, you can’t store them the same way you keep unframed ones. The watercolor paper refuses to lie flat because of the nature of watercolors. Consider using an acid-free tissue sheet between your water colour paintings.

Then place the pile of your artwork flat in a big cardboard box and store it horizontally in a cool and dry storage room. The acid-free sheet won’t affect the mountings and acidic backer bonds and your paintings will stay intact.

Always Use Non-Plastic sleeves

You must not use plastic sleeves because they will ruin your artwork by trapping condensation. Many people use clear cellophane bags to showcase their prints and artwork at different shows.

While these bags can work as a short-term solution, you must not use them to cover your water color paintings before storing them. That’s because they aren’t always acid-free and can interact with the pigments and binder solution present in the paint.

Consider buying a glassine envelope or any other acid-free packaging material if you need to store your painting for a long time. The glassine envelopes allow your artwork to avoid smudging by separating pastels. They’re also biodegradable and allow you to minimize your carbon footprint to help save the environment.

Never Touch Your Painting’s Surface

It’s possible to accidentally touch the surface of your painting and damage the quality of your artwork. Wear cotton gloves if you’re planning to move or store your watercolour paintings. It will eliminate the risk of touching the surface that can cause contamination.

Use Dry and Dark Storage Space

You should choose the dry and dark storage space for your watercolor paintings. It’s also important to make sure that the temperature of your storage room is non-fluctuating. You can use any empty space in your house that’s free of dampness and heat. You might also need to install dehumidifiers if you live in a place with high humidity.

Label Your Artwork

Once you are ready to store your watercolor paintings, label each cardboard box. It’ll help you to find the right painting without spending a whole lot of time opening different boxes.

Consider placing similar paintings in the same box for better organization. You can use colored boxes or markers for different containers to complete this process effectively.

Frame Your Watercolor Paintings

Framing your watercolor paintings is yet another way to improve their longevity. All the rules that I have discussed above will still apply.

For example, you’ll need to avoid handling your paintings with bare hands and keep them from humidity, UV radiation, sunlight, and acid. The following are some additional considerations that you should keep in mind.

Use UV Filtering Glass

Instead of using ordinary glass, you should always frame your watercolor paintings using acrylic or UV filtering glass. While these specialized glasses don’t offer 100 percent UV protection, they can extend the life of your artwork significantly as compared to ordinary glass.

Use Mountboards

Using mountboards while framing your watercolor painting is critically important. It allows you to keep a safe distance between the glass and your artwork. The quality of your painting will deteriorate if it touches the glass. Not only can it rip the surface of your artwork but it can also lead to a condensation buildup.

Use Everything Acid-Free

I can’t stress this enough that all the materials that come in contact with your watercolor paintings must be acid-free. It includes glue, framing tape, backing boards, and mountboards. Pay special attention to the type of glue you use as acidic glue can turn your entire painting brown quickly.

Most people use backing boards made of wood but you must not do that because almost all types of wood contain lignin, which is an acidic content. If you need to use foam board, you must go with the archival option, not the acidic one.

Gap Between Wall and Frame

Leaving a gap between the wall and your water color painting frame is also important. You can simply use small pieces of cardboard or wood to create homemade bumpers for this purpose. It’ll keep the frame from touching the wall. Check behind the frame while cleaning to see if there is any problem and reposition your frame if required to protect your artwork.

Choose Displaying Environments Carefully

 

 

If you need to frame your water colour paintings to display them at an art show, avoid choosing hot and humid environments. The same is also true if you’re planning to hand your paintings in your home.

While it’s tempting to decorate your kitchen with your paintings, it’s not advisable because food particles, oil, and evaporating steam will make their way to your artwork to damage its quality.

Use an environment that offers diffused natural light, even if you have used UV filtering glass. Lastly, you should dust glass and frames at regular intervals (once a month) using a microfiber cloth and never use any cleaning solution.

FAQs

How Do You Store a Full Sheet of Watercolor Paper?

The best way to store unframed watercolor paintings is to store them horizontally. You can use a plan chest or portfolio to keep your artwork safe. Regardless of the container, always choose a dry, cool, and dark storage space to keep your paintings from humidity and high temperatures.

Do Watercolour Paintings Fade in Sunlight?

Yes, water colour paintings can fade in sunlight. Prolonged exposure to direct UV radiation is harmful to almost all artwork mediums including watercolor. Ultraviolet rays can degrade the color quality within a matter of days. You can use UV filtering glass but also doesn’t offer 100 percent ultraviolet protection. Therefore, it’s best to place your watercolor paintings in a place that doesn’t receive sunlight.

How Do You Preserve a Water-Based Painting?

A great way to preserve your water-based painting is to apply a couple of coats of gloss archival varnish. Don’t use satin or matte varnish to apply the first coat because they’ll make your artwork cloudy. It’ll seal your watercolor painting and make it moisture resistant.

It’s also important to use high-quality painting materials in the first place. Use BWS 1 - 2 or ASTM I watercolor paper and all the materials must be acid-free to prevent discoloring and degrading.

Why Should Your Store Painting Horizontally?

Watercolor paintings must be stored horizontally and flat because rolling up can lead to permanent damage. It also creates a suitable environment and space for humidity just to attract pests. Overlapping watercolor paper can lead the paint to wear off and it’s yet another reason why you should store painting horizontally.

Final Words

Creating a masterpiece using water color paints takes a lot of time and effort. If you don’t use the right protection and storage methods, it can deteriorate within no time. That’s why you should use the rules and methods discussed in this guide to store watercolor paintings.

Not only will it help you to store your artwork safely, but it’ll also allow it to stay intact for the years to come. You’ll be ready to display your artwork confidently whenever needed without needing to deal with distorted quality and smudging.

by Greg Conley

November 1st, 2022