abstract painting by Marianne Morris

Works on paper should be framed and under glass. But because acrylic is so durable, the option to mount this on a wood panel is there if you want to hang it without a frame.

As both a painter and a purchaser of art, I’ve come across bits and pieces of information that can help out the average person who might not have knowledge of what can and cannot be used to clean an original work. Edges get dusty, animals shed, maybe something gets smudged on the surface of that fabulous piece you just saved 6 months to buy. Armed with a bit of information, it can be a non-event. Without it, it can be a disaster.

Most artists paint on canvas, wood panels or paper. It’s a matter of preference. You can create effects on one surface that might not work well on others. Canvas is usually made of cotton or linen, and is stretched over a wooden frame (called stretchers), then coated with a primer called gesso. This soaks in and seals the fibres, giving the artist a non-absorbant surface to work on. Sometimes an artist will not prime the canvas first, and this gives a totally different effect. Often you can purchase a work on canvas that isn’t stretched. This makes them easy to transport, and can be stretched at most framing shops for reasonable fee. (If you have a piece created on unstretched canvas, don’t trim off any excess around the edges. Let your framer do that when it’s finished… the canvas needs to wrap around the edges of the frame, and extra can be useful). Canvas is fabric and can be torn, so be careful when moving paintings around. Wood panels are sturdy and difficult to damage. Works on paper are more fragile and are usually framed under glass, although buying them unframed can make the work much more affordable and easier to ship.

Acrylic paint is made from a polymer base. It’s essentially plastic. It is extremely durable and stable, and should last for generations. That being said, even though most artists will coat their work with a UV protectant, it’s still not a good idea to hang a piece of original art in direct sunlight for any length of time. Eventually the colour will fade. A couple weeks in the window of a gallery won’t hurt it, but a decade in a sunroom might.

Colourful painting of a dancer by Marianne Morris

Pieces on canvas can be wiped with a damp cloth. No glass needed.

Because Acrylic paint is flexible and durable, there really needs to be no external protection. Many artists will paint the sides of their pieces so they can be hung unframed. I do this myself. No frame, no glass, just a wire across the back to hang it from. When the painting gets dusty, I wipe it down with a soft, damp cloth. That’s it. Nothing simpler. I’ve spilt coffee on a painting. Sounds difficult, but it wasn’t… I tripped going up a flight of stairs, coffee in hand. The painting on the opposite wall got splattered. I wiped it off with a rag. Plain old water removed whatever hit it. Good as new.

One thing to NEVER do is to spray your lovely acrylic painting with a chemical cleaner. Put that stuff away folks, you will totally ruin your piece. I’ve experimented with lots of different things on paint. Anything with alcohol will make the paint sticky and gooey, anything containing bleach and your surface will be destroyed. Glass cleaner (ammonia) is just a bad idea. Pretty much anything you get on a painting can be removed with a damp cloth, and if it can’t, your best bet would be to talk to an artist or a local framer about options.

As for a paper piece framed under glass, I will always spray my glass cleaner on a paper towel, then wipe the glass. I don’t spray directly on the glass. I suppose I’m a bit paranoid about the cleaner running in-between the glass and the frame, and inadvertently seeping up the edge of the paper. I’ve never seen it happen, but still. Better safe than sorry.