Oil Paintings on Canvas – Storage Guidelines

So, you’ve created a masterpiece. Congratulations! Now preserve this treasure for future generations.

Caring for oil paintings requires attention to detail. Here are the crucial things you should know.

How to Prolong the Life of Your Artworks

Leave your canvas on the easel until the paints are fully dry, or put it on a special drying rack. You can choose between wall mounts and tabletop racks. I prefer the latter – they allow you to move new works around.

Generally, colors become touch dry in 3-10 days. The rate depends on a number of factors; most of all, the thickness of the brushmarks and the features of particular pigments.

Some artists apply a coat of varnish over pictures as a protectant, but that can be risky. I wouldn’t advise trying it yourself.

Just wrap your chef-d’oeuvre in breathable sheets/tissue paper (don’t use plastic bubble wrap!), then find the right place for it.

Optimal Conditions

Neither basements nor boxrooms are suitable for storing canvasses as they need protection from moisture. Dampness causes paintings to slacken on their stretchers.  Very high humidity – over 70% – causes mold.

The attic also isn’t a suitable storage space – the extreme heat tightens fabric and destroys the original texture of strokes. The ideal temperature for artworks varies between 18ºC (65 ºF) and 24ºC (75 ºF).

Keep all artwork in a separate room in your house. Keep paintings far away from:

  • radiators;
  • sinks;
  • building’s perimeter walls (they are the coldest during winter and hottest during summer).

Set your canvasses at least 7–10 cm (3–4 inches) above the floor. Raise them even higher if the floor is concrete as the composite material absorbs water.

Temporary and Permanent Storage Units

Leaning paintings vertically against a wall is acceptable as long as they are stacked in this way for a short time:

  1. Put a skid-proof block between the flooring and your works;
  2. Use inlay separators (sheets of cardboard) to stop your paintings from touching one another.

Separator boards should be larger than the canvasses.

In the case of a small studio, the best solution is storage shelves. Try to make a bespoke storage system yourself.

Perhaps you could make a multi-purpose slotted cabinet from plywood?

Specially designed mobile art carts are another storage solution.

These portable systems usually hold around ten gallery-style or twenty standard canvases. The vertical positioning ensures paintings remain accessible at all times/

Watch this YouTube video to assess the advantages of these devices:

When displaying works, make sure the hooks are durable enough. Brick, stone, and concrete walls require drilled holes with plugs into which a hook can be hung.

Safe Dusting

Keep artworks free of dust, but clean them carefully. Please don’t attempt to apply household liquids to remove dirt (they almost always interact with paints and varnish creating unsightly spots).

Also avoid using microfiber cloths, wool, or feather dusters.

The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute recommends:

Provided that there are no signs of loose or flaking paint, a painting may be safely dusted using a clean, soft, natural-hair artists’ brush (3.5cm to 5cm tip). (…) Brushing is carried out slowly and gently in one direction across or down the painting followed by a second brushing in the opposite direction.

It’s important to wash hands before dusting (or better yet, put on cotton gloves before handling paintings). The natural oils on the skin leave prints which develop after a few weeks.

Storing paintings isn’t an easy task.

So, here’s a great idea for you. Improve your skills, and polish up your technique. Paint at least twenty indisputable masterpieces. When experts pay attention to them, you’ll sell each new work quickly and will not have to concern yourself with storage cabinets, shelves, and separators.


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Natalia Usanova
I am a poet and an amateur artist. A few years ago, it seemed to me creating works of art is a much more important occupation than reading books, visiting galleries, or listening to music. Now I don't think so. Let me share with you the masterpieces which have changed my life and can change yours. Follow me on Twitter!

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