Oil Painting Conservation 101
Oils are a delicate painting material because of their slow drying time and the fact that they don’t get framed
under glass in the end.
Without this layer of glass to protect it, oil paintings are vulnerable to a variety of things, ranging from
discoloration to actual rips in the canvas.
Here are two things to do and two things to avoid when working to conserve your oil painting for as long as
You probably put a lot of effort into creating your painting; taking care of it after the fact will make sure
that all that effort doesn’t go to waste.
What to Do
1. While Your Painting Dries
Your painting is especially vulnerable while it dries. Because the paint stays sticky for a long time, dust and
hairs will want to stick to it, and things that touch the painting even slightly could ruin the texture or rip off
paint. By all means, keep cats and other curious animals away from drying oil paintings!
Also, dry your paintings vertically instead of
letting them sit flat, face up. This will give dust and hair less of a chance to settle. Move your painting around
as much as possible and try to keep it in light. Darkness causes changes in the oil and makes it want to rise to
the surface, creating an unsightly yellow coating.
Of course it’s not practical to make sure your painting is always in the light, but just try to leave it in
light when it is possible (during the daytime). Essentially, don’t let your painting dry in a dark closet for six
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2. Varnish Your Painting
Once your painting is dry, varnish it. Varnishing is an oil painting’s equivalent of what glass does for a
watercolor painting. It protects the painting from dust, pollution, and scratches. Varnishing is something that you
can do yourself with just a little spare time and few tools.
Use a removable varnish so that you can take it off and replace it in the future if it gets old or begins to
yellow. It’s a good idea to keep the bottle, which has instructions for how to remove the varnish later on. Write
the title of your painting on the bottle so you can remember which varnish you used for which painting.
What Not to Do
1. Unhappy Climates
Oil paintings are delicate and don’t do well in extreme heat, extreme cold, or lots of humidity. Don’t store
your painting in a freezing, dusty attic, or a dark, wet basement. These places will cause damage to your
A good rule of thumb to follow is to not put your painting in a place you wouldn’t be comfortable staying in for
a long time. Would you want to sit in the corner of your basement for a month? Would you want to stand in direct
sunlight all day, every day? If not, then don’t do this to your painting.
2. Leave Your Painting Laying Around
Hanging your painting ensures that it won’t get warped or ripped in storage. If possible, hang your painting instead of letting it lean against a wall
somewhere. Just one misstep could mean a foot through your canvas. Don’t risk it.
For more tips on care and maintainence of your oil
painting, click here...