Archiving Project #2: Five Ways to Protect Your Work

Hi; Steph here (Lynn’s website developer and enthusiastic organizer-of-stuff). In our last blog entry, Lynn mentioned that we’ve been cataloguing and archiving artwork that dates back to her student days.

Here are a couple photos of our workspace, complete with Lynn’s acrylic canvases on the walls and Katie’s pottery lining the shelves by the ceiling.

As you can see, we’re dealing with large quantities of stuff! The estimate is that there are more than 25,000 pieces of art in need of preservation and cataloguing.

I wanted to share with you what we’re learning along the way, particularly if you’re a beginning or young artist (this includes cartoonists, of course, but anybody working in any medium can benefit).

Here are five major things we’ve learned you should do now, to preserve your art for later:

1. Plan for wild success.

Lynn never expected her career to take off in the way that it did. Because of this, her earlier pieces were often either given away. or stored under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Make your art with the expectation that, some day, the National Archives will want to keep it forever, and museums will want to host a retrospective show featuring your earliest toddlerhood scribblings. Imagine people standing around a gallery with a glass of bubbly, talking about the exquisite nature of your kindergarten work (in the medium of macaroni).

Keep older stuff, even if the sight of it embarrasses you. There are plenty of pieces from the beginning of Lynn’s career that make her blush – but the rest of us find them charming. Maybe we can convince her to let us show you a few items.

2. Date your work.

If at all possible, give your future archivist a month and a year to work with. Lynn was generally pretty good at this, and of course her characters age, allowing us to guess the decade of a piece’s creation most of the time.

3. Keep a journal, or at least notes on your work.

We’re very fortunate to have Lynn around to tell us the stories of some of the more mysterious pieces we’ve discovered. Someday your family may wish you had kept notes on your work,so do them a favour and write something down.

Here’s an hilarious segment of a family newsletter where Lynn detailed some costuming ideas she had. When we reach the “scanning and digitizing” phase of the project we’ll give you a closer look. All those little Post-It flags (affixed to the archival-quality plastic sheet covers, temporarily) represent art that very few people have ever seen.

4. Keep at least one of everything, or at least a photograph.

This goes for print runs of your books, merchandise featuring your characters, any licensed art that is produced, or even birthday cards you give to your friends. If possible, scan or photograph pieces before they leave your possession. If you don’t have room to keep everything, take a photo, write a note on the back with the relevant info, and store it in a photo box or an album that doesn’t use adhesives (see number 5).

5. Avoid sticky-taping things. Tape is not your friend.

I can’t repeat this enough. Masking tape and adhesive tape are the worst enemies of paper products. We’ve seen watercolour paper stretched and dried out around the edges by the tape used to affix it to an art board. Adhesive labels yellow the art they’re attached to, over time. Post-it notes can bleed color over whatever they’re stuck to. Tape is not a longterm solution anyway; eventually it will get brittle and lose its grip. Skip the sticky stuff.

Here’s an example of how adhesive labels, used in this case to correct the art, will turn on you after a few years. You can also see how graphite from another sketch, laid on top of this one, transferred to this piece. If you must stack your drawings together, interleave them with sheets of acid-free tissue paper.

Other things to avoid: rubber bands, paper clips and staples. Rubber bands will get brittle and glue themeselves to whatever they touch, leaving you with something that feels like a dry stick of pasta clinging to your art like its starchy little life depends on it. When you pry it off, it will stab you in that soft spot under your fingernails.

Paper clips rust, or leave indentations. Staples are unwelcome guests as well, particularly if you ever decide to remove them again and your tetanus vaccine isn’t up to date.

In our next blog entry, we’ll start covering some techniques for preserving different types of work. Stay tooned!