Archiving Project #4: Managing Large Art

Lynn generally worked at comic-strip size, which varies by artist  — Lynn’s Sundays are approximately 9″ x 13″, and her dailies are approximately 3.5″ x 11″. The majority of her non-strip art was done on letter-sized paper (see previous blog entries in this series), but on certain occasions, we’ve had to handle art Lynn made on a much bigger scale. Here are a couple methods we’ve used to store bigger pieces.

(For tips on working with smaller art, see the other entries in this blog series.)

Drop-Front Gallery Boxes:

We’ve been using drop-front boxes * , affectionately known as “pizza boxes,” to store Lynn’s bigger works on paper. Depending on the size of the art, we’ve been able to store up to about 20 pieces per box — each with a sheet of acid-free tissue paper as a separator.

By affixing labels to the sides and an inventory sheet to the top, we can stack these on a shelf and have a good idea of what’s inside. The drop-front allows us to get into the boxes without un-stacking the pile.

Pizza boxes (next to binders of letter-sized art) waiting for more permanent labels and inventory sheets. It’s a work in progress!

We’ve also been able to use these to store some metal etching plates (wrapped in tissue), and a few unframed acrylic paintings.

Shipping Tubes:

We had some vinyl banners of the variety that fit onto a portable pop-up stand. They were too long and too heavy to deal with comfortably using our other storage methods, but we had a triangular shipping container left over that turned out to be the perfect spot for the banners. With careful labelling, we’ll always know where to find our banners. This type of material is not hurt by being stored rolled up, but we don’t recommend you do this with paper products, textiles or canvas.

DIY Repurposing:

Consider building your own storage cases from old cardboard; with a little careful measuring it’s not hard to create a stiff box to protect your oddly-shaped work. Just remember to wrap your art in a non-acidic material to prevent it from touching non-archival-quality storage containers.

VFiles – Vertical Flat Storage Systems:

We also happened across a lot of delicate, large-format art from Lynn’s student days. Some of these pieces were figure drawings on cheap newsprint, and others were on better-quality paper, but we didn’t want to roll them. One piece was a painting on Masonite, which is impossible to roll, and which wouldn’t fit in a drop-front box.

Katie, Lynn’s daughter, had ordered a VFile on a hunch to see if it would be useful — it was. The big cardboard folders have tabs, and the inside of each box comes with sturdy cardboard shelves. We can store Lynn’s bigger pieces either vertically or horizontally, and it’s easy to access the art inside. You can order folders separately from the boxes if you need more.

Opaque Plastic Totes:

Lynn has kept a few professionally framed pieces that aren’t on display in her house. Storing these was fairly simple; we bought large Rubbermaid totes (the heavy-duty ones), and filed the pieces inside vertically. Before you consign framed art to long term storage, make sure the matting is acid-free so the piece won’t degrade over time.

You may also want to slide pieces of cardboard in between works as a buffer to keep the frames from banging together — especially if you plan to move the box. Put an inventory list on the outside (or photos) so you can remind yourself of the contents without flipping through them.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • avoid rolling pieces up — particularly thick paper; this stretches the fibers on one side, making it hard to get a sheet to lie flat again later
  • avoid taping, stapling, or using elastics or clips on art — especially watercolour paper and thinner papers
  • don’t store art in damp places — natural materials like paper and canvas can promote mold growth
  • protect your art from exposure to light as much as possible

A Note on Handling Art:

It’s worth adding that you should avoid touching the art with your bare hands as much as possible. Cotton gloves are a good choice — they’re thin enough to allow some sensation and grip, but they keep your skin’s oils off the artwork. Make sure you’re working on a clean surface too!

* we are not affiliated with Brodart in any way, but we sure appreciate their products!