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I have been thinking of asking this question for a long time, and have been reading about average and recommended humidity levels, but since my studio is in my apartment where i live, and we have radiators in every apartment in the building i find it very difficult to set humidity that is recommended...
During the spring, summer and even some parts of autumn the humidity is usualy about 40-55 % . I have read that these are actually solid, ok humidity levels.
But during the cold autumn days and during the whole winter, the city starts turning on the heating and the radiators begin working.
Temperature is usually set in whole building, so in every apartment is pretty much the same temperature, around 25°C .
Then the humidity levels drop up to 12-22 % .
I was really worried when i saw that the humidity drops up to 12%.
I wanted to ask, do you think that low humidity like this represents a big danger to paintings( oil, acrylic, egg tempera) and watercolors, gouache paintings, also drawings....?
If it does, how can i fix this problem..?
Or are these strict rules meant for very old artworks that need extra museum care..?
I try to do best for my artworks, and to take care of them as much as i can, but whenever i start worrying that much, i cant help but to think how many old artworks survived in old houses, old studios, in some military storages during wars, and back in ancient times when i believe artists didn't knew much, or maybe anything about humidity levels...?
Your answers are much appreciated!
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Hi Marko - the environmental situation you're describing is a problem many museums, historic houses, and galleries face. Conservators and other collections care professionals have been struggling with this and, generally speaking, we've come to the conclusion that the parameters can be set a little bit wider than we originally thought. Although having strict parameters in place is ideal for some materials (such as certain photographic materials) it's actually more sustainable and more important that there are fewer drastic fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity.
If you are concerned with the low relative humidity in your apartment when the building's heat is on (something I struggle with in my own apartment, too) you can get a humidifier fairly cheaply. When you use it, make sure that it's not directly next to any of your paintings or drawings as they can become wet, but placed in the same room can help to bring the relative humidity up a little bit.
Sorry, I meant to add current, general guidelines for works of art on paper are around 59-77°F and a relative humidity between 45-55% (+/- 5%). For most works on paper it's better to minimize extreme fluctuation than it is to stay within narrowly defined parameters. Let me know if you have any other questions!
Thank you very much Gillian!
I wanted to ask if the humidity drops to 12-22 % during the winter times, what can actually happen to paintings and drawings?
And also i am interested in your opinion,how did so many artworks from past times survived in such bad environmental conditions...? When i read about certain ,so to say, "destinies" of some artworks it really gets me thinking about it... It's pretty much the same story about painting techiques, grounds and so on... The more i read and look at the paintings in the museums, the more i come to these thoughts... There are many artworks done on prepared cardboards (some paintings from John Atkinson Grimshaw), recently i saw some small paintings from Franz Von Stuck in Belvedere, and many more, and they look amazing... Done on basically risky ground such as cardboard, in studios and houses where people maybe had their homes heated with woods and fireplaces, many painted effects done with almost totally dismissing "fat over lean" rule and not to mention their stories, where were these paintings, how were they kept, wars these artworks had survived, and they still managed to look good... I know that professional conservators and restorators did their job, but still these are pretty old paintings...
Few years ago i got myself thinking that all the knowledge about best painting technique, medium, environment, storage actually made many artists fearful and not so free as they should be while creating art, at some times, myself included...
I am sorry, maybe i went off from the subject we are talking here, but i thought it is ok to share it, and ask...
If there is real danger for paintings and drawings of humidity being 12-22% , please tell me should i then buy the regular humidifier that releases steam in the room? I was, and indeed still am, very afraid to put it in studio with all my most important artworks... Or is there some alternative?
Thank you, and sorry if i wrote too much. :)
All the best!
At very low humidity, the paper substrate can contract as it loses moisture, which can result in tension between the paper and the media (particularly with heavy applications of media). Also, some media can become more friable (powdery). It's certainly not ideal, but the biggest risk occurs if there are dramatic fluctuations in relative humidity, causing an object to expand and contract rapidly and resulting in physical weakness. I wanted to ask what instrument you're using to read the relative humidity?
If you do get a humidifier, I would first test it in a room where you don't have any art to make sure that it works without spraying or misting and that it doesn't raise the humidity too rapidly. I would also only use a household dehumidifier in a large room; in a small space, it may be too much. An old trick that people used to use in a dry space is to leave a pan (or pans) of water out, which can raise the humidity slightly. Of course, you have to be careful not to put a pan of water anywhere it can spill and damage your work, and the water would need to be changed regularly. It probably is also only suitable for a smaller space, but you could try it out and see if it makes any difference at all (it may not).
To answer your big question, which is how artworks have survived for hundreds of years in various environmental states…there are a lot of different ways to approach this question. My personal opinion is that materials tend to remain stable when there are fewer fluctuations, even if the temperature and relative humidity aren't ideal. There are a lot of other factors that affect the longevity of an item, including pH, light, frequency of use, luck, etc. I also think that when we're looking at artifacts or art made long ago, we are often looking at it in its changed form. Conservators and collections care staff impose stricter environmental parameters on items because we are trying to keep them as unchanged as possible while they are under our care…but we are aware that this is a nearly impossible task, and that nothing lasts forever. I don't think any conservator would want you to feel afraid to experiment with your work; it's our jobs to let you know what might happen to the materials you use, but in no way do we want to hinder creativity.
Thank you very much for all these answers Gillian!
The instrument i am using is a very basic digital Hygrometer/Thermometer which shows relative humidity and room temperature... It was relatively cheap and bought in a local store, but some people that have used it said that is pretty much accurate... I sure hope it is...
I will try to put these pans with water, and see what happens.. If there is nothing changing, i will maybe then buy humidifier, and i will try to set it rigth, so it doesn't bring up the humidity too fast... If that doesn't work, then i really don't know what to do more... The room is smaller, so the dehumidifier maybe will be too much... And, in this specific situation, the "problem" is, i have paintings all around my appartment and my studio... :) :)
Would there be any difference if the works on paper are put under glass and framed soon after being finished...?
I understand that every information we,artists get from professional conservators, restorators, chemists, other artists is put there with greatest and purest intentions... It is maybe us, who started worrying too much. Or maybe some of us... :)
I am very grateful for every information i've got in past years. So, thank you once more! :)
Framing works on paper under glass does create a micro-climate, which has the effect of slowing fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity within the frame and creating a more stable environment. That is something to consider. Overall, I wouldn't worry too much about the low humidity in winter - you clearly care a lot about your art and take good care of it, and as I said it's worse for objects to go through extreme fluctuations than it is to be in fairly steady periods of low humidity.
We are always happy to answer any questions you might have!
I share this only because I found the history of how modern humidity and temperature recommendations came about. For example, this paragraph details how the storage of museum paintings in underground slate quarries in Wales during WWII, which happened to also provide unusually stable environments, really marks the birth of the whole field of how the environment impacts paintings:
"With the outbreak of the Second World War, mixed collections from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert museum were removed to quarry storage at 60%RH, 60°F and survived the war in very good condition.[: p.2] The National Gallery's collections were evacuated to storage in the Manod slate quarry, Wales.[] Conditions in the slate caves were a constant 47°F and 95 to 100%RH; brick shelters were built in the caves to house the paintings [] and 'simple heating' was used to control the climate in the shelters to 58%RH, 63°F/17°C with 'exceedingly minor variations.'[21: p.194] Prior to the removal to Manod, a technician had been employed eight months out of every year to deal with cracking and blistering in the panel paintings; during the first year of storage in Wales (1941- 1942), his work reduced to one month and by 1945 he had nothing to do; after the War ended, the paintings were returned to the essentially uncontrolled environment of the National Gallery, and an epidemic of blistering, warping and cracking broke out. This very positive experience of climate-controlled quarry storage contrasted powerfully with the experience of evacuating collections to bomb-proof storage in the tunnels of the London Underground (subway) system during the First World War, when uncontrolled damp had caused serious damage to collections.[]"
The rest of the document can be found here:
Thank you so much Gillian and Sarah!