Updated: Sep 19, 2021
If you're just starting out on your art journey - or maybe even if you've been doing this for years - you might not have heard of using archival materials. But using archival materials in your art is incredibly important! So what does it mean? Archival materials relate to the permanence of the art made with them. Different materials and pigments have different rates at which they fade and decay. Thankfully, in this current day and age, it's easy to find reliable materials that have been tested for archival qualities. All it takes is a quick internet search or a brief check on a brand's website, and you're good to go! So with that cleared up, why does it matter? Let's take a look!
The most obvious reason is for longevity purposes. After all, if we're going to spend a lot of time making a piece, we want it to last a long time, right? By using archival materials, we can ensure that a piece won't fade or deteriorate quickly. This is important if we want to ensure our work can be on display long past our lifetime. Archival work is also helpful for our own progress! By making work that lasts, we can go back and see our progress over time. Not to mention, previous work can influence and inspire new work. Unless your piece's purpose is to demonstrate decay, save your future self a panic attack and start stocking your studio with archival materials.
If you're selling or planning to sell your work, it wouldn't be right to ship off a piece without knowing how long it will last. Think about how you feel when you spend a lot of money on something only to have it fall apart in a couple months. That's the same way someone who purchased your art would feel if it faded soon after purchase. Art is not a cheap item; it's often times something people save up for over the span of months. It also tends to be a highly personal purchase or something made specifically for that person. Selling anything made with experimental or low-quality materials just isn't the right thing to do. So be sure you work with archival materials only.
What are non-archival materials, you ask? Here's a quick reference.
Identifying anything not intended for art use is a quick way to remove potential mishaps from your studio. Baby oil, hair spray, and pretty much anything food-related is not intended for artists, and, therefore, will not stand up to the test of time.
Low-quality materials are also more than likely to not be archival. I know that the good stuff is more expensive, but there's a reason for that; it's made with high-quality materials and is usually tested to see how quickly it fades. There are also certain pigments to watch out for, as a lot of fluorescent and lighter pigments aren't very lightfast. But you can usually check a manufacturer's website to get this information.
Be sure to only use paper, canvas, boards, adhesives, packaging, and so forth that are acid free. This will keep your surface from yellowing over time.
A final example relates to technique. I'm sure many of you have heard of "fat over lean". This is a rule that dictates how to layer oil-based supplies over water-based ones. To keep your work archival, always put water-based materials down first and layer oil-based ones over top.
Finally, it keeps your work looking professional! Imagine that in a few years you're putting on a solo gallery show or have been accepted to an art fair, and you have to gather a body of work from the past three years. It's not going to look very good if your paint has faded or chipped off the canvas from a painting you made two years ago. To keep your work up to snuff from a professional standpoint, you should be using archival art supplies. After all, we never know when a show or exhibition might come our way, and it will be a lot less stressful if you've already set yourself up for success.
This tip also applies to your storage and presentation methods. When storing artwork, it should always be kept in acid free boxes, envelopes, or sleeves. As for presentation, always use acid free matboards, backings, and adhesives - even for your labels. This will ensure your artwork looks professional and well-cared for to outside eyes. For more delicate pieces, consider using UV protection glass to ensure pigments don't fade. When in doubt, turn to artist specific supplies, as they will be reliable every time.
Hopefully this provided some good information about how to make archival artwork and why it's even necessary. It's not the most fun aspect of being an artist, but I sure do rest easy knowing my work will last for years to come. And now you can start ensuring your art is archival, too!
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Thanks for reading and happy creating!