Confessions of an Artist Part 4

On the last “Confessions” post, we talked about the merits and downfalls of tracing. Many of you revealed that I am not the only one to start out in art with early tracing books. It was also interesting to hear about how I am not the only one to suffer Dragonball and Sailor Moon anime influenced phases. I do wonder sometimes what the next influential phase of infectious art styles will be for the future generations of artists? Perhaps Avatar: The Last Airbender, Naruto, or Inuyasha styles?

This week I’d like to make yet another confession.

I have only in recent years learned that piling artwork under my bed is not the best practice for storing original art. Even worse, there was a point during my high school days where I was storing art with….cardboard and plastic wrap. Yes, the plastic wrap from your kitchen. (Don’t try this at home, kiddies!)

Oh sure, it is easy when we start out to believe that art is just for fun, so why not toss it under the bed or on the next most convenient pile on your desk? It will be fine until we dig it out again, right? Eventually, we graduate to stuffing them in trapper keepers and accrue piles of shiny notebooks, folders, and trapper keepers with papers sticking out of them. Things like pH balance don’t exist for us when we’re young and naive and, like our art, we view ourselves as immortal. The art will always be there when we need it.

I learned my lesson the hard way when I went to dig out old work, seeking something to display for a student show, and found that most of my work was yellow, stained with cat puke, or torn and ripped at the corners. Lesson being, don’t store your art under your bed if you can help it. So, I’m here to implore you to please, as early as possible, form good storage habits for art if it really means something to you.

Some basic things to remember for storing your art properly:

  • Paper, especially newsprint, is prone to yellowing. Store it out of the sun where possible. Use higher quality thicker paper like Bristol board or illustration board when you can instead of cheap drawing paper from drawing pads which is easier to damage. Drawing pads are great for practice sketches, but higher quality paper will make your masterpieces last longer.
  • Masking tape, scotch tape, and certain types of mat board contain acid, which can cause staining and yellowing. General rule of thumb: If it’s physically touching your artwork, it needs to be acid free (archival)!
  • Cardboard is NOT archival unless you special order archival backing board or cut your own backing from acid free board.
  • Certain media such as pastel, charcoal, and color pencil need to be sprayed with fixative to preserve their color and to insure that they do not rub off. Acrylics do not need to be sprayed, though they will benefit from being sealed with a protective layer of varnish. Oils, on the other hand, require a layer of varnish to set the colors.

Some simple storage solutions for your art:

  • Storage & Display Portfolios – Buy storage portfolios instead of trapper keepers. I recommend Itoya portfolios. They are fairly affordable and come in multiple sizes to suit all needs. Their pages and mounting paper are archival/acid free and the portfolios look tons more professional than your shiny hot pink Lisa Frank trapper keeper. You can also customize the spine to show your name by sliding the paper out and replacing it with your own like this.
  • Carrying Cases & Large Portfolios – Storing larger work over 14×17 inches can be problematic. If you can store them in a carrying case portfolio or keep them in their original art pad binders, that is better than piling large work loose somewhere where they are easy to damage. Another alternative is to properly mat and frame the large work and hang it up on the wall
  • Plastic Bins & Paper Copy Boxes – Storing larger framed work can be tricky. If you can’t put it on the wall, it is best to store frames upright in copy paper boxes or large plastic bins with protective styrofoam sheets or cardboard in-between. If you stack your frames with protective sheets between, just don’t stack them too high or the weight could damage the frames on the bottom. For additional protection, you may want to wrap each frame individually with bubble wrap. Most times, you can go to large stores like Sam’s, or other department stores, and get handy cardboard bins or paper copy boxes for free or low cost.
  • Plastic Storage Drawers – For storing smaller framed works and stacks of portfolios, you might want to invest in good plastic storage shelves. I prefer shelves which have closed walls as this helps to keep dust from gathering on your work. Be warned! Don’t skimp on buying good plastic shelves, as the cheap ones will bow and are only useful for storing very light objects. A general indicator of a good quality plastic storage unit is that the plastic is opaque instead of clear.
  • A Good Plastic Bin
    A Bad Plastic Bin

My Home Setup

Just about all of my supplies and materials are kept in the opaque plastic shelves on the bottom with lightweight portfolios, mailing envelopes, and small originals kept in the crappy clear drawers sitting on top of the ‘nice’ plastic shelf. I still have art piled under my bed, but it’s generally the stuff which I don’t mind being damaged or it is still snuggly attached in its original art pad.

I have tons of copy boxes and over the shoulder carrying case portfolios in my room and basement which store framed art, scraps, large art, and other supplies. My setup isn’t perfect yet, as my large canvas work still sits relatively unprotected and leaning against a wall, but it’s a start!

My final word of advice is to start storing your stuff properly as early as possible. You don’t want a possible masterpiece to be ruined by carelessness and trust me that cat puke is the most horrible permanent yellow you will ever see.

Those of you who are already practicing good habits, how do you store your art? Do you have anything to add to this list of suggestions? Feel free to share photos of your storage space!


  1. These are the sort of things that make it so fantastic you’re taking the time to inform and educate. Good storage practices emerge more often by trial and error than information. I know most of my old art is lying in bulldog-clipped art books, and my work from last year’s drawing class is still in its cardboard carrier in the basement. I’m sure it will need to be dealt with.

    A question about fixative, I bought both workable and permanent for my art classes, but the permanent isn’t fixing things as much as I expected. Not sure if I just did it wrong (too close, far, etc), I just know when I hauled that one piece up to scan it for you, I still got charcoal fingers.

  2. Hayley, charcoal is one of those tricky mediums to seal. It seems no matter how many times I spray it, mine still rub off too. The best way I’ve found in my personal experience to take care of charcoal pictures is to blow off as much loose or excess dust as possible and put not one, but two to three layers of fixative on it. Most times I hold the can about 8 inches or more away from the image while I spray so that the spray begins to spread into a mist when it hits the surface, rather than being a more tightly gathered stream. You have to be careful to seal your images evenly or get too close while you’re spraying as well so that you won’t get shiny pools of fixative in certain spots.

    Maybe spray your image with a couple more layers? You might want to see if you can find the Prismacolor brand fixative which they sell exclusively to seal color pencil, charcoal, and pastel art.

    I’m glad this post was useful. I was afraid it was a little too long-winded!

  3. ahah Fayn, got it on sale for an unbelievably cheap price at…Hobby Lobby, I think it was. If those types of places are near you, you should keep an eye out on when they liquidate these things. They’re not so scarily expensive then!

  4. Ang says:

    Ah a pity! Do you guys have Michaels or Joanns out there? The more ‘department’ style art stores tend to have the best prices, though has some good deals and price matches if you’re stuck at having to shop online. Good luck:)

  5. Jayleen "Guruubii" Weaver says:

    For storing charcoal pieces and other pieces that never seem to be able to be sealed getting a mat with a reverse bevel that is conservation or archival with a back mat and then storing that in a clear plastic bag (crystal clear bags) is the best way. The reverse bevel means that any dust will not be falling into your mat to ugly it, but it also keeps the bag from touching the surface and other stuff.

    Wrapping your works in acid free tissue before storing them is also a great thing to do.

    The itoya portfolios are by far the best besides framing archival though. They come in SO MANY SIZES! Once I get my domain paid off I am planning on getting some so i can really store my good work. I think I’ve lost most of it :shame:

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