Moving to a new home? Selling a piece of art? Storing your paintings until the cat burglar is captured? This guide will show you how to store paintings for the short term or long term.

how to store paintings

Someone who doesn’t know a great deal about artwork might pack up a painting with a simple sheet of newsprint and call it a day.

Storing a painting requires specific conditions to ensure that the paint, canvas, and frame don’t withstand any damage.

While it’s tempting to lean a painting against a storage unit wall, we know that there are safer ways to store artwork. This guide goes through some crucial advice for how to store paintings without devaluing them.

1. Understand the risks involved in handling fine art.

transporting artwork and paintings

According to The Conservation Register, the biggest risks to a painting or other works of art are:

  • Breakages, tears, loose and missing elements, impacts, smudges.
  • Fingerprints etched into polished surfaces.
  • Stains and marks from skin contact, eating, smoking, cosmetics and other domestic chemicals.
  • Introduction of materials and conditions that encourage pests or other environmental damage: foods, other infested objects, poor storage materials, central heating, damp, intense light.

The common link? People. People accidentally break, rip or spill their coffee onto their precious paintings. They put their grubby fingers all over the surface. They store their art in a convenient place, like their moldy basement.

2. Follows these steps when packing a painting.

how to store oil paintings
  • Minimize contact. The first step to conserving oil paintings and other artwork during transportation or storage is to minimize human contact. An easy way to accomplish this is to create a barrier between you and the painting during the packing process.
  • Wrap in plastic. Use plastic to wrap the painting to keep it clean and protect the finish.
  • Seal with styrofoam. Use a custom-sized styrofoam box to ensure that the painting is safe and snug.
  • Put in a small box. Place the styrofoam-packed painting into a close-fitting cardboard box. If you already have appropriately-sized boxes, use them. If you do not have a box, you can make one from a couple of good-sized sheets of cardboard and a box cutter.
  • Pack with dense packing material. Make sure that you fill any space with bubble pack to avoid bouncing or jarring in transit, then seal the entire apparatus shut with packing tape. Avoid peanuts or any packing material that can get smashed or settle over time.

3. Learn how to transport a painting with care.

painting storage
  • Be careful when driving. Make sure your painting won’t flop around, or worse, become a missile if you stop suddenly.
  • Store the painting vertically. When laying flat, something (or someone) could fall, flop or sit on your painting.
  • Protect the painting with other objects. If you must lay the artwork flat, slide the painting against something solid in case you have to stop quickly. Proactively minimize the opportunity for sudden impact. Bringing a blanket or pillow for extra cushioning is also recommended.
  • Pick a reliable carrier. Are you shipping the art through a professional carrier? Each service — whether you are considering the United States Postal Service or a private company like FedEx or UPS — has unique rates, rules and standards for shipping based on the size and weight of your parcel. You can use an online calculator to compare rates to get an idea of what you will pay.
  • Insure against damage. You should also strongly consider purchasing shipping insurance since your work of art could be irreplaceable

4. Consider these tips when storing a painting.

storing paintings in storage units
  • Never store artwork someplace dry or damp. Do not store paintings in a basement or attic. Choose someplace with consistent temperature and moderate humidity, like a climate controlled storage unit.
  • Don’t store paintings on top of each other. If you must lay your painting or paintings flat, use a rack to keep the artwork off the ground and each other. Frames and canvases can absorb dampness from concrete and other materials and can get distorted in the frame if there is too much weight on top of them.
  • Keep paintings away from fluctuating temperatures. If there is a furnace in your storage space, or inadequate heating or cooling, the sudden changes can damage your art.
  • Stay away from the sun. Direct sunlight can fade colors. Keep paintings covered with an acid-free cloth or leave the artwork in its travel packaging.
  • Don’t forget about the painting in storage. When storing paintings, it’s easy to toss it into storage and forget about it. The problem with this is that potential hazards can’t be monitored and remedied if you don’t check in every few months. Keep an eye out for signs of rodents or moisture and make corrections as needed.

5. Keep paintings safe inside a storage unit.

If you plan to keep your art in storage for an extended period, consider working with professionals. Life Storage can provide climate and temperature controlled storage, clean, secure units and the peace of mind you don’t necessarily get when you keep paintings in the attic. Use our online guide to find storage locations near you.

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This post originally appeared on the Life Storage blog on 4/2/15 and was revised on 2/7/19 to provide new information.

About the Author

Ben Kirst

Hey, everyone -- I'm a blogger here at the Life Storage blog, which, based on my lifelong battle against clutter, messes and household chaos of all kinds, makes this a bit of a dream come true. Best birthday ever? I got a Dyson.

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