Acrylic paint and acrylic binder are now widely used by many Aboriginal
artists. Acrylics are extremely durable and there is evidence to suggest
that their life is greater than almost all other artists' materials.
Acrylic colors retain their original brilliance as long or longer
than traditional oil paint, and they are much less sensitive to damage
by UV radiation than watercolors and other water-based paints. The
surface of a finished acrylic painting does not become brittle or
yellow with age, but remains flexible, insoluble and permanent.
However, as with all materials, care and proper treatment is needed
if this is to be achieved. Avoid handling the painting's surface directly
- this is because skin oils are acidic and can damage the artwork
over time. Abrasion from rubbing or touching the paint surface can
damage or alter the appearance of the work significantly. Dust and
dirt are a particular hazard.
Dust and Acrylic Paintings
Acrylic paint surfaces are not as hard as oil films and they attract
dirt easily. Acrylic emulsion films tend to be quite soft and flexible
at room temperature so the paint surface holds onto dust and can even
absorb it into the film. The problem is made worse by the fact that
acrylic resins are non conductors and tend to have electrostatic charges
on their surface which attract dirt.
The best way to preserve the appearance and value of an acrylic painting
is to avoid touching the paint surface and to protect it from accumulating
dust. Protective framing is one way to exclude dirt.
If the painting does become dusty, the only safe way to remove it
is to gently blow across the surface of the work with compressed air.
To help carry away loose dirt, it is important to gently blow air
across the surface of the painting at an angle, rather than directly
onto the surface. Blowing directly could embed dirt particles further
into the paint surface.
If a great deal of dust has accumulated on the painting, some professional
conservators have suggested using an artist's soft sable brush to
gently dislodge the particles while holding the nozzle of a small
vacuum hose several inches from the surface of the painting. Remember
that nearly any art work can be damaged or scratched by contact with
feather dusters, cloths, or hard bristles such as those on household
Cracks in Acrylic Paintings
Acrylic paintings are expected to develop cracks much less often
than oil paintings because they are more flexible and can withstand
much greater forces without breaking. However, cracks can form in
The surface of an acrylic painting becomes quite brittle at temperatures
near or below freezing. Prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures
can irreversibly damage the painting, causing cracks and lifting the
paint film from the canvas support. Should the painting be accidentally
exposed to cold, it is important to handle the work as little as possible
and allow it to warm to room temperature slowly.
Acrylic paintings, when relatively new, are often rolled in a tube
for storage or delivery. The preferred way to roll the painting is
with the paint surface facing outward from the axis of the cylinder,
with the surface protected by tough paper. Make sure that the tubes
are sealed from dust!
At present there is no completely satisfactory solution to the problem
of cleaning acrylic paintings.
Traditionally, varnishes have been used to protect the surface of
a painting from abrasion, dust and dirt. They also provide saturation
to the paint they cover. Use of a varnish to help remove the top layer
of dirt has been proposed by some conservators. However, there are
concerns as to whether or not to varnish acrylic paintings because
the dried acrylic paint layer is soluble in the solvents used to make
most resin solutions. As a consequence, many artists insist that their
acrylic paintings not be varnished.
Cleaning an emulsion paint with no varnish is also problematic because
water may remove water-soluble additives and could weaken the link
between the pigment and the polymer-binder, causing colors to appear
less saturated. Cleaning may also cause the thickener additives to
swell, thus disturbing the paint layer.
Overall there appear to be problems for professional conservators
in cleaning acrylic paintings, so you definitely should not try to
do it yourself using damp cloths, detergents or household cleaners.
Many cleaners contain ammonia, and the overspray from cleaning a frame
or nearby furniture may severely damage the painting. Ammonia can
destroy an acrylic painting.
Other Problems - Mould, Smoke, Heat
Mould growth has been noted on acrylic paintings and has become an
increasing concern among artists and collectors. Unfortunately, there
is no ideal treatment that does not cause some degree of damage to
the original paint. Mould growth tends to become apparent when humidity
and temperature rise, so keeping the painting away from these conditions
is the best prevention.
Smoke damage or residue is one of the most common hazards to artwork
displayed at home, and is also the most difficult to remove.
Acrylic paint becomes soft around 60ºC and become very sensitive
to damage from pressure or abrasion.
Some acrylic paintings may appear to form a grey veil on their surface
or develop yellow discoloration with aging. There appears to be nothing
that can be done to reverse this ageing.
For more information on cleaning acrylic paintings, see the Golden
Paints Web site.