April 17, 2024

How to Care for a New Oil Painting

When purchasing or obtaining a freshly painted oil painting, it is very likely that it has not truly “dried” yet. Oil paints can take between a few months to a year to “dry” despite feeling dry to touch. Therefore, let’s make a distinction between these two states of dryness:

Dry: being dry to physically touch (taking a week to a month).

Cured: being dried chemically (taking several months to a year).

Although determining if an oil painting is physically “dry” or not, is relatively easy; however, determining if an oil painting is “cured,” is a little trickier. Provided that the painting is dry to touch, there are a four major considerations in caring for your painting:

1. Uncured paintings are damaged more easily, especially in the early stages of curing.

In the early stages of curing only, you can physically feel the difference between a cured painting and an uncured one, as the uncured painting will feel, “soft” almost rubbery. (Please don’t test this by running your fingers across a new painting that you intend to keep, the photo to oil painting is very susceptible to damage, even rubbing off color if the painting has just dried). Therefore, keep in mind that you want to protect your painting from being scratched, rubbed against, or from rubbing off color (such as touching or using a regular cloth). When dusting any painting, use a soft cloth, feather duster or lightly forced air to dust with as paintings can still be scratched after they have cured.

2. Oil paintings require oxygen to cure.

Oil paints cure through oxidation, and how you store the painting will make a difference in curing times. Therefore, closing it in a case with no ventilation, or placing it right up against a sheet of glass when framing, will greatly slow your curing times. If you wish to use glass with a frame, ensure that you have at least 1.5 cm or about ½ inch of air between the glass and the painting. This might slow your curing time but it will at least cure and protect it from being scratched.

3. Uncured oil paintings can be light or dark sensitive.

Since curing an oil painting is a chemical process, some pigments will react to extremes in lighting. As with any painting, avoid hanging it in sunlight or near bright halogen lights as it will fade; however, only during the curing period (of up to a year) should you avoid keeping it in the dark all the time. From experience, I’ve found that keeping a freshly painted oil painting in a dark room for the curing process caused the white pigment to yellow. The closer the painting is to being cured, the less dark sensitive it will be; therefore, when it is cured, it is no longer dark sensitive and no longer an issue..

4. Never use any varnish or any liquids of any kind (at least) until it is cured.

During the curing time, or the first year to be safe, leave the painting alone from anything liquid. Liquids of any kind, especially solvents can react, even ruin your oil painting, even when cured. Please research the topic thoroughly on items to use in protecting your oil paintings, and do not test them out on your painting until after they have cured. Keep in mind that some chemicals will still react with a cured oil painting or soften the oils and ruin your painting.

Finally, keep in mind that with proper care, an oil painting will virtually last forever. Photos typically will not, even acid free photo paper will eventually age, oxidize and become brittle over time. With care, oil paintings can remain pristine for centuries and hopefully become family treasures to be passed onto your descendants.