Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tutorial: How to Test Your Art Materials for Colour-fastness and Longevity

Your artwork SHOULD be around in one-hundred years time. How certain are you that yours will survive the ravages of exposure to ultra-violet light? Be sure you're using archive-quality materials, and you're well on the way to ensuring your work's longeivty.

This is a quick tutorial on how to test your art materials for colour-fastness.

I recommend that all artists try this. You'll be amazed at how poorly some of your favourite inks and pigments survive.

1. Do two almost identical paintings of something. These are really just scribbles. Not art. Make sure you have some ultra fine lines, some splatters, and some densely coloured areas.

2. Put the date on both pieces.

3. Put one piece in an envelope, and put the envelope in a drawer, away from light.

4. Tape the other on a window that gets the midday and afternoon sun. The pigment should be facing the sun.

5. Go back two months later, and compare the two pieces.

  • If you used ballpoint pen, you'll notice that it takes about a month for ballpoint pen to fade to a very pale yellow line, no matter WHAT the manufacturers claim about colourfastness. One month more, and there is NO evidence that a line existed at all.
  • If you used genuine pigment-based India Ink, you'll notice that those lines haven't changed in the slightest.
  • If you used cheap student paint, oil or acrylic, you'll notice that almost ALL of the colour has degraded badly, especially the reds and blues.
  • If you made digital art, and printed it out on an inkjet printer, you'll be horrified. Totally horrified.
  • If you printed your pics out at a professional photographic studio on actual photo paper, you'll be quite pleased, but not over the moon.
  • If you specified to your digital print expert that you were looking for archive-quality, pigment based, UV-resistant inks on an acid-free paper, you'll be grinning from ear to ear, and understanding why it costs so much more.
The lesson is this: use India Ink for line, and use the very best, most expensive paint that is made out of pigment, not chemical dye. And pay the most you can afford to print digital images.

One other thing... you can add a THIRD page to this test... make one on cheap typing paper, and the other two on acid-free art paper. Put one of the acid-free ones in the envelope, and the other two in the window.

You'll see that the acid-free paper 'helps' the ink stay fresher. Cheap paper degrades the ink.

Jackson Pollock's paintings are at this moment crumbling, and being restored flake by flake by experts. The paint he used was substandard. The materials he painted on were substandard. If he were a lesser artist, it would not be economically viable to actually restore the works.

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