Treating Bumps and Bruises

Q. I ship and receive a lot of artwork, and I need some tips for getting creases and small dings out of drawing paper, watercolor paper and light bristol boards.
Greg Johnson
San Antonio, TX

A. Removing creases and dings from completed works of art on paper isn’t for the fainthearted. It may be a job that’s better left to a professional conservator. However, I can describe a few of the methods that conservators might use, and if you’re brave you might try one of these on your own. All of these techniques are based on the idea that adding moisture to the paper will allow it to relax and expand, thereby removing the crease.

First, you can subject the work to a very humid environment so that the paper swells and flattens on its own. Or, you can float the work on water in a large flat tub (such as a photo developing tray) so that the paper absorbs enough water to get rid of the crease or ding. The solution could also be as simple as spraying the back of the work with a mist of water. With each of these methods, the dampened paper is then stretched over a large piece of plate glass or smoothly sanded plywood until it dries flat.

If you have any unused papers that require these procedures, then your problem may be solved. But in using these techniques with finished artwork there’s a danger that the image could be damaged, depending on its susceptibility to moisture. A professional conservator will carefully consider the materials used to make the image, the kind of paper, and any interactions these ingredients might have with each other and with the application of moisture.

Another potential solution to your problem is to consider why this damage is occurring during shipping. Prevention may be the cure, and thus the need to repair can be avoided by more careful packing. Works on paper should be matted, with a pH neutral glassine cover sheet between the window of the mat and the surface of the artwork. Then the work can be wrapped loosely in brown paper and surrounded with bubble-wrap to protect it from the bumps and banging of shipping by ordinary carrier. The package should be put into a sturdy cardboard crate, or an even sturdier wooden one. These crates should be custom-made to fit the package, allowing room for natural expansion and contraction, but not so much room that the object slides around and is subjected to shocks.

Finally, consider whether the works of art are being properly handled once they reach their destination. Untrained staff at a gallery or other exhibition venue could, with one careless move, undo all of your careful packing. You might consider insurance that would pay for a conservator’s repair work in such a case.

Patrick Seslar is a contributing editor for The Artist’s Magazine.

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