THE CONSERVATION OF WORKS ON PAPER, by eminent expert Victoria Blyth-Hill


You’re an Artist and you work on papers or you are a Collector and you want to know how to display properly your works on paper, here are some off the questions I asked to the best expert on the subject, Victoria Blyth-Hill from Los Angeles





Victoria Blyth-Hill was Senior Paper Conservator at LACMA for 26 years and then became the Director of Conservation for the last 6 years. She is now a full time Art Conservator more focused on the conservation of prestigious works on papers from all over the world.




Unfortunately Victoria passed away too soon. We will never be thankful enough for those precious advice below. BCh


BCh: Do you see an evolution of your work since the time you began, like for example do you have better products to repair the paper or are the techniques and tools to improve the quality of a drawing the same?

Victoria Blyth-Hill: There has definitely been an evolution in techniques and materials used for paper conservation.  Just as in medicine, the research scientists and conservators of works are constantly working to improve, test and develop new techniques and materials.

I have worked in paper conservation for over 35 years and find that every day, working with art, is a learning experience.


graphite-pencil-picBCh: What advice could you give to an artist who works on paper not to see his/her work self damaged a few years later, like for example the quality of paper, why he/she can’t use some pens or inks etc…

Victoria Blyth-Hill: This is a very complex subject but choosing the highest quality materials the artist can afford is optimal in having a work of art on paper survive.  Acid-free, cotton or linen papers are best.
Many artists’ materials, such as watercolors, have ASTM standards on the tubes, providing a “permanence rating” or how sensitive the color is to exposure to light. Using appropriate adhesives, such a wheat starch paste, as opposed to rubber cement or pressure sensitive tapes, will avoid damage due to discolored adhesives.



BCh: Are there any signs that could alert a Collector to be vigilant before he buys a drawing? And concerning those alert signs are they the same for a print?

Victoria Blyth-Hill:  “Works of art on paper, whether a print or a drawing, all suffer from the same deterioration factors.  If the print or drawing is framed, I recommend that it be unframed and examined carefully to determine if there is discoloration due to contact with acid framing materials or exposure to light.

Look to see if there is staining due to poor adhesives or hinges.

Examine the image and paper carefully to determine if there have been any changes in the color of the inks or watercolor, old repairs of the paper, any flaking paint, etc.

If the artwork is of high value, many collectors ask a paper conservator to examine and provide a written report on the condition of a work on paper prior to purchase.

BCh: When a collector buys a drawing or any kind of work on paper, do you have a specific advice for the frame, the exhibition in the house?

Victoria Blyth-Hill:

Proper framing and display of a work on paper is the most important aspect of preserving it.

  • All of the materials in the frame must be acid-free (request this from a reliable framer).
  • Stable hinging materials are critical, no pressure sensitive tapes or glues should be used.  Ideally, Japanese paper and starch paste are the safest for hinging, if done properly.
  • If the drawing or print is “over-matted” the mat and backing board must be acid-free.
  • If the work on paper is “floated” in the frame, the glazing should not touch the surface of the paper/image.  Acid-free spacers (which can be of various materials ? but wood is discouraged due to acidity) will keep the glazing a safe distance from the surface of the image.
  • The glazing should be an ultra-violet filtering acrylic, such as Plexiglas or OP3.  There are many types of acrylic sheeting available and a reputable framer can advice the collector.

The only time that acrylic is not advised for works on paper, is when the image is created in un-fixed pastel or very friable charcoal or graphite.  The reason is that when the acrylic is cleaned, it can develop an electrostatic charge, which will attract the pastel to the inside of the acrylic.  In this case, glass is recommended and, again, there are several quality glass choices (ask your framer or paper conservator).

Displaying the work on paper in a very low light environment is essential.  Even with the best quality materials, exposure to light is cumulative and will eventually cause damage.

Do not display the art near windows or in areas where strong light will land on them, such as from fluorescent lights (which contain ultra-violet wave lengths damaging to art).

Close the curtains over windows during the day to prevent exposure to sunlight.  It is also not recommended to hang a work on paper on an exterior wall (a wall in which the other side is outdoors).  This is because works on paper are hydroscopic, the paper absorbs and lets off moisture and as a result the paper can expand and contract (causing buckling and possible media damage) with changes in the temperature and humidity that the exterior wall absorbs.  Of course, this is not very practical for most collectors.

So, my recommendation would be to really look at your art. Periodically really look at it to determine if there are any changes in color, texture, etc.  And, be sure that your framer uses the highest quality materials.”

Los Angeles, March 12th, 2012