Will temperature fluctuations harm acrylic or oil paints or paintings?
November 12, 2010 11:17 AM   Subscribe

I am setting up a painting studio in my attic and I am concerned about how fluctuating temperatures will affect the paints and paintings.

We live in an old house with a huge attic. Long ago, someone created a small room (8 x 10 ft) with plaster walls and one window. I would like to use this as my studio, and I plan to use a space heater in the winter. Of course, I don't want to leave the heater running while I'm not using the space, so the room will get quite cold for hours or days. Then it will get heated back up to 70 or so. I would really like to be able to leave everything (paints, mediums, brushes, paintings) up there. Right now I have a cheap set of acrylics and oils that have been heretofore kept at room temperature for a few years. Will the cold or temperature fluctuations damage the paints or paintings? The average winter temperature here ranges from 18 to 33 F (-8 to 1 C), though I'm sure it doesn't get THAT cold upstairs.
posted by desjardins to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You know I'm not a paintings conservator, but I've worked in art museums, archives, and library special collections. The prevailing simplified storage advice is don't make your special books/art/papers "live" where you wouldn't live full time (specifically unfinished attics and basement). Your basic enemies here are going to be fluctuations in temperature and humidity. That's why museums are climate controlled. Granted this happens over time, so maybe it won't affect you if you don't leave the paintings up there over the summer. However even the sharp contrasts between the daytime temp with your space heater running and the evening temperatures seem to be enough to produce some damage in the short term due to the contractions of the support (canvas?) when the temperature dips. This would affect the paint on the canvas. Not sure how it will affect the paint in the cans though.
posted by kaybdc at 11:54 AM on November 12, 2010

And by paint in cans, I meant in tubes (or however the paint that you use is stored). How the paint is affected will definitely be dependent upon whether it is oil vs. acrylic. I think that oil paint is probably most resilient to temperature fluctuations.
posted by kaybdc at 12:02 PM on November 12, 2010

I don't think paint will be a problem as long as they're well sealed. Unopened oils and acrylics occasionally stay in cold and hot wholesale warehouses for years before they sell. Sometimes there is separation, but that's cured with stirring or a vigorous shake. Sometimes acrylics get moldy, but that's when they've been opened and exposed, then closed again and stored for a long time. Heat is more likely to cause problems because it encouraged mold.
posted by tula at 1:20 PM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: I used to work for a large art materials manufacturer. Art materials are made to withstand ten freeze thaw cycles for shipping. There are a range of considerations that stretch on for pages, so I will highlight a few here briefly:

1. Water: most materials are sensitive to ambient humidity. Fluctuations will make the paint film absorb or evacuate water. Your materials will fluctuate in drying/handling times depending on the season. Layers of water in oils and acrylic and varnishes show as white spots that appear and disappear depending on ambient temperature conditions.

2. Glass transition phase in acrylic: Painted in layers as opposed to storage, acrylic will be fragile at cold temperatures--below 45 Farenheit . Layers will form stress cracks--painting on a rigid surface will help circumvent this weakness. Oil is less resistant to cold, but the paint film is much less flexible than acrylic.

3. Paint drying: Acrylic stays open to water, even when the paint film is dry. So if you allow condensation on the paint surface, the film will fog and be vulnerable to mold which is not possible to remove from the paint film surface. Oils will seek oxygen to dry, so extremely cold or hot temperatures will make the paint layers dry at differing rates. If the lean to fat principles of oil paint are not observed, the top layer will be tacky if too slow or crack if too fast.

4. Minimize solvent use. Good cleaning practice and use of media will minimize the need for solvents.

I hope some of this information is useful.
posted by effluvia at 1:34 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oil paint won't dry if it's too cold, but after it's dry it's pretty resilient.
posted by provoliminal at 2:28 PM on November 12, 2010

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