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How to Preserve Pencil Drawings

how to preserve pencil drawings

Pencil drawings hold a special place in the world of art. They capture intricate details, evoke emotions, and showcase the artist’s skill. Preserving these delicate creations ensures their longevity and maintains their beauty over time.

But how to preserve pencil drawings? To keep pencil drawings, use high-quality materials and fixatives, handle them carefully, and store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and moisture. You can also consider framing with UV-resistant glass and periodically inspecting for damage or deterioration.

This article will explore the various techniques, materials, and practices artists can use to preserve their pencil drawings. Whether you’re a professional artist or an enthusiastic hobbyist, these tips will help safeguard your artwork for future generations.

Common Challenges in Preserving Pencil Drawings

  • Preserving pencil drawings poses several challenges due to the medium’s inherent nature. Graphite is susceptible to smudging and can be easily damaged if not handled and stored correctly.
  • Additionally, light, moisture, and pollutants exposure can cause discoloration, fading, and deterioration over time. Taking proactive measures to protect pencil drawings from these potential risks is crucial.

Preparing for Preservation

preparing for pencil preservation

Quality Materials and Tools: Preserving pencil drawings starts with using high-quality materials and tools. Begin by selecting an acid-free, archival-grade paper specifically designed for artwork. Acidic or low-quality paper can degrade over time and damage your drawings.

Using artist-grade graphite pencils that offer better lightfastness and durability is also advisable. Investing in quality materials will ensure that your artwork remains intact and vibrant for years to come.

Proper Handling and Storage: Handle your pencil drawings with clean hands or wear cotton gloves to avoid leaving oil or dirt on the surface. Place drawings in protective sleeves or acid-free folders when not in use to prevent smudging and accidental damage.

Store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, and high humidity. Consider using acid-free archival boxes for additional protection.

Fixatives and Varnishes

fixatives pencil preservation

Fixatives are chemical sprays designed to protect and preserve pencil drawings by creating a thin, transparent layer over the artwork. They help prevent smudging and provide a barrier against environmental elements.

Fixatives come in different formulations, such as workable and final fixatives, each serving a specific purpose.

Choosing the right Fixative

Select a fixative specifically formulated for graphite drawings. Look for a fixative that is acid-free, archival, and provides a matte or satin finish to maintain the original look of the artwork. Avoid using fixatives intended for other mediums, as they may not provide adequate protection or may alter the appearance of your pencil drawings.

Applying Fixatives correctly

Before applying the fixative, ensure your pencil drawing is clean and free from loose graphite particles. Work in a well-ventilated area or outdoors to avoid inhaling the fumes. Hold the fixative can about 12 inches from the artwork and apply it in thin, even coats using smooth, sweeping motions. Allow sufficient drying time between coats, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Varnishing Pencil Drawings

While varnishing is more commonly associated with paintings, it can also be used to protect pencil drawings. There are clear varnishes available designed explicitly for graphite artwork. Varnishing can enhance the contrast, deepen the blacks, and provide a protective layer against smudging and environmental factors.

Apply varnish sparingly and evenly with a soft brush, ensuring that the drawing is completely dry before varnishing.

Framing and Display

framing pencil drawing

Selecting the right frame: Choosing the appropriate frame for your pencil drawing is crucial for long-term preservation. Opt for frames made of acid-free materials, such as wood or metal, to prevent acid transfer to the artwork. Consider using UV-resistant glass or acrylic glazing to protect the drawing from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can cause fading and deterioration.

Using conservation techniques: When framing pencil drawings, employ conservation techniques to safeguard the artwork. Use acid-free mats from archival-quality materials to separate the drawing from the glazing. Mount the artwork with acid-free archival tape or hinging to ensure its stability. Avoid using adhesives directly on the drawing, as they can cause irreversible damage.

Proper mounting and matting: When mounting and matting pencil drawings, ensure they are adequately supported to prevent sagging or damage over time. Use acid-free backing boards to provide structural support, and place acid-free mats between the drawing and the frame to avoid direct contact. Ensure that the matting does not cover any part of the artwork, allowing it to breathe.

Protecting art from UV light

UV light is one of the primary causes of artwork fading and deterioration. Display pencil drawings away from direct sunlight or artificial light sources that emit UV rays. If you cannot avoid displaying your artwork in a well-lit area, consider using UV-filtering glazing to minimize the harmful effects of light exposure.

Environment Considerations

  • Ideal temperature and humidity levels: Maintaining a stable environment is crucial for the long-term preservation of pencil drawings. The ideal temperature range for artwork is between 68-75°F (20-24°C), while the relative humidity should be around 40-50%. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause the paper to expand and contract, leading to warping or cracking of the artwork.
  • Avoiding direct sunlight and moisture: Direct sunlight can cause rapid and irreversible damage to pencil drawings. Avoid displaying your artwork in areas where it is exposed to direct sunlight. Additionally, protect your drawings from moisture and dampness, as they can cause mold, mildew, and paper degradation.
  • Protection from dust and pollutants: Dust and pollutants can accumulate on the surface of pencil drawings, leading to discoloration and deterioration. Regularly clean the frames, mats, and glazing to prevent dust buildup. Avoid displaying artwork in areas prone to pollutants, such as kitchens or smoking areas.

Handling and Transporting

  • Safe handling and practices: Handle pencil drawings with care to avoid smudging or creasing. Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly before touching the artwork, or wear clean cotton gloves to protect the surface. Hold the drawing by its edges or use a support board when working on it to minimize direct contact.
  • Packaging and shipping guidelines: When packaging and shipping pencil drawings, protect them with acid-free tissue paper or glassine interleaving to prevent smudging. Place the drawing between acid-free backing boards and secure them with acid-free tape. Use sturdy, rigid packaging materials to avoid bending or crushing during transit.

Restoration and Conservation

  • Identifying damage and deterioration: Regularly inspect your pencil drawings for signs of damage or deterioration. Look for fading, discoloration, tears, or mold growth issues. Detecting these problems early can help prevent further damage and allow for timely restoration and conservation.
  • Seeking professional assistance: If your pencil drawings require restoration or conservation, it is advisable to consult a professional art conservator. They have the expertise and tools to address various issues, including cleaning, repairing tears, and stabilizing fragile artwork. Professional conservation ensures that the restoration process is carried out using appropriate techniques and materials.
  • Preventive conservation measures: Preventive conservation plays a vital role in preserving pencil drawings. Regularly monitor the conditions in which the artwork is displayed or stored. Implement the preservation techniques discussed in this guide to minimize risks and extend the lifespan of your pencil drawings.

Digital Preservation

digital preservation pencil drawing

  • Digitizing Pencil Drawings: Digitizing pencil drawings allows you to create digital copies for backup, reproduction, and online sharing. Use a high-resolution scanner or a professional scanning service to capture the details accurately. Save the digital files in a secure format, such as TIFF or RAW, to ensure maximum image quality and preservation.
  • Backing up digital files: Back up your digital files regularly on multiple storage devices or cloud-based platforms. Keep multiple copies in different locations to prevent data loss. Periodically check the integrity of the backup files to ensure they are accessible and free from corruption.


Learning how to preserve pencil drawings requires careful handling, appropriate materials, and a conducive environment. By following the techniques discussed in this guide, artists can ensure that their pencil drawings remain vibrant and intact for years.

Remember to invest in quality materials, take proper care during handling and storage, and consider professional assistance when restoration or conservation is needed. With the right approach, future generations can cherish and admire your pencil drawings, maintaining their artistic and historical value.

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