I need help putting an artist/customer's mind at ease


PFG, Picture Framing God
Nov 2, 2001
Centennial, CO, USA
I have a good customer who is also an artist and she called and asked me to not put dustcovers on her pictures I am currently framing. I told her that the consensus is to put the dustcover on because bugs and dust are more harmful to her art than the canvas needing to breathe. I also explained that it has been determined that it actually doesn't need to breathe as once thought. She accepted that and we are putting dustcovers on her work. But, I heard a bit of doubt in her voice, I can tell she feels uncomfortable although she trusts me. She has been taught as an artist to not cover her backs and I can see her apprehension. I told her I had apprehension myself when I first started coveirng them but that I no longer think about it. Whew, long winded explanation...........

I am wondering if anybody could direct me towards some written material that I could have my artist customer read other than a bunch of framers agreeing it is the way to go. Something in laymans terms that is easy to digest? I wonder if any of this info filters down to the artists? Thanks for any possible help.
I did a search and found this among other.
Originally posted by preservator:
Yet another great thread, that illustrates how
well informed Grumblers are. Current museum practice uses a puncture resistant board such
as Coroplast or Cor-x that has been screwed to
the stretcher bars to protect canvases from
attack from the back. Such backing boards also
keep the canvas from vibrating, during transit,
a real problem for older paintings. It also
keeps pollution, chemical and physical, away from
the back of the canvas. The volitile parts of
the oil paint are more likely to exit through
the varnish, than they are to be drawn into the
interior of the frame, since the ground under
the paint, whether it is acrylic or glue, will
be thicker than the varnish layer. The prior posts
demonstrate the practical wisdom of protecting the
back of a canvas and whether one uses plastic
board or mat board, such a backing should resist
punctures and pollution.

Thanks JPete! It is funny, I told her we should put coro-plast on the backs to protect them from puncturing and she said no way......one step at a time I guess. I don't blame her, she has been an artist for like 40 years and she is used to one way of thinking.....and I know she doesn't want to doubt me, but, I am just a framer why believe me? Her paintings sell in the thousands and she does usually spend some bucks on framing them. She just has to get used to the idea. I've always used dustcovers in the past. I guess she just got he nerve to ask me.....
Have you pointed out that a paper dust cover doesn't prevent air exchange?

They can usually grasp that if they think about it.
Yeah, I have Deb, she just needs to get comfortable with the idea.
Kathy, since she is a longtime customer of yours, keep your eyes peeled for an old canvas sitting "naked" in an old frame - check thrift stores, antique shops, even garage sales - you should be able to easily locate a "horrible example" of a filthy canvas with maybe even a bulge from the drywall chunks that fell under the stretcher frame and surely the thick rim of dust and grime along the top of the protuding canvas!

A picture is worth a thousand words!

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) is probably the definitive body on the correct treatment of paintings on canvas. They have an extensive set of notes that you can purchase (singly by topic, or as a complete set). These clearly define and illustrate approved methods. CCI note #10/10 deals exclusively with the correct backing process. I recommend showing this document to your client.

Here is a link to their site.
I am of the "old" school. Educate the customer to the best of your ability..Show them the url etc. but in the end you give them what they want. Don't get into a contest with them to try and prove your right. Least not until you got the $ in hand :) In the end I guess you can always say " I told you so "
No I wouldn't even say that, but would sure be thinking it..ha!
The reason canvas needs to "breathe" is because of outgassing from paint that has not dried completely, and moisture accumulation. There is no other reason to worry about air circulating around the canvas.

Modern framing techniques address these issues adequately.

Glass and backings no longer trap moisture and fumes.
Are there any issues with the composition of Tyvek? Tyvek is a moisture barrier but it allows for air flow. Tyvek would provide minimal protection in that it is so difficult to puncture.

Has Tyvek been addressed in a previous thread for this purpose?
Originally posted by HannaFate:
...Glass and backings no longer trap moisture and fumes.
Glazing and a solid, insulating backing will slow the rate of temperature and humidity change inside the closed up framing package; slow the drying of oil paints; and keep airborne dust, dirt, and contaminants out -- all of which is good for the paint.

The offgassing of oil paints during drying may cause a film to accumulate inside the glazing, but that's no big deal. It is easy to clean the glazing & refit in a few years.
Originally posted by Jeff Rodier:
Are there any issues with the composition of Tyvek? Tyvek is a moisture barrier but it allows for air flow. Tyvek would provide minimal protection in that it is so difficult to puncture...
Hi, Jeff --

Tyvek is better than paper, as a dustcover for canvas paintings, but it is not as good as a solid board.

One benefit of glazing and a solid board is that the closed up assembly dampens vibration and so reduces the slight-but-constant flexing of the painted canvas. If this seems like small thing, think of how an audio speaker flexes as it produces sound, and then consider how an exposed canvas flexes when a door in the room is slammed, or when the kids play the stereo loud enough to shake the neighbor's windows, or when the painting is hung on the other side of the wall from a washing machine, furnace/AC unit, or garage door opener. The difference is that audio speakers are made to flex like that -- canvas paintings are not.

A board also provides better insulation, and some structural integrity, to resist twisting & other stresses on the frame assembly.

The last time I checked, Tyvek was close to the cost of Coroplast, which is much better for the purpose of backing canvas paintings.

I'm sure there are other threads on Tyvek in the archives -- on paintings, too. But the best source of information about canvas paintings is from the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). They publish a certain "CCI Notes" chapter about framing paintings.
Hi Jim,

I was wondering about the Tyvek since the customer was so opposed to a solid board. I thought that since Kathy's customer had finally agreed to paper backing that Tyvek would at least add minimal protection since a finger can't poke through it.
Jeff, I didn't clarify, I did use Tyvek. I just figure if I give her somehting to read she will see it isn't just the ravings of a lone framer. She trusts me but I could just tell she hadn't totally warmed up to the idea.
OK how about this. Why not just say "Sure ma'am, I'm not certain this is the best treatment for this piece but I really want you comfortable with my work."

A few years ago you would have argued with this woman that you must put a hole in the backing because blah blah blah and guess what? YOU WERE WRONG! The world didn't stop turning then and it won't now. Don't lose this customer of something stupid like this.

Look at this from her point of view. Let’s say framer A said that it needs a hole so the canvas can breath. Framer B says that you need… (what did yall decide it needed????) so the paint don't vibrate off the front of the canvas. Which sounds like a more reasonable explanation? To be 100% honest I would have to go with framer A rather that was good information or not.

Carry on.

Make sure you mist the tyvek first!
Originally posted by Jay H:
...A few years ago you would have argued with this woman that you must put a hole in the backing because blah blah blah and guess what? YOU WERE WRONG!...
Being wrong is a common condition we all share in one way or another. Fortunately, it is a condition which may be corrected when new information meets an open mind. No doubt, other things we accept as standard practices today also will turn out to be wrong some day. When we learn and improve, we call it progress.

Wronger would be to ignore new information when it arrives, and keep doing the wrong things.

A few years ago the whole framing world thought canvas had lungs. Ventilated backings were the generally accepted standard practice. We also thought it was wrong to glaze a canvas. At some time in history, framers thought solid wood backing boards were best. They were wrong, too. Today we know better -- not because one ordinary person had a brainstorm, but because a number of scientific specialists recognized problems, debated & tested new concepts, and proved them to be better.

It's healthy to question new methods and materials to make sure they are, indeed, improvements over the old ways. Debate brings forth reasoning and understanding.

On the other hand, it would be unhealthy to reject what is new simply because blah blah blah, one is comfortable being wrong.

IMHO, it would be even more unhealthy to treat customers as though they are unable or unwilling to learn. One might even say it would be wrong.
Originally posted by Jay H:
Don't lose this customer of something stupid like this.
Cripes, I am not in a battle with my customer over this. I simply am being proactive and furnishing some honest to God reading material on the subject so as to educate her.
I misread Kathy. It does seem that she was "okay" with the idea and you are doing it your way. At first I thought yall were on opposite ends of a table. I was wrong.

Misreading is easy to do. Just like Jim seemed miss the boat on my entire post. To tell you the truth, I'm kind of noticing a trend. I wished it wasn’t that way.

I'm not going to argue with you Jim, but just in case you were insinuating that I have rejected good practices you are wrong! I also wouldn't lose a customer over a dustcover.
Cool beans Jay, I like a man who can admit he is wrong.

Carry on!