Caring for Animation Art

These basic guidelines will help you better understand your role as a collector and add to the long-term pleasure your artwork can provide. With very little effort you can help extend the life of your artwork and insure its investment value.

General Care

  • Direct sunlight can dehydrate your art faster than it can fade colors. The same is true for the heat generated by display lighting. If you must use a display lamp, keep the bulb wattage low and limit its use. Track lighting directed at the art from a distance is a much better choice, and also creates less glare.
  • An extreme or constantly changing environment can harm your art in many ways. Bathrooms are too moist; garages, attics and basements are often too dry.
  • Take a minute or two to examine your art every three or four months. Black, brown or rust-colored spots, webs, or silky material are probably signs of fungal, bacterial or insect insult, and are cause for professional care. Look for changes in surface texture, color and clarity. Pay close attention to the ink and paint on cels, and the tonal quality of drawings. Periodic photos are of little help. Your own informed eye is the best judge of the condition of your art.
  • If you must store your art, place it in envelopes, lying flat, with no other weight on top. No more than 10 to 15 cels or 40 to 50 drawings should be stacked together. Separate cels and drawings with clean paper large enough to cover the image area. Never use plastic wrap to cover cels.
  • Keep in mind that framing is a temporary form of display, not a permanent form of preservation. Use the best framing materials you can afford. Substitute acrylic glazing material for standard glass.

Cel Care

  • Be careful never to roll or flex a cel. Handle cels as little as possible and always by the edges. Using cotton gloves is a good idea if you handle art frequently.
  • Cleaning is the best thing you can do to enhance the appearance and longevity of your cels. Cels are porous, and need to be cleaned regularly. Serious cleaning must be done professionally to remove embedded debris and surface scratches, but there is much you can do yourself. Wipe with a clean, dry, soft cotton or flannel cloth in a single, horizontal direction to remove dust, finger smudges and surface soil. Use a very light pressure when wiping over inked or colored areas. As much as possible, keep cels in a smoke-free atmosphere. Never use liquid of any kind on a cel. Use a fine dusting brush to remove light dust particles. Canned or compressed air may blow off ink or paint, and should be avoided.
  • Nitrate cels present much less of a fire hazard then previously thought, according to a study, “Cellulose Nitrate in Conservation,” conducted by Dr. Charles Selwitz, we participated in with the Getty Conservation Institute and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Most old nitrate cels exhibit much the same chemical stability they did when new, probably because they were never exposed to the harsh chemicals used to develop movie film. Nonetheless, nitrocellulose is classed as a combustible material and should never be taken for granted. Note any changes in texture, color, shape or clarity; rapid changes should be referred to the conservator. Nitrate cels should be completely removed from their frames every 12 months and allowed to relax and air out for at least 24 hours.

Works of Art on Paper

  • Except for cels, most animation art, including backgrounds and drawings, falls into this category.
  • The principal treatment for works of art on paper is deacidification. While this is a professional treatment, neutralizing the acid content of the fibers will insure the work’s longevity. Be aware, however, that art that has been deacidified can be contaminated by direct contact with paper containing acid, so be careful to use acid-free materials when storing and framing your art.
  • Drawings may be sprayed with a very light application of workable fixative to prevent smudging. Colored pencil requires no fixing, and may bleed if sprayed.
  • If pastel sketches are sprayed with fixative, white and other very light colors can be destroyed. Framing is the best protection for pastel.
  • Small spots of debris may be removed with a vinyl eraser, if you are sure you won’t be rubbing in the stain.
  • Advancements in conservation technology continue to be made. If you encounter unfamiliar circumstances we suggest you stop and call the laboratory. Many problems can be solved with a phone call and we welcome the opportunity to serve you.