Archival Materials

Hi Friends,

How important is it for art materials to be archival? I’m really drawn to using natural and upcycled materials in my art, but they might not last as long as traditional oil and acrylic paints.

Is this a consideration for you when you purchase art? Do you expect your art to be in like-new condition 100 years from now? 200 years from now?

I was walking around my yard this week, looking at some of the beautiful plants I use for leaf prints and natural dyes. I was thinking of incorporating them into some new work, but I always hesitate because colors from plants are likely to fade over time.

That got me thinking — does it really matter? If I have a burning desire to work with these plants, should I let the potential for fading stop me? And if I sell this work, should it come with a warning that it could fade?

Here are some of the dye plants in my yard and the leaf prints made using them. The plants are really pretty right now, and most are California natives.

Catalina Fernleaf Ironwood Tree — two different varieties are native to Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands, and the fern-like leaves give brilliant rust prints.

Cassandra Tondro native plants

Cassandra Tondro leaf print

California False Indigo — a deciduous plant that gives a golden green color.

Cassandra Tondro native plants

Cassandra Tondro leaf print

Loquat — I’m a big fan of the fruit, and the huge leaves give interesting rust-colored prints.

Cassandra Tondro native plants

Cassandra Tondro leaf print

Coffeeberry — a California native with fruit that looks like coffee berries, and leaves that give a rich golden coffee color.

Cassandra Tondro native plants

Cassandra Tondro leaf print

Grape — this plant was a volunteer in my yard, probably sown by a bird that had ingested a seed. Sadly the grapes are sour, but the leaves are wonderful.

Cassandra Tondro native plants

Cassandra Tondro leaf print

My heart sings when I see these plants and the beautiful colors and prints that they give. I want to use them in my art, but I’m wondering how.

What do you think about the practice of only using archival materials for art? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. You can share them with us in the comments section below.

With love and appreciation,
Cassandra

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7 Comments

  1. Hi Cassandra, If you love your beautiful leaf prints, don’t stop making them! If you want to sell them, wrap the warning in a positieve statement. E.g: these gorgeous natural colours last at least 10 years! Instead of: Those natural dyes may fade in 12-15 years or so…

  2. I do think you should warn purchasers if the colors will fade. I always hope that after I am gone the art that I own will be enjoyed by others, so I want it to last. You have such talent. People should see it. I love Japanese woodblock prints, and we own some by Yoshitoshi. The gallery that sold them to us told us not to hang them, because the light would cause them to fade. So these are over 100 years old, and of historic value, and she was scandalized that we might hang them. She wanted them to be in albums. I’ve compromised by hanging them upstairs where they get very little light, and turning down the lights on the stairs. My favorite artist is Hokusai, and I’ve very seldom been able to see his work because it comes to museums with conditions that it not be displayed except rarely, because of fading. So when L.A. put all of the views of Mt. Fuji on view for the first time in 50 years– but only for a week– I went twice. And I cried when I saw them– with joy. It was startling to see the colors, because I had only seen his prints faded. So… I don’t want Japanese prints destroyed, even though they are not one of a kind, and I don’t want yours fading either!

    1. Interesting, Chris. So I could sell my work with the stipulation that it never be hung! That’s funny. I had never thought of that. Most people buy my work so they can see it in their home, so I’m not sure how well that would go over. It’s a provocative idea, though. Thanks for sharing!

      1. I’m not sure at all that you could sell it with that proviso. But if you donate it (like the museum Hokusai collection), you can stipulate whatever you want.

  3. Nothing is finished, nothing is perfect, nothing lasts forever. I think a provisio that fading will occur over time is appropriate, but it seems we are prone to attachment to things that will not last forever in any case. To fully enjoy an artwork is to fully be in the moment with that object (or experience).

    1. Hi Nova. You’re right — nothing lasts forever. Oil paintings don’t come with a provisio that they’ll only last 200 years! Maybe it’s assumed that everyone already knows that. And if oil paintings are the standard that everything else is compared to, the others become the exception that requires an explanation. Good point about being in the moment to fully enjoy the work.

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