Notes on cardboard art

Notes on cardboard art

People have asked me about how long they can expect these paintings on cardboard to last.  It is a complex issue, as cardboard is not, by nature, made to be a long-lasting material.  However, museums are full of paintings on cardboard, some dating back to the late 16th century. I have the first oil painting I ever made over 50 years ago, and it is still in pretty much the same condition as when I made it. And I stored it in a box in the garage.

There are also many variables that will affect the longevity of these works.  First is how they’re made.  I use double-walled cardboard, and there are, with rare exceptions, multiple coats of paint on each piece.  The final construction is adhered to a larger, single sheet of cardboard with an acrylic gel medium which creates a permanent, waterproof binding.  That construction is then adhered, using the same gel medium, to a wooden support structure, either a single piece of ½” wood, MDF (a wood composite similar to masonite), or for larger pieces, a support similar to a canvas stretcher-a wooden frame, topped with thin wood or MDF.

The piece is then given at least two coats of varnish, which enhances the color and protects the painting from light and moisture. 

In this way, the paint is secure on the cardboard and the cardboard is secure on its wooden support.  As you might imagine, there are no guarantees to a lifespan of hundreds of years, but with proper care (don’t hang it in the bathroom, kitchen or sauna) it should give you many years of pleasure.

If you want to seriously preserve it, talk to a framer. Frame it in what they call a “float” or “shadow box” to protect the edges.  Maybe put it behind glass. 

Handling the painting

One of the intentional qualities of these works is their imprecision and that extends to their outer edges. They are not perfect rectangles and the various wrinkles, tears, bends and punctures add to the sculptural quality of the work.  In order for the support structure to not be visible, the cardboard has about 1/4” of overhang, which also emphasizes the irregular edges.  

When handling the work try to avoid picking it up by or standing it directly on its edge.  Grab it by the wood support to hold it and lean it at an angle when resting it against the floor and wall.   If you do bend it, simply bend it back.  Any crease or fold that results will more than likely blend in with the others.  In general, though, be careful with it.

If you require your purchase to be shipped, please note that I use a company in Galway that packages and ships artwork for artists, galleries and museums here in the west of Ireland.  Each piece is securely insulated and packed in extremely durable shipping materials.

Examples of older paintings and works on cardboard:

El Greco (c. 1586)

Rubens (c. 1619)

Claes Oldenburg (c 1960)