From finger paintings and crayon scribbles to water colours and pencil sketches, children are prolific artists — particularly during these COVID-19 home-bound times.
But before you head straight for the bin, artwork in hand, pause a moment — it could be a good idea to hang on to some of those pieces.
After all, you might be parenting a future Brett Whiteley or Grace Cossington Smith.
Preserving artwork for nostalgic and sentimental reasons is one thing, but conservator Victoria Pearce says a child’s paintings could be valuable to more than just their parents one day.
“We’re curious about the history and the past and the provenance of say our leaders, and our key personalities, ” she said.
“Those sorts of things end up being quite collectible, and curiosity points.”
Ms Pearce specialises in preserving and protecting items of personal and cultural significance. But even if you do doubt your child’s artistic prowess, she sees great value in selecting some special pieces from your child’s portfolio to preserve for the future.
“I can absolutely guarantee that your grandkids are going to love seeing things that your kids did, just as we would love to see things that our mums and dads did when they were kids,” she said.
So just what should you do with your child’s masterpieces, to ensure they stand the test of time?
Display and rotate artworks to preserve them
The first thing to do is put your child’s art on display, even if it is only for a day or two.
When Valentyna Crane’s daughters, Jane and Sarah, create a new artwork, the first place it goes is on the fridge for all to see.
The Canberra landscape painter also uses cork boards and string with pegs to display pictures and avoid clutter on the kitchen bench.
She frames sentimental pieces, like a drawing then four-year-old Jane did when her younger sister was born.
“She did her first drawing of us as a family,” Ms Crane said.
“It’s important to frame things like that. Jane is 11 now and she still looks at it and remembers the day she drew it.”
Ms Pearce agrees that it is essential to display a child’s artwork, but she says you should rotate what is on show and not leave items on the fridge indefinitely.
“Put things up for a short period of time. Take them down and put something else up,” she said.
“The reason we change our art in our institutions isn’t just to entertain the public, but it’s because we can mitigate the light damage by putting something back into dark storage again.”
Ms Pearce also suggests avoiding blu tack and sticky tape to display items, because they leave oily residue on the paper.
When framing items, use perspex (rather than glass), to protect items from UV damage.
Name, date and archive your art
When it comes to choosing which items to archive and which ones to discard, you may like to involve your child in the process and allow them to curate the collection.
Ask them which pieces they like best and why, then name and date the chosen pieces — Ms Pearce recommends using a graphite pencil.
Ms Pearce says today’s washable paints, edible inks and recycled papers mean children’s artworks are typically very fragile.
It is also why colourful paintings left on the fridge for months fade and the paper turns yellow.
“The dyes for paints and pens are basically a food dye, so they’ve got a very weak bond so they can wash out of clothing,” she said.
“They will be effected by heat and light, and aren’t very robust.”
So, to give these drawings the best chance of survival, Ms Pearce recommends interleaving paper-based artworks with tissue in a portfolio, or storing them in archival sleeves that pass the photographic activity test.
Then, store the portfolio or archival box in a cool, dark location.
“If you put things up in a roof space or in a shed or somewhere that’s baking in the sun, it’s going to deteriorate much, much faster than if it’s in a nice cool dark folio in a cupboard inside or under a bed,” Ms Pearce explained.
No time or space to archive? No worries
Time is at a premium for many of us, so if you find yourself unable to follow Ms Pearce’s advice, there are still some things you can do.
You can start by photographing each artwork — a quick snap on a smartphone will do the trick, before you discard the item.
However, be mindful that your child may ask to see their work again, so choosing a storage system they can flick through is a good idea.
You could simply gather the digital images in a folder on your home computer, creating a gallery without the clutter. Or, you could use a specific app that allows you to easily store and share artworks with friends and family without taking up physical space in your home.
Ms Crane makes photobooks and collages so her children can easily look back at their work.
“My daughter likes to flick through them and see how she’s changed her style,” she said.
Photography is also the answer to recording those big 3-D creations featuring macaroni, playdough or papier mache, which are really difficult to store and preserve.
Finally, when it does come time to discard those physical items, a common tip from other parents — do so while your little artist isn’t watching.