This week l wanted to talk about lightfastness and l probably won’t be very helpful as l have more questions than answers.
Often you will hear professional artists talk about using only lightfast pencils and acid free paper etc. This is something that l normally do unless l am trialing cheaper brands. It makes sense if you are spending 40-50 hours or more on a piece to use the best materials money can buy. And nobody wants their work to fade fast.
But this past couple of weeks l have been working with my new Derwent Lightfast pencils (review to come very shortly) and reading through the leaflet inside started me thinking again, traveling a path l have wandered many times before and never really found an answer.
The pencils are labeled ‘100% lightfast’. If you open the first page of the leaflet it reads, ‘ Derwent Lightfast pencils have been formulated to be 100% lightfast. The revolutionary core is resistant to prolonged colour change ensuring artwork will not fade for 100 years under museum conditions.’
My first question is this - who keeps their artwork under museum conditions? Unless we are Van Gogh or Damien Hirst our art will be stored on someone’s wall and they may put UV glass in the frame and hang it out of direct sunlight, but it won’t be under museum conditions. So how long will a lightfast pencil last under normal conditions? Does anybody know?
My questions mounted as l read further because they actually specifically refer to things l have questioned in the past.
I am going to quote directly from the leaflet again, ‘Many people equate lightfastness with permanence. This is not strictly accurate as many other factors can affect the permanence of your work such as humidity, temperature, atmospheric pollution, reactions between different pigments and chemicals, the paper you use, and even the way you use your art materials.’
and a little further on, ‘Remember that the lightfastness of Derwent Lightfast may be adversely affected if mixed with other products’.
So here we go - if l use my Caran D’ache Luminance and my Faber Castell Polychromos along with my Lightfast are they all still lightfast or does one affect the other? If l use a low rated lightfast pencil under or over a high lightfast rated pencil what is the rating of the resulting color? If l use a blender what does that do? If my hands are oily what does that do? If l live in a humid climate what effect does that have? If l live in a dry climate what will that do? If l get extreme heat or cold what will that do? If my art is hung in a polluted city what will that do? If l use a base of marker or watercolor (even if lighfast) what effect does that have? In fact, even if l mix one lighfast pencil with another of the same brand (because the Derwent leaflet mentions mixing pigments)does that affect the overall rating?
My conclusion is that we don’t and can’t know the answers to all these questions because it isn’t possible for any company to test their pencils under every possible combination of factors that could come into play.
l do know this though, that my mum has art hanging on her wall made by little ones in primary school using the classroom poster colors, that my gran had hanging on her wall before that. No extra special care has been taken of them and they are still as bright and vivid as they were fifty or more years ago. I am not saying that these things are lightfast and won’t ever fade, but l think it unlikely that kept out of direct sunlight much will fade badly over the course of a lifetime. Certainly not pieces made with quality pigments. I think we worry too much and put too much emphasis on the supposed permanence of a pencil rated lightfast 1.
l am not Damien Hirst and l would be delighted if anyone still wanted to look at my art in 100 years time. And yes l will continue to buy the best pencils on the market, but if some of them only have a lightfast rating of 3 l will continue to use them if they are the colour l want because the lightfast rating of a pencil is just a small part of how lightfast the overall piece will be. I think the biggest message should be that if you want your art to stand the test of time look after it well. Keep it out of the sunlight. It will probably be ok - which is as much as can be said for a piece where someone has obsessed over lightfast ratings - it will probably be ok!
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