Archival and artist-quality products

I’ve been reading a few things around the web lately that have had me thinking about the quality of the materials I use for my art.

One such story had me horrified, to be honest, when someone on a Facebook group I follow shared a blog story warning about Sharpie Markers and their tendency to fade and deteriorate over time.

Below is a sample photo, and here is a link to her blog so you can read her full story.

Shellie Lewis’ amazing comic art showing the difference between non-archival Sharpie markers and India ink.

Now, further research brought me to observe that Sharpie Pens (NOT markers) are acid-free and archival. Which gives me a slight sigh of relief to learn, since I’ve used them quite heavily in many of my drawings and mixed media pieces. Regardless, I have since switched to using Sakura Micron pens for my black line art now, as they use pigment-based ink.

The story does have me chewing my nails a bit, thinking about the few places I’ve used the Sharpie markers and Bic Mark-it Markers. It also has me questioning the longevity of some of the paints and other pens and markers I’ve used in the past.

Scrapbookers and paper crafters beware… alcohol based markers are not light-fast and archival. Yes, this means those expensive Copic markers you see used time and again by talented artists,  scrapbookers and paper crafters are not permanent and can eventually fade over time, especially if left out in the light and/or protective sealants have not been used.

This is not to discourage you from using such materials if you do use them and enjoy them, but if you didn’t know already, you might want to read up on how to preserve your marker masterpieces.

The warning from the blog post got me thinking about all the cheap (and also not-so-cheap) art and craft materials that are out there on the market these days. The arts and crafts industry seems to have taken off like a rocket ship lately, and more and more companies out there are jumping on the bandwagon, vying for your dollars by enticing you with trendy art and craft supplies to use in your creations. I wonder how many of these companies have skimped on quality to favor quantity and speedy sell-through.

When I see the newest brush pen or paint waved before my eyes via an online art tutorial or perhaps a sponsored Instagram post, I now always think and ask the following “That’s nice. Is it archival and light-fast? If it’s not and I know there’s an archival, light-fast alternative, I think I’ll pass.”

Why would I turn these things down? Everyone is using them. They come in such fun colors and handy cases, etc. They have X-company’s name on them.

I turn them down because I want my art to last for as long as possible -not fade and deteriorate after a few years.

In the picture I shared earlier from Shellie Lewis’ experience, you can clearly see the difference between the Sharpies and archival-quality India ink. I now wonder if some of my mixed media layouts and other art might some day look the same.

I need to invest in a quality scanner so that I can scan all my work and keep digital copies of it where the original colors will always remain vibrant and true.

Yes, even archival-quality materials could fade over time if exposed to UV rays on a continual basis. This is why it is important to take steps to protect your art with proper storage or sealant (or both) – and if you want to display your art on a wall, consider either scanning and displaying a print, or researching proper sealants and giving your work a good coat of that.

I am currently in the middle of an experiment with my watercolors even as I write this post. At the end of May, I swatched out all of my watercolors in all their various brands then covered the bottom halves of all the swatches to do a light-fast test. I have the swatch piece currently sitting out in indirect light to see how it fares after a month of such exposure. I’ll then put it into direct light to see what kind of havoc it wreaks on the colors then.

I want to see what to expect from my materials should they be exposed and then make informed decisions on whether or not I want to continue putting my money in those materials, qualities, or brands—or find something better.

A lightfast test of all my various watercolor palettes and brands. I covered the bottom half of each row of swatches with scrap paper and am keeping it out in indirect light for the first month, then will put it into direct sun exposure for another month to see how the paints fare. The light swatches at the bottom are normally light as you see – the nature of that particular palette I purchased.

Finally, this train of thought also lead me to another concern I have: cheap-grade art materials versus artist-quality. I often see other artists encouraging new artists to just use whatever they have on hand to practice their art, and that includes cheap art supplies.

Let me be clear here, this is not an argument of “better materials make a better artist.” I’ve seen artists create masterpieces out of coffee stains and crayons, so the thought that only good art comes from artist-grade materials is a myth.

The point I have is while I agree with not holding yourself back from doing art because artist-quality materials can be prohibitively expensive, the thought I’d like to put out there to those of you starting off, is what if you really like what you’ve made? Heck, even if you didn’t care too much for what you made, would you like to preserve it as a record of where you started at one point? Would it bum you out if one day you were looking back at your early stuff only to find it all faded, blurred and deteriorated?

Maybe it wouldn’t concern you, and if that’s the case, you can just dismiss my ramblings and move on with your day.

Food for thought, however, when you’re considering just opting for the inexpensive stuff and you can perhaps afford something a little better.

If the supply or medium you’re using is just something you’re thinking of dabbling in but not so sure you want to commit to it, then certainly opting for the inexpensive alternatives is the way to go.

If you have financial constraints that absolutely would prevent you from purchasing more expensive materials versus cheap ones, then YES, please just use what you can so you can at least be creating. I think that’s far more important than spending money you don’t have for art supplies.

But consider if you’ve been doing art for a long time now and really enjoy what you’re doing, perhaps saving some money to eventually purchase some archival- and artist-quality materials, even if it’s one thing at a time—might be so worth it in the long run so that you can be sure that your beautiful work will last for years to come.

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2 thoughts on “Archival and artist-quality products

  1. I saw that post on fb a while ago. I wonder if sharpie changed their formula over the years. I have some works for middle and high-school (25+ years old now) that still look like they did when I made them… mind you, they sit in sketchbooks in storage most of the time, but they have not yellowed.
    On the flip, I have some supposedly archival quality supplies that are certainly not. One piece took only a few weeks to discolor :/
    I look forward to seeing the results of your watercolor experiment… it’s not a medium I user often, but I do have a bunch to play with.


  2. Oh, no! It is really disturbing to have your hard work deteriorate, especially so quickly and with materials that are supposed to be archival!

    One thing I didn’t touch on here were archival-quality papers, as well. Typical notepad paper, for example, can contain acid, which can eat at whatever you put on it over time. So not only do we artists have the task of checking if our paints, pens and pencils are archival, the surfaces they go on need to be taken into consideration, too.

    Not sure if that’s what happened to you, however. What materials had you been using?


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