The first step is choosing art materials that can stand the test of time. Use artist grade materials, and light fast colours (more on that in another post someday!). Always work on Acid-Free surfaces (paper, canvas etc) and finally; take care of the final product.
The 3 main factors in damage to art work are light, temperature, and acidity.
When storing your art work there isn't much consideration for presentation, so here are some things you can do.
For art work on paper
Mat your art work in conservation or museum grade mat board. you'd need a full back mat, and a front mat with a window hinged together with Acid Free Hinging tape. Use the same tape to attach your Image to the mat. this does 2 things: Keeps the paper safe and flat so it wont take damage from the outside world, buffers against acidity and moisture (air moisture, not your pop or juice), and leaves some space between your art work and what you are storing it in. you don't want the surface of your art rubbing on something, especially if you have work done on particularly soft paper or a smudge-able medium like pastels or pencils. Any mat board you use should be at least conservation standard. If you're using un-buffered or merely acid free mats, then that doesn't mean acid cant be introduced to the mat board, and consequently your art. Watch for "Acid Burn" on the edges of your image where your mat touches. it looks like light brown burnt edges. also check that the bevel on your mat isn't turning brown. That's acids baby!
You can then store or display your matted art in an archival plastic bag made with polyethylene or polypropylene. If you are storing you might want to slip a piece of Acid Free chloroplast in there to give it added rigidity, and then store it in an acid free storage box. There are some on the market for this very purpose but anything acid-free, lignin-free, and buffered will do.
make sure its stored in an area that wont get light, or moisture to prevent fading and molding. Your art work should last a life time!
If you want to store multiple images together, or for another reason need added protection for your art work, there are a number of inexpensive products you can use.
The Acid Free Tissue is a great product to fold around paintings, or put between 2 paintings when storing short term. You might also want to place a layer of this in front of your art before storing it in the plastic sleeves. That way if something happens and damage does occur and your painting decides to stock to whatever is closest, its the easier to fix tissue and not the plastic sleeve.
Barrier paper is a 2 ply sheet of archival paper that is often used in framing, placed between to matted work and the back board. Its great because its a bit heavier than tissue so it really stays put.
Blotter paper is a highly absorbent heavy weight paper that is conservation quality. It's very absorbent.
Varnishing and Fixatives for Paper
If you are going to be storing pastels, pencils or charcoal work, its a good idea to give it a couple coats of a workable fixative. Make sure the fixative is non yellowing, and test it on scrap test paper before using it on your masterpiece (this goes for everything you do).
there are also some varnishes on the market designed for watercolours and gouache paintings (in addition to ones made for acrylic and oil). They're usually in an aerosol can and require several coats. If you can find one that has a UV barrier in it all the better. These varnishes should protect against light, and physical damage (to a point) and also act as a paint fixative.
Storage sleeves and boxes
Instead of the crystal clear bags, and storing things individually wrapped, you can also get some portfolio storage and presentation folders. Itoya has some great products for this! if you do go this route make sure any portfolio you get is PVC free for the plastic, and acid free and buffered sleeve inserts )the usually black piece of paper inside each sleeve). you can get them either attached in the book or with removable sleeves. Just make sure you choose the right size for your art. Too big and they'll slip slide all over the place and get damaged, too small and you force it in and ruin it. The sizes listed on the books are the paper size that it can hold.
you can also roll and store large works in PVC Free plastic tubes. I'm personally not a big fan of this method as I've seen in my job people trying to uncurl these pieces to frame them and causing huge damage in the form of rips and creases to it. if you do store work rolled and need to flatten it out please use care! don't force it into a flat shape before it's really. (When babies are born, they take a while to uncurl - if you pull a painting from a tube, its your baby! Give it the time your baby needs.) Gently un roll it, a little but, have someone hold the first edge while you unroll the rest of the way. if you have something flat the same size as your image lay it on top to flatten it out as you uncurl. don't force it or you'll get creases.( try to use a barrier paper or something between your work and the surface you use the flatten). You can also roll it back on itself the opposite way it was rolled. this is trickier, especially with heavier paper, but you can leave it curled backwards for a couple hours and it will be almost flat. If its a really precious work, leave it in the tube and hand it over to a professional.
Acid Free: This means that the paper is free of acids that will cause it to deteriorate over time and damage the other items that it touches. Good to note: If a product doesn't say its Acid Free, it's not in most cases. Except with pens, when most pens are acid free but they don't mention it.
It's a misconception that Acid Free is more expensive. In Most cases its on par with prices of acidic products but only sometimes slightly higher. Given that it expends the life of your work, its an acceptable cost.
Non Acidic: Non Acidic does not mean Acid Free! It means its been buffered to an Acid free level (maybe even only on one side) and that it will return to an acidic state over time.
PVC free: Refers to plastics only. PVC's present in plastic will cause deterioration over time. it will turn into goo. Rubber bands have PVC in them and you can tell when you've had something in an elastic too long it gets gooey or brittle.
Buffered: has an alkaline reserve, usually 2-5% calcium carbonate. The buffering counteracts the effects within the material or in the environment, providing long term protection. Buffered paper should have a pH neutral level of 7.5 to 9.5
Un-buffered or Non-buffered: lacks the buffering reserve to prevent future acidity. It is used with materials that are sensitive to a higher pH level. Un-buffered paper should have a pH neutral level of 7.0 to 7.5
pH level: the measure of acidity and alkalinity. The scale ranges from 0-14, with 7 being neutral.
Conservation quality: it is both acid-free and lignin-free, and is inherently neutral, not merely buffered to a neutral pH level.
Museum Quality: The standards set by museums for storage and presentation. The absolute best of the best. Often used interchangeably with conservation quality, but the terms also very by manufacturer (in regards to mat board).
Do more research
There is a Website called FACTS: Fine art Care and Treatment Standards. This is an unbelievable resource.
Check out the manufacturers of the mat board and products on the web. Most good companies have a website with information and FAQ's.Ask Questions, get answers. Google is your friend.
Check your art store: if you're local art store is any good their staff will be knowledgeable and hopefully artists themselves. Opus Framing and Art is the absolute best and the website has a great blog. Ask Questions! The staff at opus are an endless resource for me (and being staff myself, I've become a resource for others obviously. We all share one thing: an obsessive knowledge of art supplies!)
Well I think I've covered all I can think of for this right now, stay tuned for more! There's just too much to say!