Ok, back to some actual conservation... Over the past two decades I’ve worked on countless wood panel paintings; some simple and some not. One of the most common issues is when the wood splits (either as a result from poor handling/framing or due to a failed joint between two smaller pieces of wood). Bonding wood back together isn’t all that difficult but bonding a painting back can be. Of course the adhesive must be reversible but more importantly the registration of the pieces of wood must, MUST be perfectly precise otherwise the seam will show and that’s a failure. I’ve never had problems achieving good results using hand clamps and cauls but I decided to design and build a better mousetrap. This clamping table facilitates even and deliberate clamping on 3 axis ensuring that the joint is perfectly aligned even on warped, cupped and distorted pieces of wood. The process of designing and building it was interesting and I learned a lot- there are definitely changes I’d make if ever I built another but I’m happy to say that this version works well and I’m going to put it through the paces as I have some really fun panel projects coming up. And yes, the build and use will all be in a video(s) that I’m aiming to have out sometime this summer. Phew!
Just a little something to wrap up a thoroughly hectic and unproductive week. This is a detail of a George Inness painting. This painting had several large gaps where the paint layer had shrunk during the drying process. These gaps, or cracks were quite distracting and problematic for the viewer. These weren’t a feature of the painting, rather a bug. I suspect that Inness used an old canvas when creating this painting and painted a top another painting. Generally that’s not a problem unless the previous painting has yet to fully dry or oxidize and then this type of crack or gap can be quite common. My client wanted me to address these and the first step was to fill them in with a putty and remove the excess with cotton swab. I was then able to retouch the putty so that it disappeared into the painting. The final photo shows the area under UV which reveals the retouching as dark purple. You can see how just the areas where the putty was applied have been retouched. Have a great, healthy and safe weekend and I’ll see you all on Monday. 🤟
The stuff that makes conservators swoon. Anytime a package from Sigma Aldrich shows up I’m both very excited and feeling the pain of the absurd cost of some of this stuff. These materials will be used to create PVA cleaning gels for use on solvent-sensitive paintings where any exposure would result in damage. This is stuff that my father couldn’t have imagined when he started his studies in the 1960s. Yay for chemistry!
Impasto- the physical build up of paint. The texture of the painting. The accent of the artist. Cleaning impasto can be a bit more challenging than flat paintings. There are so many nooks and crannies in which dirt, grime and varnish can accumulate. Where the impasto is stable both physically and chemically this is one approach for cleaning. A bristle brush cut short can scrub the accumulations out of the impasto, a cotton swab can lift it off the surface and a dental tool can get to those stubborn places. There are plenty of other approaches and techniques for dealing with impasto and each must be tailored to the particulars of the painting but for this work, this works 😜
Believe it or not I actually did do some conservation work this week... 😜 This is the small George Hetzel painting from the YouTube live stream earlier in the week. It was very water damaged with a blooming varnish (the white stuff) terrible flaking and instability, lots of dirt and grime and a ton of mold and mildew. In the after photo you can see just how different of a piece it is now. Also, for those looking for an update on the N95 situation- I’ll post on that later, I actually have to do some more work 🤮
I know it seems like all I ever work on is narrative art, landscapes or portraits but a fairly sizable percentage of the work that comes through my doors is modern, contemporary and abstract. The issues that this work faces are certainly different than some of the older works but no less challenging, sometimes more so! And before you ask, one of these may or may not end up being a video... 😜 anyhow, hope you all have some battery left on your phones. I’m thinking I may do some live streaming on IG tomorrow morning, maybe some retouching. We’ll see how tomorrow goes...
Let’s start this week off right by getting rid of all the accumulated detritus that’s been making everything g seem gloomy and gross. Easier said than done, huh... well, for this charming little painting it’s actually pretty easy and once the heavily discolored varnish is removed everything looks a bit better, no? This dammar varnish became yellow over time with exposure to ultraviolet light (sunlight) and oxygen. Using solvents that will not affect the original paint layer (several small tests were made to determine the correct solvents and strengths) the varnish can be removed with cotton swabs. I prefer to work in organic shapes and follow the colors/contours that the artist created- it allows me to have a bit more control over the cleaning process as not all colors are equally stable and some might require a different solvent. Working in a grid diminishes the ability to modulate the solvent or strength. Plus, this is just the way I like to work so 🤷♂️. And now to answer a few questions that I know are coming: this is not a patina, it’s discolored varnish; the artist probably didn’t know that it would darken, the client wanted it all removed; no, this isn’t going to be a YouTube video; no I don’t know exactly when the next one is going to post; I am working on several but they take time and I can’t just rush them.
And finally, our little friend from the beginning of the week. Of course the biggest change on this painting was cleaning it but, as you can see once the varnish is applied there’s a subtle change in the appearance of the colors, particularly the red.
Even this tonal painting changes quite a bit with the application of varnish. The intensity of these colors notches up just enough that the overall image appears a bit more dramatic. The artist is Marvin Cone btw