This video is brought to you by squarespace, from websites and online stores to marketing tools and analytics. Squarespace is the all-in-one platform to build a beautiful online presence and run your business a beautifully rendered painting of a young child executed with grace skill and sensitivity, artist, unknown untitled, no provenance.
The painting is in perilous condition. The paint layer is flaking, it’s been poorly lined to another canvas with wax, and there is significant overpainting on the entirety of the piece. In addition, well, it’s quite dirty.
So what is the impetus for investing in this painting?’s conservation. Well, this painting is the physical vessel for emotion, memory and experience. This painting holds the collective history of the family who it belongs to as an heirloom.
It is incredibly important to them to their story and i, as the conservator have the utmost respect for that. But of course my attention must be focused on the object itself and determining how best to address the myriad of issues.
So while we can see the paint flaking with the naked eye, a raking light from the left will show us the heavy cracklature and the unstable paint and as we transition to a raking light from the right we can see.
The surface is quite rough and not as smooth as it should be, and finally, as we move into an ultraviolet photograph, we can see the sins of the past revealed bare. The extent of the overpainting is shocking, but none of these challenges are insurmountable and in this video we’ll, tackle them all, giving life to the heirloom [ Music ].
Now, before i can do any conservation work, any restoration work before i can clean the painting before i can remove the old lining, remove the old over painting stabilize it, fill it in re-stretch it and retouch it.
That is all of the work that i intend to do. I have to take action to make sure that no paint is lost during those procedures, because this paint is really fragile. It has detached in many places and if i simply brush it, i could lose some of this paint and that’s.
Something i don’t want to happen for a lot of reasons. Among them, this is the artist’s original work. This is the painting and losing it would not be acceptable, but also on a more practical level. I don’t want to make more work for myself, so making sure that no more paint is lost.
Minimizes the amount of fill-in that i have to do, minimizes the amount of retouching i have to do, and while i enjoy doing all of those things i’m generally, not in the habit of making my job any more difficult than it already is.
Now i’m using a heat and solvent activated and reversible conservation adhesive. This is flexible and i’ll, just brush it on the areas where the paint is unstable or where it looks like it’s. Perilous – and this is going to just hold those little pieces of paint in place now – i could face the painting, but i don’t want to do that for a couple of reasons that will become apparent later on.
As i start, tackling the removal of the lining sometimes facing is the right choice. Sometimes it’s not necessary and on this painting, because i can locally stabilize the areas with that adhesive i don’t feel that the facing is going to provide any more benefit.
In fact, it may just make it harder. So i’m skipping that step, and it may seem crazy because often i extol the virtues of facing, but every painting gets evaluated individually and the decisions about what treatments and how to go about applying them are based on the particular wants and needs Of that painting, and so while some paintings require a facing or benefit from a facing this one, just isn’t going to and so executing that treatment is superfluous and unnecessary and makes more work for myself now once the adhesive has dried.
I can start removing the painting from the stretcher, and in this case it’s with tacks, and these tacks are coming out really easily, because this painting was lined with wax and oftentimes when a canvas is saturated, with wax the tacks get coated in Wax as they go through, the canvas into the wood and wax is a release agent, so these come out really easily because effectively their waxed attacks.
Now the back of this canvas is pretty dirty and i’m, going to just remove some of this accumulated grime with dust and dirt and cobwebs, and all sorts of little detritus. That’s fallen in between the stretcher and the canvas, and this is just so that the next step isn’t, as messy as it would be.
If i didn’t remove this stuff, i could vacuum it up, but in this case it’s, just simple to use a bristle brush and get rid of it. Now, with the canvas off of the stretcher, i can go back to my small hot table and start dealing with the lining.
I mentioned that this is a wax lining and it’s. A simple wax lining: it’s, not a wax resin lining, just a basic wax lining, and that is both good and bad. It is bad because it is a relatively ineffective way of treating a painting, but it’s good for me, because it comes off very easily see wax, has a low melting point and without the addition of the resin it’s.
Not very sticky, so it’s, not messy, and it comes off quite easily. So again, bad or not great work is of benefit to me later on. So i’m going to fold back the edges of this canvas so that it’s flat and then the hot table is going to get heated up.
The hot table will take about five to ten minutes to reach temperature, and once it does it’s, going to start softening up that wax. Now i don’t want to heat it up so much that the wax becomes super liquidy and penetrates into the original canvas.
I just want to soften it up enough that i can remove this canvas so once it’s reached temperature. I’ll flip it over and i’ll. Allow that wax to soften up even more and then i can start peeling this canvas off and we can see right away that it doesn’t.
Take much for this canvas to be removed, as i mentioned, without the addition of the resin. Well, the wax is pretty soft and it has no real adhesion properties, so it’s, not really a glue at this state, and i can just peel back this canvas with almost no effort.
Now i’m. Being careful because i don’t want to stress the underlying canvas and the paint layer, but once i’m certain that it’s going to come off easily. Well, it comes off easily and once that canvas is off, i can use some solvent, while the wax is still warm to remove any of that excess wax again.
No resin makes this super super easy, and so with some cotton balls and some shop towels, i can clean off all of that excess wax from the canvas, but that canvas is not fully desaturated from wax. The wax did embed into the canvas a little bit during the initial treatment when it was applied and during this treatment, when i was removing the lining, so i have to extract it now.
The canvas is still saturated with wax and solvent. The hot table is still hot, and i’ll, take a blotter paper and place it underneath the canvas flip it over and lay it down. Now you’ll notice that i’m.
Being careful not to remove this piece of mylar or pet film from the front, because the wax that’s on the front of the painting, some of it has seeped through the canvas, is holding this film to the paint layer.
So it’s in effect a sort of facing, and i don’t want to peel it off because i don’t want any of that loose paint to come with it. In addition, i’m, going to need this piece of film to create the envelope around the painting, so that when i extract the air force or pressure is applied down onto the painting, so i’ll unfold.
This mylar and make sure that mylar is taped down to the hot table and then once i am certain that i have a good airtight envelope, i can turn the heat off and i can turn the vacuum pump on and in the corner of the hot table.
There is a little hole in the top of this aluminum and the webbing runs from that hole around the painting and when i turn the vacuum pump on, it extracts the air and once the hot table has cooled, i can remove the painting and bring it to The front of the studio where i can start to remove this pet film now one of the interesting things about wax is that when it’s hot and melted, it is an adhesive.
But when it cools it starts to act like a release. Agent, and so you can see that as i move the mylar film off the surface of the painting, nothing is sticking to it. None of that loose paint is coming off and my decision to not face this painting seems to have paid off because it has saved me time and eliminated unnecessary work.
So all in all, i’m, pretty satisfied. So now i can flip the painting over and examine the canvas and make sure that all of that wax has in fact been extracted. But there’s, something that i’m noticing, as i’m.
Looking at this canvas and that there are areas that are well beyond threadbare, the original canvas is gone. Those lighter tan areas well that’s, just the gesso there’s, no canvas there, which leads me to believe that this painting had a lining previously before the wax lining was executed, and that whoever did the wax lining in an attempt To remove the old adhesive scraped down the canvas so hard so aggressively that they removed part of that canvas and that’s, a problem that now i’m going to have to deal with.
But first i want to make sure that the canvas is completely flat. So a little bit of moisture on this blotter paper, some mild heat and pressure, and i can make sure that we have a nice even flat, canvas to work with now once that painting has had time to dry and rest under new fresh blotter papers.
For a couple of days, i can start dealing with this thread, bear or missing canvas, and i’m going to be using washi cozo, yes, the same material that i use to face paintings, but instead of using it in a destructive manner.
Here i’m, going to be using it in a productive manner. I’m, going to tear little strips of this beautiful paper, making sure to fray the edges so that i have a soft transition from where there is paper to where there isn’t paper, and i’m going to Use another adhesive that dries stiff, not flexible.
I’m, going to paint it on the areas where the canvas is missing and i’m, going to lay down that washi cozo and embed it into that adhesive and effectively bond it to the canvas. Now this can be removed.
This adhesive is removable, but what it’s going to do is provide a little bit of meat or stability for this paint layer that otherwise doesn’t have any during handling and in the future. Now, because this adhesive is water-based, i need to put down some weights and pressure to make sure that it dries flat.
Otherwise it will distort the canvas. So i’m laying down some siliconized release film over the areas that i’ve. Stabilized and then i’m, going to use some felt on top of that and then once i’ve laid down all the felts.
I’ll, put some steel weights and leave this for a day or so until it’s completely dry. Once it’s dry, i’ll, be able to move on to the next step of this conservation. Now i mentioned that i had hoped that i wouldn’t have to line this painting, but unfortunately, the discovery of that really damaged canvas has forced me to line it, and so i’m going to prepare my materials.
I’m using belgian linen and i’m, going to cut a piece of it out of a roll, and i’m, going to cut it pretty large, much larger than the actual stretcher, so that i have enough excess Material to stretch this painting, i’ll, trim that all later so it’s, not really a problem, and i can save all of those little scraps.
I don’t want to be wasteful. In addition, i can cut out the adhesive film that i’m, going to be using to bond the original canvas to this lining. Canvas again it doesn’t need to be super precise. In fact, i want a little bit extra just to make sure that i’ve covered the entirety of the canvas.
I’m, going to use my iron and apply heat and pressure to this adhesive film and make sure that it is well bonded to the canvas i’ll. Do it on both sides just to make sure now to prepare the original canvas? I’m, going to first brush off any dust and dirt or little flecks of whatever, and then i’m going to apply the adhesive, but before that i’m, going to apply a flat, spun, nylon, gossamer and again This is just going to add a little bit more stability to this painting.
I’m not going to interleave. This painting like i normally would, with a damaged canvas and there’s. A particular reason for that and i’ll – explain that in just one minute, so with the adhesive applied, i can start to roll it out with a roller, and this is just going to make sure that i have an even distribution of this adhesive.
One of the great things about this adhesive is that it can be thinned down to varying degrees so that it can either penetrate into the canvas or sit on top. So it’s incredibly versatile in this case. It’s fairly thick because i don’t want it to penetrate into the canvas too much.
I want to make sure that there’s enough adhesive to bond to the film adhesive version. That is on the lining. Canvas now i’m, going to cut off all of the excess of this flat spun nylon gossamer i don’t need it or want it and it doesn’t have any benefit to leave it.
So i’m using a sharp scalpel as opposed to a dull scalpel, because i do often use dull scalpels and i’m just going to trim off the excess once all of this excess is removed. I can start preparing the hot table.
Now i’ve, put down a piece of cotton rag paper, a piece of siliconized release film. I’m, going to make sure that there’s, absolutely no dust or dirt or fuzzies, or anything else in between that would otherwise indent or impress upon the painting.
And then, once i’m certain that this is all ready, i’m going to lay down my painting, but i’m going to do it face down now. This painting has almost no impasto it’s. Very smoothly painted, but for this subtle impasto that is there, the cotton rag paper will provide a cushion so to make sure that it doesn’t, get dented or melted.
Now i’m, just checking to make sure that the alignment of the lining canvas and the original canvas is spot on, because once i do this, i don’t want to have to undo it, because i made a error like not Making sure everything was aligned.
Ask me how i know i actually don’t don’t. It’s, embarrassing another piece of release film just to make sure, and then i will create the envelope that is going to provide the pressure necessary to bond the two canvases together.
Of course, i’m, going to use that cotton webbing to create a channel, so the air can be extracted that corner that’s where the hole is remember and i’ll just take this down and then i can Turn on the heat and turn on the vacuum pump and let the hot table do its magic.
Now, when i turn on the vacuum pump, it gets really high and i have to make sure to bring it down because i don’t want to crush this painting or the impasto. So five mercury inches is about what i want.
I’m using a little piece of balsa wood to just press down the painting and make sure i ‘ Ve got good adhesion, but i also want to show you you see those little dimples right there. Well, those are areas where the original canvas was missing and they’re little divots and if i had done an interleaved lining, the paint film would have divvited down where these are so by doing it face down.
I can ensure that the surface of the painting is flat and that any divots or dents are on the back, and i can check now and make sure that there are no divots and that’s. A successful lining at this point the painting is still dirty.
I didn’t clean it beforehand because well it was unstable. So i’m using some basic painters tape to mask off the painting so that when i do the cleaning i don’t dirty up that canvas and now, finally, after all of that hard work, we can get to actually cleaning this Painting the fun part uh, i’m.
Sorry, you haven’t been doing the work. I have you’ve, just been sitting there in your cushy chair. Talking, oh come on julian. You enjoy this work right. Well, yeah! I like doing the work, and you like talking about the work and and these folks at home.
I think they like watching the work, but man sometimes it would be nice to skip all of that hard work and just jump in right to the fun stuff. The fun part that i want to see that you want to see wait a minute.
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com for a free trial and when you’re ready to launch, go to squarespace.com baumgartner to save 10 off your first purchase of a website or domain. So what do you think did i do a good job huh that wasn’t half bad? You should do this more often.
Now. Can i get back to the work these folks want to see this yeah? Okay boy? What a prima donna anyhow on to the cleaning now this is a part i’m, really excited for, because i know this painting is filthy, but i’m, also a little nervous, because if we remember back to that ultraviolet photograph that I showed you in the beginning: there is a lot of overpaint on this canvas and i’m, going to find out just how much once it’s cleaned.
So while i’m excited to see what true colors lie, underneath this brown varnish – i’m, also nervous, because i have a feeling that there is going to be a lot more work than i initially anticipated. But it is what it is now we can see with kind of a raking light just how thick the old varnish layer was, and i’m – not sure if they thought that this would seal in or secure the flaking paint.
But it does not do that the paint will still flake. Now, as we come to an area where there is some over paint and it starts to come off, we can see that. Well, it’s, actually, not that bad of damage it’s, a relatively small hole with a relatively large area of overpaint.
So this is the first indication that the over painting is going to be excessive. Now i’m. Actually kind of glad, because finding out that the overpainting was excessive and that the underlying damage was relatively modest means that i won ‘
T have to do so much retouching. But as i move on, i’m starting to notice that there’s, actually a lot of damage on this canvas and that’s. Two pretty large holes that i’m going to have to address, and i can only imagine how many more exist now as we remove this varnish, you can start to see the texture of the canvas come through the texture of the brush work and Even though this painting, doesn’t have a lot of impasto, it’s, still really important to see any texture, because that’s kind of the artist’s, accent it’s.
The delicate way in which the artist applied the paint it’s, almost a historical document of how the painting was created and these thick layers of varnish. Well, they obscure all of that, and so you can’t see any of that subtlety.
Now this area, i know, was overpainted, but i’m, hoping and keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t, be so extreme because this area right here well, this is going to be kind of hard to match it’S a really delicate color, and if history is any example, it’s, going to take a little bit of work to make sure that this is accurate.
Now i’m rolling these little swabs, as opposed to using a full cotton ball. Mostly so that i can see what i’m cleaning when i use this little stick, it allows me to see the areas that i’ve cleaned and the areas i haven’t there’s, really no Appreciable difference in using a single cotton ball or a stick with a cotton ball rolled on it, but it also makes it easier for me to show you what i’m cleaning.
Now, as i start to clean the face, or at least the ear man, those colors are really beautiful. The artist who painted this was really talented. They knew how to paint they knew how to blend colors on the canvas, and this painting is going to be really pretty when it’s done, but there is so much varnish on here i mean just look at that: it’s.
Almost like this painting has been encased in amber, there is so much varnish on the surface and all of that varnish well over time, because it’s, a natural resin, with exposure to ambient ultraviolet light oxygen and other things it deteriorates.
It gets yellow, it gets brittle it cracks, it gets milky it just breaks down and as it gets removed, we can see just how different the painting is supposed to look. So i’m, going to step back here for a minute.
Get a glass of water and just let you enjoy this painting coming back to life: [, Music, ], so [, Music, ], so [, Music, ], so [, Music, ], [, Laughter, ], [, Music, ], [, Music, ], so [, Music, ]! Well! That’s, going to be a lot of retouching.
Now there are some spots that i could not remove all of the overpaint with solvent, and so i’m coming back in with a scalpel just to remove it. You can see how built up that overpaint was that’s, oil paint.
It was thickly applied and now it stands proud of the original paint layer. So using scalpel just gliding over the surface and letting the blade do the work i can remove. All of this excess overpaint, and actually luckily, this damage isn’t as extensive as i thought it was it’s still gonna be hard to match this color.
But i’m grateful that the amount of retouching is less than i anticipated, at least in this area. The rest of the painting is kind of a hot mess, so, with all of the over paint and varnish removed, i can start to put the painting back together and it all begins with filling in the areas of paint loss, because if i were to simply retouch These areas, even if the color matched the texture, would be wrong and you’d, see the divots.
So i have to make sure that i have built up these areas to match the level of the paint surrounding. So i’m using just a little palette knife and a reversible water-based fill-in medium, and i’m just filling in any areas where the original paint layer has been lost.
And i want to make sure that they are even and relatively smooth, because this is a smooth painting. Now i’m, going to let that dry and once it’s completely dry. I’ll, come back with a little solution and i’ll begin removing the excess that i applied.
I over filled the areas because it’s simply easier to overfill and remove than it is to try to contain all the fill in medium on the first shot. So using a cotton swab and a little bit of that solution, i can start to soften up and remove the excess, because i just want the areas where the paint is missing to be filled in i, don’t want to cover any of the Artist’s original work, because that’s, just not how it’s done hard stop now in areas where there are large sections of fill-in material such as this one.
I’m, going to remove the excess using a swab, but just on the edges, once i’ve removed that i’m, going to go over the large areas with the swab to add a little bit of moisture to Soften them up just a little bit and then i’m, going to come back with a dry sponge and rub over that surface, and this is kind of like an ultra fine, ultra, delicate sandpaper.
It will smooth out and pick up any excess on the large areas, but it’s not going to damage the paint layer because it’s, not abrasive enough, and now, as i wrap up removing all of the fill-in material, i can Start thinking about the image, because the next step is going to be retouching, i think at this point it’s, a good time to call it quits for the day and take a break come back fresh because well, as you can see there’s, a lot of work ahead of me.