So I'm going to go ahead and walk through the process of restoring this William Merritt Chase portrait.
This is not meant to be instructional or very technical,
if you have questions, hit me up in the comments and I'll get back to you.
This William Merrit Chase portrait fell off the wall and landed on a chair
and, as you can see,
it suffered some pretty bad damage.
There are a lot of tears in the painting, there's significant paint loss.
The painting is also pretty dirty,
and it was poorly conserved at least one time before, so, that's something that I'm gonna have to undo.
The first step, at least in this video, is to remove the painting from the stretcher
and you can see that it's peeling away from the strip lining that was previously done.
Now, strip lining is when a new piece of canvas is added to the painting, just on the edges
when the tacking edges are not strong enough to support the painting.
So, I'm gonna remove the stretcher from the painting.
I'm just making sure there are no errant tacks that would otherwise get stuck.
And this stretcher is gonna be discarded for a new one that's gonna provide better support.
The first step is to remove the blue painter's tape that the clients adhered to stabilize the painting,
and then, to move on to removing those patches.
I don't put patches on, but some conservators do or used to.
I have to remove the canvas very carefully, and then start removing the adhesive.
Now, in this case, the adhesive was beeswax,
which can be softened using mineral spirits
and removed with various tools, including q-tips and a scalpel.
Sometimes you'll run into hide glue, or rabbit skin glue,
or Elmer's glue, or epoxy or who knows what, and those are a little bit more complicated to remove.
Luckily in this case the beeswax was fairly easy.
But, there was a lot of it, and I had to make sure I got rid of all of it from the back of the canvas
because I need the canvas to be smooth going forward.
So, big moment, I'm gonna flip the painting over...
...luckily, nothing went wrong,
and then I can start cleaning the surface of the painting.
After making several tests in determining what kind of surface grime was on the surface,
I can remove it, and in this case I'm using a wax paste that I mixed
to break down the oils, the dirts, the grimes—
—just the stuff that's sitting on the surface, which will then enable me to get to the varnish
and the old retouching, which you can see I'm removing with a scalpel.
So, once the varnish is removed and the painting is clean, I can set it aside and start preparing the lining canvas,
which in this case, is Belgium linen which is a very high-quality linen.
And I'm gonna cut a large piece, and then I'm going to examine it for defects
because I want to make sure that it is free of anything that would cause issue.
I'm going to roll it up and set it aside for later.
This process is called the inlay process,
where I take pieces of canvas from my stock and I cut them to match the voids in the original canvas.
And then they're going to be placed in those voids and secured in place
with Japanese kōzo; which is mulberry tissue paper.
The tissue paper isn't designed to do anything other than just hold them in place temporarily.
I'm not looking for support—that'll come from the lining—
but I want to make sure that they don't move or migrate when I'm handling the painting.
So all the areas big and small get filled in and then the painting gets lined.
I've skipped a bunch of steps in the process because they're just not interesting to watch.
They're kind of confusing.
But the painting gets put on my hot table and it gets heated up to temperature,
and pressure is applied using a vacuum pump,
and when it's all cool and done, the painting is bonded to the new canvas.
Now I can start preparing the stretcher for the canvas.
The stretchers that I use are custom-built, and they're made of sugar pine
and in this case I have a seven member keyable stretcher.
So I'm gonna square it up, make sure it's tight and make sure everything looks good,
and then I can start aligning the painting to the stretcher and begin the stretching process.
It's important that everything is aligned properly, because once you start stretching,
it's a REAL big pain to undo the painting and start over,
so this is one of those steps that you really want to take care with.
And you'll see that I'm making sure that the painting is centered how I like it
and that all the edges are where I want them.
Now, when I stretch paintings I prefer to use upholstery tacks.
Some people use staples, but I think those are inferior.
You see, I start from the middle and I work my way out to the edges
and you do this because if you have extra canvas slack, or waves in the canvas,
you can stretch them out; working to the corners.
If you work into the center you trap those in.
So here, I'm just trimming off the excess canvas and tacking it to the back of the stretcher.
Just tidying it up for my client.
That's me...being very concentrated.
And once the painting is fully stretched I'll begin installing the keys.
Keys are little triangular pieces of wood
that I can tap into the free-floating mortise and tenon or bridle joints,
and when they're tapped in they cause those joints to expand,
and that expansion puts tension on the canvas.
We want tension on the canvas so that it doesn't flop around.
You can see here I'm just securing those keys with a little bit of fishing line
so they don't fall out and get lost or get stuck between the canvas and the stretcher.
Now I'm using a fill-in medium that I mix and it's mostly calcium carbonate with chalk
and a vinyl emulsion to fill in wherever the paint was lost.
And I'm gonna add texture where appropriate.
Now in some places the paint is smooth and so I want a smooth fill-in,
in other places there's canvas texture or impasto from the brushwork.
Once that's dry I'll remove any excess with q-tips or scalpel.
I just want to make sure that-- that, just again, the texture matches.
This is the retouching process, whereby I'm using special conservation pigments
to add color to the painting where the original pigment was lost.
And it's important that in this step I take care to only add pigment
where the original pigment was lost.
It's not a matter of blending or glazing, or covering large swathes of the painting,
but just touching up where the pigment was lost.
Now, this pigment is archival, it's fully reversible.
It doesn't darken,
it doesn't get brittle, and it's designed specifically for conservation.
I've had a lot of people comment that the palette was really dirty,
but because these pigments can be reconstituted with the appropriate solvent,
and because they're really expensive, I see no reason to throw the palette away.
Partially because I have all of the colors that I need mixed on the pallette already.
Retouching is a high-stakes process because it's what everyone is gonna see.
Particularly on this face. if it's not done JUST right--
if the color's slightly off--
Then everyone will see it, and I've done a bad job.
And sometimes I'll have to come back after days of retouching
and undo what I did the previous day
because the color isn't quite right, or it just doesn't meet my expectations.
But this is really fun.
This is where I get to use my color matching skills and put the painting back together.
And the final step is the varnishing and that's where I mix my varnish.
This is a gloss and a matte varnish
and a plasticizer so that it doesn't crack.
And using a 4-inch bristle brush, I'll flood the painting with varnish.
Just kind of making sure that the whole surface is wet.
And then once I've evenly distributed the varnish,
I'll go back and I will even it out, back and forth in multiple directions.
I'm just looking to make sure that all the canvas has been hit by the varnish
and that there are no brush strokes.
And once the varnish is done...
...the painting is complete.
So, you can see the before and after
and how conservation can put a painting back together.
If you have any more questions about this or conservation in general,
hit me up in the comments or on my website:
I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.