Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Fine Art Conservation - The Retouching Process Narrated

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In this video I'm going to be focusing solely on the retouching process

now, this painting arrived into the studio very dirty with surface grime, old varnish, a massive tear through the

sitter's face and a lot of old retouching which you can see here as a large brown

mass on his, uh- the right side of his face. With the retouching removed

you can see the extent of the damage and just how excessive the old over-painting was.

I suspect that the old over-painting which was done in oil

not only had darkened as it oxidized but was probably color matched to a dirty painting, which is why it was so brown.

Now, for the retouching that I'm going to be doing; I will be using a conservation pigment made by the Maimeri Company and

unlike oil paint this pigment is different. It has no oil in it. So, it does not oxidize

it does not harden to the point of not being removable

It's light-fast

and with the appropriate solvent, it can be removed very easily without running the risk of doing any harm to the painting

So when approaching retouching there are really two styles of retouching that I do one of them is called the mimetic

technique and that's where the conservator tries to reintegrate the the damage into the painting. So

recreating the elements of the image that are lost so that

at the end of the retouching process the damage is not visible and the other technique is called

I think it's called a ragazzini or ragazzo. It's Italian and my Italian is non-existent

And that's a technique whereby the damage is camouflaged, but not made to disappear

And it's done by using a lot of little dots or little hash marks of similar colors

but not really blending and that's a technique that's really common in museums, or for pieces where the damage is so extensive

that you just couldn't possibly

recreate the image without being the author of the image yourself

Now most of my clients choose to do the mimetic technique

and most of them

own these paintings, love these paintings and do not wish to see them damaged

and so the mimetic technique allows me to kind of

reintegrate the damage and put the piece back to how it should have looked prior to any damage.

I have done ragazzini/ragazzo technique many times. It's

something I enjoy but, by and large, my clients

prefer to have a mimetic


so once we've decided upon the style of

retouching that we're going to do, we have to then start thinking about the actual retouching and in this case

There is a lot of missing content - basically half his face is gone

If this were a known artist - this painting is by an unknown artist

I would be able to maybe even reference this painting prior to damage in a catalogue résumé or in an old exhibition catalogue

Maybe there's a photograph or a daguerreotype or an etching version of this painting that I can use as source material

if not

I would look at the artist's other body of work and see how they executed other portraits; see what colors they used, how they

handled their brushwork

and other

idiosyncrasies of their style. If I don't know the artist, like in this case,

I will start to refer back to my library and look at other mid 19th century

portrait painters and try to get an idea of what the style of the time was. That can be really helpful when you're trying to

replace or retouch costume, clothing or scenery,

less so with faces because every face is unique and so there's not really

a guide or a "how to".

So in this case, I have to use the actual painting as my guide

so I'm using the surrounding colors of the

of the sitter as my guide for what colors I mix and eventually I will start to use

The skeletal form of the head and the other eye as a guiding factor

But the first step is really just to start laying down some color and blocking out

the damage

And this is not meant to be very precise or very accurate

It's just meant to allow my eye to start to see the painting as a whole and not see the damage

I will layer and layer and layer in various intensities and opacities,

some of these layers will be more transparent than others and slowly build up what I think looks correct.

Now in this section of the video, I'm going to start rebuilding the eye

Eyedeally if I had a photograph of the painting before the damage, I would be able to work from that

If I had a catalogue résumé or an exhibition catalogue, that would be just as good

But in this case we did not have a photograph

Now if I knew who the artist was, unlike this painting which is unsigned, I would be able to

reference their other work and see how they executed eyes in other portraits

Maybe take a look at the way they handled their brush:

the direction and the brush marks the way they laid down paint

all aiding in trying to rebuild the missing content

Again, in this case we don't know who the artist was. So that's not possible

So I took a look at my library and

a look at mid 19th century portrait painting to get an idea of how

How portraits are painted. What was on trend? What was the style?

In this case, it wasn't very helpful because every face is idiosyncratic

That technique is really more applicable to recreating clothing or scenery,

or other objects that were lost

You know, sometimes you can reference another similar portrait. Things were very in style, you know,

maybe a certain type of flower was used a lot or a piece of fruit. So

in this case, I'm really just using the

surrounding painting, particularly the other eye, as a reference point and I will slowly start to build up the paint

putting on layer upon layer just like I did before

This is a little bit more detailed and intricate - a little bit more fun

but it's really no different than the other parts of the painting,

and in some of the comments people have said that the eye isn't quite right for them.

They've said that the shape isn't right,

the color is not right or whatever the case may be and those are all perfectly valid opinions.

Unfortunately, they don't really matter. The only opinion that matters is that of the client.

And if my client feels like the work that I've done is excellent and great and they're happy with it, then that's fantastic

If the client feels like the work is not up to par, or kind of misses the mark for them-

the benefit of using conservation pigments is that I can remove them very easily with a solvent that won't

run the risk of damaging the painting. So if my client says "Well, no, Julian. He had one green eye. This is totally wrong."

I can wipe it off. If I'm in the process of retouching and I come back the next day and

I decide that my color matching was off or

something isn't quite right: I can wipe it off and start again.

It's frustrating for sure, but it's one of the benefits, and sometimes it's necessary.

There are certainly days when

the light isn't quite right, or I'm not focused enough and I come back the next day and I have to start again

and being able to remove this pigment without damaging the painting underneath is a huge benefit one that just can't be had with oil paint.

So again, I'm just slowly building up

the shape of the eye and working from the other eye and

trying to get an idea of what it should look like, what I think it's gonna look like,

and just trying to put the the image back together.

One thing that people always ask me about is color matching and how I can be so good at it

and you know I say "I've been doing this for 20 years and have been making art and handling art for long before that"

So there's a lot of practice in it and there's nothing like practice to make you better at something.

But I will often relate what I heard about the way a dog sniffs things, the way the dog smells the world.

If you give a dog a chocolate-chip cookie, the dog will simultaneously

smell the cookie as a whole and also the sum of the parts.

That is, the dog will smell the chocolate-chip cookie

and the dog will smell

the chocolate chips, the flour, the butter, the baking soda, even the salt and so when I see a color,

I see the

kind of cream-orange color that I just applied

but I also see the titanium white, the alizarin crimson, the-

cadmium yellow that needs to be mixed in. So, I'm able to see the color as

the final product and the process of getting there.

So it's like seeing the destination and the journey at the same time. Now a minute ago

you saw me wipe something on the surface of a painting and that was a

cotton ball saturated with an odourless mineral spirits.

And the reason that I do that is much like the reason that an oil painter would oil out

the surface of a painting prior to applying another layer of paint. The Maimeri pigments-

one of the downfalls is that they dry matte very quickly and the painting will not be matte. It will be varnished,

and so, the appearance of the paints, the Maimeri pigments, when they're matte is different than when they are varnished and

of course, I want to match the colors

as the painting is going to look like when it's varnished. So to simulate the application of varnish

I can wipe on a little bit of mineral spirits and it kind of saturates those Maimeri pigments.

it saturates the colors of the original oil paint and it allows me to see what the painting will look like when that varnish is

applied so that my color matching will be accurate.

Other people would recommend using oil because it doesn't evaporate as quickly but oil is not a good thing for me to be using

on this painting. It will oxidize and it will darken and it will then betray all the hard work that I've done thus far.

So something like the eyebrow,

there's a lot of color that goes into it and a lot of that color might even get completely covered up

but there's no shortcuts. You just have to work your way through it and slowly build up

the color to what you want. If you just try to jump to the end

it's gonna look very flat. And so you have to kind of add layer upon layer and earn your way to the destination,

as opposed to trying to just cut in line or cheat your way.

So here- another perspective of the palette I'm using- let's see,

I have: one two, three, four, five six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven pigments on the palette, and I think I'm only using

maybe eight or seven of them.

You know, you don't need a big palette of dozens upon dozens of colors. You just need to know how to mix color

So keep a limited palette if you're an artist and don't, don't go out and buy fifteen different versions of flesh color

just learn how to mix the flesh color. You'll be better off for it.

Here again I'm just trying to

work that color, make sure that the pigment that I add is appropriate and you'll see that I-

mix a little bit of color, I apply it

mix a little bit more color, apply it and

one of the benefits of that is that each time I go to mix a color

It's slightly different than the color I mix before and you may think that that would be frustrating or a problem

but that's actually good because if I mixed one big vat of color and just applied it to the area on the forehead where the

damage was it would be very flat. So all of those subtle variations give depth to the retouching.

And finally coming to the sideburn, again,

I was lucky to have the other sideburn to reference.

But this was a really fun part of the retouching process because, while the majority of the face the brushwork is pretty innocuous

and not very defined, this was an area where the brushwork

would really make it or break it. So I got to play around with how I was applying the pigment, the

orientation of the brushwork, the width the brush hit the canvas and just be a little bit more creative in simulating

the sideburn texture and hair and

that just about wraps it up for the retouching on the face.

And here we will come to the final

painting with the retouching completed and the varnish applied.

I think it turned out great and I'm excited to give it back to my client.

I do have a full one-hour real-time video of this process. If you're curious what that looks like

or maybe you have insomnia

and you need something to put you to sleep.

Anyhow, thanks for watching. I hope you enjoyed.

The Description of Fine Art Conservation - The Retouching Process Narrated