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DEALING WITH WET CONTEMPORARY PAINTINGS: TIPS FOR ARTISTS—INTRODUCTION

Dealing with Wet Contemporary Paintings: Tips for Artists—Introduction

The following tips are suggestions from conservators, but please realize that every painting and circumstance is different, and that these are general guidelines. A conservator may choose very different treatment options from those presented below upon seeing the painting’s condition. On the whole, conservators have less experience treating art that has been damaged by salt or brackish water as opposed to fresh, and we are still sorting out the differences ourselves.

If time and resources allow, you are always better off consulting with a conservator rather than trying to treat a painting yourself. Of course the volume of damaged work caused by Hurricane Sandy will require prompt, proper, and mindful action by non-professionals in order to minimize damage even in extreme circumstances.

Remember to stay calm and mindful during recovery. Rushing and being anxious will only make things more difficult and lead to mistakes. Recovery is very challenging and the process will be more successful when approached with calm and patience.

Be sure to document everything—absolutely everything. Photos, dictated and written notes, and videos will all be crucial in the aftermath. These are necessary for insurance claims, future allocation of resources, and even documenting the full scope of the disaster.

Also, don’t throw anything away yet. Very rarely is something a total loss. Often we hear of entirely salvageable works having been discarded in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

Subsequent blog posts cover:

Health and safety

Mold and paintings

Frames

Wet paintings: structural issues

Water damage to paintings

Please submit any questions as comments to this blog post and we will respond as quickly as possible.

Comments

Masonite panel needs to be re-glued to a floating frame. The oil painting is fine. What type of glue do you suggest, I heard PVA glue was good.
The painting measures 12″ by 24″.
Thank you.

Assuming that this is flood damage, make sure the Masonite is completely dry before re-gluing.

When you say floating frame, I’m not sure if you mean a frame with an L profile; the sides project forward surrounding the painting and the base of the L is glued to the reverse of the painting? Or, are you just referring to a frame work that attaches just to the reverse of the panel.

PVA emulsion is a good choice for the adhesive.

If the painting is wet, your first, best choice is to consult a conservator. If you wish to proceed, we want to dry the painting slowly while keeping the painting from warping. Only if the wet painting’s surface can tollerate being placed face down (minimal impasto, no lifting paint, not sticky, and you are willing to risk this on your own), I would recommend the following. Remove any debris from the surface. Prepare an absorbant surface (blotter, unprinted newsprint, etc.), place a piece of non-woven, breathable, plastic barrier layer (Hollytex, thin Pellon, Remay, etc.) on the paper. Finally, place a sheet of glassine down. Place the painting face down on the prepared surface. More absorbant material on the reverse, and finally, a board of some type. Weight the whole package down – stacks of books are good. Periodically change the absorbant material on the reverse until the painting is dry.

If you find that the glassine has stuck to the surface of the painting leave it in place. Do not try to pull it off. The glassine should be removed by a conservator, although there is no pressing rush to have it removed immediately.

When dry, you can reattach it to the support. If there is glue residue on the reverse of the painting and the floating frame, see if you can figue out which orientation they were originally glued. This way the bumps on the painting will match the depressions on the frame and you will have a closer glue join. If the floating frame can be attache with the painting face down as it was dried, just apply a very think layer of PVA to the original glue line on the frame and reverse of the painting with a brush, place the frame in position and weight the frame. Also, place some weight on the center of the painting to keep it from bowing.

If the floating frame projects above the surface of the painting you will have to work with the painting face up. Find some blocks the same thickness of the frame elements on the reverse. Place the frame face up and distribute the blocks to support the painting. Apply the PVA to the inner edge of the frame and reverse of the painting as above, place the painting into the frame. Place a fresh sheet of glassine on the surface followed by the breathable plastic material on top of the glassine, and add padding as necessary. place weight along the edges and make sure that the weight is not bowing the panel. If it is, readjust the blocks on the reverse to prevent the warping.

We think that covers everything. Please remember that these are just suggestions. Not having examined the painting we can’t assure you that this is the best course of action. There is inherent risk any time a painting’s surface is put in contact with anything, so please be aware that should you follow the advice given above, you are doing so at your own risk.

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