Sunday, January 22, 2012

Varnish and Synthetic Brush Update

Restoration is a highly competitive field with most professionals often playing their cards close to their chests.  As an art handler during the day I semi regularly find myself meeting with the company's conservator, which are very opportune times to try to rope in some advice on techniques and materials.  Knowing that I am an artist myself the conservator often provides me with helpful tips regarding making my work archival and fit for conservation.  I feel he is relatively open with me because I obviously pose no threat to his business, knowing that even if he divulged all of his techniques to me, I would at no point be able to execute them with any competitive skill or patience.  The mere fact that I even consider any level of potential competition as an issue between us really just speaks to my own paranoia more so than the reality of our business relationship.  So when I last spoke with him I felt it was an opportune time to get some advice on varnishing my current over-sized work in progress.

Finishing the Grantsville painting is nowhere in sight, but the prospect of varnishing on that scale is making me increasingly nervous.  Though it may not be the highest quality, I can apply Kamar spray varnish without potentially dealing with unwanted brush strokes.  It goes on thin and even.  And as long as I don't hold the can too far away* I can apply an archival and dramatic finishing layer to my painting.  The only downside with Kamar is that the fumes can be overwhelming.  Even though I have a fan and air vent directly above my studio I couldn't imagine breathing safely in a space where I just applied 24 square feet of varnish.

Knowing that I still would prefer to not brush-apply an alternative, such as Soluvar, I asked him if the spray varnish could be applied in parts without showing lines in the surface.  Apparently, this is an option as long as you follow the line work on the painting.

For Example:

Instead of applying the varnish in one step like this:

I would apply it in two steps like this:

In this case the white arrows symbolize the first applied layer.  The gray  symbolize  the second  layer, applied after the first had completely dried.

This is something I would most certainly try on a small, test canvas first.  And though this is one of the primary benefits of a spray varnish, he had no solution to offer for its primary problem, its uncanny ability to collect dust while drying.

"Don't worry about the dust.  It will happen regardless."

Oddly, knowing that I can't avoid it due to my lack of a large dust free environment, that statement was reassuring enough for me.  As for varnishing in steps go, it is tempting, but I will probably just hit up the studio at some ungodly morning hour (5:00am?), put on a mask, varnish the whole damn thing, and leave the fan on.

*This is what caused my last painting to blur.  The Kamar was drying into tiny beads before hitting the surface, building the crystalized layer that inevitably blurred the image.  The restorer advised me that it can be fixed by using a spray bottle to apply mineral spirits to the surface and then lightly brushing it into a thin, even coat. But given how thin my layers of paint are I don't think I could ever try this without extensively testing it first.  He also recommended using a soft, dense straight edge synthetic brush as opposed to my normally preferred natural fiber alternative.  I told him how my synthetic brushes always fray due to the mineral spirits and leave tiny bristle fragments on the painting.  He assured me that that was due to them being cheaply made (though the price begged to differ).  He then showed me an angled straight edge brush he uses.  The bristles most certainly differed from the ones in my arsenal.  Unfortunately the label had worn off.  All I know is that it was German made and had light, warm brown bristles.  Damn.

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