42nd Annual Meeting – Paintings Specialty Group Tips Session, May 29

The PSG tips session at the 42nd annual meeting took place prior to the afternoon session on Thursday, May 29th.  The following recaps the twelve tips that were presented.  I’ve done my best to give you the most complete information possible, but please feel free to contact each tipper for more information or for clarifications.  You can also always enter your questions into the comment section below!
Tip 1:  “Texas Strappo” varnish removal, presented by Helen Houp
Helen began with a case study of a damaged painting with a thick varnish that needed to be removed.  The thickness of the varnish combined with the severity of the damage to the painting precluded the use of traditional methods of varnish removal.  A search for treatment alternatives led to the use of pressure sensitive tape for varnish removal.  The tape was applied to the top layer of varnish and then pulled away gently to remove a thin layer of material without risking the paint underneath.  It was also possible to use the tape to remove overpaint.  The method allowed for a controlled removal of the varnish and overpaint in layers without leaving behind significant residues.  I was unable to determine the type of tape that was used, but I’m sure Helen would be willing to provide details to those who may be interested.
Tip 2:  Reverse of Paintings Database, presented by Elise Effmann Clifford
Elise previewed a database for “Information on the Reverse of Paintings” that she has been developing in cooperation with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which will host the final site.  The goal for the completed database is to provide a searchable and expandable archive of shared information specific to the reverse of paintings with international access and contributions.  In the interest of security and permissions, a login will be required and it will be possible to make entries available to the general public or adjust privacy settings to limit viewing.  Members will be able to upload images with file size allowances up to 30MB.  Transcriptions and key terms will allow searches for details like canvas stamps, stencils, labels, and seals.  The project is destined for beta testing beginning some time in July 0f 2014.  People interested in taking part in the testing or submitting future contributions should email Elise.
The presentation of the database was followed by a brief question and answer period.
Q:  Will any of the information contained in the database be found through a general internet search?
A:  That will depend on the privacy settings.  There will also be terms and condition sections on the site as well.
Q:  Will uploaded images become property of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco once they are uploaded?
A:  No.
Q:  Will the database accept video?  What kind of images are accepted?
A:  It will not take video.  Right now it cannot take RAW images but will handle things like jpg, tif, etc.
Tip 3:  Filling cracks at the edges of canvas, presented by Kristin Robinson
Fine cracks along the turnover edges of a canvas can be very difficult and tedious to fill.  Kristen suggested using dried modostuc, which can be held in the fingers and gently rubbed over the cracks to fill them quickly and safely.  The dried material leaves very little residue and what remains can be gently wiped way.
Tip 4:  Edge lining iron support, presented by Kristin Robinson
Kristin followed her first tip with a suggestion for edge-lining.  A backing board or mat board can be folded into thirds to form a triangle, which can act as a rigid support for the iron to press against when applying an edge lining on folded margins.
Tip 5:  IMAT developments, presented by Nina Olsson
This tip focused on recent advancements of the IMAT project, which is the natural progression of an earlier project Nina introduced to the Paintings Specialty Group in a talk presented at AIC’s 38th annual meeting in Milwaukee.  IMAT refers to “Intelligent Mobile Accurate Thermoelectrical” mild heating devices.  The aim of the project is to provide conservators with a controlled and mobile tool for the structural treatment of materials.  It is worth noting that Nina is a paintings conservator but the IMAT was developed with a broad audience in mind, including but not limited to conservators of works on paper and textiles.  The details of the IMAT project are significant and advanced so this is merely a summary of what was presented at this tips session.  Links to more detailed information about the IMAT are included at the end of this summary.
The current IMAT team has developed working prototypes that should be ready for production within a few years.  The current focus is on low temperature applications that can be sustained for many hours at a time with a low voltage requirements (I wrote 70-150 degrees Fahrenheit and 36 volts, though these should be confirmed through additional resources).    The carbon nanotube heat source is galvanically insulated and has a thermosensor connected through bluetooth technology with a touch screen control for heating over time within a 0.5 degree Celcius fluctuation.  The mats will be flexible and come in various sizes, though any customizable size will be possible.
There are 3 IMAT forms at present.  The first is a standard mat that is opaque and does not offer any breathability.  The second is a black mesh mat with a gray polyurethane coating and thin silicone coating.  The third, which is still in development, is a transparent mat with silver nanotube technology.  A fourth incarnation–a textile-type mat of silk organza with silver nanowire–is next in line.
All questions regarding the history and current developments of the IMAT project can be directed to Nina Olsson.  Additional information can also be found via the following links:
PSG 2010 Postprints
H. Meyer, K. Saborowski, T. Markevicius, N. Olsson, R. Furferi, M. Carfagni. “Carbon Nanotubes in Art Conservation.” International Journal of Conservation Science. 4 (2013): 633-646.
Tip 6:  PSG Wiki, presented by Gabriel Dunn and Erin Stephenson

In May of 2013 a core team of paintings conservators formed the Paintings Specialty Group Wiki Committee under the guidance of Chief Wiki Editor Erica James.  The group worked to bring organization to the PSG wiki page.  Gabriel and Erin presented the improvements that were made to the page and announced that the group is seeking contributions.  They encouraged the PSG membership to visit the site and consider submitting material or reaching out to be paired with a liaison who can submit material on their behalf.  Any questions or concerns about the PSG wiki can be directed to Erica James or any member of the current Wiki Committee listed on the main PSG wiki page.
Tip 7:  Fume extraction, presented by Robert Proctor
Rob presented a design for a fome-cor “cabinet” that he built to enclose a painting during varnishing.  The structure can fit around a painting to contain fumes, and hoses attached to the structure will remove the fumes before they escape into the studio space.
Another fume extraction tip involved the wheels on portable fume extractors.  Rob mentioned that the ones sold with the portable extractors are expensive and mark floors.  He suggested making a mobile base using wheels purchased at a home improvement store that will not mark the floors.  As a side note, he added that it is not necessary to purchase the proprietary prefilters for the portable units because those used for home air conditioning units work just as well.
I’m certain Rob would be happy to provide details for anyone who wants more information on his designs!
Tip 8:  Building your own microscope, presented by Ria German-Carter
Microscopes are expensive and can be an especially significant cost for conservators in private practice.  When faced with the task of acquiring a new microscope, Ria decided to put together her own.  She was able to find some good quality used components on eBay and save on additional parts by purchasing through amscope.com.  She built an inspection microscope with the following specifications for under $1000:

  • 8 inch working distance
  • articulated arm
  • different camera mounting tubes
  • LED lighting
  • fiberoptics

Unfortunately, I missed the specification regarding the microscope’s magnification.  Please contact Ria if you would like more details!
Tip 9:  Laser line for cutting batting and what to do with the scraps, presented by Chris Stavroudis
Chris gave a simple but effective tip to assist in cutting a straight line in batting material.  He placed the line across the batting and was able to cut a smooth line without needing the assitance of a physical straight edge.  He suggested using scraps of batting for cleaning dishes, lab tools, or as a less abrasive material for surface cleaning.
Tip 10:  More fume extraction, presented by….
I apologize to this tipster for missing their identity!  Please comment below if this is your tip.  It described the use of a dryer tube/trunk for fume extraction rather than buying a specialized trunk.  White mesh can be put ver the tube to make it less like a dryer tube and a PVC cap can be added to the end for finish and for weight.  An angled piece, such as those used for water heater tubes, can be used to create a swivel at the end of the tube.
Tip 11:  Proper ventilation, presented by Daisy Craddock
This wasn’t a traditional tip, but is still important information.  Daisy pointed out that exhaust systems, such as elephant trunks, need to exhaust to the outside of a studio because they don’t remove all vapors and may produce precipitants.  She also reminded us that microemulsions do not get extracted at all.
Tip 12:  Storage rack solutions, presented by Kate Smith for Gordon Lewis
Gordon was not in attendance at the tips session so Kate presented his images of a storage system that involved the use of foam board.  It appeared that the foam was used as an inexpensive alternative material to create slots in his storage racks.  Gordon may be able to provide more details about his tip if interested people wish to contact him.
Thanks for the tips, everyone!