Flexible fills: A technique for imitating Asian lacquer

Ellen Promise, Jessica Chloros, and Holly Salmon


Compensating for loss on an Asian lacquer object is a challenging task. To achieve an unobtrusive fill, the gloss, color, decoration, and surface condition must be matched while accounting for surface sensitivity and considering reversibility. To create lacquer fills, conservators have used a wide variety of materials and techniques, ranging from Japanese paper to bulked adhesive to Urushi itself. Each method has advantages and disadvantages and must be targeted to the needs of the object and the treatment goals. This article outlines another approach, which the authors have employed successfully, utilizing fills cast from bulked acrylic emulsion paint.

Fluid acrylic emulsion paints are mixed to the appropriate color with added acrylic matte gel, creating a paste-like consistency. This mixture is spread on a sheet of silicone-release Mylar to a thickness approximating the depth of the loss being targeted. When the cast fill is dry, it is peeled off the Mylar, revealing a glossy surface. The fill can be refined, with some success, by sanding on the underside. A tracing of the loss is then made and placed over the cast acrylic film to cut out the fill with a sharp scalpel. The fill can then be adhered in place with a reversible adhesive.

This method can be used to match the color and gloss of a lacquer surface as well as the surface condition in cases where the lacquer has not taken on a craquelure pattern. Matching decorative elements requires additional experimentation. Some success has been achieved by reverse-painting the desired presentation surface on the Mylar for the first layer. Overall, this fill method was found to be effective and efficient and to present little risk to the lacquer object. With some customization, it could be employed for loss compensation on a variety of lacquer objects.

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2015 | Miami | Volume 22