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May 18

Fire Damaged Art Photo Gallery

Posted on Monday, May 18, 2009 in Uncategorized

Apr 20

Conservation And The Antiquities Trade

Posted on Monday, April 20, 2009 in Uncategorized

Journal of the American Institute for Conservation Volume 36.1 (Spring 1997)

“Conservation And The Antiquities Trade”


ABSTRACT—Experience as an expert witness in a case involving some looted Byzantine mosaics from Cyprus led the author to examine the role of conservation in the antiquities trade. To understand the significance of looting, the author discusses the concept of archaeological context and how looting robs artifacts of their context, thus severely compromising their scientific value. Conservators may, through treatment and analysis of artifacts on the market, unwittingly contribute to that loss of information. The author presents some of the complex ethical issues involved in the treatment of archaeological material, including the proper understanding of the consequences of those treatments, in the hopes that the topic will be opened up for discussion.


The small church of the Panagia Kanakariá is located in the village of Lythrankomi, part way along the Karpas peninsula of northeastern Cyprus that points toward the mainland of Turkey. Although small and seemingly insignificant, this church contained some of the most important examples of Byzantine art from the sixth century (Michaelides 1989). Sometime after the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, but before 1976, significant portions of the mosaics were stripped from the walls of the church and removed from the island. Their whereabouts were unknown until four fragments surfaced in the hands of an Indianapolis art dealer in 1989. Legal proceedings were undertaken jointly by the Cypriot government and the Autocephalous Church of Cyprus to have them returned. In 1990, Danaë Thimme and the author were called in by the prosecution as expert witnesses to examine the fragments with a view to testifying in a suit for damages. The four fragments depict the heads of the North Archangel and the upper half of the figure of Christ from the apse and the heads of the Apostles James and Matthew from the arch in front of the apse. Dating to the mid-sixth century and surviving unscathed the Iconoclastic period of the eighth century, these mosaics are considered among the finest examples of Byzantine art. Demonstrating a high level of workmanship and preserving unique iconographic features, these fragments can be compared with counterparts in Ravenna, Thessaloniki, and Sinai (Megaw and Hawkins 1977:61–145). Our task was to establish the overall condition of the fragments and see if it was possible to determine a chronological sequence of damage. We found that the damage could be divided into five discrete phases. However, only the three that are relevant to the topic of this paper will be discussed here:

  1. The inexpert facing and hurried removal of the mosaics from the church. Each fragment was part of a larger composition that was roughly cut up; the figure of Christ suffered the most since it was cut in two and the halves disposed of separately.
  2. The removal of the facings. There was every indication that the facings were ripped off the fragments without the use of a solvent. As a result, many tesserae were loosened, and the surfaces of others, already riddled with minute cracks, were sheared off.
  3. Restoration. Cracks were realigned and filled, and the surface of each fragment was brought into a level plane by raising or lowering the tesserae with no consideration given to the fact that the fragments had come from a curved surface. The flattening, achieved by removing existing plaster or by adding fill material, altered the placement of tesserae, effecting subtle changes in expression in the composition as a whole, most noticeable in the faces of the figures. By altering the original setting of the tesserae, the subtle movement of the figures carefully effected by the mosaicist through the reflection of light off the surfaces of the tesserae was also destroyed. From a technical point of view, this treatment obliterated what remained of the red sinopia, or underdrawing.

In addition, irreversible materials were used throughout, and no documentation was made. Each fragment was encased in a thick layer of plaster of Paris with no separating layer between it and the original plaster. The original plaster was not consolidated prior to encasement in the rigid surround and remains friable and unstable. Each fragment, mounted precariously with screws to flat squares of Masonite, was meant to be hung on the wall. A more detailed discussion and illustrations of the condition of the mosaic fragments can be found in Sease and Thimme (1995) and some of the legal aspects of the case can be found in Gerstenblith (1995). The court decided in favor of the plaintiff, and the decision was upheld by the U. S. Court of Appeals. A decision was then made not to pursue the damages portion of the suit, and in the summer of 1992 the fragments made the long trip back to Cyprus. Although the fragments are back home, they are greatly diminished and, because of flattening and fragility, can never go back to their original positions in the church, assuming that the political situation there might one day make their reinstallation possible. These antiquities are by no means the first or the last to suffer such a fate. Since the 1960s, the antiquities market has been escalating at an alarming rate to become a billion-dollar-a-year business involving archaeological artifacts and works of art from all over the world. As the market grows it creates an ever-increasing demand for antiquities, which, in turn, leads inexorably to the looting of archaeological sites. This insatiable demand has been responsible for the partial, sometimes complete, destruction of untold numbers of sites. This fact is all the more unfortunate because many of these sites disappeared without their presence ever having been known to the scholarly community, a situation not unlike the extinction of many plant and animal species. A recent estimate is that “80 percent of all antiquities that come on to the market have been illegally excavated and smuggled” (Norman 1990). The consequences of looting are extremely serious, not only from a scientific point of view but also from a humanitarian perspective. Our archaeological heritage is finite, and once it is lost, it is gone forever. In essence, the looting of sites wipes out our record of past peoples and their ways of life. Meyer equates the looting of archaeological sites with the burning of the famous ancient library in Alexandria by the Romans, “the catastrophic bonfire in which much of the wisdom of antiquity was consumed in flames” (Meyer 1973, 12). Since involvement with the mosaics case, the author has given much thought to the role of archaeological conservation in the antiquities trade. The purpose of this paper is to share some of these thoughts and open the topic for discussion. First, it is necessary to discuss the concept of archaeological context for an understanding of how essential it is to comprehending the significance of the devastation caused by looting.


The predominant concern of archaeologists is the preservation and explanation of the archaeological record, of which artifacts form only a part. Excavation is not undertaken solely to recover objects but rather is dedicated to the reconstruction of the past. This process is achieved through the careful, systematic excavation of all the material remains from a site regardless of size, type, quality, and quantity, followed by the analysis, interpretation, and publication of this material. With modern excavation techniques, painstaking excavation not only uncovers the artifacts themselves but also reveals their associations to each other and to the site. The recovery of much of the unique information embodied in an artifact depends on many associations, including the stratigraphic layers in which the artifact was found, its position in the ground, its relationship to other artifacts, and traces of material found with it. This information, meticulously recorded in field photographs and notebooks, is all-important as it provides the contextual record for the artifacts. Since archaeological excavation is by nature a destructive process, documentation plays a crucial role in excavation. Like conservation work, all stages must be carefully and accurately documented with written records, drawings, and photographs. Once excavation has taken place, the context of an artifact is preserved only in these documents. Context is extremely important to the archaeologist; it is, in fact, what the discipline of archaeology is based on. It gives artifacts their legal authenticity and archaeological significance (Ford 1977, 14). The more that is known about the material associated with artifacts, the more that can be concluded not only about their function within a past society, including how and why they were made and used, but about broader issues, such as ancient economy, trade, or religion. When artifacts are pulled out of the ground without proper excavation and documentation, their context is irretrievably lost without ever being known. Unlike archaeologists, looters are not interested in the context of artifacts, nor are they concerned with all artifacts from a site. They are interested only in those few, such as intact vessels, sculptures, and textiles, for which a market exists or can be created. All other material is ruthlessly broken and tossed aside, and in the process the site itself may very well be destroyed. Cannon-Brookes (1994, 350) refers to looted artifacts as being “cultural orphans, which, torn from their contexts, remain forever dumb and virtually useless for scholarly purposes.” Some archaeologists estimate that looted artifacts have lost 95% of their value to tell us what was going on in the past (Monastersky 1990, 393). Thus, the looting of sites means the complete loss of information, the loss of knowledge that can never be recovered, even if one has some or all of the artifacts from the site. One must realize that “mere appreciation of visual attractiveness, and the aesthetic pleasures to be derived from high-profile objects, must not be confused with knowledge or depth of understanding of them” (Cannon-Brookes 1994, 350). One needs to understand that, from an intellectual point of view, artifacts bought from a dealer’s shop are not just as valuable as those retrieved through excavation. As Howard Carter, the excavator of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt, stated:

Field-work is all-important, and it is a sure and certain fact that if every excavation had been properly, systematically, and conscientiously carried out, our knowledge of Egyptian archaeology would be at least 50 per cent greater than it is. There are numberless derelict objects in the storerooms of our museums which would give us valuable information could they but tell us whence they came (Carter and Mace 1923, 125).

Thus, artifacts are only of scientific value when their context is known. In the words of the noted American archaeologist W. W. Taylor (1948, 154), “It is not what you find, but how you find it” that is the guiding precept for archaeology. It is no mere accident that archaeological sites are the targets of those involved in the illicit trafficking of artifacts. As many sites are located in remote areas, the risk of capture is relatively slight. More important, however, is the undeniable fact that artifacts that have not been documented, photographed, or cataloged are impossible to trace and can, therefore, be traded on the international market with impunity (Platthy 1993, 45)



Looting is not the only way in which antiquities come onto the market. The high prices paid for antiquities have created an insatiable demand that cannot always be met by looting and clandestine excavations. When the looted supply cannot meet demand, theft provides relatively easy access to large numbers of antiquities. It is a sad fact that conditions throughout the world provide art and archaeological thieves with relatively easy access to public collections. War is perhaps the most obvious of these conditions and has taken a heavy toll on archaeological sites, as opportunists are most likely to be found where there is disorder. The hemorrhaging of large numbers of antiquities from wartorn countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait are only the latest in a long line of similar situations throughout human history. It is sobering to think that 50 years after the end of World War II, the fate of many important archaeological collections still remains unknown. The celebrated collection of antiquities found at Troy in Turkey by Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s is a case in point. Only recently have the whereabouts of this collection been ascertained. It is a sad fact that museum security measures in many of the antiquity and art “producing” countries are simply inadequate to deter or stop such activities. In addition, relatively unsophisticated, ignorant local inhabitants, particularly in rural areas, fall easy prey to more sophisticated, unscrupulous individuals from urban areas or art “consuming” countries. This situation is aided by deteriorating living conditions caused by severe periods of drought, earthquakes, or other natural disasters. How can a subsistence farmer, for example, turn down an amount of money that would keep his family in food and clothing for a year, especially when it is in exchange for a seemingly common, insignificant commodity, such as pots or figurines? While Italy heads the list of countries losing the greatest number of antiquities to looters, other Mediterranean countries, including Turkey, Greece, Egypt, and Lebanon, are not far behind (Platthy 1993). Within the past decade, numerous museums in Africa alone have been robbed of substantial numbers of their archaeological heritage (ICOM 1994). Unfortunately, the situation is no better in Central and South American countries (Pendergast 1991). Theft, like looting, robs antiquities of their context. The origins of the antiquity must be obscured to prevent discovery of how it was obtained. Unless an antiquity has been carefully documented (and perhaps published) before its theft, it is virtually impossible to reconstruct where it came from, especially if it has been cleaned and altered by conservation treatment.


The Kanakariá mosaics case illustrates the dilemma the antiquities trade presents to the archaeological conservator. When presented with an artifact for treatment, should a conservator treat it knowing that by so doing she or he is enhancing the artifact’s value and thereby directly abetting the market, while indirectly contributing to the looting of sites? Such action could be rationalized by saying that at least the work would be done according to accepted conservation practice, be fully documented, and become part of the public record—none of which can be said for the Cypriot mosaic fragments. In effect, one is saying the context is already lost, but at least the object, which is surely worth something, can be saved. While most of the information embodied in it has been lost, it can at least tell us something about the past. Or should the conservator take an ethical stand, refusing to have anything to do with the artifact, least of all its treatment? The rationale for this approach is that any work undertaken, no matter how small or insignificant, condones the antiquities trade. Furthermore, it recognizes that any conservation work will more than likely significantly enhance not only the artifact but its market value as well. Conservation work can also serve to authenticate artifacts, which will add to their market value. In taking this stance, however, the conservator knows full well that the owner will find someone else to do the work, with the possibility that the artifact will not receive an appropriate treatmentor that the treatment will not be properly documented and made available to the public.


It should be pointed out that for the purposes of this discussion the term “treatment” is used in its broadest sense, to encompass all activities or work that a conservator may undertake on an artifact. Thus it includes not only active treatment, such as cleaning, desalination, consolidation, and restoration but also technical studies and authentication. Any work undertaken by a conservator can alter an artifact in ways that can have serious implications for the antiquities trade. Elia (1995, 249) refers to conservation work as being “the final stage in the laundering process which transforms looted antiquities into art commodities: objects go in dirty, corroded, and broken, and come out clean, shiny, and whole.” In this way, conservation work can clearly enhance the value of an artifact. Even the simplest of conservation techniques, such as mechanical cleaning, can easily alter its appearance. Although they may be unsightly, dirt and other accretions can contain important scientific evidence, such as how an artifact was made or used. They can also contain vital information for identifying or proving or disproving its provenance (Monastersky 1990; O’Keefe 1995). Thus cleaning—the removal of this evidence— can aid the market by making artifacts virtually untraceable. More complicated conservation procedures, such as chemical cleaning, repatination, and restoration, can so totally change an artifact in appearance, structure, and composition as to make its identification impossible. This is not to suggest that conservators are necessarily willfully trying to alter or obfuscate the archaeological record when treating unprovenanced material. While most would be appalled to think that their work might contribute in any way to the wanton destruction of sites, they simply may not understand or think through the repercussions of their actions. Nonetheless, the fact remains that they are contributing to the illicit trade of antiquities, albeit inadvertently, and the net result is the same; the damage has been done and cannot be reversed. Authentication and technical studies can present particularly sticky situations. In many instances, scientific and technical studies have come to be regarded by many as valid substitutes for established provenance. The Djenné terracotta figurines from the Niger Delta of Mali provide an excellent example. Over the past 20 years, vast numbers of figurines have been illicitly excavated and exported. The more that have come onto the market, the greater the demand for them has become. As supply failed to meet demand, forgeries appeared. To distinguish fakes from authentic objects, the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford University undertook thermoluminescence dating on figurines on a no-questions-asked basis. As part of this service, the laboratory provided certificates of authenticity for figurines that passed the tests. As expected, these certificates had a significant effect on the market price of figurines. In 1988, figurines without certificates at Christie’s had an average presale estimate of £175. The previous year at Sotheby’s, however, similar figurines with certificates had estimates averaging £1,200 (Chippindale 1991). The value of these certificates to looters is patently obvious, as testing can vindicate months of extreme risk and in so doing vastly increase the profits of looting. Age, like other attributes, has become a valuable commodity. As archaeologists and art historians receive much of their scientific and technical information and analysis from conservators, conservation reports, especially those involving technical analysis, could also come to be regarded as substitutes for an established provenance, “cloaking the shady practices of the antiquities trade in a mantle of academic and scientific legitimacy” (Elia 1995, 245). It is easy to see how such reports and test results could allay any doubts of authenticity. In addition, the very fact that an artifact was treated by a conservator could be taken as an indication of authenticity by someone, for why would anyone go to the trouble and expense of having a fake conserved?


What is the responsibility of the conservator? Is it to the individual artifact in question, or is it to material as yet unplundered? Unfortunately, the codes of ethics of the various national and international conservation groups do not specifically address this issue (Tubb and Sease 1996), leaving it up to the individual conservator to decide. By undertaking the treatment of an antiquity to ensure that such treatment will be performed following accepted conservation practice, a conservator could be seen to be acting professionally and ethically. Our training has conditioned us to regard the safety and integrity of the artifact, object, or painting to be of paramount importance. For example, according to the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material’s Code of Ethics (1986, 4), “All actions of the conservator must be governed by an unswerving respect for the physical, historic and aesthetic integrity of the object.” While the AIC (1994), IIC-CG (1989, 5), and UKIC (1995, 1) have substituted the term “cultural property” for “object” in their codes of ethics, it is clear that the intent remains the same. Like physicians, most conservators find the idea of turning away a patient, especially one in dire need, not only difficult to accept but difficult to do. We have set ourselves up as being advocates for objects and have a tendency to think in terms of “this object needs me.” Looked at in this light, to treat the object would appear to be the moral way to proceed. No matter how moral this attitude might seem, however, it does have potentially serious legal implications that, while not directly relevant to this discussion, must at least be acknowledged. By treating a looted artifact, the conservator could legally be considered an accessory and, therefore, be prosecutable. Archaeologists are presented with a similar dilemma when faced with publishing looted, or unprovenanced, material. In the archaeological community, this issue has been and continues to be the focus of considerable ongoing debate. Many archaeologists feel that because of the manner of its recovery, the publication of looted material is unethical and, therefore, does not serve the needs of archaeology. Others have put forward persuasive arguments in favor of publishing such material. They feel not only that it can be done ethically but that it must be done to get the material into the archaeological record. Interested in all objects no matter how they have come from the earth, these individuals feel that if qualified scholars do not examine looted artifacts they will be lost forever to science, most likely disappearing into private collections. Oscar Muscarella, an archaeologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, argues that by the very nature of archaeological inquiry, which encompasses in theory a regard for the totality of the available data, exclusion of individual or classes of objects is not possible. To choose to exclude from examination those objects that legitimately disturb us because of the process by which they come to our attention would signify incompleteness of the data, and consequently incompleteness of cultural conclusions (Muscarella 1984, 64). Using a similar argument, a conservator could decide in favor of treatment on the logic that if the artifact is not treated and consequently disintegrates through the devastating action of soluble salts—or if it is irretrievably damaged through improper treatment, as with the Cypriot mosaics—the record is similarly lost. This argument in favor of treatment seems analogous to that given by many museums and other institutions when defending the acquisition of material known to be plundered: “If we don’t buy it, someone else will.” Wylie (1995, 18) refers to this rationale as the “salvage principle.” Based on the premise that some data are better than none, this justification has been used repeatedly over time as a defense for looting and stealing (Akinsha et al. 1995). This rationale is really just another way of saying, “If we don’t buy it, a private collector will and the artifact will go out of the public domain.” But does having a looted artifact in the public domain negate the fact that it is plundered or make up for its loss of context? Philip Ravenhill, curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, appears to think so. In defending the purchase of a looted Djenné artifact, he stated, “There is a big difference between public and private collectors. We do not gather this material as a profit-making investment, but to foster understanding of African culture. In museums like ours these items remain available for study and appreciation” (quoted in French 1995). Does the end justify the means, especially when it entails the irretrievable loss of knowledge? Many archaeologists would disagree with this argument, feeling that the salvage principle should never override considerations of how antiquities were acquired. They would argue that “more than legality of export and possession is relevant in judging whether material has been acquired in a manner appropriate for research purposes” (Wylie 1995, 19). While the argument in favor of treating an artifact can be seen to be consistent with ethical conservation practice, it ignores the larger issues involved. It is hard to overlook the significance of the damage looting does to the archaeological record. The conservator who works on archaeological material must understand how loss of context is equated with loss of knowledge. Just as the conservator is concerned about the integrity of the artifact, so should she or he be equally interested in the integrity of the disciplines of archaeology and archaeological conservation. Certainly, the most compelling argument against treating looted material is recognizing that any conservation treatment it receives will increase its value, rendering it more salable. As prices rise, so do the incentives to bring more artifacts onto the market through looting. While archaeological conservators do not generally think of artifacts in their care in monetary terms, others have no such scruples. Although many collectors are prompted by a sincere appreciation of the artifacts, most of the middle-men are inspired solely by the profit motive. As Sir Thomas Browne, an antiquarian in 17th-century England, sadly noted when examining a looted site, “Where profit hath prompted, no age hath wanted such miners” (Browne 1964, 106). Unfortunately, not much has changed in the intervening 200 years; Meyer (1973, 3) reminds us that “the growth of the antiquities market has outpaced that of almost every other area for risk capital.” It is a sad reflection of our times that archaeological artifacts as well as works of art perform better than most large multinational corporations. What is even more distressing is that in the intervening 24 years, the antiquities and art markets together have burgeoned beyond all comprehension. We cannot fool ourselves into believing for a moment that any single refusal to treat a looted artifact in and of itself will bring about an end to the antiquities trade. The fact remains that for every ethical conservator there will always be someone willing to undertake the treatment. Even membership in AIC or its sister organizations does not necessarily prevent conservators from treating looted artifacts, no matter how high-minded and stringent the codes of ethics of these organizations might be. For any isolated refusal to even begin to be effective, one first must believe that it can have an effect. It must also be part of a larger effort, for only through a concerted effort with other conservators, archaeologists, and art historians can such attitudes affect the trade of antiquities. After all, one has to start somewhere, and small, grass-roots efforts can grow into significant and effective movements. Such efforts, for example, were successful in the case of the Djenné figurines from Mali. In 1991, the Oxford Research Laboratory changed its policy on testing in response to the hue and cry from archaeologists outraged at the destruction of archaeological sites in all of West Africa to satisfy the demands of antiquities dealers for terracotta figurines. The laboratory now will only test figurines recovered from lawful archaeological excavations or those from the collections of recognized museums. It will no longer carry out analysis for private individuals, salesrooms, or commercial galleries (Inskeep 1992, 114). But what about the already-looted object? Is it fair to doom it to destruction so that others might maintain their context? Even if its context is gone, one could argue, it still remains an artifact and as such is worth something, as evidenced, ironically, by the antiquities trade. In response to this argument, one could contend that sometimes the long-term picture justifies taking difficult, short-term measures. In other words, it is better to lose some data than to actively contribute to the wanton destruction of the archaeological record. Archaeology is not solely about the recovery of data but is also concerned with larger issues of preservation and the integrity of the resource base consistent with the concept of stewardship. Just as archaeology is involved with issues beyond any individual artifact or site, archaeological conservators cannot afford to be concerned solely with the individual artifact. In this respect, archaeological conservation has much in common with ecological conservation. The loss of our archaeological and cultural heritage can be likened to the loss of plant and animal species through overpopulation, urban development, and conspicuous consumption. All are nonrenewable resources whose loss will greatly diminish our lives and the lives of those who come after us. It is interesting to note that while we in the Western world agonize over the loss of wildlife, we do little about the loss of our own cultural heritage. As Meyer (1973, xv) states, given the pace and rapacity of looting “we face a future in which there may be no past beyond that which is already known and excavated. Or equally sad, what is left may be so ruinously multilated as to afford only a forlorn fragment of a vanished legacy.”


The antiquities trade poses difficult issues for the conservation profession. A growing awareness of the problems involved has prompted some conservators to call for a re-examination of the conservator’s role in treating unprovenanced archaeological material (Tubb 1995; Jaeschke 1996; Tubb and Sease 1996). While the profession may never reach a consensus on what is right, and indeed it may only be possible to deal with each case on an individual basis, it is important for conservators to think about these issues and discuss them openly. This is only way we can hope to develop meaningful yet realistic standards of practice. As Jaeschke (1996, 84) states, any conservator who works on archaeological material must recognize that “archaeological conservation is a part of archaeology; it is not an adjunct of the art market or an independent process.” And this brings with it certain responsibilities to the archaeological record. If conservators choose to work on archaeological masterial, they must at least do so with a full understanding of the possible effects and repercussions of their actions.


Sease, Cathrine. “Conservation and the Antiques Trade.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 36.1 (Spring 1997) 49-58.

Mar 19

The Glassine Fallacy

Posted on Thursday, March 19, 2009 in Non-Fiction

Art Conservation Services of Sarasota and members of its staff have been practicing for over 35 years in the conservation and restoration of fine art.  We have had several incidences of problems with glassine over the years.  As a result of this, we do not use glassine for wrapping oil paintings or mixed media works of art.  However, we do use it as an interleaf in paper born art.  Let me elaborate.

Oil paintings can take years to cure and stabilize.  The risk of using glassine on an oil painting more than sixty years old is minimal, however one may not know if these paintings may have been recently varnished or varnished improperly, and the surface may still become unpredictable when placed in an extreme environment.  A painting that is only five or ten years old is even more likely to be affected by heat and/or pressure.  These are environmental concerns that often occur during moving, crating, and storage in unairconditioned spaces and are dangerous to paintings even when exposed for a short period of time.  We have had one episode of an entire collection of important and valuable contemporary abstract oil paintings damaged by glassine adhesion while being transported across country in an unairconditioned truck during the summer.

Mixed media paintings are even more vulnerable to heat and pressure than oil paintings.  I have seen paintings executed in a combination of oil and alkaloid resins that have NEVER cured, even after twenty years.  Because these paintings appear dry to the touch when they are hanging in your client’s air conditioned home, a layman would never suspect that in reality these little globs and layers of paint are “plastic,” i.e. movable beneath the surface skin.  This lack of curing is not detectable until the paintings are in a closed and heated space like that of a crate or a truck.  Glassine should NEVER be used on mixed media works of art.

Another medium that is highly sensitive to heat and pressure is encaustic painting, which is wax and oil paint combined in various proportions.  This medium is becoming popular again with contemporary artists and is particularly susceptible to reactivation by heat.  Many people, including the very owners, have no idea of the composition or method of production of their art works, and this is very likely true in the case of your moving contractor.  Glassine should NEVER be used to wrap encaustic art.

Still another category is collage, which can be composed of EVERYTHING and ANYTHING glued or stuck together with ANYTHING sticky.  Combinations of glue, resin, varnish, paint of various kinds, and materials like paper, cloth, glass, metal, plastic, sand, stone, objects etc. create a surface which is not homogeneous and is totally unpredictable under the extreme conditions that one would find during packing, moving, and storage.

It should be emphasized to your representatives and to the industry that moving and storage constitute an extreme environment for art objects of any sort.  They must be viewed in this regard.

The solution to the problem is the use of single sided silicone release paper.  Nothing sticks to silicone-coated polyester.  Even if the surface of a painting becomes sticky, the silicone can be peeled off without pulling the skin of the paint with it.

The problem is in the handling of the silicone that is of course very slippery.  No tape will stick to it.  For this reason, we use single sided silicone Mylar from Talas.  We tack this single sided silicone coated Mylar to construction paper or some other common packaging material with double sided tape, creating a single side silicone coated “blanket” in which we then wrap the art.  It is important however, that if possible, the “blanket” be stretched tautly so that it does not touch the surface of the art.

Sources for single sided silicone and double sided tape are:

DuPont Corporation

Mar 17

Value Definition in An Art Appraisal

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

From Chinese Art

Fair Market Value

The price at which the property would change hands between a willing  buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.

Market Value

The most probable price that a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller each acting prudently and knowledgeably, and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus. Implicit in this definition is the consummation of a sale as of a specific date and the passing of title from seller to buyer.

Replacement Value

Replacement Value is the price it would cost to replace an item with one of similar quality purchased in the most appropriate marketplace within a limited amount of time. Usually, this is the value used for insurance purposes or collecting needs. It is evaluated in essentially three ways: New Replacement Value, when the object is still available; Second-Hand Replacement Value, reflecting the current second hand replacement cost of a similar article of equivalent quality and condition; and Facsimile Value reflecting the cost of recreating a facsimile of the original in reasonably equal material and quality of production.

Liquidation Value

Liquidation value is the price realized in a sale under forced or limiting conditions and under time constraints. The action may be initiated by the owner or crediting institution.

Actual Cash Value

The price be necessary to replace a property with another of similar age, quality, origin, appearance, size, and condition, within a reasonable length of time in an appropriate and relevant market. (This definition encompasses the concept of “as is” or “with or without restoration.”) It is the market value of a property less all forms of depreciation.

Mar 17

Papermaking - Background from Wikipedia

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

Papermaking has traditionally been traced to China about 105 AD, when Cai Lun, an official attached to the Imperial court during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), created a sheet of paper using mulberry and other bast fibres along with fishnets, old rags, and hemp waste. However a recent archaeological discovery has been reported from near Dunhuang of paper with writing on it dating from 8 BC, while paper had been used in China for wrapping and padding since the 2nd century BC. Paper used as a writing medium became widespread by the 3rd century, and by the 6th century toilet paper was starting to be used in China as well. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) paper was folded and sewn into square bags to preserve the flavor of tea, while the later Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) was the first government on Earth to issue paper-printed money (see banknote).

Modern papermaking began in the early 1800s in Europe with the development of the Fourdrinier machine, which produces a continuous roll of paper rather than individual sheets. These machines have become very large, up to 500 feet (~150 m) in length, producing a sheet 400 inches (~10 m) wide, and operating at speeds of over 60 mph (100 km/h).

Papermaking, regardless of the scale on which it is done, involves making a dilute suspension of fibers in water and allowing this suspension to drain through a screen so that a mat of randomly interwoven fibers is laid down. Water is removed from this mat of fibers by pressing and drying to make paper.

Manual preparation

Fibers are suspended in water to form a slurry in a large vat. The mold is a wire screen in a wooden frame (somewhat similar to an old window screen), which is used to scoop some of the slurry out of the vat. The slurry in the screen mold is sloshed around the mold until it forms a uniform thin coating. The fibers are allowed to settle and the water to drain. When the fibers have stabilized in place but are still damp, they are turned out onto a felt sheet which was generally made of an animal product such as wool or rabbit fur, and the screen mold immediately reused. Layers of paper and felt build up in a pile (called a ‘post’) then a weight is placed on top to press out excess water and keep the paper fibers flat and tight. The sheets are then removed from the post and hung or laid out to dry. A step-by-step procedure for making paper with readily available materials can be found online.

When the paper pages are dry, they are frequently run between rollers (calendered) to produce a harder writing surface. Papers may be sized with gelatin or similar to bind the fibres into the sheet. Papers can be made with different surfaces depending on their intended purpose. Paper intended for printing or writing with ink is fairly hard, while paper to be used for water color, for instance, is heavily sized, and can be fairly soft.

The wooden frame is called a “deckle”. The deckle leaves the edges of the paper slightly irregular and wavy, called “deckle edges”, one of the indications that the paper was made by hand. Deckle-edged paper is occasionally mechanically imitated today to create the impression of old-fashioned luxury. The impressions in paper caused by the wires in the screen that run sideways are called “laid lines” and the impressions made, usually from top to bottom, by the wires holding the sideways wires together are called “chain lines”. Watermarks are created by weaving a design into the wires in the mold. This is essentially true of Oriental molds made of other substances, such as bamboo. Hand-made paper generally folds and tears more evenly along the laid lines.

Laboratory-made paper

Hand-made paper is also prepared in laboratories studying papermaking and in paper mill quality labs. The “handsheets” made according to TAPPI Standard T 205 are circular sheets 15.9 cm (6.25 in) in diameter and are used to measure paper brightness, strength, degree of sizing and so on.

Industrial papermaking

A modern paper mill is divided into several sections, roughly corresponding to the processes involved in making hand-made paper. Pulp is refined and mixed in water with other additives to make a pulp slurry, the headbox distributes the slurry onto a moving, continuous screen, water drains from the slurry (by gravity or under vacuum), the wet paper sheet goes through presses and driers and is finally rolled into large rolls, often weighing several tons.

Mar 17

Dieu Donne - nonprofit papermaking in NYC

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

Founded in 1976, Dieu Donne is a nonprofit artist workspace dedicated to the creation, promotion and preservation of contemporary art in the hand papermaking process.  In support of this mission, Dieu Donné collaborates with artists and partners with the professional visual arts community.

Click here for their resources on Paper, Paper Art & Design

Mar 17

Conservation treatment - Case Study - Conserving the Skull of Diplodocous

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

by FeiWen Tsai
Department of Paleobiology
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution

The following is a brief description of the stabilization of one of the exhibited ink wash drawings,”Skull of Diplodocus, lateral view”, which needed conservation treatment in preparation for exhibition in the Dinofest 1998 art show, Drawn from the Earth. The illustration was moved to SCMRE for stabilization prior to exhibition. In addition to being unstable, it was dirty and discolored to a yellowish brown color, probably from long exposure to excessive light and humidity. The illustration was examined by a conservator, who recorded the drawing’s description, condition and treatment needs on a treatment proposal form, as indicated below.

This photo shows the illustration of the skull of Diplodocus before treatment.

This photo shows the illustration of the skull of Diplodocus before treatment.

The illustration was composed of the black ink wash drawing and several notations in other media. These included the field accession number 1631and catalog number 1921 written in graphite pencil on the upper right corner. Stamps reading “From US National Museum Washington USA” in blue ink were impressed on the recto upper left corner perpendicular to the image and on the verso, diagonally near the center, of the illustration. The substrate of the illustration was characteristic of a mixed-pulped paper and had several features that appeared to be part of the original construction of the drawing. Pinholes located at the corners might indicate that the illustration had been attached to the table during tracing or on the wall for display. [Note: Ridgway, 1938, recommends that the drawing paper be "laid down with thumbtacks or dampened and pasted along the edges"]. Scratch lines around and in the “eye hole” areas of the image might have been made by the artist.

In addition to the general yellowing of the substrate, there was an adhesive stain with a piece of tracing paper sticking to it on upper left side of the illustration. Knife cut marks, apparent outside of the image area, might have occurred when a researcher, tracing the illustration, scored tracing paper while it was directly on the top of the illustration, with the knife occasionally slipping through. In fact, a drawing on tracing paper that matched the outline of the knife cuts was later found in the folder. Some short, arc-shaped creases (handling dents), resulting from improper handling, were present throughout the illustration. Other creases, as well as tears and losses, were found on non-image areas.

Treatment Recommendations
Because many losses and tears occurred along the edges of the illustration, mending and filling were necessary to stabilize the illustration’s condition. This allowed the drawing to be handled and framed safely without putting more stress on damaged areas. The following was proposed to stabilize the drawing:

Surface cleaning - This is the first necessary step before other treatments. It minimizes abrasion from accretions and prevents dirt from being imbedded into paper fibers during subsequent wet treatment, such as washing or mending.

Mending - This closes tears and reinforces physical weakness caused by tears.

Filling - This inserts similar materials into losses to fill and strengthen the substrate.

Matting and Framing - This protects drawings from direct handling and harsh environments.

Initial Procedures Before Stabilization

Photodocumentation and Solubility Tests - Before starting stabilization, the condition of the illustration was documented using both color slides and black/white film (Fig. 13). [Note: This process was repeated again after the illustration was stabilized, so that there would be a permanent record of the drawing before and after stabilization.] The paper and ink were tested to record their properties and reactivity in response to various solvents. This initial process helped determine treatment methods. As a result of the testing, it was found that the blue ink used to stamp the drawing was extremely soluble in water.

Selection of an appropriate surface cleaning methods - Various cleaning methods were tested, such as using a soft hair brush, grated vinyl erasers, and a vinyl eraser block, on small areas of the verso. These procedures were carried out under a stereo microscope. The paper’s surface was not extremely porous, so the grated vinyl eraser method was chosen because of its gentle, less abrasive cleaning properties.

Preparation for Filling - Three different types of Japanese tissue with similar textures to the drawing were selected for possible insert materials. Toning was necessary to match the color of the illustration. This process is primarily cosmetic; it allows the object to be viewed without visual disturbance.

The method of toning was as follows: acrylic pigments were mixed to a desired color and then diluted with water to form a solution in a tray. The selected Japanese tissues were floated on the colored acrylic solution in the tray for few seconds, followed by air-drying. The tissues were then rinsed using deionized water to remove loose pigment particles, then dried again under blotters and weight.

Because the insert tissue is much thinner than the illustration’s paper substrate, several pieces of tissues were laminated (adhered together) to the same thickness as the illustration in order to be more compatible with the drawing. Adhesion was done using dilute wheat starch paste.

Stabilization Procedures

Surface Cleaning - The illustration was surface cleaned using grated vinyl erasers and a soft hair brush on non-image areas. Eraser crumbs were brushed off to prevent abrasive and discoloring residues being left on the illustration. Cleaning was carried out cautiously around areas of image, pencil marks, and tears to avoid removing any original markings or further damaging tear areas.

Mending - Mending and filling were carried out on a light table. During mending, the illustration was placed on the top of the light table to align tears and close gaps using wheat starch paste applied by tipping in spots of paste with a fine-pointed brush. After the tears were aligned, a mending strip of feathered, pasted Japanese tissue was placed on the verso to reinforce each tear.

Filling - Selected laminated tissue was laid on the top of the polyester film, which was placed between the illustration and the repaired tissues. The outlines of losses were traced using a dull needle on a light table. After tracing, the excess part of the laminated tissue was torn away and the shaped fill was then aligned and inserted into the loss area using wheat starch paste. Because the repaired areas looked very clean and new, “cosmetic surgery” to tone down the edge of repair was conducted using pastels and a paper stump.

The photo on the left shows the illustration of the skull of Diplodocus after conservation treatment was complete.

The photo on the left shows the illustration of the skull of Diplodocus after conservation treatment was complete.

Matting and Framing - The illustration was attached to a backboard of acid-free archival quality matboard using Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. The attachment method, called a T-hinge, consisted of two strips of tissue representing the stem and cross-bar of a “T”. Two small vertical rectangles of Japanese tissue were adhered with dilute wheat starch paste along the top edge of the verso of the illustration to form the stems of the T-hinges. The drawing and hinges were then aligned on the backboard. Each hinge stem was secured to the backboard by overlaying it with a pasted and larger horizontal cross-bar of Japanese tissue. This allows the drawing to be removed from its backboard at some future date by cutting around the stem of its hinge. The illustrations were sent back to the Paleobiology department for framing using UV filtering plexiglas and an aluminum frame.

After it was matted and framed, the drawing of “Skull of Diplodocus, lateral view” as well as the drawing of “skull of Diplodocus, posterior view”, and the drawing of “skull of Diplodocus anterior view” were shipped by a fine arts moving van for exhibition in the Dinofest art exhibit.

Mar 17

Repairing Paper Artifacts - Northeast Document Conservation Center

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in Non-Fiction

Click here for article source from the Northeast Document Conservation Center

Why Repair Paper Artifacts?

Tears are repaired most often to improve the appearance of a torn paper artifact, to prevent a tear from lengthening, to keep fragments from separating, or to make an artifact safer to handle.  Often tear repairs are part of a conservation treatment performed by a professional conservator, but sometimes owners or custodians of these materials choose to repair them themselves, especially when more elaborate treatment is not called for.

The generally accepted method of repairing tears and breaks in paper uses strips of thin acid-free paper adhered with a water-based adhesive that is acid-free, stable, and reversible. The following materials are recommended for the repair of documents, book pages, and other paper objects.


The preferred repair papers are made in Japan usually from kozo fibers. These papers (sometimes erroneously called rice papers) are manufactured in different weights with names such as Sekishu, Tengujo, Kizukishi, and Usumino. The fiber content of Japanese papers varies, with some containing fibers that are not of conservation quality. To be safe, only papers made of 100 percent kozo, mitsumata, or gampi fibers, or a combination of these, should be used. These Japanese papers are appropriate for repairs because they do not discolor or become brittle over time, and they have long, strong, flexible fibers that produce a lasting repair. The lighter-weight papers are especially suited to the repair of documents, since they are translucent and unobtrusive, and may not obscure the text of a document. Most conservators use strips of paper with torn rather than cut edges, because a frayed edge makes a less visible repair and is less likely to deform the paper.


Use of a proper adhesive is essential. Any adhesive used for mending paper objects must have the following properties:

Sufficient strength: It should maintain its adhesion for an indefinite period.

No tendency to discolor: It should not yellow, darken, or stain the paper to which it is applied.

Reversibility: It should be possible to remove the repair paper with moderate effort and no damage to the object, even after many years.

Few commercially available adhesives meet these criteria. Commercial library and wallpaper pastes may lose hold as they age, and they often contain harmful additives. Rubber cement and animal glues darken and stain. Several synthetic adhesives, such as “white glue,” are very difficult if not impossible to remove once they have aged. Pressure-sensitive (self-adhering) tapes should be avoided. The adhesives on these tapes may cause staining over time and require toxic solvents and technical expertise for removal.

Pressure-sensitive tapes advertised as archival are available from commercial vendors.  These are probably more stable than other similar tapes, but because their aging properties are not proven, they should be avoided for objects of value.   They do become difficult to remove in time.  The adhesives on commercial gummed tapes, which require wetting, are less damaging, but they may stain in time and are usually too strong and tend to deform the paper to which they are adhered.  These tapes should also be avoided for objects of value. Commercial products in general should be avoided even if they are reputed to be safe, because their composition is subject to alteration without notice by the manufacturer. This year’s nonstaining tape or adhesive may have a different formulation next year.

Starch-Based Paste

For many years conservators have favored homemade starch-based pastes. These pastes have stood the test of time, as they have been used for centuries by Japanese screen and scroll mounters. They are made most often from either rice starch or wheat starch.  They are not made from flour, because flour contains potentially harmful impurities that may become irreversible in time.  The starch obtained by refining flour is preferred.
There are numerous recipes for these pastes. One recipe for wheat starch paste follows:

  1. Place one part of wheat starch and four parts of deionized or distilled water in a clean saucepan or the top of a clean double boiler.
  2. Mix well and let stand at least 20 minutes.
  3. If a double boiler is used, fill the bottom part with a small amount of water.
  4. Place on medium high heat and cook, stirring constantly with a clean, nonmetallic implement.
  5. When the paste begins to thicken, which may happen right away, reduce the heat and continue stirring.
  6. Stir for about half an hour until the paste is thick and translucent, then remove from the stove.  As it cooks and thickens, it will become more difficult to stir.
  7. Continue stirring for the first few minutes of cooling, then transfer the paste to a clean, covered container for storage.  Allow the paste to cool to room temperature before diluting for use.

Quick Wheat Starch Paste

University Products, a supplier of conservation materials, has published a quick recipe for wheat starch paste.1 The advantage of this recipe is that small quantities of paste can be easily prepared. The paste should be strained before use.

Place one tablespoon of wheat starch in a microwave-safe container, add five tablespoons of distilled or deionized water, and place in a microwave oven. Microwave on a high setting for 20 to 30 seconds. Remove the paste and stir. Place back in the oven and microwave another 20 to 30 seconds. Remove and stir again. Continue this process several times until the paste is stiff and translucent. If larger quantities are made in the microwave oven, increase the cooking time between stirrings. Cool the paste before straining.

Straining, Diluting, and Storing Paste

Starch paste should not be refrigerated; cover and store it in a cool, dry place. It will keep for only a week or less. Some conservators recommend adding a preservative, but preservatives are toxic chemicals and they may affect some artist’s materials. It is preferable to make paste in small quantities when needed. If paste discolors, grows mold, discharges water, or develops a sour smell, discard it immediately and wash the container thoroughly in extremely hot water, in the dishwasher if possible, to eliminate residues of mold.  Avoid soap, which may contaminate the paste.

Before use, paste should be strained. A Japanese horsehair paste strainer works best for this, but similar, less expensive strainers may be used, so long as they do not have metal components that may rust and contaminate the paste.  After straining, the paste should be diluted by brushing it against the bottom of a container while gradually adding small amounts of deionized or distilled water until the desired consistency is achieved.  If water is added too rapidly the past will separate into clumps, and it will be nearly impossible to regain a smooth consistency.

Different consistencies of paste are required, depending upon the particular mending task at hand. A consistency similar to heavy cream is appropriate for most mending, although thicker or thinner paste may sometimes be called for, depending on the strength of the mend needed or the amount of liquid that the document can tolerate.

Methyl Cellulose

Starch pastes require time to make and they can fail if they are not made or stored correctly. A simpler adhesive can be made from methyl cellulose, which comes in powdered form and is sold by viscosity.  In general, the higher the viscosity, the more stable the methyl cellulose. Mix one rounded tablespoon of methyl cellulose with one half cup of deionized or distilled water. Let the mixture stand for several hours before use. It will thicken on standing but can be thinned to the appropriate consistency with water. Methyl cellulose may not be as strong as starch paste, but it should hold adequately in most applications. Methyl cellulose keeps well for several weeks and does not require a preservative.

Mending Procedures

Tearing Mending Strips

It is desirable for mends to have a soft, fibrous edge to avoid deforming or even breaking a fragile paper along a sharp edge.  To tear mending strips, use a bone folder or similar tool to incise a crease in the mending paper along a metal ruler or other straight edge.  Draw a line of water along the crease with a small, soft artist’s brush or a ruling pen.  Pull the strip away from the sheet while grasping it near the crease. Make strips of different widths to conform to different tears; one fourth inch, one half inch, and three fourths inch are the most useful. If a great deal of mending is planned, tear up a good supply of strips in advance.

Preparing to Mend

Prepare a work surface by covering a sheet of clean blotting paper with a sheet of nonwoven polyester such as Reemay or Hollytex to prevent the documents being repaired from sticking to the paper because of stray or extruded paste.

Begin by mending the largest tears in a document first.  Align the tear with the correct under- and overlaps, as tears typically occur not with the sharp edge that a cut produces, but rather with beveled surfaces that may alternate between the front and the back of a sheet of paper.  If any of the overlaps are sizable, they should be pasted, adhered, and dried as described below before applying the mending strip.

Applying the Mending Strip

Using pieces of an absorbent paper such as blotting paper as a substrate for pasting the mending strip, apply starch paste or methyl cellulose to a strip of Japanese paper with a flat brush similar in width to the mending strip. The blotting paper will draw out excess moisture that could cockle or stain the document. Then lift the strip with a tool such as tweezers or a needle and place it over the reverse of the tear with the pasted side against the document. If a document has text on both sides, place the mend on either the side where it will not cover text or the secondary side, if text cannot be avoided on both sides. Breaks in papers tend to pull apart when wet with paste. For this reason it is easiest to use strips not more than three or four inches long. For longer tears, several short strips may be applied and dried one at a time, placed end to end. Start with the termination of the tear; this usually means the edge of the sheet is mended last.

It takes practice to manipulate the thin, wet repair strips. Once the mending strip is in place, brush it into contact using a dry flat artist’s brush then lay a sheet of nonwoven polyester (Reemay, Hollytex) over the repair.

Drying the Mended Sheet

Weight the repair while it dries. Weighting ensures good adhesion and prevents cockling of the paper. Repairs may be weighted as follows.  First place small pieces of nonwoven polyester (Reemay, Hollytex) over the area to be dried.  Then place a square of blotting paper, followed by a piece of glass or Plexiglas on top of the blotter.   Finally, place a weight on top of the glass. Small bags of lead shot, pieces of lead covered with cloth, or any other small, dense object may be used as a weight. One-pound fishing weights from sporting goods stores make excellent weights, provided they have at least one flat side to prevent rolling. The blotting paper square may be changed in a few minutes, but the repair should be weighted for one hour or longer.

A photographer’s tacking iron, set at low heat, can be used to speed up the drying process. The tacking iron should never be applied directly to the document; place a piece of nonwoven polyester between the iron and the document.  Pay close attention to the tacking iron; these tools can achieve temperatures high enough to melt polyester and scorch paper, and the temperature of  one that is failing may spike just before it burns out.  Moving the iron with an “ironing” motion does not dry a mend faster.  Instead, shift the location of the document from place to place on the blotter substrate every 10–20 seconds to hasten drying.  After using the tacking iron, weight the mended area for a few minutes while it cools to lessen cockling.


When tears are overly complex or when they cross through image areas in works of art or text areas on documents, it may be wiser to leave this work for professional conservators experienced in carrying out more challenging work.  Some hazards to avoid include fragile art or writing media that may be disturbed by the manipulation or the moisture required for tear repair, or staining, breaking, or creasing of papers that are fragile, degraded, or overly sensitive to moisture.  Some old tears cannot be restored to their original shape, as over time sheets can change their shape to conform to the altered tensions produced by tears.

Repair is usually not indicated for parchment, which is not paper but made of animal skin.  Parchment should not be confused with “parchment” paper. It always resists bringing old tears into alignment, as it is a stronger material that changes its shape due to the way its internal structure responds to environmental conditions, especially fluctuating relative humidity.  Heat should never be used on parchment, as this will cause permanent damage.

For archival documents, the need to repair tears can sometimes be eliminated by simply placing the papers in archival-quality Melinex or paper folders.

Mar 17

Art Glossary: Terminology for artists

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

Click here for article source

A.W.S.: Abbreviation of the American Watercolor Society, established in 1866.

Accent: A detail, brushstroke, or area of color placed in a painting for emphasis.

Acid Free: Acid free refers to papers without acid (pH) in the pulp when manufactured. High acidity papers degrade quickly.

Acrylic: Paint made from pigments and a synthetic plastic binder, water-soluble when wet, insoluble when dry. Developed commercially in the 30s and 40s and perfected in the 50s through 70s, this popular alternative to oil paint can also duplicate many of watercolor’s unique characteristics when used in a fluid manner. • Go to Acrylics section.

Alla Prima: Italian phrase meaning “first time”. Painting directly in one session with no under-drawing or painting. Usually refers to oil or acrylic painting.

Analogous colors: A grouping of related colors next to each other on the color wheel. Example: Yellow, Yellow Green, and Green. • Go to Color section.

Aquarelle: The French term for the process and product of painting in transparent watercolor.

Archival Paper: Archival watercolor paper is any pure 100% rag , cotton, or linen watercolor paper of neutral or slightly low ph, alkaline (base) vs. acidic, and pure ingredients. Some synthetic papers are archival in nature but have unique working properties. • Go to Watercolor Paper section.

Atmospheric perspective: Suggesting perspective in a painting with changes in tone and color between foreground and background. The background is usually blurred and hues are less intense.

Back runs: When your fresh brush stroke hits a still damp wash it will force the original wash out in a irregular, often fractal manner. This can totally screw up what you are intending to do, unless you do it intentionally. Practice playing with paint and coping with “happy accidents.” (also known as back wash) • See our tutorial.

Background: The area of a painting farthest from the viewer. In a landscape this would include the sky and horizon. In a still life or portrait it could be a wall or room interior. • See Foreground, Middle ground.

Batik: Using wax resist designs on dyed fabrics. Colors are dyed lightest color to darkest color, with new design elements added before each color bath.

Binder: That which holds the paint together, such as linseed oil for oil painting, polymers for acrylics, gum arabic for watercolors and gouache.

Blending: Fusing two color planes together so no discernable sharp divisions are apparent.

Blocking in: The simplifying and arranging of compositional elements using rough shapes, forms, or geometric equivalents when starting a painting.

Blotting: using an absorbent material such as tissues or paper towels, or a squeezed out brush, to pick up and lighten a wet or damp wash. Can be used to lighten large areas or pick out fine details. • See our tutorial.

Blow Dryer: For rapid painting production, these electronic hair drying devices are a necessity at times. Overheating liquid frisket areas can “set” the frisket into the top layer of paper fibers. Which can make removal of the frisket interesting in the least. • See our tutorial.

Body Color: The mixing of opaque white gouache with transparent watercolor; or gouache colors in general.

Broken colors: The unequal mixing of two complementary colors.

Caricature: Art that exaggerates the qualities, defects, or peculiarities of a person or idea, usually in a humourous manner. Traditionally used in editorial cartooning. • Example: Honoré Daumier.

Carpenter’s Pencil: A graphite pencil that features a flat ovoid wooden grip surrounding a wide graphite core capable of creating chiseled thick and thin pencil lines. Used for sketching and drawing. Must be hand sharpened and shaped.

Cartoon: A preparatory sketch or design that is then transferred to the final work surface.

Casein: A water-soluble protein found in milk that is used as a binder for creating casein paints. Casein is sometimes used as an underpainting for oil or acrylic painting.

Cast Shadow: The dark area that results when the source of light has been intercepted by an object.

Charcoal: Used for drawing and for preliminary sketching on primed canvas for oil painting. Natural vine charcoal is very soft and can be easily rubbed off with a soft rag. Natural willow charcoal is harder than vine charcoal and gives a darker line. Compressed charcoal is available in several forms. You can choose from stick form, wood-encased pencils, and peel-as-you-go paper wrapped pencils. These charcoal formulations range from extra soft to hard. Powdered charcoal is used to transfer drawings to surfaces by dusting through “pounced” lines on the drawing. • See pounce wheel.

Chiaroscuro: 1) The rendering of light and shade in painting; the subtle gradations and marked variations of light and shade for dramatic effect. 2) The style of painting light within deep shadows. Carrivagio and Rembrandt are considered masters of chiaroscuro.

Chroma: The purity or degree of saturation of a color; relative absence of white or gray in a color.

Cold Pressed: Watercolor paper that is Cold Pressed (CP) or ‘Not’ Pressed (NP) has mildly rough texture. It takes color smoothly but the tooth allows for slight irregularities and graining in washes. •See Hot Pressed, Rough

Collage: A composition made of cut and pasted pieces of different materials, sometimes photographs or drawn images are used.

Complementary colors: Colors at opposite points on the color wheel, for example, red and green, yellow and purple. (See Primary and Secondary Colors)

Composition: The arrangement of elements of form and color within an artwork.

Cross-hatching: Using fine overlapping planes of parallel lines of color or pencil to achieve texture or shading. Used in traditional egg tempera technique; drawing in pencil, chalk, pen and ink; and engraving, etching, and other printmaking techniques.

Deckle: The tapered rough edges of watercolor and drawing papers, also refered to as “barbs”.

Drawing: The act of marking lines on a surface, and the product of such action. Includes pencil, charcoal, pen and ink, conte crayon, markers, silverpoint, and other graphic media on paper.

Dry Brush: Any textured application of paint where your brush is fairly dry (thin or thick paint) and you rely the hairs of your brush, the angle of attack of your stroke, and the paper’s surface texture to create broken areas of paint. Study the range of technique in Andrew Wyeth’s drybrush watercolors. Used for rendering a variety of textured surfaces: stone, weathered wood, foliage, lakes and rivers, bark, clouds.   • See drybrush tutorial.

Easel: A stand or resting place for working on or displaying a painting. A simple easel can be a tripod with a cross bar for the painting to sit on.

Ebony Pencil: A drawing pencil that features a thick core of graphite formulated to be very black and smooth. Capable of a wide tonal range with rich darks. For sketching and drawing.

Encaustic: Encaustic paints a blend of oil paint and beeswax and must be heated for use. Examples of ancient encaustic murals and portraits were found among the ruins of Pompeii.

Ferrule: The metal cylinder that surrounds and encloses the hairs on a brush. Customarily made of nickel or nickel-plated base metal.

Figure: A human or animal form.

Filler: See Inert Pigment.

Fixative: A resinous or plastic spray used to affix charcoal, pencil, or pastel images to the paper. Used lightly it protects finished art (or underdrawing) against smearing, smudging, or flaking.

Flat Color: Any area of a painting that has an unbroken single hue and value.

Flat Wash: any area of a painting where a wash of single color and value is painted in a series of multiple, overlapping stokes following the flow of the paint. A slightly tilted surface aids the flow of your washes. Paper can be dry or damp. • See our tutorial.

Foreground: The area of a painting closest to the viewer. In a landscape this would include the area from the viewer to the middle distance. • See Background, Middle ground.

Foreshortening: The technique of representing a three dimensional image in two dimensions using the laws of perspective.

Foxing: The development of patterns of brown or yellow splotches (stains) on old paper. Caused by a type of mold, foxing is often removed by treating with diluted bleach.

Fresco: Meaning “fresh” in Italian, fresco is the art of painting with pure pigments ground in water on uncured (wet) lime plaster. An ancient technique used world wide by artists of many ages and cultures. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is a famous example fresco painting. Durability is achieved as the pigments chemically bind with the plaster over time as it hardens to it’s natural limestone state.

Frottis: Thin transparent or semi-transparent glazes rubbed into the ground in the intitial phases of an oil painting. From the French term “frotter”, meaning “to rub”.

Fugitive Colors: The pigments in the “fugitive” class of paints have the unfortunate characteristic of looking beautiful and unique when first painted but show bad side-effects over time. Side effects include fading to non-existence, changing color, darkening to black, and other fun stuff. Unless you’re planning on hermetically sealing your paintings and viewing them in a low-UV climate controlled room, skip them. Use lightfast ratings I & II when possible. • Go to Pigments section.

Genre: A category of artistic work marked by a particular specified form, technique, or content.

Genre painting: The depiction of common, everyday life in art, as opposed to religious or portrait painting for example.

Gesso: Ground plaster, chalk or marble mixed with glue or acrylic medium, generally white. It provides an absorbent ground for oil, acrylic, and tempera painting.

Gestalt: Gestalt theory states that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Creating effective designs depends on creating and balancing gestalt. Originally a therapeutic psychological theory (ink blots) artist’s have adopted the concept for creating more balanced and dynamic art. See: Negative Space, Positive Space, Notan

Giclees: Editioned prints made with high resolution ink jet printers using pigmented inks and archival, artist-grade papers. Lightfast ratings close to original paintings. • Go to Giclee Art Links Page.

Glazed Wash: Any transparent wash of color laid over a dry, previously painted area. Used to adjust color, value, or intensity of underlying painting. (Glaze) • See our tutorial.

Gouache: 1) Watercolor painting technique using white and opaque colors. 2) A water-based paint, much like transparent watercolor but made in opaque form. Traditionally used in illustration.

Graded Wash: A wash that smoothly changes in value from dark to light. Most noted in landscape painting for open sky work, but an essential skill for watercolor painting in general. • See our tutorial.

Grain: The basic structure of the surface of paper, as in fine, medium and rough grain.

Graphite: A type of carbon used for pencils, transfer sheets and as a dry lubricant. Synthetic graphite is made from carborundum

Grisaille: The technique of painting a highly-modeled, black and white monochromatic base painting and then glazing it with transparent colors.

Gum Arabic: Gum arabic is produced from the sap of the African acacia tree and is available in crystalline form or an already prepared solution. It binds watercolor pigments when used with water and glycerine or honey.

Highlight: A point of intense brightness, such as the reflection in an eye.

Hot Pressed: Hot pressed (HP) watercolor paper is pressed for an extremely smooth work surface. Excellent for mixed ink and watercolor techniques. •See Cold Pressed, Rough

Hue: The color of a pigment or object. Not relating to tone or value.

Impasto: Thickly applied oil or acrylic paint that leaves dimensional texture through brushstrokes or palette knife marks.

India Ink: 1. A black pigment made of lampblack and glue or size and shaped into cakes or sticks. 2. an ink made from this pigment.

Inert Pigment: A powdered paint additive that does not change the shade or hue, but extends or otherwise imparts a special working quality to the paint. Fillers are used in lower and student grade paints as extenders, making the paint cheaper to produce, but of lower quality.

Key: The lighness (high key) or darkness (low key) of a painting.

Landscape: A painting in which the subject matter is natural scenery.

Lightfast: A pigments resistance to fading on long exposure to sunlight. Watercolors are rated lightfast on a scale of I-IV. I and II ratings are the most permanent.

Local Color: The actual color of an object being painted, unmodified by light or shadow. (An orange is orange)

Masking fluid: A latex gum product that is used to cover a surface you wish to protect from receiving paint. Miskit by Grumbacher and Art masking fluid by Winsor & Newton are two such products. Also referred to as liquid frisket.

Medium: 1) The type of art material used: pencil, ink, watercolor, oil, acrylic, egg tempera, etc. 2) The liquid mixed with paint to thin, aid or slow drying, or alter the working qualities of the paint.

Middle ground: The area of a painting between the foreground and the background. In a landscape this usually where your focal point would be. • See Background, Foreground.

Modeling: Representing color and lighting effects to make an image appear three-dimensional.

Monochromatic: A single color in all it’s values.

Motif: A term meaning “subject”. Flowers or roses can be a motif.

Muted: Suppressing the full color value of a particular color.

N.W.S.: Abbreviation of the National Watercolor Society, established in 1920.

Negative Space: The areas of an artwork that are NOT the primary subject or object. Negative Space defines the subject by implication. See Positive Space, Notan, Gestalt

Non-staining colors: Pigments that can be lifted cleanly (wet or re-wet) with little or no discoloration of the underlying paper fibers.

Notan: A Japanese art/compositional term meaning “Dark-Light”. It’s the interplay of dark and light, positive and negative, and the implications of all opposites balancing harmoniously as one, in creating art. See: Negative Space, Positive Space, Gestalt

Opaque: A paint that is not transparent by nature or intentionally. A dense paint that obscures or totally hides the underpainting in any given artwork. • See Gouache, Acrylics

Ox Gall: Derived from the bile of domestic cows or other bovines, ox gall is added to paint as a surfactant or wetting agent to allow paint to flow more freely.

Palette: 1) The paint mixing and storing surface of various shapes and being made of plastic, metal, glass, ceramic, or enameled trays for watercolor. Glass, palette paper, formica, and oiled wood are used for oil painting; and glass, metal, styrofoam, and palette paper are used for acrylic painting palettes. or, 2) The selection of colors an artist chooses to work with.

Pastels: 1) Ground pigments, chalk, and binder formed into sticks for colored drawing. Also, 2) Any subdued, high key color (tint).

Perspective: Representing three-dimensional volumes and space in two dimensions in a manner that imitates depth, height and width as seen with stereoscopic eyes.

Polychrome: Poly=many, chrome or chroma=colors. Can refer to artwork made with bright, multi-colored paint.

Polyptych: A single work comprised of multiple sections, panels, or canvas. Diptych= two, triptych=three.

Positive Space: The areas of an artwork that IS the primary subject or object. Positive Space defines the subjects outline. see: Negative Space, Notan

Pounce bag: Used to dust pounced drawings. To make a pounce bag place a small wad of cotton balls in the middle of a coarsely woven square rag (a pink shop rag works well) and add a couple tablespoons of powdered charcoal before drawing up the edges of the cloth and binding the contents into a ball with tape or string. Lightly tap the ball on a pounced drawing to transfer the design to another surface. • See Charcoal, Pounce wheel.

Pounce wheel: A metal pencil-like tool that has a toothed wheel that freely rotates on the drawing end. The teeth puncture an evenly spaced series of small holes through the paper as you trace a line. Use to transfer drawings, designs and patterns to surfaces with powdered chalk or charcoal. • See Charcoal.

Primary colors: Red, yellow, and blue, the mixture of which will yield all other colors in the spectrum but which themselves cannot be produced through a mixture of other colors.

Relief: The apparent or actual (impasto, collage) projection of three-dimensional forms.

Resist: Any material, usually wax or grease crayons, that repel paint or dyes. Lithography is a grease (ink)and water (wet stone or plate) resist printing technique. Batik is a wax resist fabric artform.

Rice Paper: A generic term for Japanese and other asian forms of paper made for artist’s use. Used for sumi-e, brush calligraphy, and watercolor. Fibers from the inner bark of woody plants such as kozo (mulberry), mitsumata, and gampi, and the outer layer of herbaceous plants such as flax, hemp, and jute, are used in manufacturing wide varieties of rice paper.

Rough: Rough watercolor paper has a coarse rough texture. This surface allows for maximum graining of washes and accidental highlights and texture. •See Cold Pressed, Rough

Scumbling: Dragging a dense or opaque color across another color creating a rough texture.

Secondary colors: Colors obtained by mixing two primary colors: green, violet, and orange.

Sketch: A rough or loose visualization of a subject or composition..

Staining Colors: Colors that cannot be fully removed from your paper. Staining colors permeate the fiber of the paper and leave a permanent tint. Check your hands after painting, the hardest colors to wash off are usually the staining colors.

Still life: Any work whose subject matter is inanimate objects.

Study: A comprehensive drawing of a subject or details of a subject that can be used for reference while painting.

Support: The surface on which a painting is made: canvas, paper, wood, parchment, metal, etc.

Tempera: Pigments mixed with egg yolk and water. Also, a student-grade liquid gouache.

Texture: The actual or virtual representation of different surfaces, paint applied in a manner that breaks up the continuous color or tone.

Thumbnail Sketch: Small (credit card size or so) tonal and compositional sketches to try out design or subject ideas.

Tone: The light and dark values of a color.

Trompe l’oeil: A term meaning “Fool the eye” in French. It involves rendering a subject with such detail and attention to lighting and perspective that the finished piece appears real and three-dimensional.

Underpainting: The first, thin transparent laying in of color in a painting.

Values: The relative lightness or darkness of colors or of grays.

Variegated Wash: A wet wash created by blending a variety of discrete colors so that each color retains it’s character while also blending uniquely with the other colors in the wash.

Vehicle: The liquid used as a binder in the manufacture of paint.

Vignette: A painting which is shaded off around the edges leaving a pleasing shape within a border of white or color. Oval or broken vignettes are very common.

Wash: A transparent layer of diluted color that is brushed on.

Watercolor: Painting in pigments suspended in water and a binder such as gum arabic. Traditionally used in a light to dark manner, using the white of the paper to determine values.

Wet-on-wet: The technique of painting wet color into a wet surface .(paper saturated

Wove paper: A paper showing even texture and thickness when held to light. Created with a very fine netting, a uniform, smooth texture results. Often used in fine writing and calligraphy, archival quality woven paper can used by watercolorists with good results.

Mar 17

Art Glossary: Abstract Expressionism

Posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

Definition from
A school of art that developed from Expressionism, which applied the principles of Expressionism to abstract art. The paintings of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman are good examples.

Definition from Wikipedia:
Abstract expressionism
was an American post–World War II art movement. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide influence and also the one that put New York City at the center of the art world, a role formerly filled by Paris.

Although the term “abstract expressionism” was first applied to American art in 1946 by the art critic Robert Coates, it had been first used in Germany in 1919 in the magazine Der Sturm, regarding German Expressionism. In the USA, Alfred Barr was the first to use this term in 1929 in relation to works by Wassily Kandinsky.[1]