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Conserving Watercolors: Under the Microscope

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In my previous post, I discussed how an adhesive introduced with an ultrasonic mister can be used to stabilize paint layers. Now you can see that close up as illustrated here of another watercolor in the exhibition, Quarry by William Thon, ca. 1952 (pictured above). Much of our work is done under a microscope which magnifies the area we are working on enabling us to be more precise and to see things not visible under normal conditions. As we work on a piece we can take photographs through the microscope known as photomicrographs which are included below. In this watercolor the artist used a range of techniques to apply his paint including a brush and a sponge, and by pouring and dripping paint onto the surface, wet on top of wet layers. Unfortunately, some of these layers are not well adhered to each other.

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In the photomicrograph above you can see the top layer of brittle black paint which is lifting away from the underlying powdery yellow paint. We used the ultrasonic mister to treat this watercolor which worked very well for consolidation of the powdery yellow paint, where it would have been otherwise difficult and time-consuming to introduce an adhesive with a brush. For some of the larger paint flakes it was necessary to use the more traditional technique of inserting the gelatin adhesive to specific areas with a minute brush under magnification. See the after treatment photomicrograph below where the black paint has been set down and is no longer lifting away from the yellow layer below.

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