The conservator is a magician for the art enthusiasts who have resorted to their service. The process of restoration or conservation never ceases to amaze most of us. This work is tedious, scientific, aesthetic and extremely instinctive. However, in this complicated line of work there is a flow of process or a series of steps that a conservator follows to help the artwork reclaim its former glory.
It all begins with the conservator studying the work of art they would be handling to identify the artist, period, style associated to that period, painting techniques and the materials that were available to the artist in that era. It is this research and knowledge that helps the conservator identify the materials including the pigments, fabric or any other base that might have been used in the artwork giving them an idea to plan the process of restoration best suited to it.
The conservator then needs to figure out the true colors of the painting and to do so, they remove the painting from the frame and analyze the sliver of an area that is hidden beneath the edge of the frame. It is this particular area where the colors are clean and light, much nearer to the original appearance. The next step is to observe the artwork under ultraviolet light to discover any remnants of organic varnish which tends to create a greenish or bluish luminosity in such conditions. A small cleaning test with a swab dipped in solvents is conducted to remove any such remnants of varnish on the painting’s surface.
A series of such complicated and tedious processes are then carried out with the help of magnifying glasses, microscopes, and different lights to continue the process of restoration. It is imperative that each step and test conducted on the artwork is well documented through written notes and photographic evidence wherever needed.
Equipped with proper gear and immense patience and skill, the conservator cleans up the painting using solvents, while ensuring that there is no loss or abrasion in the pigment. This is a meticulous process that proceeds with painstaking accuracy and step by step procedures to remove the old layers of varnish and grime and reveal the real colors of the painting underneath.
The conservator’s training and experience is dedicated to the intent of bringing out the real beauty and colors of the painting while making sure that the chemicals do not cause and detrimental impact on the textile or pigments, as this kind of damage is simply irrevocable.
The conservator then applies his knowledge of materials and structure to gently take the painting off of the frame protect the front of the painting using wet paper and emulsion and then proceed with a surgeon like precision and tools to clean up deposits of grime and dirt that have settled on the back of the canvas.
The painting is then reframed in such a fashion, using such materials that they do not cause any irreversible changes in the painting or to the pigments. Once the painting is stretched and re-mounted on the frame the conservator then prepares to repaint the artwork.
An isolating varnish that is non-yellowing and entirely removable is then applied to the painting. This is done with the intent of separating the original painting from any layer of paint that might be applied on top of it to reinstate the painting to its former appearance. Dry pigments combined with a synthetic, non-yellowing medium is used to touch up the areas where there is paint loss taking care not to cause any changes in the areas that do not need it. Extreme care is taken to ensure that the same texture, color, and sheen of the surrounding areas is maintained in the work.
This intricate work is executed by the use of pointillist technique and once the process is over, the painting is then coated with a final layer of protective varnish.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that throughout this process of restoration and conservation, care must be taken to ensure that each process, material that is added and reinforcement of structure that is carried out, needs to be completely reversible to unearth the original in future.