Sunday, July 19, 2015

Etching Class at Worcester Art Museum

"Rhubarb" etching by Joseph Rice

This past week I took the one-day etching class at WorcesterArt Museum with instructor Randy LeSage.

Since it wasn't a full day, I expected an overview of the process, maybe a few test marks, etc. Boy, was I surprised when we all completed copper etching plates and a number of finished prints.

Sketchbook and copper plate

I tossed a couple of my sketchbooks in my tote bag, so I was able to use a drawing of my rhubarb plants as the basis for my first attempt at etching. I was somewhat familiar with the printmaking process (in theory, at least), and was comfortable with etching tool as I do etched gold leaf with for my reverse glass paintings.

The plates were prepared for us with cleaning and application of ground coat to etch through. After transferring a design, we scratched through the ground, then dipped the plates in an acid solution to etch the lines into the copper. Some of us repeated this more than once, to enhance and refine our designs.

Inking the plates was more time consuming (and messier) than I thought it would be, but we quickly got the hang of it. (I made a note to myself that this is an art form where a studio assistant would be a big help for this grunt work!).

Instructor Randy LeSage at the inking table

It was exciting to see the first print off the press. In spite of today's computer generated production, there is something to be said for the artist and artisan aspects of traditional printmaking. Thanks to Randy, each student had complete success with this class.

If you have ever thought about trying this, make sure you sign up for this class the next time it is offered.

A student pulls her first print
I wound up with eight final prints

Removal of the ground after first print, and a change of ink colors gave a variety of final prints.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Crossing the Finish Line with Two More Projects

The overmantel mirror is now completed and installed, and the Salem mirror panel safe in Florida.

Once all the gesso repairs to the overmantel were done (as shown in Part I), coloring, gilding and toning began.

The bottom right section of "ebony" base was missing, so a new piece was made to fit.

Base replacement in progress

By securing a new backboard covering almost the entire back, I was able to pull the frame together, and the separations between the dividers and bottom rail are almost gone. This also allowed installation of an aluminum cleat system that will not only support the weight (and due to the plate glass mirror, this is heavy!), but will also keep it from shifting on the wall.

I helped the clients install this. A piece of plywood was mounted to the wall, since it was not a wall built with standard stud spacing, and had lathe/plaster that would have made it difficult to mount directly. The bottom sections of the interlocking cleat pairs were mounted on this board, then the mirror was dropped into place. Since this was a job requiring all hands on deck, no photos of this process.

In the end, all worked out well, the mirror seems secure (and if it ever falls, we'll blame it on the cat).

Installed (disregard the ghost in the mirror)

The Salem mirror project also reached completion. This required sending the finished glass panel to Florida, packed in a way that kept it secure, but with no pressure or material in contact with the painted surface on the back of the glass (concern about abrasion and humidity led to this decision). The customer was able to install the glass successfully, and kindly sent me a picture of the completed mirror.

As hanging now in client's home

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Regency Style Overmantel Mirror (Part I)

Actually looks OK (from a distance)

This Regency-style gilt tri-part overmantel mirror was a revival piece, probably made in the early 20th century. Gilding was probably done with bronzing powders (flash gilding) and or/composition gold. It retains its original heavy mirror plates.

The overall condition was fair/good, with typical damages from age and moving/dropping. Most severe were the losses to the composition fretwork on upper and lower left, and lower right corner blocks and the ring molding at the lower left colonette.. There were noticeable gesso losses, particularly on the right hand colonette, right-most upright with lifting/missing gesso on flat area (probably from mirror being stored on that end against a damp floor), and along bottom rail where loss was probably due to shrinkage of the wood.

Gesso loss on colonette
More gesso loss and lifting

Along the bottom is a wooden strip painted black with a missing section, and separation of bottom rail from dividers due to either shrinkage, or more likely, the weight of mirror plate when mirror was hung on wall rather than resting on a mantel.

Dividers separating from bottom rail
Spit because someone put nails in!
Missing base piece and section of fretwork
More fretwork damage. 

The goal was to make it presentable, but as with other mirrors of this age and type, pursue all deteriorating areas would be a never-ending project.

The treatment plan including cleaning, replacements, gesso infills, gilding and toning. Most importantly, there was a need for an alternative mounting option, since the client wants to hang on the wall, rather than resting on a mantel as was originally intended for this mirror.

We start by cleaning.

First steps were cleaning. Using a conservator's soap solution that leaves no residue, I was able to take off quite a bit of grime as you can see from the used swabs and towels. Ewww.

The repairs begin by replicating the missing cornice fretwork sections. There were originally molded compo, which becomes fragile as it ages and dries. Molds were taken, but the casts were not satisfactory. I had better results by applying a compound and carving directly, since the forms were so geometric.

The next step was to apply gesso to any of the new work, as well as to fill the areas of loss. The gesso will then be scraped/sanded down to the proper level. Gesso work is the most tedious aspect of any restoration.

 Don't worry, it will get better in the next installment!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Is the Salem Mirror Panel Finally Done?

I have just finished another version of the Salem mirror panel started in part I.

This has a number of adjustments, including color changes, and additional detail for a livelier wharf scene. I'd really like to another version, but I'm afraid that might send my very patient customer over the edge, as it has been almost a year since this project began.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I was on a business/pleasure trip to Cape Cod this past week, and since the weather was so incredible took the fast ferry over to Nantucket. The weather next day was even better, so I went back to take more pictures.

A beautiful spot, but don't fall too much in love with it unless you have lots of spending money. Still, the convenience of the ferry lets you savor some of what the hedge fund managers have  - no charge to look!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Paddle Wheeler Mirror

Mirror with reverse panel

 I normally avoid buying these  wood frame mirrors, but somehow I seem to be winding up with a collection of them.  This one also had the style of reverse glass painting I dislike, where the picture is done with a dotted outline, then filled in much like a child's coloring book. And while this one had the original glass panel, it was badly repaired at one point.

So, why did I buy it? Well, it was very inexpensive, and I thought it was interesting because the reverse glass painting was of a paddle wheel steam boat with the name "Webster".  Up to now I have avoided making any paintings in this style, but this was interesting enough to make me do one for my portfolio.

Close-up of panel. Bright yellow spot and light blue stern end are some of the old touch-ups.

Looking at this, and another reverse panel I have in my collection, I tried to determine the procedure for this style. I had originally assumed that this was some form of stencil, but under close examination, it appears that the dots are applied individually (perhaps one day I will find two identical panels and be able to compare them to test the stencil theory. Perhaps one reason for using this dotted line style was that it required less dexterity with a brush to paint smooth lines, or may have simply been for artistic effect.

As usual, I began by making a tracing of the original. I applied my dotted outline by dipping the end of a bamboo skewer in the paint, then tapping out my line of dots. A look at some illustrations confirmed what should be in the "missing" sections due to the original's repairs.

While the primary goal is to document the original, in some cases, such as this, there are some aspects that are too crude or badly done to replicate. The flags had a metal foil backing (a technique known as "tinsel painting"), but the paint detail was badly done. I also wanted two of them to more accurately depict American flags. I changed the water and sky color a bit out of personal preference, but will likely change again when I do another version to place in a mirror frame.

As of now, the source of this design is a mystery.  I have found some other examples, with the same style of frame and painting, representing different steamers. This leads me to believe someone decided that this was a market niche, and whether done here, or more likely, ordered from Europe, there must have been some demand for them. It would be interesting to find out if these were actually used on any of these boats, were sold as souvenirs to passengers or crew, or simply capitalized on local interest and pride for the boats' home ports.

I contacted a historic steamship  organization, and while there were some with the name "Webster" in their databases, there was no way of knowing which, if any of them were mine. I don't have a great interest in maritime subjects, but now I'll have to keep my eye out for an image of this side-wheeler.

And for now, at least, I have another item for my collection of "mirrors I don't like".

My version

Saturday, April 25, 2015

It's Spring, so Let's Strip!

Before stripping
A sure sign that spring is here is not the blooming daffodils, but Joseph out in the driveway with paint stripper. I had several mirrors that needed to be done, and due to the hazardous nature of the materials, will only strip paint outdoors, on breezy days. And since I had a few to work on, it feels good to get as much out of the way as possible.

This large convex mirror is not period, but a substantial and impressive look. Probably from the 1940s-50 era, it was not done in real gold, which was evident by the areas that had darkened and some parts had turned green.

I'm not sure what I will do with this - since it is not period I can do something more creative, but some re-gilding will be involved. I need to replicate some missing pieces to one side ornament, and the spherules will be replaced with water gilt ones.

Paint mostly stripped

As found
This small Federal mirror did not look that appealing when I purchased it at a recent auction - the bronze paint had turned dark, and touch-ups were a coppery color. It also had some damage, but the eglomise panel, while crudely done, was an original in fine condition.

Stripping the paint shows what this mirror has the potential to become. Fortunately the spherules were in good shape, so that is one blessing, and the gold on them was still intact after stripping.

Discolored bronze paint

Remains of original gilding under the paint

The third mirror is a late Sheraton with a relief carved panel applique. Again, a heavy hand with the bronze paint killed any charm this may have had. Just stripping brought back quite a bit of the original surface, and I may be able to do the repairs without re-gilding (although I will probably need to do all the existing spherules, plus make replacements for the missing ones.

The deadly dull brown of tarnished bronze paint.

Just stripping the paint did wonders for this one

Well, these may not get worked on again for a while, but it is nice knowing that the dirtiest, worst part is over. More posts will follow as these projects move along.