Monday, 21 March 2016

A Brief Treatise on the Analysis of CRAP.

Today I want to talk about crap. Well it's more about the dirt and cruddiness that you get on even the most valuable of picture frames. In fact, it's that very dirt that is the value of many of these frames.

Take when we go into a museum art gallery. We look at the ancient pictures in their frames and to the most disinterested, these are big knobbly gilded things with lots of twiddly bits all along the sides.

But if someone was to take a bottle of Ajax or Vim and give one of these frames a good clean-up, then even the most artistically uneducated would step back and say - there's something wrong here.

And yet for all the academic articles and books on picture-frames and their styles and ornament, there is no mention as to why they actually look that way. Taking all the gilding, carving and applied ornament as given, it's the antique colour and the patina; that's what's doing nearly all the work.

I've seen examples of microscopic analysis of the surface of old frames done by various museums but they ignore what's on top and concentrate instead on the various clays and gessos used in building up the frame.

Is it just me or why doesn't anyone take a rigorous scientific exploration of the "dirt" that contributes so much to the beauty of frames held in our museums.

Here's some examples of my own work.

And it's another small Morland style frame,

So here we have the profile and as we can see, the whole frame is covered in gold, watergilded and burnished.

And it's all very nice and shiny and -
very very boring.

So the first thing to do is to knock it about a little and wear back the gilding to show some age. This is what psychologists would call adding "visual complexity". In the context of antique art, we like and expect this in our appreciation of beauty.

I've done this to the frame below.

Now it all looks a bit more convincing.
But the photograph doesn't quite show how "new" the frame still looks and here we have to change the colour and tone so that it really does look like an antique frame.

Toning the frame is back to my first question as to what chemical process occurs over time that turns everyday crap and dirt into a noble patina that gives frames in museums their visual majesty.

For a frame maker and restorer, the only option is to use artistic methods to recreate the effect. And here's the further mystery.

I always thought that given a decent box of paints, I could wet my brush and come up with a paint that quickly does the job.
Not so simple I found out. 
To get me anywhere near to what I want I have to mix 9 unique pigments together and add a further 6 dyes. And why is that?
All to make a simple paint that I can brush onto new gilding and make it match the colour on an old frame.

It's really all about a search for perfection in that whilst all the woodwork and all the gilding is so important to get right;  to give it all some meaning then the finish on top is the thing that really matters - the money shot.
Maybe someone out there can show me some research on the subject.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Gilding a Pre-Raphaelite Frame

This was a rather exiting project to gild a beautifully made oak Pre-Rapthaelite frame supplied by Richard Christie Framemaker

The frame was supplied carved and finished in plain sanded oak, so the first thing to do was to liven- up the surface of the oak. This brings up all the markings and fiqure patterns characteristic of oak but which can often be lost by the application of a layer of gold leaf.

Next was to stain and colour the oak so as to give it an antique appearance and this would show through where any of the gilding is rubbed back or worn.

Finally the frame is given a thin coat of oil gold size. I've used a 12hour size and with the current cold and damp conditions, this becomes an effective 20hour size. The longer the better, because the gilding varnish has longer to level out and so provide a much brighter gild. A few weaknesses have also been built into the size, and this is to make the distressing effects more convincing.

Now we have the frame gilded so the next stage was to distress and apply antique glazes to the finish. First all the edges and carvings must be carefully "knocked back". This gives those elements a "visual complexity" such as would be seen on an antique example. Then the gilding is rubbed back to expose the underlying colours. Rubbing back oil gilding is often problematic, as the gold can tear in an unattractive way, hence the intentioned weaknesses mentioned above.

Finally the frame is coated in a series of waterbourne glazes. These are a wide mix of transparent and reflective pigments, modified with dyes to produce a colour closest to that seen on antique frames.
And the finish is then further protected  with a thin film of  resin varnsh.