The Conservation of Guy Wiggins – Episode 2: ” The Cleaning Process”

The Conservation of Guy Wiggins – Episode 2: ” The Cleaning Process”


If you remember many different cleaning agents
were tested to determine which one would be most effective at removing the accumulated
surface grime and enable access to the varnish. Ultimately, a protease enzyme cleaner proved
to be not only the best at removing the grime but also one of the more gentle and safest
solutions. Working in small areas with a cotton swab
the cleaner is applied and the surface grime agitated until it is released and can be removed
from the painting. This enzyme cleaner, while very effective
at breaking down the proteins in the grime will have no effect on the natural resin varnish. Even though the enzyme cleaner will never
reach the paint layer it’s still important to proceed with the utmost care just in case
something unexpected arises or the cleaning must be halted. In the case of this painting the accumulated
surface grime is a fairly thin layer and quite easily removed, this is not always true and
sometimes the use of stiff brushes is necessary to break up the grime and facilitate its removal. The client was able to inform that the painting
was displayed in a room that saw much cigar and pipe smoking and posited that much of
the surface grime would be from that exposure. With the grime fully removed and the varnish
layer now exposed it too can be lifted off the painting. Working with cotton swabs and in areas of
like colors limits the chance that an area of different pigment will accidentally be
altered or damaged. Different colors, brands of paint, or even
paint applications can have different reactions to the same solvent and so by isolating areas
of like color and painting technique we can enable more control. It is not uncommon for multiple solution mixtures
of varying strengths to be used to clean the same painting. In addition, if the cleaning needs to be halted
for any reason having minimal exposure is of great benefit. Again, the anecdotal evidence from the owners
was very helpful in determining approximately when the painting was last conserved and with
some research the common materials and techniques used at that time were easily identified thus
making their removal less guesswork and much easier. Positive air pressure in the studio as well
as protective gloves and respirators are used to limit the conservator’s exposure. Special care is always afforded to the signature,
which in this instance appears to have suffered during the last cleaning. Overly aggressive cleaning, or the use of
inappropriate solvents can result in the skinning of the painting and signatures are particularly
vulnerable, as artist will often thin their paints with solvents to increase flow and
facilitate easier writing, resulting in less binder material. It’s not uncommon when a signature is very
faint or delicate for the old varnish to only be partially removed, as it is always safer
to err on the side of a conservative approach. While the paints on this painting are all
quite stable and not at any specific risk, it’s still best practice to move slowly and
work in contained areas. The removal of an old varnish layer may be
easy and straightforward as in this instance, or quite complicated and require several days
if not weeks of labor. Unconventional surface coatings can present
unique difficulties, particularly if they are not meant to be reversible or not designed
as a painting varnish. With approximately half the painting cleaned
we can start to see just how discolored the old varnish was and the impact that it and
the surface grime had on the colors. While the use of solvents and swabs is extremely
effective at removing the old varnish it may not always be 100% successful. Often when the impasto is heavy the old varnish
can pool in the nooks and crannies of the paint and be difficult to access with swab. In those instances mechanical means of removal
are employed. Using scalpels and dental tools the old varnish
can be scraped, picked, and chipped out of those areas. The use of magnification either via loop or
microscope when necessary enables a clearer view of the paint structure ensuring that
only the varnish is removed. With all of the surface grime and old varnish
removed and the painting fully cleaned we can see what a difference it makes. While it may be misunderstood to be a patina,
many old paintings are simply dirty and revealing the true palette is always breathtaking.

100 thoughts on “The Conservation of Guy Wiggins – Episode 2: ” The Cleaning Process””

  • I've always wondered what your soothing voice reminds me of and it totally just clicked…you don't do TedEd narrations in your spare time by any chance? 😆

  • I love your channel…but I hate the short videos. I like the whole narrated restorations. They’re relaxing before bed.

  • What do you do if someone has art that is deteriorating to the point that it requires conservation, but they cant afford to get it done? Im not in this situation, I own nothing of value, Im just wondering. Could someone with an old work bring it to you and be like "Please just take this and sell it to someone who can fix it"?

  • I'm so glad you decided to do this series. Thank you! I hope you can understand (I'm sure you can) how arrestingly fascinating your processes are to watch.

  • do you stop working to change the camera angles or do you just have a heck ton of cameras around? this has been bothering me since i discovered your channel m8

  • I think the cleaning is, for obvious reasons, always the most fascinating part of these restaurations but honestly, the removal of the varnish in this particular case was absolutely stunning (great job at chosing this art piece for a more detailed look, the snow portion of the painting was so so mesmerizing to watch as it was being cleaned).

  • I have to ask you a question you have some of your videos marked as Conservation and others as Restoration. What do you as a professional in the field mean by the difference? as many if not all the steps seem similar or the same.

  • I love your narrated videos! They are so interesting. I’m actually interested in going to conservation. Where did you go to schooling for this? And how did you learn your skills? Thanks!

  • Please make these longer. If there is no narration add some classical music. Half hour of this would be the perfect format.

  • This is truly the best part. Please consider to make an entire video on you cleaning the painting. If it's 200 hours long, that's perfect.
    It's absolutely relaxing!

  • When you get a new client with a painting to restore, do you interview the client about the painting? Like where it was kept, where it will be placed in the future, what they hope for in the restoration?

  • I think that artists should write on the back of the painting what paint and varnish they used so the conservator doesn't have to test areas with different solvents.

  • I never expect how vibrant the colors are underneath the yellowed varnish, it looked SO WHITE when you started taking it off!

  • Would love to know more about Julian in terms of his education and training to become so incredibly skilled!

  • I had no idea so much research went into restoration but it makes sense as well as the amount of knowledge needed. I thought it was mostly chemistry but I can see how art history is important. Next time I go to an art museum I hope I can find a docent that can tell me about some of the restoration and conservation of pieces there.

  • i can imagine the people that have painted what you're restoring are watching you from beyond the grave and they're like "thank god someone finally cleaned my beautiful painting! these assholes didn't take care of it!"

  • Subscribed, watched, loved all of them, so much to learn ! I have a sort of unrelated question I am hoping that someone will answer, I have just taken out of 12 year storage a collection of engravings. A pair of valuable ones have white mold growing on them, not black, not sure if it is white in absence of light then goes black ? Will it go away of exposed to light before going black ? Is the only solution to take them out of the frames and clean them? I no longer have the means to pay a Professional but would not like to see further damage to them. They date from the 18th century, the pair were several thousand euros including museum glass and frame. Thank you for any advice. Best wishes

  • Oh, wow, we got tons of closed caption options now. Its not just "English (auto-generated)". That's so nice.

  • May I make a request? Any way you could show us how you tell the grime apart from the varnish? I swear, that’s got to be so challenging.

    Thank you for the demonstrations. Soooooooooo relaaaaaaaxing.

  • Love your videos and your explanation of the process. May I suggest that the wall where the finished work is showcased get a coat of fresh paint? I feel the scuff marks detract from the finished piece. Keep up the excellent content!

  • i think people don't appreciate the camera work enough.. i mean he could've easily shown us what he's doing from far away but he still showed us the closeups and did everything he can to make sure we really see everything so thank you for your hard work

  • Videos like this make me wonder where my traditional paintings will end up in 100+ years. When I'm long gone, who will look after my many canvas babies? Will they be destroyed? Forgotten/stored? Donated? Preserved? Who knows?! Maybe this guy's apprentice's apprentice will be examining them, passive aggressively criticizing all the shit I did wrong and how the materials of our time sucked. That's the dream anyway.

  • I just started watching u and I really wanna say please go back to the your earlier format , it's somehow strangely more calming

    Also thanks for making these , it really helps me with my anxiety

  • Subscribed… Fascinating series, I saw the really damaged Mary (?) video too. Excellent. Thank you for the extra work done to video and narrate these videos.

  • If I could download a transcript for all of your videos, I would have done it. Your sentence structure and grammar is very eloquent. I could read them all day 😂

  • I know you say you do this in bursts and start and stop projects frequently but as most of your jobs have you weirdly leaning over a table do you suffer from back/neck pain from this? if so how do you combat permanent damage ?

  • woooo doggies. this was awesome, but your script is very high level. Dems was sum fancy words. LOL

    I jest, but your vocabulary was very formal with a very scholarly vernacular; it's fascinating to listen to this vs your more recent videos.

  • I am curious. Have you ever come across something surprising in all your painting restoration work? Something you really didn't expect?

  • SO disappointing! The volume is too low AGAIN and I can barely hear what he's saying. There should ALWAYS be a really nice before and after shot at the end. Even though I am very interested in this topic, I have to give these videos Thumbs Down for their lack of forethought into what the viewer wants to see and the BAD technical quality.

  • I guess the number of hours on any one painting will vary with the painting itself. Is there a baseline number of hours you would say, to complete any one painting?

  • I guess the number of hours on any one painting will vary with the painting itself. Is there a baseline number of hours you would say, to complete any one painting?

  • I just wanted to say that I discovered this channel recently and got totally absorbed by it! Watching those old, dirty, destroyed works of art being cleaned up is SO satisfying I could watch it all day long! Plus, the calm, soothing voice of narrator and quality content makes the experience even more pleasurable. I also admire your proffesional aproach to what you're doing – always trying to make sure that restoration will not do any harm to original work and serve artist's idea. Also, I wouldn't have so much patience for details… anyways, great job!

  • I really love your videos! The music in the background on this one was much quieter, and I could hear your voice much better, so this one I could listen to. The quality of your narration is so good that I wish you did more videos with just your voice narrating and showing the entire cleaning process. Thank you so much for the work that you do.

  • It's unfortunate that you hadn't been the one to clean the Mona Lisa over the last few hundred years–she'd still have her eye browns if you had!

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