View Full Version : archival?

01-02-2002, 09:56 AM
a discussion of canvas and supports led to questions of archivability. i thought it would be good to have a discussion about archival techniques.

oil painting is a fairly archival practice (by no means the most archival), but only if certain rules are followed in the construction of the image. one of the most widely known is "fat over lean". many pigments are fugitive or not lightfast and will change over time. other pigments can react with one another. phthalo blue turned the titanium/zinc white in one of my paintings pink when i was first starting! it was a not-unpleasant effect, so i didn't mind!

what i'd like to know is: what archival rules are important to you? which ones do you flaunt? i've been grounding my canvas with acrylic "gesso" for years because i just can't stand the smell of bunny glue. i know its not the most correct thing to do, but i don't care.

and is archivability even important to you? i told a friend that the liquin and oil paint mixture he was using on unprimed canvas was likely to eat away at the canvas and he was thrilled!

01-02-2002, 10:57 AM
This talk about archivability is rather vain in my opinion.

Will the work survive us for centuries? Will dealers buy it because it can become a perfectly preservable commodity that increases in value? (Preferably after the artist is dead). Think about the value of a Van Gogh now and think about what poverty the artist experienced during his life time.

One should buy materials that are of good quality simply because they are easier to work with and are more predicatable. But I'd rather worry about the quality of my process and my work than preserving my work for all eternity. To think about art dealers feeding parasitically off the commission of the sale of works by artists, while alive, weren't given the time of day by the same sort who claim to be experts, dealers, and critics, makes me ill.

Scott Methvin
01-02-2002, 11:02 AM
Thinking about how a work of art is going to age is important if you plan to sell them and stake your reputation on them.

I was in the gallery where most of my work is sold and saw something yesterday that made me really cringe. One of my paintings (a large one) had been painted with an amber varnish that is sold on the internet by several respected dealers. The effects I got from using the amber was exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, it took forever to dry. It was sticky in the dark areas for at least 6 months!! The gallery had stored it in the back where it had touched against some carpeting. Now it has completely dried, but there is a "stripe" of carpet hairs going along the bottom of it. I tried to get them off with several pieces of sticky tape and it only moderately got rid of the hairs. I now have to figure out how to fix this problem.

This is an example of me using a product I had not tested. I did it on 2 of my best paintings. One is absolutly fine and the other one is screwed up. A hard lesson. Once I discovered the product dired so slowly-I did quit using it. I did not realize there would be futher penetance.

I have since learned that Blockx amber is excellent and dries in a reasonable time. Also some of my home made amber works well. The stuff that never dries is called Alchemist amber with walnut. Don't waste your money.

Another problem I had was too strong of glue in a plywood panel, during the pre gesso stage. Rabbitskin is extremely strong hide glue. On the thin veneer of even the best plywood, cracking can occur. The glue is apparently so strong it moves the wood to crack under the gesso. So watch out. Another example of not testing and experimenting before actually painting.

It is so important to understand what you are using and how it will age. Even in the short term. The worst thing is when a nice painting you are proud to sell-goes bad after it is out of your hands and the check is long spent. How to explain? That is why I now only use simple, basic techniques and got rid of the question marks. (Like liquin and the "miracle varnishes) I can't afford to have them screw up any more paintings. I want to brag about the way they will age, not worry for the next 20 years.

Archival doesn't just mean 250 years from now. It also means 6 months, or even 2. There were undoubtably many fabulous artists over the last 500 years who today we've never even heard of-because their paintings self destructed. Materials are the begining of it all.

01-02-2002, 01:50 PM
The following excerpt was copied from the Gamblin website (www.gamblincolors.com, it contains a lot of useful information)"

"Q: Why use Galkyd instead of a painting medium made with damar resin, oil, and turpentine?

'A: Galkyd is made from alkyd resin. Alkyd resin, first manufactured in the early 1930's, is produced by co-precipitating a natural oil (soy oil based alkyds are used for artist materials because they do not yellow) with a polyfunctional alcohol and polybasic acid. This process polymerizes the oil which is the primary reason alkyd resin speeds the drying of oil colors. Alkyds can easily be thought of as a contemporary way of making stand oil. Stand oil is polymerized oil.

'Because the alkyd resin is polymerized, when used as a binder in the making of alkyd paints, it cannot hold the high pigment load of linseed oil. So alkyds has been formulated for use in artists' materials, most successfully, as an oil painting medium.

'Perhaps the best reason to use the Galkyds instead of Damar is because they are based on the mildest solvent, odorless mineral spirits, rather than turpentine which is considerably more toxic. Turpentine is fast in evaporating, and is the only solvent commonly available to painters that is absorbed through healthy unbroken skin. By using Galkyd and odorless mineral spirits for brush and studio clean up the toxicity of the studio is greatly decreased and all you smell is the wonderful aroma of oil paint drying.

'Mediums made with damar varnish darken significantly with age and make more brittle paint films so paints are more likely to crack. Alkyd resin painting mediums remain more flexible over time and Galkyd will not yellow or darken with age. (See Painting Mediums and the Color Book for more information)"

According to Gamblin, it is GOOD to mix alkyds with oil paints because "[a]lkyd resin painting mediums remain more flexible over time and [soy oil based alkyds] will not yellow or darken with age"

Now you may be cynically thinking that Gamblin only says this to make big money selling Galkyd, and not because it's really true. (1) Galkyd only sells for $2 and change per bottle, so Mr. Gamblin isn't going to become the next Bill Gates selling the stuff. (2) This is what other paint manufacturers say about alkyds as well.

There was some anecdotal stories posted here about people who used Liquin but the painting yellowed or cracked. To those I ask the following question: was Liquin the ONLY thing you mixed with the paint, or was there a bunch of other ingredients as well? According to Winsor & Newton, Liquin doesn't yellow with age. Furthermore, even pure alkyd paint films can crack. Alkyd paint films are more resistant to cracking, they are not crack proof. You still need to follow the fat over lean rules, etc. Acrylic paintings are practically crack proof. I have heard you can actually roll up the canvas without harming the painting. Acrylics are supposed to be the most archival of all the media used today--they will stick to anything, and remain completely flexible.

Some say that Acrylics haven't stood the test of time because they have only been around for half a century. This is stupid. Half a century is a long time. Unlike oils, which continue to react with the oxygen in the air for decades upon decades, acrylics quickly dry into an inert plastic-like polymer. And that's it. As you see the acrylic painting a few days later, so it will be like that forever and ever. In fact, environmentalists worry about the opposite: a bright blue piece of plastic buried in a landfill today will still be a bright blue piece of plastic in a landfill thousands of years later.

One of the reasons to use oils is because oils have more prestige. Stupid reason, but true. I read some messages on the Acrylic forum complaining about how as acrylic painters they aren't taken seriously and galleries look down upon their works.

I suppose that water-miscible oils will suffer from the same lack of prestige. Maybe even worse. Alkyds have been around for decades, but water miscible is still very new. Water miscible truly has not stood the test of time. But Grumbacher says that the paint film has the same properties as a regular oil paint film. Sounds good to me.

01-02-2002, 02:43 PM
I'm right behind you Michael.

01-02-2002, 04:11 PM
I try to buy good canvas and have stopped using cheap retail canvases, I stick to 2 custom-made brands now. I'm moving towards linen, but I do have them primed with acrylic gesso (not real gesso). I use alkyd mediums with my oils and even a pure alkyd resin from an art shop, but I won't use alkyd oils. Call me weird. :) I buy artist-quality colours with high permanance ratings only. I think fat over lean is important, but mainly because I had a painting crackle after a couple months - simply because the colour I used in a top layer was too lean (it only crackled on the areas where this colour was the last application). As this was one of my favourite paintings I've been even more careful about my layering. I try to obey very basic, sensible rules - like painting in oils on watercolour paper, which a friend of mine does.

The rest addresses SanDL's comment about vanity:
When the above friend was warned about the paper rotting from oil she said she didn't care. When I talk about my paintings lasting she comments that she doesn't worry, as long as they last a little while and sell. I think that's unprofessional.

My grandfather has a painting he made that hopefully will pass down through the family. I'd like to think it will pass down through several generations. I sell my paintings and hope that if the families that purchase them like them they will want them to last for generations too. I paint because I want to make pictures that people will enjoy, hopefully for as long as possible. Is that vain? It would be unfair to paint with materials I *knew* would deteriorate within 20 years unless the customer was informed that was part of the piece (some artists like their work to change with time).

Good carpenters build tables or cabinets that last. Architects are expected to design structures that will last. You expect clothes to last a reasonable amount of time for the price. Fine jewellery is expected to be passed down as heirlooms. Why should art be different? Why should we be considered more vain for being professional and trying to create a quality product. Remember, we are businesspeople as well.


01-02-2002, 07:27 PM
Originally posted by Scott Methvin
Thinking about how a work of art is going to age is important if you plan to sell them and stake your reputation on them... Archival doesn't just mean 250 years from now. It also means 6 months, or even 2.
Well said.

I don't consider it in the least vain to worry about longevity in one's work, in fact I think the association is silly frankly. You don't have to certainly, especially if you are an amateur/hobbyist but if you are serious about your work then you should want it to survive unchanged for a reasonable amount of time, at the very least a couple of generations. If you are a professional then this really should go without saying IMO and personally I don't consider 40 years a good lifespan for a portrait, when with almost no extra effort you could make it last closer to 400.

All this talk about time-testing materials and techniques that people bandy about is just so much hot air if you don't know (and follow) the lessons of the past. Take Alizarin Crimson for instance: this has consistently failed the test of time and everyone should know that it is not reliable yet it continues in widespread use in oils and even worse, watercolours. Sure it's a lovely colour but if you use it for a light blush on your subject's cheeks then their grandchildren will only have fond memories of the effect if they hang it near a window. One should construct one's paintings fearing the worst, but hoping for the best! As far as my own work goes, the world won't care a jot about it when I'm gone but I want it to at least last until I'm firmly in the ground without altering! I am actually confident that I could leave any of it standing in a window for the next couple of decades without a worry which, if a little unrealistic, is at least reassuring. Considering this involved no compromises or added effort on my part I think that's a pretty good deal.

Originally posted by sarkana
...phthalo blue turned the titanium/zinc white in one of my paintings pink
Phthalo blue and titanium/zinc white turned pink?! There shouldn't be a reaction between any of the three pigments, any idea what happened?

Originally posted by sarkana
i've been grounding my canvas with acrylic "gesso" for years because i just can't stand the smell of bunny glue. i know its not the most correct thing to do, but i don't care.
Actually the jury is very much still out on these issues. It's entirely possible that glutoline glues are responsible for a whole host of related problems in ageing and PVACs appear to offer vastly superior long-term benefits. There are any number of arguments that can be used to support the use of bunny glue but the argument comes down to this: does it deteriorate with age? Yes. It is hygroscopic? Yes. Do micro-organisms like to munch on it? Yes. Acrylic primers, especially when prepared properly, may in fact impart a great number of benefits in oil painting. FWIW, assuming a good bond between the oil layer and the primer, I think the simple fact that the acrylic is essentially immortal has a lot to say about the benefits of this practice :-)


01-02-2002, 09:39 PM
I concede to the wise wet canvas members here. Of course one should pay attention to the quality and properties of one's materials. And yes, I hope my grandchildren will be able enjoy my work. Sigh. But there is a middle ground in this discussion.

01-03-2002, 03:34 PM
the phthalo blue vs. titanium zinc reaction was explained to me as the zinc reacting to the copper elements in the phthalo. unfortunately, i don't know nearly enough about chemistry to be more specific. the effect was really lovely, though. also: the paint had been made by someone else, so maybe there were other factors (i can't vouch for precisely what was in the paint i was using).

re: longevity of alkyds and acrylics --

certainly the best scientific evidence available indicates that plastic is stubbornly immortal and we will be stuck with the stuff for a long time to come. i can honestly say that science is not enough for me. "science" has famously proclaimed that the world is flat and that smoking is good for you. i need the evidence of time, and the jury is still out on acrylics. my instincts tell me acrylics are immortal, too. but we've got to base our decisions on something more than my instincts.

as for alkyds, anecdotal evidence contradicts much of what windsor and newton and gamblin report on their websites. i've seen galkyd crack and i've seen liquin turn black. i've read the product sheets, i've used the products, but i'm unconvinced. i simply don't trust those mediums. i'm not here to tell anyone not to use them who has used them successfully. i'm just saying they don't work for me. they're too new.

additionally, i disagree with the claim that working with odorless mineral spirits (a petroleum distillate) is healthier than working with pure gum turpentine (a natural product of living pine trees) UNLESS an artist is allergic to turpentine (and many people are). alkyd resin smells much worse to me than turpentine. although odorless mineral spirits have no detectable odor, they emit fumes just as turp does and should also be used in a well-ventilated area for safety.

01-03-2002, 04:56 PM
Originally posted by sarkana
additionally, i disagree with the claim that working with odorless mineral spirits (a petroleum distillate) is healthier than working with pure gum turpentine (a natural product of living pine trees)

Just because it comes from something that grows in nature doesn't mean it's safe or healthy. Black widow spider venom is natural too.

Petroleum comes out of the ground, so it's just as natural as taking stuff out of pine trees.

Allegedly, turpentine is easily aborbed through the skin. This doesn't sound very safe to me.

01-03-2002, 05:55 PM
Originally posted by Michael

Just because it comes from something that grows in nature doesn't mean it's safe or healthy. Black widow spider venom is natural too.
Petroleum comes out of the ground, so it's just as natural as taking stuff out of pine trees.

gotta agree you you on this one !

01-07-2002, 06:28 PM
Thought the following extracts from The Materials Of The Masters by Virgil Elliott would be useful to consider.

<BLOCKQUOTE>...the Old Masters considered it important to use the best, most permanent materials they could find, in the proper manner...
...I will caution the reader not to misconstrue this emphasis to mean that concern for materials and technique is everything in art; certainly, it is not, but it has been overlooked and neglected for so long...

...Among the many fine painters living today, whose artistry and imagery have reached high levels, there is an alarming degree of acceptance of materials of questionable permanence, and widespread ignorance on the subject...

...Whereas there are a great many artists who feel that the secret to the Old Masters' brilliance lies, at least in part, in employing the same materials they used, I feel this line of thinking overlooks a very important fact: the Old Masters used the best materials that were available to them in their time, in the interest of preserving their works as far into the future as possible. We would be operating more in the spirit of the Old Masters by using the best materials available to us, today, than by insisting on using what we believe was being used three hundred years ago.

...A great deal has been written about what the Old Masters supposedly used, and how they used it, yet most of it was essentially guesswork, speculation, conclusions drawn based on too little evidence, given greater credence than is warranted by virtue of its having been published in print. Furthermore, recent discoveries from conservation scientists, analyzing paint samples from Old Master paintings being restored, have proved much of the speculation of the past 150 years to have been in error.

...There are two widespread practices in common use today which may well spell disaster for the paintings thus produced, which bear addressing before anything else. The first of these is painting in oils on canvas primed with acrylic emulsion grounds, incorrectly called "gesso." There have been enough instances of delamination... that conservation scientists at the Smithsonian Institute Museum Support Center are currently conducting tests and experiments to determine the cause of these problems... these investigations are not yet complete... but there is reason, at this point, to regard the manufacturers' assurances that these primers are suitable for oil painting with a healthy degree of skepticism and doubt.

..."What, then, should we use?" I shall waste no words in answering; the alkyd-based grounds show every indication of outperforming even the highly permanent traditional ground of white lead in linseed oil. Rabbitskin glue as a sizing for canvas is now known to be a major factor in the cracking of old paintings on canvas, and is best replaced by a neutral pH PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate) solution or acrylic matte medium thinned by half with water. The sizing must be applied first, to seal the absorbency of the canvas, and allowed to dry overnight, before the ground (primer) is applied.

...It is important to understand that oil paints become increasingly less flexible, i.e., more brittle, with age, and can be expected to crack, regardless of the ground on which they are applied, if the support is not sufficiently rigid to prevent any flexing of the paint layer. Of course, this is precisely what we have with stretched canvas, including even the highest quality linen. It is very likely that grounds which might be prone to delamination of the superimposed oil paint when applied to stretched canvas will prove entirely satisfactory on rigid panels, or on canvases glued to panels. This seems to be the best way to minimize potential problems. An oil paint layer that is not subjected to flexing is less apt to develop cracks or fissures, and thereby is better suited to resist the various maladies which can befall a paint film whose surface integrity is no longer intact.

...I mentioned that there were two questionable practices in widespread use today... The second is the use of a very popular painting medium containing a high percentage of mastic resin, long thought to be a lost secret of the Old Masters. Recent scientific discoveries reveal Rembrandt's medium to have been simply linseed oil, and sometimes walnut oil, sometimes identified as "heat-bodied" in certain passages, but containing no detectable resins.

The most important "secret" of the Old Masters was not some ancient alchemy, but rather a thorough knowledge of every aspect of the making of art, gained through sound training and many years of practice...
Virgil Elliott </BLOCKQUOTE>

The complete text can be found <A HREF=http://www.artrenewal.org/articles/2001/Virgil_Elliott/column1.html>here</A>.


01-07-2002, 07:04 PM
I believe a little bit of common sense should prevail.
and we should try in my opinion to keep things simple.

Making a work of Art last is I think a good thing.

To that end I believe a painter should choose pigments which have stood the test of time. Lead white, the iron oxide earth pigments (natural and/or synthetic), cobalt blue & green, terra verde,etc.
Other modern pigments can also be used if they've been sufficiently tested. I would personally do my own test on a panel and leave the color exposed to the sun for maybe a year. If it can take that, I would trust it to last.
Wood panels , canvas have been time tested.
Cold pressed linseed oil is time tested.
Ditto for linseed stand oil, sun-thickened linseed oil, walnut oil, sun-thickened walnut oil.
Egg tempera is time tested.
So is Encaustic.
Fresco has been around thousands of years.
Acrylics seem to be, so far, a dependable medium.
ALL of the above is more than enough to keep ALL of us busy for the rest of our lives.
So if we use any of the above we can all sleep easy at night and know deep in our hearts it's going to last.
Then we can all start worrying about if what we're producing is asthetically good.
My advice is to use only materials you know are time tested and then you won't have to worry about it and can concentrate on the work , which I believe is what we should really be concerned with.

01-08-2002, 10:10 AM
I use the best, highest quality materials I can find . I build my own stretchers and stretch my own canvases.

I am moving from oils to acrylics: a mentor/teacher making art for 30 years just died of cancer, another has lost his sense of taste/smell. I know many painters who over time have become allergic to oil paint. The little cloth masks are a joke. Toxic fumes can permeate through them. The only real protection is one of those gas mask type masks.

I began to experience reactions to oils (I understand it is accumulative). It becomes just another problem solving opportunity to achieve the depth/richness/tactile attrubutes of oil. I'm getting close. I just want to live long enough to make one really good painting.

I also do a lot of experimental work with various materials. Many not considered "fine art"/art store products. I always include a disclaimer that the work is experimental and detail the materials used.

For me, "craftsmanship" is paramount.

01-08-2002, 10:50 AM
Originally posted by antonio
To that end I believe a painter should choose pigments which have stood the test of time. Lead white, ...

Painters of old used lead white not because it is more permanent than titanium white, but because titanium wasn't available.

If they had titanium pigment, and knew how poisonous lead was, i doubt they would have used lead.

Unlike Cadmium pigments, which are not water soluble and thus have a hard time entering the human body (a very small amount of Cadmium can be dissolved by the hydrocloric acid in your stomache, so eating the stuff should be avoided), lead pigments are water soluble and enter your body quite easily.

Using lead just doesn't make any sense.

01-08-2002, 11:01 AM
Originally posted by Michael

Painters of old used lead white not because it is more permanent than titanium white, but because titanium wasn't available.

I respectfully disagree Michael. All painters today have the option to use Titanium and yet many still choose lead.

If they had titanium pigment, and knew how poisonous lead was, i doubt they would have used lead.

We all know how poisonous lead is but many still use it.

so eating the stuff should be avoided), lead pigments are water soluble and enter your body quite easily.

If lead is used properly it is quite safe. Many painters thru out history used lead white safely and lived to ripe old ages.
Obviously one has to very careful with it. Not eat it. Not play with it and smear it all over your skin. Not to touch it and then eat. Etc. Basically common sense.

Using lead just doesn't make any sense.

Lead white has certain chemical and visual properties that many painters value. If lead weren't toxic, I venture to say that Titanium wouldn't even have been invented.

01-10-2002, 12:18 AM
Mame, toxic effect from pigments and solvents, particularly via skin contact, do tend to be cumulative. Printers have similar problems with dermatitis as litho inks are similar in composition to oil paints plus they clean the presses with mineral spirits and tend not to use gloves or barrier creams, at least traditionally.

Originally posted by Michael
If they had titanium pigment, and knew how poisonous lead was, i doubt they would have used lead.
Er, many artists used Emerald Green (an arsenic compound) with full knowledge of how incredibly toxic it was - it was simultaneously marketed as a pesticide - because it was a nice colour. Nobody said we artists were the most logical people! But if you don't touch the stuff or point your brushes in your mouth it's essentially safe, not that I would necessarily want to have it around.

You're overstating the risk of lead pigments: they do not enter the body "quite easily" in practical terms: one must ingest or inhale them to pose a threat. Skin contact is almost certainly not a risk as lead compounds are whoppers on a molecular level and solvents acting to carry lead into the skin is not agreed upon in the literature. Lead White, because it is an organic compound (basic lead carbonate), poses slightly more of a threat once ingested, but with good studio practice this doesn't happen and I think most artists who use it are especially careful with it.

I agree that had Titanium White been around long ago it would have been used (just like Zinc White) but many painters would have continued to use Flake either side-by-side or in preference because of its other properties including its siccative value and buttery handling which make a lot of sense in practice.

Originally posted by antonio
Lead white has certain... visual properties that many painters value.
Yeah, it goes more transparent, and faster, than any other oil colour. Sorry, couldn't resist ;)


Scott Methvin
01-12-2002, 01:54 PM
Have to agree with Mr. Enion.

Titanium white and lead white are very different pigments. One dries slowly, the other fast. One is chalky and the other one is not. One can't really be used for scumbling and the other one is perfect for that.

Like night and day.

Another dangerous but fun pigment is "genuine" vermillion. I have a jar of the dry powder and mix up a small amount with a pallette knife when I need it. I admit to being a "lead head" and using flake for everything, but I treat the vermillion like it was a poisonous snake. No finger glazing. Beautiful color, but made of mercury and sulfur. (also known as cinnibar) This pigment is also the most opaque I have ever used.

Naples yellow (genuine) is another lead based color that is wonderful to paint with. Hard to find in good quality these days. It's nothing like the fake kind you'll find in the art stores.

There's also lead tin yellow, which I have yet to try.

There are lots of ways to poison yourself in the exciting world of oil painting. Common sense and dilligence will always keep you healthy. These days, everything is dangerous and toxic-for example; how many of you (over 35) ever had to wear a helmet when you rode your bicycle as a kid? How many people still drink water out of the tap?