Art restoration is the process of repairing or renovating works in the attempt to restore them to their original, undamaged appearance. The main objective is to preserve the inherent value of a work of art. Here is a step-by-process on how the restoration process works with before and after photos.
Art Restoration Services
The process of how art conservators restore paintings vary, but these are typical services:
- Surface cleaning
- Discolored varnish removal
- Paint Loss Restoration / In-Painting
- Repairing holes and tears
- Previous restoration reversal
- Label encapsulation / preservation
- Minor to extension frame repair
What Does it Cost
The cost of restoring art varies greatly depending on the condition, type of damage, and size of the work. The process is labor-intensive and can often take weeks to months to complete. Experts often recommend against restoring a painting worth less than $700 because the cost to restore it can often exceed the value of the painting.
Locating an Art Restorer or Conservator
Start your search by looking for an art restoration or conversation company in your area where you can physically present the painting. The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) has a search tool for locating conservation professionals by zip code or specialty.
The art restorer in my area of the Flathead Valley in northwest Montana is Joe Abbrescia, Jr., the son of the famous artist Joe Abbrescia. Joe has been in the art restoration business for decades and works with private collectors, art galleries, art dealers, auction houses, and museums. Abbrescia’s art conservation philosophy is to perform the least treatment required to stabilize the condition of the oil painting and restore it as closely as possible to its original appearance.
The paintings below were restored by Joe Abbrescia, Jr. and are presented here courtesy of Art Restoration & Conservation Studio of Joe Abbrescia Jr.
Shipping Your Painting
If you are unable to find a local restorer, then consider shipping your valuable painting in a Strongbox by Airfloat. These boxes are the choice of museums and fine art galleries worldwide. They can be ordered to size and come with padding in a sturdy box which provides the ultimate protection. Make sure you ship it with insurance in the unlikely event it becomes damaged during shipment.
How Art Conservators Restore Paintings
The piece needs to be inspected up close and in person. Emailing photos won’t do. After inspection, the restorer will provide a quote as to what is necessary to restore it.
Per Abbrescia, “the initial examination of a painting begins at my studio and takes about forty-five minutes. There is no charge for this initial examination. An ultra-violet examination of the painting surface is often done at that time along with a discussion with the client to determine the extent of the conservation treatment that is required to achieve the desired outcome. All conservation fees are based on the necessary needs of each painting, its condition, and the proposed treatment options. Compliance with professional guidelines as well as maintaining high personal standards has built my reputation within the art community of the northwest.”
Repairing the Painting
The restorer or conservator will identify what type of varnish was used so those outer layers can be removed and repaired. One way this may be accomplished is by applying an intermediate coat of varnish to physically separate the new paint from the old. The conservator will carefully in-paint damaged areas using dry pigment mixed with synthetic non-yellowing solvents. This process will also protect the painting from the need for further conservation.
Assessing Loss of Paint
Careful inspection and infrared imaging is often used to view the original drawing and loss of paint underneath the surface of a painting. Technological advancements in art restoration have included cameras with fixed wavelengths. Because different pigments and materials reflect or absorb various wavelengths differently, these devices can help distinguish varnish layers.
Removing Discolored Varnish
The next step is to find the appropriate solvent mixture to remove discolored varnish layers. This is where the experience and knowledge of the conservator come into play. This is a delicate technique and if not done properly can cause further damage to the painting.
The extent of Joe Abbrescia, Jr.’s restoration of a painting is extensive. The painting may need new canvas behind the old, sealed tight with lining wax, or may involve knitting seamless patches into the work. Joe’s process often involves flattening the painting, stretching it, cleaning it one square inch at a time. He will spend hour after hour gently Q-tip rubbing the surface to lift grime, soot, and old yellow varnish until the desired outcome is reached. Abbrescia says, “it is so satisfying to restore a painting back to the artist’s intent.”
Prevent Damage To Your Paintings
Take care of your paintings by hanging them in Indirect sunlight, using recessed lighting or ceiling-mounted spotlights.
Here is what not to do:
- Don’t hang over a fireplace as it will attract heat, soot and environmental extremes
- Never hang in direct sunlight which will cause yellowing and pigments to fade
- Place rubber spacers for air circulation behind paintings if mounted on an exterior wall
- Avoid hanging near air and heating vents and in moist areas like bathrooms
- Resist the urge to store your paintings in uncontrolled climates such as basements and attics
- Don’t use frame-mounted lighting as it casts a harsh glare and heats the painting
Cleaning Your Paintings
The simplest way to clean up an oil or acrylic painting at home is to use the dry brush method. Buy yourself a set of soft, sable paintbrushes in a variety of sizes to gently brush the dust off. Anything beyond this method needs a professional to clean it properly.
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