About Lucia Scalisi

I am a formally trained and qualified Conservator of Paintings from a Museum background (Victoria & Albert Museum, London). Conservation is to Museum standards with Continuous Professional Development underscoring practice. I work on large scale Conservation projects abroad as well as training, project development & in television - BBC ‘The Repair Shop’.

Conservation of Fine Art – Training

I’ve been asked quite a lot recently about training in the Conservation of Paintings and training in Conservation generally. Primarily Conservation is a vocation – you wont get monetarily wealthy working in this field but you will enrich your life! – I’m biased but I think Conservation is a wonderful world and its never too late to discover it.

Here are the 3 main courses for Paintings Conservation in the UK plus one in Conservation Studies – check the websites for undergrad and postgrad degrees and Diplomas:-

Conservation of Fine Arts at University of Northumbria – Newcastle

http://www.northumbria.ac.uk

Courtauld Institute of Art

http://www.courtauld.ac.uk

Hamilton Kerr Institute Conservation of Fine Arts – Cambridge

http://www.hki.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

A course in Conservation Studies is on offer at:-

City & Guilds Art School – London

http://www.cityandguildsartschool.ac.uk

I taught for a number of years here and the course is exciting! It doesn’t offer Paintings Conservation but you will learn about paint and pigments and materials and techniques. There are undergrad & postgrad studies. Placements within major institutions are often organised as part of the training. There is a stone carving yard with many students going on to work in stone carving workshops across the UK. Frame conservation is also part of the course where gilding is a major component. Polychrome sculpture and other painted surfaces on a multitude of objects can be anticipated, along with training in Laser Cleaning.

Chemistry is a necessary part of any training in Conservation not only for understanding the core materials and methodology of conservation but for identifying the materials you are working with. Its applied chemistry and absolutely essential and absolutely fascinating!

Hope this helps!

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The author cleaning a portrait of ‘Louis VIII (1755-1824) King of France by François Gérard (1770-1837)

 

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Pigments 18th – 20thC – part 2

We saw in my earlier blog ‘Pigments from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance’ ( Nov 9 2018) just how conservative artists were in their use of materials. Having spent many years acquiring the knowledge and skills of their craft and conscious of the many hours of skilful labour on each work, they were not prepared to risk their time or reputations on experiments with new materials. 

The Renaissance brought change in how artists handled the new material of oil paint; they used the same pigments that had been available since antiquity but in a new paint medium – oil.

From the 17th century onwards another period of expansion and development, the majority of post renaissance pigments were the result of the emergence of modern synthetic chemistry. 

Artists’ represent a tiny proportion of the market for pigments, pigments were made principally for other industries.  Then as now artists adopted pigments developed for industrial use, for example dyes* for the textile industry. There has always been an interval of some years after the introduction of a new artists pigment before it has been widely adopted by artists. 

Many of the new inorganic pigments resulted from the isolation of newly discovered metallic elements and experimentation with their salts; zinc, cobalt, chromium and platinum in the 18th century; cadmium (light yellow to deepest shades of red through to bron) and strontium (lemon yellow) in the 19th century; manganese (black & browns), titanium (white) and molybdenum (blue) in the 20th century. All these metallic salts produce ranges of bright, stable (though not always non toxic) pigments. Other useful pigments were discovered during this period too in experiments with more familiar materials; Prussian blue (Fe) 1704, French Ultramarine (NaSi) 1828;  patent yellow (Pb) 1770’s, Scheele’s green (Cu As) 1778 . 

Early artists’ palette did not have the bright, opaque yellows and greens so essential in landscape painting. The 18th & 19th century colours – Prussian, cobalt and chromium greens along with Emerald and Brunswick green – were welcome additions which together with patent, chrome, platina, lemon and cadmium yellows could provide a riot of greens beyond the wildest dreams of a 17th century painter. Due to toxicity many of these greens were short lived on the artists palette but we do see them in paintings and marvel at the intensity of colour e.g emerald green, a copper arsenic green; brunswick green (1764), a copper chloride green.  

The traditional dependence of artists’ colour-makers (once the apothecary) on the new dyeing trade continued, resulting in a wealth of bright new organic pigments mainly of the lake** type, some of which were less fugitive than the traditional crude plant and animal dyestuffs that they replaced. Among these alizarin (madder) , quercitron (transparent yellow lake) and the early aniline*** hues were less dependable than the Hansa yellows and phthalocyanine blues, which appeared in the later 19th & 20th century. 

It is a measure of artists’ conservatism that medieval pigments still figure large in the modern Colourmens’ lists. However it is also an indication of the improvements in pigment manufacture that many of these are not the original materials but near perfect imitations of their hues concocted to avoid the defects of the old colours. Thus we may now buy non-toxic and non-reacting Naples yellow (Pb) and orpiment (As) or carmine and sepia that are almost light fast. 

** 

* dyes – soluble in water. Pigments are not water soluble; to make a pigment from a dye a complex chemical process known as Lake making is undertaken – see below.

*lake pigments – a dye struck onto a metal substrate, usually aluminium hydrate. The resulting material is an insoluble pigment. 

***aniline hues – this group of synthetic pigments were originally called coal tar colours as they were derived from chemicals from the distillation of coal tar – the result of the gas industry. Made from 5 basic raw materials – benzene, toluene, naphthalene and anthracene. The first pigment of this group is Mauve discovered in the UK by Sir William Perkins in 1856 (making him a millionaire). 

Queen Victoria loved Perkin mauve. 

Perkin Mauve

 

Elements & their associated pigments

Elements some of their Associated Pigments

Pigments come from many different materials – plants, vegetables, animals and minerals. This list gives an idea of some of the pigments made from mineral elements mined from the earths crust. Bearing in mind that the mining of these elements sometimes involves crude mechanisms and cheap labour there are many social and environmental aspects to what we might perceive as simple paint materials – not least as humans search for other planets. It’s not because we’re going to live there.

Click on the title link above to view the list.

The Repair Shop Christmas Special

The Repair Shop is probably the first programme on TV to reveal some of the ins and outs of the Conservation of Paintings. In the Christmas Special you’ll see me working on a particular type of  painting – a European-style picture from the colonial era of South America. It’s a well known and relevant Christmas subject ‘Virgin and Child’  painted ‘Statue‘ style, imitating statues commonly seen on the Church altar – it is not a realistic figure.

During the 16th century onwards artists from ‘Old World’ Europe sailed into the New World. As well as producing work in the European style, artists taught individuals from indigenous populations to paint in the European style, providing for the rapidly growing market in religious imagery.

This particular painting is remarkable not only because it is in the statue style and tells much ‘news’ from the old world, but in the face of the Madonna we see the face of an indigenous Quechua woman.

The style might be European but she isn’t.

Madonna & Child

Colonial Spanish ‘statue ‘ painting

The designs in the fabric of the Virgin’s mantle are tulips, the mania of which stormed mid 17th century Europe. This religious painting, set in contemporary style, brings news not only of the birth of Christianity but the latest fashion edit from the old world.

Another notable feature of the painting is the artists attempt at creating movement in the image. The caucasian looking angels hold candles whose flames gutter in a breeze (whoosh?) created by a hovering Virgin moving forward towards us, the viewer. If you can imagine looking at the image in a darkened room, lit only by candle, the vision before you takes on a mystical intensity.

There’s more to paintings than meets the eye and these blogs aim to provide incites into  the creative process and the materials and techniques that get us there, as well as inside info on the wonderful world of Conservation.

The other charming event in the Christmas special episode of  ‘The Repair Shop’ was the ‘secret Santa’. We each produced a gift for our secretly selected person. It wasn’t possible in the edit to show all the hand made gifts but at the request of many as to what I made ….. here it is, recipient and all :)))) Happy Christmas everyone!

The Repair Shop, Secret Santa reveal.

Graffiti Painting

 

 

Whats Paint Got to do with it?

I wrote in the footnotes of the Nov 2018 blog ‘Medieval and Renaissance Pigments’ that paint is made of two components – pigment and medium.

It led me to revisit my early enthusiasm for paint, paintings and the wondrous developments we humans have gone through to have the materials we use today. 

It’s my great fortune to have trained and worked at close quarters with paintings, to analyse and understand their makeup which lead me to an appreciation of the industrial developments that inform our lives. Incredibly (to my mind) the changes that have taken place in paint from prehistoric cave paintings to right Now, are very small indeed. In fact the paints that early humans made and used (earth pigments, soot, waxes, etc) are still in use today, a legacy to the inherent qualities of these materials.

Paint is ubiquitous. The story of mankind may be encompassed in the development of the material we use in our art and in our everyday lives, whether we’re on the streets of Grimsby or Kathmandu. You might not think of yourself as an artist but you have paint materials around you 24/7, from the road lines along our pavements (see instagrams 14th & 20th Oct 2018) to the faded and scratched paint on shop doors and windows, to the spaces that you find shelter in. It’s everywhere; perhaps you only notice it if it causes a reaction in you – you like the colour or you don’t? its wet paint!?

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In brief – many materials can be used as binders for paint – egg, gum, wax, oil and pva are examples you will know. 

Egg tempera painting reached its zenith in 14th century Italy when the Renaissance kicked in bringing the new development of oil paint.  Oil became the most important paint medium for the next 500 years up to the 20th century.

There are four important classes of synthetic resin used in 20th century paint:- nitrocellulose (pyroxylin); alkyds; polyvinyl acetate (pva); acrylic. Acrylic has been the most important synthetic resin used in artists quality paint, the other mediums have been used principally in house paints…….

…..and that’s been the game changer – House Paints. 

For example, Alkyd resins, developed in 1927 (not commercially available until after WWII) are the standard binder in oil based household paints even today. Alkyd ranges are also produced by artists Colourmen – people who make artists paint are called Colourmen

Frank Stella’s (b. 1936) painting ‘Six Mile Bottom’ (1960, Tate) is a commercial, alkyd- based, aluminium paint. Lots of intense, opaque colour, lots of flow and lots of paint needed to make the 3metres x 2 metres (approx) painting.  

As Picasso discovered at the beginning of the 20th century you could do things with household paints that you couldn’t do with paint made specifically for artists or with egg or with wax or casein or anything.

Think Rothko, think Pollock, think BIG!

More on colour, paints, mediums and artists in future blogs.

In the meantime follow me on Instagram for snapshots of all the above.

Instagram:- luciainlondon123

Brief History of Pigments in Western Art – Part 1: Medieval and Renaissance Pigments

One of the questions I’m often asked of my job as Conservator of Paintings is why don’t I retouch with the same pigments the artist used?

There are a number of answers to this but basically, sometimes I do use the same pigment and sometimes I don’t.

An example of where I’m likely to use the same pigments are the earth colours – raw/burnt umber, raw/burnt sienna, yellow ochre etc.

An example – where I do not use the same pigment as the artist is where they have used Lead White. Lead white is found in just about every painting (and household paint!) up until the late 20th century when H&S kicked in. It is fantastic as a paint – it handles well and is extremely durable but, the overriding nature of its toxicity means it is not a viable material for anyone to use if they want to live a healthy, long life. (Titanium white is the 20thC modern alternative).

Over the years I’ve used pigments in my work both as the colour for making the paint* to retouch losses in paintings, and in analysis to understand the original materials artists used.

Let’s begin though, with a brief history of Medieval and Renaissance Pigments.

The Renaissance period bridged the gap between the Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment, so roughly 1300-1600. It represents a great theoretical and scientific revolution in Europe.

You would think that such a burgeoning of science and theory and wealth and expansion would affect every aspect of the arts – which it did in one major way and that was oil paint. We’re not talking about that here though, because although the way artists painted did change quite radically with the ‘invention’ of oil painting, the major and most costly component of any paint both then and now is the pigment.

Pigments continued to be manufactured in much the same way as they’d aways been. Artists prepared the extensive range of colours available to them in the manner they always had since antiquity – they got the apprentices to do it. Lumps of raw pigment were washed, cooked, ground, graded, weighed and stored. Apprentices made paint by mixing pigments with egg, wax, mastic, resins and many other mediums – ultimately oil – and laid them ready to use, on the palettes of their masters. (All master artists had once been apprentices so they knew the score).

Medieval artist with apprentice preparing paint

Increased maritime trading* delivered pigments to an increasingly demanding market,  Church and Kings were big business. Artists used the colours in the same old way prescribed over centuries until the Renaissance. The Renaissance caused a shift, driving out the old fashioned, medieval preference for bright, pure, emblematic colours. Artists began mixing.

Using the same range of colours but mixing them allowed for subtlety and more naturalistic effects.  This was really because with an oil medium they could do that which they couldn’t with all the other mediums to date, that is mix colours as they worked, paint bigger and for extended periods of time, working up paint layers instead of being limited to paint mediums drying quickly in small sections.

Oil took a long time to dry allowing artists to literally mix paint, paint over larger areas and even mixing colours on the canvas or panel or whatever support over longer periods of time.

Things got ‘realistic’ and quite often fantastical, which was new and really quite amazing and everyone wanted their portraits painted. Nothing like this would happen again for about 400 years when Picasso popped up – but that’s another medium along with some really amazing pigments and another blog.

Now where were we…….

Ah, yes, technical treatises of the Renaissance such as Lomazzo (Gian Paolo Lomazzo, 1538-1592 Italian painter & writer on art theory and practice – self portrait below) set out comprehensive instructions for the mixing of colours. It was complicated because as artists began to mix colours they had to do it themselves and  became more aware of the issues of incompatibility of certain pigments in certain mediums.

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Some pigments mix together less well in one medium than another.  For example a pigment which is ideal for use in oil may well have serious disadvantages if used in fresco techniques e.g lamp black very difficult to use in waterbased paints.  Some pigments if mixed or placed in close juxtaposition will react chemically causing discolouration e.g the blackening of lead white if mixed with sulphur based pigments such as vermilion/cinnabar.

Renaissance artists weren’t so bothered about the stability and permanence of their pigments but more with the visual effects of their painting. However there were a few circumstances where they had to pay close attention as certain combinations of pigments were to be avoided because the negative effects (examples above) happened quite quickly; artists had to pay attention as clients certainly did not want paintings deteriorating before their very eyes.

Technical treatise were a godsend to the artist with a deadline.

By the middle of the 16th century most artists studios weren’t using apprentices to prepare the pigments but sending them out to buy ready prepared pigments from the apothecary – who was no doubt reading Lomazzo too.

Painting got faster, bigger and really dramatic over the next few hundred years.

 

* & **

* Paint is, very simply, two materials mixed together – a pigment with a medium

                                   (nouns:- medium; vehicle; carrier; binder – ‘s all the same).

In oil painting the medium would be a drying oil such as linseed, poppy or walnut.

In watercolour the medium is gum arabic; in acrylics the medium is…. acrylic etc.

Pigment + medium = Paint

In addition a diluent would be required to enable the paint to continue to flow as it is worked – turpentine for oils, water for watercolours and acrylics etc.

 

** One of the reasons Venice was such a seismic art/artist hot spot during the Renaissance was due to its geographic position – being the terminal for overland silk routes as well as prosperous maritime trading. Everything landed first in Venice.

The rise of Maritime nations such as the Netherlands inevitably witnessed a decline in importance of Venice as a northern renaissance grew with fortunes of maritime trade and the merchant classes who decided they wanted a bit of the painting action.

Next up:-  Pigments of the 18th-20th Centuries; the rise of Modern Synthetic Chemistry 

 

BBC2 – ‘The Repair Shop’ – 2018

Late summer 2018 sees The Repair Shop team filming series 4 & 5 for 2019. The show has gone from strength to strength with more experts coming in to the beautiful 18th Century barn at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum.

The objects selected illustrate a wealth of cultural heritage and the emotional inheritance attached to them. Revelations  can sometimes be spectacular but mainly modest – illustrating how clocks, ceramics, furniture, musical instruments, glass, toys, paintings and all, infuse our private lives with colour and meaning that replays over the years. They are signs of our times, our histories.

Whoever watches the programme cannot fail to reflect on their own life, what they have carried through from childhood or what has been passed down through generations. Memories stirred, reviewed, remembered, reclaimed.

I love the paintings I work on, no job too small, always a privilige. My job is a dream job; it was a real epiphany when I discovered it. I remember clearly the lightbulb moment when I first heard the word ‘Conservation’  – in a pub in Sheffield :)))

I called Sheffield Museum the next day and they told me they had a Conservation Department and I made an appointment to visit.

That was it.

In terms of that is what I was going to do it took a couple more years as I was living & working in New York and then travelling from there overland for a year, I got as far as Bolivia.

I’d already checked out the training courses  in the UK – all 3 of them :))) and its still the same today for a formal training in Paintings Conservation:- University of Northumbria; Courtauld Institute, London; The Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge.

I went to Newcastle – the course was located in a beautiful 19th century mansion in the grounds of Gateshead Technical College in the 80’s.  It was Fantastic! (My Grandmother was from Newcastle, I like to think it was this family link leading me there).

I always have Sheffield Education Authority to thank for providing a grant at that time too.

Moving from Newcastle to London to work at the Victoria & Albert Museum consolidated the foundation for a life in Conservation. I was enthusiastic, fortunate and looking back I have a lot of people to thank for their support and encouragement.

Photos Library

Lucia (at left) working on a painting by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) in the Paintings Conservation studio, V&A.

The Repair Shop is open for business.  If you have an object with a personal story and would like to take part then contact ‘Ricochet’ who are the Production Company responsible for making the programme they’d love to hear from you!

ProductionEnquiries@ricochet.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Link

Every Picture tells a story and 2017 saw the start of a 15 part series devoted to the Conservation and restoration of a Nations Fine and Decorative arts resting in our homes.

If we are lucky we all come to inherit or find an object we want to hold onto in our lives. This story is about ‘The Repair Shop’ aired in March/April this year BBC2 and I was part of the expert team We have had great reviews! and a second series has been commissioned.I was thrilled to be a part of the series & even more-so that it has been recommissioned for later this year. The first series was filmed at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum South Downs National Park near to Chichester. We filmed in the most beautiful late 17th century ‘Court Barn’ from Lee-On-Solent (rescued and reconstructed in the late 1970’s at the Weald & Downland Living Museum). Filming was great fun and testing too. It was pretty cold in January & February this year and working in-situ is a challenging environmentfor any Conservator at the best of times. I learned much about working in temperatures hovering around freezing – not my usual environment – not least that my portable varnish unit ceased to function and the varnish when applied did not dry readily. The supreme delight of this series though is that it taps into the emotional aspect of the objects brought into The Repair Shop. We are told Every picture tells a story, the stories we heard from the people and places attached to the objects makes for compelling television. The objects are worth more than any monetary value that may be attached to them and even now when I listen to the programmes I am moved to tears by many of the stories. My favourite has to be the story told by Patricia and Ivor Salmon and their beautiful painting of Icknield House. The painting passed to Patricia from her mother who received it as a wedding gift from the artist and owner of the house, Violet McDougall. Patricia & Ivor are a delight and so gracious in the sharing of theirstory. I was moved when one of the researchers appeared on set one day with a basket of flowers from them as a Thank you. We had a great team of experts working on the programme from the Producers, Researchers, Editors et al at Ricochet; the Camera Crew who guided us through the making of the scenes and the Expert team themselves (l-r in photo) Lucia Scalisi – Paintings; Kirsten Ramsey – Ceramics; Jay Blades – Upholstery;Stephen Fletcher – Horology; Will Kirk – Furniture and woodwork; Dominic Chinea – Metalwork – to name a few. Looking forward to more objects, stories and Conservation later this year. Join us at BBC2 and now on iplayer. IMG_5454IMG_6106