I am adept at painting, and adept at finishes on furniture:
shellac, oil finishes, painted finishes, etc.
As an artist my chosen medium are acrylics and watercolors,
oil on shellacked paper, mixed media, on canvas and paper.
I’ve never painted on a fine fabric such as silk,
and the introduction of a lightweight support is a new experience.
Yet I said, “Why sure I can do that!,” when it came to reproducing the flag
because it is actually easier to reproduce another artist’s work than to
create an original if it is a medium you are unfamiliar with,
and because in our business half our projects every year introduce
us to something we’ve not done before —
Remember the Circus Ball? How does one paint a round object?!
In an effort to save myself time and materials (or so I thought),
I asked a conservator who paints oils on silks for advice on the best sizing for silk.
I was shocked. X totally discouraged me from the entire project!
I am not easily discouraged, and WOW, this person was adamant!
I persisted in being heard about my question,
and frankly reiterated to X that a painter painted this flag on silk a century ago…
The more I tried to explain it was a piece that needed to “exactly”
reproduce the historic flag (as much as possible, a note about this later),
and that I wasn’t asking for advice on changing the parameters of the project,
the more I was certain that X was beyond listening. S/he had an agenda:
“Save time and money, and get it printed by scanning and printing on polyester or silk!
Then they can parade it through the streets, and you can make several, and it will be an actual reproduction of the original, cracks and all — or you can Photoshop it!”
Thanking X for the time taken, I moved on, certain we were on different wavelengths.
In the course of carefully examining the original flag,
I noticed that the silk was not pliable as it should be, but was stiff in peaks and creases.
It is true that when silk degrades it can become hard and brittle,
but this is not brittle as much as it is stiff.
See the ridge above? The whole flag actually feels stiff to the touch.
I surmise the original painter may have sized the entire flag face!
Everything historically was pointing to using a fish glue or rabbit hide glue as sizing.
I am fine with both glues, but a nagging voice wondered about an easier, modern product.
Which brings us to historical reproductions.
It is often impossible to reproduce a piece accurately.
For instance, furnishings that are new or to be used in public buildings cannot
be painted using prohibited ingredients such as lead based paints.
If you are reproducing a white lead oil paint, you have to move to a different acceptable
white oil paint (which is not necessarily so when restoring a master painting.)
So technique is what I am reproducing, not every material…
Oil paint on silk, possibly a silk blend, and I wondered about modern primers.
Dave Bernard from Gamblin Artist Colors (also a conservation company)
came by to view the flag and to discuss various issues.
We talked about how artists have historically painted on silk,
and he told me of two local artists who paint with oils on silk regularly.
Dave suggested I try Gamblin’s PVA size, a modern product that will work
better than trying to have a consistent thin viscosity in a fish or rabbit skin glue.
We talked about the differences between painting a painting and painting a piece
to be sewn into a flag, and brainstormed about the issues and possible solutions.