Inside the Conservation Studio

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Posted 13th March 2019

Inside the Conservation Studio

Alexandra Lawson

My name is Alexandra Lawson and I am in the middle of a six-month paintings conservation internship at the Watts Gallery, after completing a three year postgraduate degree in the Conservation of Easel Paintings at The Courtauld Institute last July.

My role at Watts Gallery – Artists' Village is assisting Sally Marriot, de Laszlo Conservation Fellow, with the preventative and practical care of the collection, giving talks about what we do at the gallery to the public, and helping with the loans programme and exhibitions.

My first treatment project at the gallery was repairing a small tear on the G F Watts's painting, The Messenger.

When you look at an image of the tear under magnification you can see that an impact has sharply torn some fibres, and pushed others out of alignment. To fix the tear, I first secured the damaged fragments of paint around the tear with a conservation adhesive, then under the microscope I carefully re-weaved and joined the remaining fibres together using polyamide welding powder.

This powder looks similar to very fine sugar, but when in contact with a hot needle (at about 90 degrees centigrade) it becomes liquid. Once the heat is taken away it quickly dries and leaves the threads adhered together again. To help me align fibres I used a combination of surgeon's tweezers and dental tools (pictured here).

Once the tear had been mended I filled the area around the tear on the front of the painting, where the original paint had been lost, using a chalk putty. I imitated the texture of the surrounding canvas in the area of fill, as the medium we use for in-painting is very thin and it isn't possible to build up texture.

I in-painted only the area where the paint was missing, and used a varnish medium with dry, finely ground pigments. The main reason conservators use varnish instead of oil or acrylic paint is that it is easily removable if future conservators wish to re-interpret the work I have done.

The conservation treatment is now finished, and the painting is once again on display at the Watts Studios.


Conservation Open Studio
Thursdays, 12pm
David Pike Conservation Studio
Free with admission | Friends free

Meet de Laszlo Conservation Fellow, Sally Marriott in her studio and hear about the research, discoveries and skills of a conservator.

Please note: tickets must be booked with admission.


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