Friday, April 27, 2012

The Vargas Girl

We have put up so many contemporary silk screens recently that I decided that for this week's post we needed to do some fine art. So we are, as this week's title suggests, documenting another Vargas drawing that John worked on.

This particular piece is a sketch on tracing paper. When we received it the paper was extremely creased, most noticeably in two sections that ran right though the drawing. Because of the nature of the tracing paper and the fact that the medium Vargas used was watercolor pencil, washing this was not an option nor was using John's isinglass technique. Any moisture that moved across the surface could potentially take the whole drawing with it. So John devised a strategy that used a limited amount of moisture, the flat press and the heat press to remove the creases.

Pictured: The Vargas Girl before we began work. You can clearly see the two creases running through the whole drawing.

John set up a small humidity chamber on the glass topped tables using blotter paper and a silkscreen frame to lift the drawing up above the wet blotter. The reason that he did it on the slanted table in the back instead of our light table in the front is because he had already attempted to humidify this piece several times without seeing enough relaxation in the fibers of the papers. So John wanted to leave the piece in for a much longer time than usual and was worried about the build up of condensation in the plexi-glass box dropping onto the drawing. Thus the solution of using the slanted table so that any condensation would roll down to the edge of the plexi-glass without harming the drawing.

Pictured: The Vargas Girl in the back before John began work.

Pictured: John wetting down a piece of blotter paper. This was the base of the humidity chamber.

Pictured: John placing the silkscreen frame on top of the blotter.

Pictured: John carrying the Vargas Girl over to the table between two sheets of hollytex.

Pictured: The Vargas Girl lying on top of the silkscreen frame.

Pictured: John placing the plexi-glass box to form the actual chamber.

Pictured: The melamine board on top is to help seal the humidity chamber.
 While the drawing was relaxing, literally, in the humidity chamber, John cleaned the flat press. It is an old cast iron press that is ridiculously heavy (I have never tried to pick it up, nor do I want to. It just looks heavy as all get up.)

Pictured: John wiping

Once the drawing was damp, John removed it from the humidity chamber. He placed it between two sparkling new sheets of blotter paper and then sandwiched those between two pieces of melamine. Then the whole thing went into the flat press for a couple of hours to begin to dry flat.

Pictured: John lifts the plexi-glass box up carefully. If you lift it quickly you can create a current of air that can stir up whatever it is you're trying to flatten.

Pictured: Here John is checking the dampness of the paper.

Pictured: While the paper has relaxed significantly at this point you can still see that there are creases in it.

Pictured: Anyone else remember going shopping for brand new school supplies? That's the feeling I get using new blotters and hollytex. Everything is just sooooo new, it makes me happy.  John is positioning the blotter on the melamine before placing the drawing down.

Pictured: I feel like I use the word "carefully" a lot. However, in my defense, much of what we do in the conservation department is done carefully. As is the case here, where John is placing a melamine board on top of the blotters and the drawing. Doing this too quickly could create a whole new crease.
 The drawing was placed directly in the middle of the melamine boards, so that John knew where to position the boards in the press. After tightening the press down we again left the Vargas Girl for a few hours.

Pictured: John sliding the melamine boards containing the drawing into the flat press.

 The blotter paper wicked out some of the moisture in the tracing paper, however there is very little air movement between two piece of melamine, so even though the Vargas Girl had been in the press over night it still wasn't completely dry and left in that state it would take days and days and days. So John removed it from the flat press and put it into the heat press for a quick dry.

Pictured: John checking the area where the creases were.

Pictured: It is essential when putting things into the heat press, which not only heats up but also sucks all of the air out, that everything is lying completely flat before the vacuum seal is started.

Pictured: I know it doesn't look like much, but this picture was taken when John opened up  the heat press. The fact that you can't really see anything is a good thing. The blotter paper and as we soon found out the drawing underneath were flat and crease free.

At this point the Vargas Girl has gone from damp to heat in a short period of time. Temperature and humidity can have extreme affects on paper, so once John had removed it from the heat press he left it between the layers of hollytex and blotter paper and put the flat side of the plexi-glass box on top so that while the drawing cooled it would stay flat and remain so after we were finished working on it. 

Pictured: John moving the drawing back between the pieces of blotter paper to cool.

Pictured: John placing the "Art Below" sign on top of the plexi box.

 After the drawing had cooled Melissa took over. The creases in the paper had lead to some pigment loss which the owner wanted fixed. We use watercolors and watercolor pencils for almost every restoration project because they are water soluble and can be reversed if necessary. Here it was just coincidence that the medium Vargas used was the same thing Melissa used. Watching any of the artists in the restoration department work is usually incredible. This case however was particularly beautiful because it required such a light touch, which Melissa has.

Pictured: Melissa beginning restoration work on the Vargas Girl. She is using the second piece of hollytex as a buffer between her arm and the drawing so as not to cause any damage.

Pictured: I enlarged this photo so that you can see clearly the pigment loss from the creases that Melissa is fixing.

Pictured: One of the beautiful things about Vargas' drawings is the velvety quality that makes everything seem softer and more touchable. Although the damage from the creases was visible we didn't want to go overboard and lose that essence.

Here is the final photo of the drawing! Creases and damage now completely gone and this beauty restored to her former glory!

It should be noted that several crucial steps in our process have been omitted. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us via email at or by phone at 818.882.1214. Also check out our websites: and Please feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog!

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