Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Poster Mountain Silkscreen Experiment

I always love writing the words "We're doing something different this week" on our blog. The variety of ephemera that we see on a daily basis is a huge perk to this job. So, bear with me as I get a little wordy, because we're doing something different this week!

As our regular readers and clients know, Poster Mountain has been privileged to be part of the growing wave of contemporary silkscreens, both as collectors and conservators. We have been lucky enough to see a lot of these, although sadly its because they have been damaged in some way. Usually from issues during shipping.

 Silkscreens are amazingly varied, but two things make them stand out in particular, at least for me, from other types of prints: the viscosity of the ink and the range of paper types they are being printed on. Even different posters from the same shop have vastly different responses to our conservation techniques because of these two aspects.

In an effort to continue to expand our knowledge of these posters and how they respond to conservation, when John came across photos on Facebook (in the Silkscreen Poster Fans and Artists Group) of a badly damaged Malleus rock concert poster he asked that it be sent to us to experiment on. The poster had been damaged in shipping and not only were the sides badly crumpled, but there were two rips that had been punched through the paper. Malleus had replaced the poster so there was nothing riding on this experiment other than gaining valuable knowledge. Also, Urlo from Malleus (in Italy) was very helpful before we began the process, he helped us by following our instructions for testing the stability of the paper and ink on a leftover test-print and he shared the results with us. 

Pictured: The before photo taken under raking light so that the damage can be clearly seen. The two tears are along the right border by the star and just below the tip of the surf board.

Pictured: The poster was rolled in a tube which was severely damaged when it was shipped from Italy. We have a theory here that putting "fragile" on something just tempts the postal workers to damage it in some way. Especially if it is uninsured.

Pictured: John holding the print, you can see light shining through one of the tears.

Because we did not have to worry about causing more harm that we would have to fix later, we were more aggressive with this print than we normally are because we wanted to see what the extreme response to some of our processes are with these silkscreens. One concern that we had was that the ink used to print the Malleus stamp on the back was partially water soluble and we didn't want this to stain the paper around it. Another issue was the texture of the paper, which is a beautiful taupe colored laid fine art paper. We have been extremely cautious when it comes to textured paper because we don't want to loose that texture, so this gave us an opportunity to test the paper's limits.

We began as we usually do, by wetting down the paper front and back. This was tricky because the paper had been rolled and wanted to stay that way, so I used the squeegees to weight down the sides until the paper was saturated enough to lay flat without being forced down.

Pictured: This print did not want to stay flat...

Pictured... So, I used the squeegees to hold it down!

Pictured: We flipped it over to wet the back, but kept a careful eye on that print.

After the poster was wet and laying flat, we massaged the paper paying particular attention to those areas where the paper was dented. I also worked the areas where the two holes were, one on the right side of the star and the other just below the tip of the surf board by the border. Since there was no paper loss with these holes our hope was that we would be able to get the fibers to mesh together again.

Pictured: Massaging the paper trying to get the crumpled borders flat again.
Pictured: Working the area around the tear, trying to get the paper to mesh together again. As the paper begins to become saturated the paper becomes translucent, in this photo you can see a mottled appearance as it begins to soak in.
The poster is suspended between two sheets of Mylar that serve a dual purpose of allowing us to move between the front and back of the poster easily as well as protective barriers when we are manipulating a wet poster. As I worked the paper the crumpling that I could feel when I first started to run my fingers over the poster began to lessen.
Pictured: The tear, after we have worked the area around it trying to get it to lay flat again.This photo is out of sequence, but shows the paper before it became completely saturated.

Pictured: Here is the other side that was damaged.

At this point the tears in the paper were still noticeable, but they felt better. It is a hard thing to explain, especially to people who are visual, as most collectors, artists and art lovers are, but if we can get something to feel better when running our hands over it half  the battle is won, even when it doesn't look like it. Even after we have structurally stabilized something and it still doesn't look right we have a great restoration team that usually can make it look seamless again. However, since we were experimenting our goal was to try and seam these tears back together again during conservation.

Pictured: Here is another shot of that tear. The paper is extremely saturated with water at this point.

Pictured: The second tear became even less noticeable as we worked on this piece, so much so that you can barely see it in this picture.

The stamp on the back was still a concern and so we decided to saturate the paper around it so much so that any ink that wanted to wash out wouldn't stain the paper.

Pictured: After rinsing that area over and over again we were pretty sure that we weren't going to get any staining.

Now of course there is some Poster Mountain conservation voodoo going on that we're not going to show you. We have to keep a few secrets!  However, once the poster had been squeegeed we temporarily mounted it to a piece of hollytex on a melamine board.

Pictured: We used the Mylar to flip this piece over onto the board and then squeegeed it flat and removed the Mylar from the top. Notice how dark the completely saturated paper now appears. It will lighten back up as it dries.

Pictured: Here is the most noticeable of the two tears, pretty inconspicuous at this point.

As a precaution, John decided to put a piece of hollytex over the top to keep the poster flat while it cured. This is a technique called stretch pressing, although the form it has taken here is another one of the techniques that John has come up with. 

Pictured: John smoothing out any air bubbles between the hollytex and the poster.

We were not sure how this poster was going to turn out. As I mentioned earlier we have been extremely cautious about how we handled these pieces and rightly so. Silkscreens can be intimidating to work on because of their basic nature. So, here is the finished piece!

Pictured: The final glamor shot!

We did notice that in comparison to John's print, there was some variation and a sort of dappling effect happening in the paper color. We think that this was a chemical reaction in the paper itself. We did not use any harsh chemicals or bleach and John said he has never seen paper react this way. We're not sure whether it was from the chemicals used to make the paper that color or whether it was just something in the paper making process, but it does confirm our caution in introducing moisture and chemicals to the other silkscreens we have worked on.

Pictured: A side by side comparison of the damaged print on the left and John's untouched print on the right.

And as we expected some of the ink from the stamp on the back did wash out, so that the stamp is now blue instead of black. However, none of it stained the paper.

Pictured: Although the stamp turned blue, there is almost nothing visible left from the earlier damage.

The crumpled edges, however, are perfect again and the tears are almost completely unnoticeable. We were also able to keep the texture of the paper, even after manipulating the poster pretty aggressively in order to address the damage. There was also no noticeable change to the ink in the image.

Pictured: Here is where both tears were. Can you find either of them?

John and I have mixed feelings about this project because of the change in the paper color. However, we are human and thus fallible. We're also perfectionists, but as William Blake wrote the true method of knowledge is experiment. So while John and I may not be completely satisfied with our results, all in all we gained a lot of useful information from working on this poster that will help us to continue to refine the techniques we use on other silkscreens. 

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!


  1. Interesting post John. I've always found poster restoration fascinating, it seems like magic to me.

    I'm an avid silkscreen collector and have a few prints that were damaged during the shipping process. I'm wondering, in the case of tears where paper is actually missing, is it possible to fully restore those posters, or would you follow pretty much the same process and leave gaps where there's no paper to fill the holes?

  2. So how much would it cost to restore a poster like this...roughly?

  3. Cost is based on a case by case basis determined by the size and type of damage. Please email us at for more specific pricing.

    In general, without having seen what the damage is to your prints, we are usually able to repair and restore tears and areas where paper is missing. You can take a look at two other silkscreen projects that we have blogged about to see some examples: The Mummy Revitalized and The Flaming Lips

    Please let us know if you have any other questions that we can answer!

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. thecanuck77 asked a good much would it have cost this specific Malleus poster to be done, from start to finish, considering all the time and excellent work you put in. The price for restoring THAT piece. You did a great job. What would that piece shown have cost all told to the customer?

  5. Because the damage was pretty extensive, this particular piece would have cost about $125 to fix. However, we did not charge the person who sent us this because it was being replaced and we simply wanted to see what would happen when trying some new techniques. The information we gathered from this experiment was well worth it.