Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Long Awaited Update on Black Pirate!

In January we put up posts about a project that has been ongoing for a long time, the Black Pirate poster. (Click here and here to see the old posts) Just to review, the Black Pirate poster is a 1926 silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks. It is a rare movie poster and the owner of this particular one bought it glued to a board at a garage sale. It has been living in the studio for the past few years in various states. First deteriorating on a board, then removed from the board in pieces before the surviving segments were linen backed. The paper that was missing was added back in. Then it sat in the studio for another few months because even for Poster Mountain this is a big project to tackle.

When you last saw the poster it looked like this...

I feel compelled at this point to talk about the difference in levels of restoration. John has always emphasized that any work we do, whether it is just conservation or a major restoration project like this, should maintain the integrity of the piece and our company. This particular poster came to us glued to a board and because of the adhesive that was used we had no other recourse during the demount process but to take it off in pieces. Which means that by the time it was brought back together it was never going to look exactly like it once had. This leaves us working with the client to come to a happy medium about how much restoration we feel comfortable performing.

This Black Pirate poster is a special case. It is an extremely rare poster, the client loves this poster and has no intention of selling it, he simply wants to be able to enjoy this piece of cinematic history as it was meant to be. The amount of restoration we are performing on this poster is extreme, but it is an aberration from what we do or even advise our clients to ask for on a day to day basis. With that caveat, we can continue with our regularly scheduled blog post.

To create a unified whole, this poster is getting a lot of airbrushing. Each individual color involves separate masks for airbrushing, matching the colors and then building up thin layers of paint until it looks right. We had previously masked off and airbrushed the black in the lower third, as well as the low lights in Fairbanks' boots and in the flag. Gabe and Aaron next worked on the orange of the railing of the ship.

Pictured: Gabe cut out the orange shapes of the railing, leaving the rest covered in acetate.

Pictured: This was in the middle of airbrushing and Aaron pulled out some of the other masks, like those left over from painting the flag.

Gabe uses acetate, which is a clear plastic film, to cover the area around what Aaron is working on along with the brown paper that covers the majority of the poster. Since the acetate is clear, Aaron is able to see a certain amount of the area around what he is painting. This gives him a better idea of the over all look that he is trying to create because his view is not narrowed down to just the thing he is airbrushing.

Pictured: Aaron tempered the orange with a little bit of yellow, which he also used to do the metal work on the chest that Douglas Fairbanks is sitting on.

Then we got really busy and the poster spent most of the summer on the back burner. So a few weeks ago, the guys picked it back up again and began working on the sky and the ship in the background. 

We have a high quality picture of another of these posters that Gabe uses for reference. When he and Aaron begin working on a piece he prints out larger than life sections of the specific areas they need so they have good guidelines to work with. 

Pictured: You can't see it that well, but there is acetate that covers everything but the sky.

Pictured: Ok, I know the poster is upside down, but if you look really closely you can see the areas that Gabe has opened up and where Aaron has applied several layers of paint.

Pictured: Shot of the boat mask while it is still on the poster.

Picture: After both the sky and the boat have been airbrushed.
And here is the glamour shot! You can see that we have also cleaned up the border in addition to the other areas that I mentioned. It is beginning to come back together as a whole and there is light at the end of the tunnel for this project.

The ocean is the last major area to be airbrushed before the piece will be handed off to Melissa who will polish up the small details. We should have another update of this project posted in the next couple of weeks. So, stay tuned!

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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