Friday, December 16, 2011

An Unusual Vargas Drawing

John has, over the years, conserved a number of originals and prints by the mid-20th century artist Alberto Vargas, but we received an unusual example of the artists work the other day. I can't resist giving a brief art history lesson here. Vargas is most well known for his glamorous and sensual pin-up drawings. The Peruvian native was born in 1896, but moved to Europe in 1911. He was greatly influenced by the French artists Ingres and Raphael Kirchner whose works depict their innate understanding of the female form. As WWI overtook Europe, Vargas ended up in America where he spent the majority of his career. Over the course of his life he worked as a portrait artist and illustrator for Ziegfield's Follies, Esquire and finally Playboy. It is his Playboy work that is most well known, combining form and sensuality, but never crossing the line into vulgarity with his images of the female form.

Pictured: An original illustration by Vargas that exemplifies his typical style.
Pictured: Vargas did the illustration for the  "Moon Over Miami" poster and it is still one of his most famous images. 

The most recent piece that we worked on is an early example of the well known pin-up artist's work. It is a crayon and ink sketch of a leaping boy from 1909. Vargas was only 13 years old and still living in Peru.  This drawing and a few others from an early sketchbook were featured in a 1943 New York Post article. While it is a beautiful and rare piece, it also had a couple of issues.

Pictured: This was the condition of the drawing when we received it.
The first thing was that it was mounted to a mat board with two pieces of dry adhesive that had a gap between the two pieces. This adhesive caused a discoloration of the paper, but the gap of paper was not discolored making it look like there was a strip of something down the back of the drawing. Additionally it was missing a big part of the top left corner. De-hinging, or adhesive removal, is something that John and our crew are experts at. It is a common sight to see John with a long, thin spatula in his hand, testing the strength of adhesive and tape before he finally settles on the solution to remove it.  The Vargas drawing was adhered to the board with two adhesive panels.

Pictured: John removing the drawing from the mat board.

Pictured: You can see the two panels of adhesive still on the mat board as well as the discoloration that they caused to the majority of the paper.

Once the paper was completely removed from the mat board, John could then wash and conserve the piece. This piece was mounted to a piece of acid free paper to help slow the deterioration process.

Pictured: The drawing before John began to wash it.

Pictured: John holding the drawing and the paper is was going to mounted on.

Washing it was fairly simple. John had tested the crayon pigments to make sure that they were not water soluble. We use a diluted organic soap with most of the pieces that go through the traditional conservation process.

Pictured: John rinsing the front of the drawing.

Pictured: The back of the drawing has already been rinsed and the discoloration from the adhesive is very visible.

Pictured: The discoloration is even visible on the front.

During this process John uses two pieces of Mylar to help maneuver and manipulate the piece. Using the Mylar gives an added layer of protection and since this drawing is more than 100 years old, John was very gentle with it while still making sure to rinse as much of the build up of grime out as possible.

Pictured: John spraying diluted soap onto the front of the piece.

Pictured: John is placing the Mylar sheet back on top of the drawing.

Pictured: John massaging the pollutants out of the paper.

Pictured: John squeegeeing the soap away.

After it had been washed and rinsed, John squeegeed the excess water out. The amount of moisture left in the paper is important. Water causes the paper to expand and then it contracts again while it is drying. You don't want it to dry to fast or too slow because it can cause the paper to warp. Once it had been squeegeed, John applied glue to the back of the paper.

Pictured: John applying glue to the back of the drawing.

Pictured: John wiping away the excess glue.

Using the Mylar, John then mounted it onto a paper substrate. The substrate gives us a foundation on which we can repair the damaged corner with a paper patch.

Pictured: John holding the edges of the Mylar sheet with the drawing.

Pictured: Carefully positioning the drawing on top of the paper substratum.

Pictured: John using the squeegee to remove any air bubbles and to bond the drawing to the paper substratum.

Pictured: John removing the Mylar sheet from the drawing, leaving it attached to the paper mount.
Once the drawing had dried, Antonia took over to repair the paper loss in the corner. Antonia is a master of her craft. She quickly and efficiently replaced this corner by sanding down the edges, tracing out the puzzle piece to fit and then gluing it in. After burnishing the seam, the join between old and new paper was perfect. 

Pictured: Antonia taping off the boundaries of the paper.

Pictured: Antonia sanding down the edges of the corner that's missing so much paper.

Pictured: Creating a new corner using a right angle triangle.

Pictured: After tracing out the shape she needs for the patch, Antonia cuts it out from the rest of the paper.

Pictured: Antonia applying glue to the back of the patch.

Pictured: Antonia carefully fitting the patch into its new home.

Pictured: Antonia added a smaller patch in the right corner as well. Shown here burnishing the join between the two pieces of paper.
After the paper has been repaired, the drawing then moves to Gabe who masks the image so that Aaron could airbrush the background. Unfortunately Gabe finished before I was able to get a shot of him working. I do have pictures of Aaron at work. The airbrushing on this piece is very subtle because it is the background color. However, it still takes very careful matching and multiple layers of very thin paint to beautifully restore the background on something like this drawing. 

Pictured: A shot before Aaron had begun airbrushing. The masking is almost completely invisible, but there is acetate over the sketch of the boy. The signature is too small to be covered by acetate, so Gabe used a liquid plastic that can be removed to mask the signature.

Pictured: Aaron beginning to airbrush the background, paying particular attention to the area where the adhesive stains meet the unstained paper as well as the corners of added paper.
Pictured: This photo was taken about half way through airbrushing and you can really clearly see Gabe's beautiful masking in the shiny silhouette of the boy.

After Aaron had finished airbrushing the drawing, Melissa did a few minor touch ups so that the stain from the adhesive was less noticeable in the areas that Aaron was not able to airbrush. Once that was done it was ready to be removed from the melamine board. 

And the finished product is now, not only an historical artifact, but also aesthetically pleasing and ready for the client to frame and enjoy!

"A Magician Among the Spirits" Book Jacket

I love the projects where we get to show our versatility. Poster Mountain, as suggested by the name, is known for our poster conservation and restoration, but we have dealt with a variety of paper based art.  This week's project is the restoration of a book jacket. The title of the book is "A Magician Among the Spirits" which was written by Houdini and exposed the fraud of psychics and mediums. This copy was also signed by Houdini. The book jacket itself was torn in two and showed some considerable wear and tear with minor paper losses along the edges. 

Pictured: The book jacket before we began work on it.

Pictured: John, holding the book, with Melissa.

Pictured: Houdini's signature on the first page of the book.

The concern with this book jacket were the weak points where it had been folded around the book. Folding the paper creates creases and tension that weaken the paper, thus why the book jacket split along one of those fold lines. John and Melissa laid strips of tissue thin mulberry mending tissue along the back of the jacket, across the fold lines and edges to reinforce these weak points. John also used his isinglass resizing process on the book jacket because he did not want to mount this to another piece of paper, since it needed to go back around the book. The mulberry mending tissue strips provided a base on which to build the paper patches for the small areas of paper loss.

Pictured: Melissa fitting the torn edges together. 

Pictured: John and Melissa beginning to measure and cut the strips of mulberry mending tissue for the fold lines and edges.

Pictured: The final strips are measured before they began to wash the book jacket.

Additionally John placed two strips of hinging tissue, which is even thinner and more delicate than mulberry mending tissue, along the front of the edge that had torn and its counterpoint. There would be a lot of tension on these two fold lines, so it was important to reinforce these so that neither would rip again.

Pictured: Melissa tearing of the hinging tissue.

Once all the strips had been prepared, John and Melissa began to wash the book jacket. It was important to line up the edges of the torn sheets perfectly, so that they would join together again seamlessly. This also meant that John and Melissa had to be extra careful when washing and manipulating the jacket, so that nothing moved or left a gap.

Pictured: John matching up the edges before Melissa began to rinse the book jacket.

Pictured: This project, even though the item is small, needed two hands so that one person could make sure that the edges of the tear were always aligned.

 After both the front and the back had been completely soaked, John and Melissa spent several minutes straightening out edges that had folded on top of themselves and making sure that the join between the two pieces was still straight.

Pictured: Melissa saving as many of the smaller pieces as she can, while John held the torn edges together.

Once all of the edges were neatened out, Melissa squeegeed out the excess water and then rinsed out the grime of multiple decades using diluted soap and gently massaging the paper through Mylar sheets.

Pictured: The book jacket is suspended between two sheets of Mylar, a very thin polyester sheet, so that we can manipulate it without damaging it.

Pictured: Melissa, after spraying it with a diluted soap solution,  massages the front of the book jacket to rinse out pollutants.

Washing and rinsing is a constant back and forth process. We are as concerned with the back as the front of the paper, thus why you see us flipping thing over and repeating each step of the procedure for the back.

Pictured: Watching John flip pieces over on the glass tables is one of the coolest things. He makes it look so much easier than it actually is.

Pictured: John and Melissa massaging the back of the jacket. The soap solution is much more visible in this picture.

After making sure that as many of the pollutants as possible have been removed from the paper, it is rinsed for the final time. John squeegees the excess water out, so that the paper does not retain more moisture than necessary.

Pictured: Taking pictures for the blog while John is using the glass mounting tables, I sometimes feel like I'm in the "splash zone" at Sea World. Caution, you might get wet!

John carefully removed the Mylar sheet that had protected the book jacket so that he and Melissa could lay the strips of reinforcing paper down. They had to be very careful with this because they needed the strips to lay down flat and straight, but if they pushed or pulled too much they could rip the pieces of tissue themselves. John always advises that then working with wet paper you start in the center and move outwards, so that any air bubbles or creases are pushed out as you move towards the edges. They also made sure that the strips were farther out than the edges, so that Melissa could add in paper to the areas that needed it on top of the mulberry mending tissue reinforcing.

Pictured: John carefully removing the Mylar sheet from the back of the jacket.

Pictured: The shiny stuff on top of the book jacket is part of John's resizing process, but it allows him to mount things to the boards without permanently gluing them to other paper or cloth.

Pictured: You begin to see why two pairs of hands was necessary. In order to make sure that everything was straight, it was easier to have two people working on this project.

Pictured: Melissa patting the last strip of mulberry mending tissue flat.
Once all of the strips had been added to the back of the jacket, John and Melissa placed a sheet of hollytex paper on to the back. The hollytex acts as a barrier between the melamine board so that we can later remove the book jacket from both the board and the hollytex.

Pictured: John and Melissa making a Mylar and hollytex sandwich, with the book jacket as the filling.

Once the hollytex is on top of the book jacket with no air bubbles, John and Melissa flip it over and then move it over to the board. Then they take the Mylar sheet off the top and add in the tissue strips for the front of the jacket.

Pictured: John and Melissa moving the book jacket from the glass mounting table over to the melamine board.

Pictured: John using the squeegee to smooth out any air bubbles between the board and the hollytex.

Pictured: John removing the Mylar from the front of the book jacket. He keeps his thumb along the edge to prevent the book jacket from lifting up.

The last step before the book jacket was left to dry, was to lay the hinging tissue across the front of the spinal folds. This was even more delicate than laying the mulberry mending tissue along the back because the hinging tissue is even thinner.

Pictured: John beginning to lay the tissue down across the first of the folds.

Pictured: Melissa helping to smooth the tissue down completely flat, while John held the end.

Pictured: You can see the difference in opacity between the strip of tissue that they placed down first and the second one, as they begin to adhere to the paper of the jacket.

After the piece has dried completely, it then goes to Melissa for the restoration work. We use vintage paper from our collection that has accumulated over the years, either found by us or donated by our clients, to create paper patches. Melissa traces the edges of the areas of paper loss where she is going to add new paper in. Once she has all of them traced, she cuts out each patch and then miters the edges of the old and new paper together and carefully glues it down to form a seamless join. There were about 8 areas of paper loss, all of them were around the folds. 

Pictured: The book jacket has lightened back up to its original color, minus some dirt. Melissa had not done any patching when this picture was taken.

Pictured: Melissa tracing the edges of one of the areas of paper loss that she is going to patch. She then uses the tracing to cut out a puzzle piece to fit the loss.

Pictured: Melissa gluing in the piece that she had cut out. She would then sand and burnish until the edges were completely smooth and you can't feel a difference between the old paper and the new.

Pictured: You might not be able to tell the difference between this picture and the other one, but each of those areas where paper was missing has been filled.
After Melissa had finished patching all of the holes, she began to restore it. The client did not want this piece to look brand new. Melissa was not trying to make it perfect, instead she blended in the patches and reinforcing to match the rest of the jacket.

Pictured: Melissa using a water color pencil to blend in the tissue with the existing color.

Pictured: Melissa using water color and brush to apply pigment.

Pictured: A progress shot. Melissa was about half way through and the tissue on the front is beginning to disappear.
Restoration is the last stop before the piece is removed from the board. This is always a nerve wracking process for me to watch, but as usual John is cool, calm and collected. And pulls it off perfectly.

Pictured: John sliding his spatula underneath the hollytex to disengage it from the board.

Pictured: John holding the hollytex with the book jacket still attached.

Pictured: John removing carefully and slowly removing the hollytex from the back of the book jacket.

Pictured: Tada!
Because this was being wrapped around a book we had to get several after shots for our records. Both before it went on the book and then after. John called them glamor shots, but they do show off our work rather nicely.

Pictured: Front of the book jacket before it was put back on the book.

Pictured: Verso of the book jacket while it is still flat.

Pictured: Now on the book, front and spine.

Pictured: Back and spine. Along the spinal fold was where we placed reinforcement on both the front and the back.

Pictured: Very different jacket design then we are used to, but a wonderful piece of early-20th century American history.

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 Also, please feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog!