Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Repairing a hole in a painting

Dear Stape

Help! I was completing a large landscape (30x40) from a small field study. I was adjusting its position on my easel when I lost control of the whole mess. I knocked the painting into the corner of a metal object and...you guessed it put a 3/4 inch tear in the linen. Here is my question....In cutting the painting down to try and save what amounted to a pretty good effort am I better off restrecthing it or mounting the new incarnation onto a stiff support like MDF or Illustration Board? Any suggetions you can make will be greatly appreciated.
Thanks, Stape,
.................................. Penny Traited

Dear Penny:

There are several solutions I can think of, here they are. You didn't tell me, but I am assuming you have what is called a three corner tear. Maybe not, but the solution is probably the same.

  • The quick and dirty fix is to put a patch on the back . Use a piece of canvas and glue it to the back of the canvas ( it might be good to use a canvas of a lighter weight than that which you are repairing). Glue the patch to the back of the hole with one of the fancy new glues found at home depot. Read the label and look for textiles on the list of what it will glue. Try to get the canvas on the front of the patch as smooth as you can and carefully trim off any ravelings that show. This must be done carefully but usually a three corner tear will lay down almost perfectly. Then infill the repair with acrylic gesso, Sand the area before you gesso it so the gesso isn't on shiny oil paint. If you can get it back to the ground that is best. Feather the edges of the area you have sanded to get a smooth transition to the rest of the painting, then varnish that a couple of times. Sand the repair well and then paint over it, let it dry and varnish, you will probably have to do that twice. You will probably have to repaint the whole passage, and build up enough paint to conceal your repair. This doesn't work on very smoothly painted or high gloss paintings. But for an impressionist landscape in thick paint it will work well. This is as I said the quick and dirty version and not the "best" way to do things but it works and will stay fixed.
  • The second fix is to mount it onto a panel. You can clean up the puncture and then cover your panel with carpenters glue, Miracle Muck or your favorite mounting glue. Then press the canvas onto it. Some books and things piles on top for weight overnight will assure a better bond. If you have a friend in the picture framing business, see if they will let you throw it into their vacuum mounting box. That does a good job.The hole is then filled and varnished and inpainted as before.
  • Here is the most craftsmanlike way of doing the repair, it calls for some specialized materials that I have and am familiar with, but you may not be. Stretch a receiver canvas about four inches larger than the canvas you intend to repair, after you have removed it from it's stretchers. Heats up enough picture restorers wax ( hard to find these days I suppose) in a double boiler to paint the back of your canvas. Then turn the canvas upside down and place the reciever canvas over it. Using a hot iron melt the two canvasses together. What you are doing is relining the original canvas, attaching another to it's back. When it has cooled, flip it over and infill with flake lead which can be scraped a little with a palette knife to make it smooth. Varnish that, and then inpaint the passage and varnish again. Let this sit for about a week because it is almost sure to sink in. Then when it has, varnish it again. This is the old timey way of doing things and the methods and materials are a little 19th century, but it makes an invisible and secure repair. This is probably more technically demanding than the average painter out there is going to be comfortable with. All of this is a lot easier on a roughly painted impressionist piece than a smooth academic painting. If you want to fix anything that has historic value, that is a job for a real restorer. Never work on anything that is old or has value, only your own art.


Deb said...

Holey Moley!

I was just visiting a friend who had a large antique painting that had a bad hole in it... she took it to a restorer, who I believed used some version of the last method.
The tear is invisible now, to the tune of about $4K....

mariandioguardi.com said...

Wow..someone was just asking me about this the other day. Thanks.

A little about encaustic painting and tempera. I have done both...and of course oil too. I came to the conclusion that it's not what medium you paint with ; it's the painter.

The wax on the boards here are applied very thin..and one cannot tell the difference by looking just at the image whether the portraits are wax or tempera.

cedar-sky said...

thanks, stape.

also, if one is fortunate to only dent/stretch a section of their canvas (i've done it a few times), a little water rubbed into the reverse side should flatten out the bulge. it takes a few minutes to soak in and dry.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thats an expensive piece of work. I wonder why it cost so much.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Have you ever heard of forty wax?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Careful with that though. Remember the ground behind the painting and just on the other side of that canvas is often water soluble.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

It works! I've done this using acrylic medium as glue and putting a book the size of the stretcher under to flatten it out comfortably from the top. Once trimmed, repainted and repaired it was almost invisible.

The client and I were both aghast when, changing out a frame at a show, my hand slipped and the pliers tore a three corner tear in the painting. Same client saw the painting a year later on my studio wall and purchased it, despite the repair, at an excellent price.