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Acrylic Patina

24 July, 2006 (16:33) | From Home

Acrylic Patina
If we were able to look into the future at our acrylic paint and your paintings and see them in a hundred years… five hundred years… a thousand years…. what might they look like? I realize this is more than a bit of a stretch… but I’d love us to make this leap together and suggest what the paintings done in the last few decades might look like as they age over hundreds of years. To do this we will have to develop a whole new vocabulary for these aged paintings, as many will become quite venerated with time. Just as we revere our yellowed and cracked oils with terms such as ‘gold-tone’ or ‘craqueleure’ or the amorphous shapes that erupt out of these films as ‘organic’, we will need to express the changes in the acrylic paintings in a similar uplifting fashion. I am confident that the signs of age in art we love will be as well respected as an extra wrinkle or line in our own faces. What better word to start with to define our appreciation of age then ‘patina’. Every material as it ages has its patina and acrylic will be no different.

So let me take the first leap… (this is the place where we put Vaseline in front of the camera lens.) The most common change in the thermoplastic acrylic without pigment is that many have shifted to a more yellowed surface, like a manila folder. This is hardly a problem for heavily pigmented colors with good lightfastness as they will retain most of their punch. It will also be less noticeable as one views the acrylic paintings made at the start of the last millennium. These acrylics will have noticeably less yellowing, but areas with little color and mostly medium will still be moving towards a warmer tone or gold-glaze.

Paintings that have been varnished continue to look incredibly clean and bright, as conservators will not only be removing old varnish to remove surface damage, but are also continuing to be remove water miscible components that could have, if left unchecked, created greater yellowing of the film. Unvarnished painting which were originally very glossy, have lost much of the high sheen and now have a much more ivory sort of patina. Matte paintings continue to show signs of handling as the surface is just that much easier to abrade.

The thick impasto glazes created with mostly all gel will have somewhat clouded up, not allowing the viewer an unimpeded view of the colors below (obviously depending upon how thick). More like looking through velum than through glass. This creates a stronger sense of the impasto, as thicker areas will be more exaggerated than thinner areas, highlighting the changes. Impasto areas with deep recesses have a duller finish, as many centuries of cleaning dust out of these spaces will have worn these surfaces down. Very heavy impasto or highly raised areas have a sag to them as this material has slowly begun to flow like old glass.

Acrylics which have been left unstretched continue to curl as the mass of the material continues to shrink. Fortunately, the acrylic kept out of direct sun have remained quite flexible and have avoided significant cracking problems. Yes, there are incredible examples of very important paintings that have been poorly handled or moved while cold, and they have the typical either concentric cracking patterns or more typically those cracks on the edges of the stretcher bars perpendicular to the edge. Probably the most noticeable problem of these works is the irregular ferrotyping patterns (imprinting) from leaning against packing material or other paintings.

Fortunately many of these works showing any damage are being lined up for conservation to bring them back to the artist’s aesthetic intentions. But even more paintings are being left alone without major treatment to assure that the wonderful patina, showing the signs of the works age, is not being altered.

And finally, MoMA which has long ago changed its name to MoMA (Mausoleum of Modern Art) has begun listing the acrylic paintings in its collection as Acrylic and stopped using Synthetic Polymer Paint!




Comment from Dennis Marshall
Time: July 25, 2006, 1:31 am

It is interesting to think of how acrylic paintings will ‘age’ over the years.I would hope that somehow if any of my paintings are around someone will enjoy them enough to provide a good home for them.I really do not concern myself to what will happen because once the painting leaves the studio it is out of my hands.Years ago I sold a painting to some people who moved to Florida.I was concerned with the fact that this painting was going hang in the home of people who smoked.I do not varnish my paintings.It is now 11 years later and guess what happened to this painting.The people who bought this painting eventually moved to Sidell Louisianna and from what I have heard from my Mom , Katrina wrecked their house.I guess that what remains of it is either in a landfill or has flown to somewhere other than where it was hanging.

I do try and use good materials in the creation of my work.Many years ago I switched to acrylics exclusively.I liked the fact that I did not have to varnish.Of course over the last twenty years or so research has shown that a final removable varnish is recommended for acrylic paintings.Looking at the paintings that i have hanging on my apartment walls I had to make a decision-do I take a chance and apply an isolation coat and then a removable varnish or do I just leave them alone? My answer was to leave them be rather than take a chance that I may need practice in applying varnish and risk it all.I remember the advice of someone in your technical department who told me that I should not take a chance on a painting that has been sold but rather practice on paintings that are not going anywhere but the discard pile.

I am using prestretched cotton canvas and I apply what I consider to be an average layer of paint w/o a thick build up of paint that can trap dust. I do not usually use a lot of mediums.I may at some future time apply a varnish but for now I am not going to do so.Besides solvent based products make me sick.Many years.I did apply a non removable varnish,{w/o an isolation coat} to an acrylic on masonite,{Grumbacher’s Final Varnish}, and the painting is ok .I do think that a final varnish is necessary if an artist knows that a painting will hang in the house of a smoker.I have several oils on canvas board that my grandfather painted fifty years ago.Unfortunately my granmother was a a heavy smoker and though I think that these oils may have been varnished they have a strange brownish patina on the surface & the frames that can only be described as otherwordly.I once cleaned and varnished an oil of mine that was exposed to moderate cigarette smoke for nearly two years and yes the cotton ball had a very slight brown tint.I would assume that cigarette smoke could produce the same patina on an acrylic painting.
I try to keep this advice in mind –
Do What You Can
With What You Have
With Where You Are,
Theodore Roosevelt

I doubt that TR had painters in mind when he said this but it could apply to artists.I paint, send it on its way and then go onto the next one.The patina belongs to an unknown future. I have very little if any control over what will happen down the road after the painting leaves my studio.Of course I keep a watchful on the paintings that I have in my possesion.They seem to be in very good condition.
Acrylics it seem ‘age’ slower than oils

Comment from Mark Golden
Time: July 25, 2006, 7:37 am

Hi Dennis, It has always been our goal to try to address many of the issues of longevity, long before the artist opens a jar of our paint. We’ve worked hard to make sure we are working with the best materials that will give the greatest chance for permanency, (relative term). In addition we have developed over the years an extremely large body of information for artists so that they can also make better and more informed choices of what they might want to work with and how it might fare over time.

I am not so nervous about your unvarnished paintings. Yes, they could have greater protection, but I still think the materials are incredibly robust on their own. Unvarnished, it does make it more difficult for future conservation of the work. I am so grateful that our Tech Support team gave the advice of practice first. I’ve seen many works that were irreversibly damaged when an artist attempted to varnish a work without understanding how to apply it on their painting surface.

We are still working on the storm proof paint. We do have several stories of artists having their paintings totally flooded and dragged through the storm… after drying and fighting the mold the paintings survived remarkably well. The smoke is another story. The acrylic being quite absorbent can absorb smoke into its surface. It can be quite damaging. We’ll keep working on it!
Regards, Mark

Comment from Karen Jacobs
Time: July 25, 2006, 9:26 pm

I’d like to run my reasons for not varnishing. Back in about ’73, we had a house fire that did considerable smoke damage. I lost only a few paintings to the fire, and set aside the others for cleaning at a later time. These were my early career years but I did have a few works that were important to me. One was an acrylic done on the cheapest canvas board but it was thick with paint (don’t think I’d discovered Golden at that time.) I sprayed it down with 409, rubbed and rinsed with a sponge and that painting is as good as new even today. If there is a slight yellowing, it doesn’t affect the overall quality of the work itself. The board is a little warped but that’s a different problem.

Today, I’m looking back on a really decent career, using mostly Golden acrylics over a highly textured surface (I mix dry spackle powder with gesso.) Not all paintings sell and when I get them back from the galleries, I often find I want to repaint them. To totally remove varnish from all those crevasses would be quite labor intensive, so I don’t varnish. I have found that GAC 500 gives a nice hard finish, countering any tackiness our humid climate might cause.

Enjoying your blog… great service!

Comment from Cobb
Time: July 26, 2006, 2:49 am

I have been thinking about longevity,of the paints and have come up with The NanoBots Acrylic Pigments – they keep renewing the painting :)

Comment from Mark Golden
Time: July 26, 2006, 7:22 am

Karen, Absolutely great comments! Folks here are cheering your response. As we’ve always discussed with any technique, including varnishing, the first choice is an aesthetic one.

Our goal has simply been to try to provide the best information without some sort of spin or sugar coating. I am confident that our materials have been formulated to be as durable and lightfast as possible. I am still very excited about the entire field of acrylic technology and what it offers us as formulators and artists as new opportunities. But I also want us all of us to be realistic about the effects wrought by time on all things.

I am hoping we can get some comments here from the conservation community as to how valid they see my crystal ball. Should be fun!
Regards, Mark

Comment from Mark D. Gottsegen
Time: July 27, 2006, 4:19 am

First, I must compliment you, Mark, on your original post regarding patina. The commentary is more honest than any I would expect from anyone else. Bravo for you.

As for “storm proof paint,” I’d rather see Golden concentrate on an “Anti-Global Warming Paint.”

We can’t do much about storms, but there is a lot we could do about global warming.

Comment from Mark D. Gottsegen
Time: July 27, 2006, 4:26 am

Regarding the crystal ball.

Henry Wilhelm has been using a crystal ball to predict the longevity of printed digital media for many years now. You know: “If you use such and such ink on such and such paper, printed with this and that printer, your prints will last 137 years.” The manufacturers’ marketing departments have glommed onto that, and have gotten themselves in trouble.

If weather forecasters can’t tell you what the weather will be in Columbus County this afternoon, what makes Henry think he can tell us about 137 years from now?

But never mind that. I hope you have sent your comments directly to conservators, Mark. They probably won’t comment on the blog (but, I could be surprised …). Maybe a couple will comment back to you, personally, and you can sanitize the comments and post them here.

Yes, this is a lot of fun!


Comment from Mark Golden
Time: July 27, 2006, 10:57 am

Mark, I think you’ve given me inspiration for another post. “The Anti-Global Warming Paint”… I love it and in fact we’ve been working on it, (at least in small ways), and also been responsible for it… so conflicted with so little time.

We’ve had a wide range of debates here as well within our group about the patina of aged acrylics. I hope it gets at least a few people thinking about changes that come with time. It has allowed us to also discuss with artists what are acceptable changes from what are not.

I am confident that their are some incredibly brave, creative and venturesome conservators out their that are more than willing to step into some murky waters for a bit of fun and guessing with us…
Regards, Mark

Comment from Mark D. Gottsegen
Time: July 29, 2006, 1:24 am

Time flies like an arrow, doesn’t it?
(And fruit flies like a banana, right?)

Let’s hope you’re right about the venturesome conservators. Surely you know Steven Prins — one of the more outspoken and forthright members of the AIC. I know he’s mighty busy, but I bet you could get him to make at least one post here.


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