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Jeffrey Holmes

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Does this wear pattern look natural?

Yes, that's exactly what I'd expect to see. It doesn't take too long for that to happen--I've seen it on violins that were 20 years old or less. Jeffrey commented on how most of the texture in the first viola had come under the recent owner, and I have often seen things that you'd normally think would take decades happen in months when the player is young--say 15 to 25 or so, usually. I think it's a hormonal thing, and the ones I've known have grown out of it in time. They tend to do the same to everything they touch, for a while.

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....is that just raw wood in the bare areas, in your opinion, or is there a base on those areas that is so intrinsic, that it acts like there is no coating there?

And, if there is a base of some sort - can you see or feel where the base wears through to just wood?

From the rather uniform sheen of the exposed wood in the photos, including the areas which have worn far beyond any possible ground layer, I'll guess that something has been applied. It could have been some protective clear varnish, or even a commercial "violin polish".

When I've seen an area of ground, adjoining an area where the ground has worn through, a common feature delineating the two is that the unprotected area "dirtifies" differently. Dark pores, grayer color etc.

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There are some Rugeri instruments which don't follow these rules--where deep into the wood the wood remains clear, dark, and clean. I think you're right in the most typical cases, but I have seen just a few that don't act as you'd expect. I think that there's something else going on, in these few examples. Who really knows, though?

From the rather uniform sheen of the exposed wood in the photos, including the areas which have worn far beyond any possible ground layer, I'll guess that something has been applied. It could have been some protective clear varnish, or even a commercial "violin polish".

When I've seen an area of ground, adjoining an area where the ground has worn through, a common feature delineating the two is that the unprotected area "dirtifies" differently. Dark pores, grayer color etc.

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It depends on how you look at it. Old Italian varnishes were subject to a lot of "failures"...

Certainly, there are modern coatings which will hold up much much better, if the goal of a maker is to have a static, highly durable coating. I don't know of any who have this as a goal though. It's much more common to view certain changes as validation that at least something about the varnish is similar to old Italian varnishes, which continue to be the standard.

Right, and perhaps 'evolution' or 'aging' might have been a better word than 'failure', but in a sense, if one assumes the original intent of varnish is to protect the wood or enhance the sound, then having varnish chip off, crack, etc is counter to that intent.

The west wall of my house is experiencing something like this type of crackle, and we will repaint it. Of course my house is not a work of art, nor a valuable antique. If my house were like a valuable violin, though, I would have to pay more to have this texture maintained, while still trying to protect the house, the investment. Perhaps some of the earlier restorers who worked on violins were doing the best to maintain the violin as a working musical instrument rather than a historical object. That we think this misguided is in part a consequence of the age we are in now. Hopefully we have learned more, and our intents will not be seen as some weird fad in future years.

And I don't intend to make violins with a polyurethane varnish, or anything 'guaranteed' to last forever -- I do like the old technique. I do like seeing old instruments. I do not like seeing highly polished old instruments.

At the time I asked the question, though, it appeared to me that the discussion was heading towards how to create this crackle, rather than how it was created. Restoration is one thing, but I am curious how 'at-birth' crackle will affect the evolution, aging, of a modern instrument years from now.

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"At birth" crackle is not a varnish failure, but rather an induced texture that doesn't affect the composition of the original varnish at all. In the long run there shouldn't be any change at all in that texture; then on top of that, the varnish might do its own thing, which could be completely different.

This reminds me of a violin I saw where the maker stained the wood yellow, probably to imitate what he thought Cremonese ground looked like. Then with time (80 years, at least) his own ground, which was probably originally colorless, yellowed, resulting in a violin with a red varnish over a yellow ground over a different and synthetic yellow "ground". Not a happy look, since the yellows were very different colors.

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... Jeffrey commented on how most of the texture in the first viola had come under the recent owner, and I have often seen things that you'd normally think would take decades happen in months when the player is young--say 15 to 25 or so, usually. I think it's a hormonal thing, and the ones I've known have grown out of it in time. They tend to do the same to everything they touch, for a while.

Interesting... this is a cello I made not more than eight years ago I think, same owner all the time. The girl was about 20 when she bought it I think, I like the way it wears, much faster than instruments I've made later... dunno if it depends on my varnish ideas changing or on the hormonal state of the player :)

post-23901-1246209391_thumb.jpg

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and some players have 'acid' perspiration. I have a 1920s Eugen Meinel, with a few similar varnish issues as well as a depression on the bass side of the neck, near the pegbox, where one's thumb might rest while playing in first position. The depression is smooth, and in both the maple and the ebony, similar to what can be seen in rock worn by running water.

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I have to ask: why is this considered attractive/desirable?

I myself can't see it as anything other than an error, and undesirable, just as the use of chrome yellow by van Gogh turned out in retrospect to have been an error. Not his error, but an error, and undesirable in its results.

What am I missing?

....................................

In the end it's a matter of taste ......

But to me it's a bit anlagous to ceramics. Some of the most valued stuff especially in art ceramic potting and historic Japanese & Korean master works deliberately exhibits surface texures like 'orange peel' craclature perfectly smooth and uniform can be nice but so can texture etc....

Some ceramics by a friend...

http://www.steveharrison.co.uk/Gallery_2/index.html

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I have to ask: why is this considered attractive/desirable?

I myself can't see it as anything other than an error, and undesirable, just as the use of chrome yellow by van Gogh turned out in retrospect to have been an error. Not his error, but an error, and undesirable in its results.

What am I missing?

Missing?

Perhaps, the desire to have various results, rather than a single uniform result.

I thought about asking David if he would have considered the original crackle picture a fault, if he had known what would happen when he first applied the varnish twenty years ago - and, if the resulting crackle was intentional or unintentional...

But, I realize that it doesn't matter to me.

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What am I missing?

Texture adds visual interest. Wear and varnish failures make an object rich and interesting in a way that lasts--you can keep making new discoveries over time, whereas many people experience a new-looking object as being sort of digestible at a glance.

(horrible analogy deleted in an attempt to avoid derailing the topic...)

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I think texture is wonderful - when it's intended. The (e.g.) Japanese masters of raku embrace the random effects of their post-kiln reduction treatments...but the effects are random only in detail, not in conception. The potters have a very complete idea what they're going to have in the end, just not in detail.

I value texture so much that I bought two prints for my office years ago almost entirely on the basis of the artist's command of texture. My non-artist colleagues, less sensitive, thought I'd gone mad (the originals were paintings of African women in tribal dress, and I discovered to my bewilderment that my choice, since I'm European, apparently violated some sort of subcultural 'race-mixing' tabu!!)

Intended texture is good, but there are many textures that are the result of entropic processes, and to me that's what craquelleure looks like: someone did their sums wrong, and the object (or its surface) is slowly falling apart. I'm still not getting why that's good. If that's good, and interesting/admirable, why don't people go into raptures over, e.g., a dead body in a similarly early stage of entropic decomposition?

Or, if the idea is not to have the same outcome each time, why do so many work so hard to have exactly the same outcome (or at least fully-predicted differences) each time?

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Or, if the idea is not to have the same outcome each time, why do so many work so hard to have exactly the same outcome (or at least fully-predicted differences) each time?

Just for the record, I think that bias is highly time and culture dependent, not an absolute value. It certainly doesn't seem to apply to 17th century violin making, for instance. If you're looking for "many" as giving value, why do "many" people kill themselves, or go off to war for ridiculous causes, or smoke, or drink excessively. To me "many" doesn't have too much implication of correctness.

No taste is inherent in any way--they're all acquired along the way somehow because of circumstances and contexts--even food gives lots of examples. There are acquired tastes which have cultural frameworks, and I think the desirability of textures in violin surfaces is one of these. No one says YOU have to acquire the taste, though.

Out of curiosity, as a calibration point, is there any engineer in you?

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I think texture is wonderful - when it's intended. The (e.g.) Japanese masters of raku embrace the random effects of their post-kiln reduction treatments...but the effects are random only in detail, not in conception. The potters have a very complete idea what they're going to have in the end, just not in detail.

The use of "random features" on a violin finish, can also be part of an intentional concept, it is very often deliberate - VERY OFTEN part of the intentional design.

It is occasionally accidental or a by-product of age.

The skill is in intentionally using a "random process" in order to achieve true randomity within a specific uniform (not random) concept. For example, I cannot imprint a crackle finish, anywhere near as well as the one that occurs naturally, by virtue of a specific drying process. (see the pictures on my last post).

So, when does an artistic concept and execution become illegitimate?

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(The 'try so hard' folk to whom I was referring are the folk today, struggling to eliminate random effects)

As for the 'desirability of textures in violin surfaces', that obviously doesn't explain what's going on here, though. People could easly get all sorts of textures in violin surfaces...but in general they don't want them and try to avoid them. But they go into raptures when they happen anyway. That doesn't make a great deal of sense to me. Either they're desirable and people should try to produce them with the same intensity they now expend trying NOT to produce them, or they're undesirable and unworthy of admiration when some process fails and produces them anyway.

Or at least I don't see any third course that's not at least a little 'sweet lemon'-ish. I believe it's the case that intentionally constructed textures (e.g., the textures gooped on during the late 19th c., or even intentional craquelleure) are not, in general, valued. True?

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(The 'try so hard' folk to whom I was referring are the folk today, struggling to eliminate random effects)

As for the 'desirability of textures in violin surfaces', that obviously doesn't explain what's going on here, though. People could easly get all sorts of textures in violin surfaces...but in general they don't want them and try to avoid them. But they go into raptures when they happen anyway. That doesn't make a great deal of sense to me. Either they're desirable and people should try to produce them with the same intensity they now expend trying NOT to produce them, or they're undesirable and unworthy of admiration when some process fails and produces them anyway.

Or at least I don't see any third course that's not at least a little 'sweet lemon'-ish. I believe it's the case that intentionally constructed textures (e.g., the textures gooped on during the late 19th c., or even intentional craquelleure) are not, in general, valued. True?

Everyone has to decide for themselves about such things, I think. Arbitrary standards don't really apply to personal taste. To like or dislike a specific thing, is not a matter of being correct or incorrect.

I love the Impressionists, and modern art - but also classical art...

It wasn't always so.

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Just for the record, I think that bias is highly time and culture dependent, not an absolute value.

...

No one says YOU have to acquire the taste, though.

Out of curiosity, as a calibration point, is there any engineer in you?

Even though this was addressed to another, I'll admit to math and physics in my background, and though my final degree was in bioengineering, the area was really more research oriented. Consider it another calibration point.

I predict the current trend towards amazing levels of antiquing new instruments will be seen as something of fins on cars in a decade or two, but maybe not. It's part of the mystic, which is part of the sales price. At the So. Cal Workshop, I was talking with a couple makers, one a fine classical player to boot, about making 'elemental' instruments, even going so far as not introducing color in the varnish. The player said it would never work, you could never show up at an orchestra with a "white" violin. Ground and varnish would introduce some color, of course, but not much. So perhaps color is one of the basic elements that makes a violin a violin.

Cracks and wear marks that appear naturally add interest to me -- they indicate use and age, I can think of the music played and the places its been. I've seen some pretty good examples of antiquing that fooled me (not that hard to do), but then felt that I was cheated. That's my taste, and I would not force it on any one as the ideal taste. And it is certain to change in on-coming years, as it has in the past.

Besides, I'm still trying to understand what a violin sounds like. I'll get to what it looks like someday. Certainly the two are unrelated. :)

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Violins, unlike paintings for instance are objects designed to be handled a lot and as such begin a process of disintegration and wear as soon as they begin their useful lives.

War is innevitable. That wear can occur in good or bad ways. Wear that occurs in the manner of the old Italian finishes is considered desirable and makers who seek to workin that tradition as (most do) find wear that occurs to their tastes to be a vindication of their materials, process methods etc.

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I was serious about the engineer question. In my experience, engineer violin makers often don't see beauty in randomness. No value judgment implied--it's just the way engineers' brains appear to function. I've had more than a few problems explaining the beauty of variation to people who whom unanticipated variation in their professional lives is anathema.

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In my research days, we used randomness to simulate nature.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Carlo_method

From the folks I knew in the science and math end, texture such as wear and use on old instruments, devices, and such, was appreciated. I think it's the simulation of that age that causes the problems in their minds.

And as careful as I try to be in building anything, I always introduce plenty of randomness!

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