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Texture


Jeffrey Holmes

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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.

In fact, in this case, the previous owner retired at 70+, and the new owner is 18.

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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?

As I and several others have mentioned, if the "entropic precess" hadn't been reversed on many old classic instruments, we'd see a lot more examples of varnish texture now. Strado's photo of the G & B violin is an excellent example from the 19th century (I know one that's almost identical... and many others that have been unfortunately "corrected"). Pressendas have a propensity for this sort of thing, as do Strads, del Gesus, Amatis (I mentioned a 'cello that was unpolished and textured in a Strad article a few years ago), Ruggeris, Montagnanas, Goffrillers, Deconets, etc, etc.

I find the feature desirable... and interesting... and enjoy the slightly unpredictable, buy attractive (to me) result on instruments with (what I consider) a good quality varnish. It think I should mention, that the varnish on instruments by some makers tend to "texture" in ways I don't personally find pleasing... but I'm not crazy about the varnish on those fiddles anyway (later H. Silvestre comes to mind.. I'd still leave it alone, however).

Concerning intentional texture, Frank Ravitan has a varnish that does some pretty cool stuff right out of the gate.

Concerning dead decaying bodies (in terms of wood), my favorite wood to turn on the lathe is spalted maple. Spalting is the beginning of the decay process.

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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.

Speaking as a recoverning (and happily retired) engineer, I think the engineer aesthetic derives from "form follows function". Cracks, bumps, and wear deviate from the original intent of the varnish (or, at least serve no benefit)... to protect the wood. I admit to having that aesthetic. I was somewhat shocked when I heard a professional violin dealer raving about the varnish on a modern instrument... particularly the way the varnish sagged slightly above the F-holes and at the ends of the wings. Likewise the old varnishes in this thread grate against the pure functionality aesthetic where wear and age-related defects are undesirable.

But the violin is not just a machine for making sounds... it is an artwork too. Any maker that wants to sell to the public must meet the public's collective expectations for appearance, too. Corners, colored varnish, and scrolls are some of the minimum expectations; varnish crackle and antiquing are a lesser item, but might be a good technique to acquire. Certainly many of the great modern makers are able to find buyers for their uncracked varnish. Hmm... the Messiah doesn't looked crackled to me, just lumpy (or do you need to look more closely?).

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The belly of my 20 year old fiddle (made by David B.) has just that texture, and I find it both beautiful, and somehow fascinating.

'Reminds me of an endless maze.

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...
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?

Or perhaps in this case it's the failure of the recipe and materials? I'm thinking Mr. B would be happier if it had been planned and executed intentionally.

Since my name has been mentioned a few times:

My goal has been to have a varnish which exhibited some of the natural aging characteristics observed on 17th century Italians. When experimental varnishes have failed to exhibit these characteristics, these were what I considered to be the failures.

Accelerated aging tests were done by exposing varnish samples to prolonged sunlight; by putting varnish on a frequently used knife handle; by keeping a sample in a pocket, close to the body, for extended periods.

While different varnish formulas I've used exhibit slightly different aging characteristics, whether or not the craquele develops, and what pattern it takes, depends almost entirely on environmental factors surrounding the instrument's use. I can say this with some confidence, because I frequently varnish instruments in pairs. Two instruments varnished with the same batch of varnish, dried under precisely the same conditions, will behave differently depending on who owns them. I believe this variability in behavior has some historical validation, because I've seen what happens when some Strads have changed owners.

Simulating this appearance when new doesn't interest me very much. We did it all the time with retouching during restoration. The bigger challenge, to me, is having it occur naturally. Not that I don't admire people who "antique" instruments very skillfully (which is much harder to pull off convincingly than small sections). It just doesn't happen to be my thing.

Similarly, creating a finish which meets the most modern durability, uniformity of thickness standards, etc. doesn't interest me very much. It's not even much of a challenge. Almost everything needed can be purchased at a specialty automotive finishing store.

While I can appreciate modern durability concepts and definitions, precision, exactitude, and a nice car finish or bowling alley finish as much as the next guy, I don't think these things are always enhancements in the "artisan" realm. A little non-uniformity, and a little "humanity" can go a long way in helping an object "communicate" in a more intimate way, at least to those who are sensitized to it.

We can easily synthesize violin music to eliminate most of the idiosynchrasies of both the instrument and the player. How many people will pay to go and hear a violin concerto which is done this way? :)

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To answer Strado's question about having engineer in me: yes. But I'm not solely a technophilistine :) - I practiced for years as a commercial artist before turning engineer. And while my engineering work never received any peer-group juried awards that I know of, my art work did.

My objection certainly isn't to texture, and not even to shrunken, broken-up surfaces as such. I strongly appreciate the textures a fiddle acquires over a century or three of love and use. The significant difference is that those stigmata represent the maker's success, while (I think you'll have to agree) craquelleure is purely a sign of miscalculation: the varnish film should have retained its integrity, resisting the assault of hormonal 'Sturm und Drang' and atmospherics, but didn't.

How can a group of people dedicated to perfecting their artistic craft genuinely appreciate the results of such miscalculation?

Only by disconnecting the components of your skill: you stop thinking as a maker whose goal is a varnish film that retains its integrity through the last molecule of coverage and shove those perceptions out of the way so that you can look at someone's oopsie as though it were a painting or benign natural phenomenon such as a temporarily dry mud flat.

If you looked at it with all your skill in operation, you'd have to feel a mix of emotions not completely unlike what we feel when looking at a puddle in the road with an oil-slick spectrum: the spectrum is pretty, but it's produced by pollution and is therefore very undesirable.

What interests and baffles me is why you would want to compartmentalise your perceptions in that way. You obviously do want to --but why?

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Before the best period of classical violin making, from 1700 on for a few decades, they already had 150 years of experience. In view of that, don't you think they would have done something about it if it had been important to them? Perhaps even Stradivari considered this type of aging to be positive, not negative.

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....craquelleure is purely a sign of miscalculation: the varnish film should have retained its integrity, resisting the assault of hormonal 'Sturm und Drang' and atmospherics, but didn't.

How can a group of people dedicated to perfecting their artistic craft genuinely appreciate the results of such miscalculation?

Your assumption about "miscalculation" may be mistaken. :)

See post #81. (it may have gone up while you were writing).

Back when I was still experimenting a lot with violin varnish, I read a ton of research put out by the coatings industry, companies like Dopunt and 3M. Ironically, I would read about some of their experiments they considered to have produced less than ideal results, and thought, "Wow, that's what we want a violin varnish to do!"

So I learned a lot from the modern coatings industry, but they're different worlds. Our objectives aren't the same, and we define "failures" differently.

Do I have the background to come up with a violin coating which will pass things like 1000 hour salt spray tests, wear and abrasion tests, UV degradation tests, and other tests associated with industrial coatings? You bet! thumbsup.gif

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How can a group of people dedicated to perfecting their artistic craft genuinely appreciate the results of such miscalculation?

I certainly liked it enough to put a photo up... I think other naturally occurring wear patterns are fascinating as well.

Concerning other "miscalculations" of manufacture or nature: I prefer my jeans slightly faded and soft. I like a number of sculptures made of core 10 (even though it's rusting). I think the color of the leaves in the fall are beautiful (even though they're just drying up and falling off), and actually take a ride to see them when I can. Come to think of it, I like the little wrinkles around my wife's eyes too.

What's up Bean? You're not usually such a "contrarian". :)

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Actually, if one compares the finish on old fiddles to finishes on other more modern finished objects like cars, wooden floors, table tops, banister rails, electric guitars, etc they seem to hold up pretty well all thngs considered.

As I said before we have to accept that violins start to disinegrate from the first moment they are used...if this disintegraion hapens in the ways of the classical old Ialian varnishes which are so revered and still not fully understood it is generally taken as a mark of sucess...

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The reactions here, in this thread, are the most interesting thing to come down the pike in a while.

I wouldn't have expected strong emotional reactions, as a result of bringing up the subject of finish textures; I think the 'hot button' issues here change somewhat as time goes by....

Luckily, such decisions are entirely within the hands of the makers involved, and not really the business of spectators, who are equally at liberty to produce what pleases them, or to buy what pleases them and leave the rest alone.

If all artists had to produce works that pleased the likes of a few select individuals, any individuals, (and there are examples of countries where the art has been politically controlled in order to support cultural "norms") then, the world would be a bleak place indeed.

Viva la difference!

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The majority opinion of MN'ers in this thread seems to favor wear and the trappings of age, as long as it is similar to what the Old Guys did. And there is a similar chorus of agony regarding the widespread practice of polishing, which removes those badges of age.

What has not been visited is WHO is doing the widespread polishing and WHY. The only logical conclusion is that the owners of those instruments WANT it to look "better". Certainly there is no evil polisher going around polishing instruments against the will of the owners. If this practice is indeed widespread, then the majority of the non-MN'er violin owners have a different aesthetic. Doesn't that lead to the conclusion that the opinions expressed here regarding aged varnish is in the minority? The other possible conclusion is that somewhere in the 200-year history of an old violin, someone with a warped aesthetic went and had it polished, and the polishing has been impervious to wear and age.

Out of curiosity, has there been any makers of say 100 years ago or more, that applied a varnish that was abnormally resistant to wear and age... but otherwise looked and sounded nice? If so, are those instruments valued less for their pristeen appearance?

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I really like how this varnish is aging [Post#1 photo].

Look how the flames below the fine craquelure almost disappear when looking left-to-right:

post-6775-1246286950_thumb.jpg

I can understand how the small islands would increase opacity, but I'm wonderin' if the appearance of varnish color-fade

is "real", or is this just an illusion from bright photography lighting ???

Thanks,

Jim

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The majority opinion of MN'ers in this thread seems to favor wear and the trappings of age, as long as it is similar to what the Old Guys did. And there is a similar chorus of agony regarding the widespread practice of polishing, which removes those badges of age.

What has not been visited is WHO is doing the widespread polishing and WHY. The only logical conclusion is that the owners of those instruments WANT it to look "better". Certainly there is no evil polisher going around polishing instruments against the will of the owners. If this practice is indeed widespread, then the majority of the non-MN'er violin owners have a different aesthetic. Doesn't that lead to the conclusion that the opinions expressed here regarding aged varnish is in the minority? The other possible conclusion is that somewhere in the 200-year history of an old violin, someone with a warped aesthetic went and had it polished, and the polishing has been impervious to wear and age.

Out of curiosity, has there been any makers of say 100 years ago or more, that applied a varnish that was abnormally resistant to wear and age... but otherwise looked and sounded nice? If so, are those instruments valued less for their pristeen appearance?

I'm curious, why generalize?

There are no clear majorities or minorities regarding any type of "finishing" that have been established thus far.

If someone - or even a few someones, stated that they liked a certain cubist painting - would that constitute a conspiracy of opinions against other forms of art?

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I am just trying to determine if this is and artist-to-artist kind of aesthetic, and the buyers/owners have a different one. If you want to sell to artists, do what they like. If you want to sell to art buyers, do what they want. I don't think artists buy as much art, though. (No, I am not talking about making shiny violins for $49.95 to sell a zillion of them. I'm interested in what professional musicians want in a varnish.)

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... and, by your implication, we more enlightened experts should dictate to the violin owners what they can and can not do with their property? I don't think your analogy applies very well here.

I think the analogy might apply--do you think that simply forcing children to do things without logic or meaning is the right way to deal with them? I think that the people charged with the preservation of these rare and expensive objects have an obligation to inform the owners that something they wish to do with their violin will probably cause a loss of value, and further to inform them of things about their instruments which they don't appreciate.

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I am just trying to determine if this is and artist-to-artist kind of aesthetic, and the buyers/owners have a different one. If you want to sell to artists, do what they like. If you want to sell to art buyers, do what they want. I don't think artists buy as much art, though. (No, I am not talking about making shiny violins for $49.95 to sell a zillion of them. I'm interested in what professional musicians want in a varnish.)

They're individuals.

They all don't get together, and plan out what they do and don't like.

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I am just trying to determine if this is and artist-to-artist kind of aesthetic, and the buyers/owners have a different one. If you want to sell to artists, do what they like. If you want to sell to art buyers, do what they want. I don't think artists buy as much art, though. (No, I am not talking about making shiny violins for $49.95 to sell a zillion of them. I'm interested in what professional musicians want in a varnish.)

I think your attitude is extremely incorrect. Would you sell a painting to a pbuyer who intended to strip it and use the canvas as a handbag, simply because he would be the owner, and what the owner wants is right? Would you help him do it after he owned it? There's always someone around the corner who will do anything you want for a buck, but that's not the way I run my life, and I suspect that it's not the way you run yours, either.

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Your assumption about "miscalculation" may be mistaken. :)

See post #81. (it may have gone up while you were writing).

Back when I was still experimenting a lot with violin varnish, I read a ton of research put out by the coatings industry, companies like Dopunt and 3M. Ironically, I would read about some of their experiments they considered to have produced less than ideal results, and thought, "Wow, that's what we want a violin varnish to do!"

I read these kinds of things too.. An index might say "Varnishes, defects in." I do not use what I use because it is less prone to have "defects," I use them because they are available and work well as intended. They may or may not develop texture in time. It is not up to me. I buy "from the apothecary." To me, that is also in the spirit of the old makers. It is an accident of history that they used cold mixes and/or improperly cooked ones, or whatever other practices resulted in texture.

Actually, if one compares the finish on old fiddles to finishes on other more modern finished objects like cars, wooden floors, table tops, banister rails, electric guitars, etc they seem to hold up pretty well all thngs considered.

As I said before we have to accept that violins start to disinegrate from the first moment they are used...if this disintegraion hapens in the ways of the classical old Ialian varnishes which are so revered and still not fully understood it is generally taken as a mark of sucess...

I recall from my youth that every older piano I ever saw as a kid had a lot of checking. My mother refinished three that we had owned. (and did a good job)

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