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Question about Violin Varnishing


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3 hours ago, uncle duke said:

The recipe actually says to powder some benzoin into three fingers depth of pure spirits of wine for a few days and then add five or six strands of saffron - with this one can varnish anything glittery gold that will last for years.  It is a 1550's Alexi of the Piemont recipe that was debunked by Charles Reade in the Heron-Allen book.  I think Reade says it is just a quick drying picture varnish.

Heron Allen used Reade's information on varnish and put it in his own book.  In other words the varnish chapters are all of Reade's research.

 

Charles Reade was a writer, and an opinionated one at that, but I don't believe he ever made a violin,  varnished one, or ever made any varnish, so I wouldn't consider him as any sort of resource.

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16 minutes ago, Bill Yacey said:

Charles Reade was a writer, and an opinionated one at that, but I don't believe he ever made a violin,  varnished one, or ever made any varnish, so I wouldn't consider him as any sort of resource.

I agree totally and if one checks back a few years he will find i was the first to say here that he never made a varnish, he just wrote a lot of words.

To his credit I did have success with the air out turps varnish making method.

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59 minutes ago, ctanzio said:

Saffron as a dye for varnish/ground/sealer gives a brilliant yellow color that, sadly, fades within a year from my personal experience.

Used as a dye for fabric, the mordants used to fix the dye to the fibers might extend the color fastness, but I never pursued to option for wood working.

 

Has anyone tried Indian Yellow? It's a pigment that was available during Stradivarius time. Nobody makes it naturally now since it requires cows eating poisonous plants, it is made synthetically.

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indian yellow can work if used judiciously,,, as to coming from cows urine that were fed mango leaves, just a story like many, the pigment was delivered in a nasty wad that smelled sort of fragrant, stories grow their own way. Chunks of original pigment still exist, they have been able to match the color fairly well,,, as to the the original source?

PO 49 Quinacridone Gold is a nice transparent color, but there again the original is now gone. The original manufacturers sold the last stock to Daniel Smith, so the latest is a bit different, not quite as pure, but good enough.

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I was reading Librem Segreti de Buttegha.  The Andrew Dipper book not the original manuscript, apparently it's lost.  He suggests a golden yellow pigment extracted from the under bark or roots of the Barberry shrub.   Have any of you ever used that or know anything about it?    

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The method is called robage and it is best done last week of Nov. or the first week of Dec.  northern hemiphere - so when I read that I soon found out afterwards that the shrub sure does have a lot of small thorns/pricklies.  Then I thought what if the roots turn wood a green shade after using. 

Rest assured we'll find someone who'll give it a try one day. 

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5 hours ago, MikeC said:

I was reading Librem Segreti de Buttegha.  The Andrew Dipper book not the original manuscript, apparently it's lost.  He suggests a golden yellow pigment extracted from the under bark or roots of the Barberry shrub.   Have any of you ever used that or know anything about it?    

I have an English translation of a book by Josef and Reiner Hammerl. Here are a few of the things they list that will produce a yellow dye in addition to saffron and bastard saffron: Gamboge, Rhatany Root, Turmeric, yellowwood, and--my personal favorite--onion skins. Also, apparently gamboge can kill you.

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6 hours ago, David Rosales said:

I have an English translation of a book by Josef and Reiner Hammerl. Here are a few of the things they list that will produce a yellow dye in addition to saffron and bastard saffron: Gamboge, Rhatany Root, Turmeric, yellowwood, and--my personal favorite--onion skins. Also, apparently gamboge can kill you.

Gamboge may be toxic but common sense precautions will keep you alive.  My wife says I don't have common sense. I reply you're right, it's quite uncommon!   :D  

Orpiment, an arsenic trisulfide is also toxic but was used as yellow paint by the medieval monks who made illuminated manuscripts, the Book of Kells for example.  

Turmeric I have found is fugitive and also PH sensitive. 

I read the Foxfire books, the old mountain folks would make yellow dye from the gray moss that grows on oak trees.  

I was saving onion skins to dye powder horns but ended up using RIT dye instead so I never did try the onion skins.  

Regarding the 'golden yellow ground' of Cremona instruments.  Someone whose opinion I trust has told me that a new chip of varnish off one of these instrument will reveal quite white wood underneath and that the yellowness mostly comes from yellowing of later overcoats such as french polish.   

 

 

 

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A few of these makers confuse the intention or objective of their recipe. That is, are they proposing ingredients as candidates for an historically accurate Cremonese recipe, or are the ingredients good for producing a varnish system that looks similar to or perhaps even better than Cremonese instruments?

I hope everyone understands this. As for myself, I do both, but now tend to ignore historical ingredients because they are unstable and strongly dependent on the application procedure. 

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Regarding figuring out classical varnishes, I think it's a normal mistake to draw conclusions from an example of one or two. Disconnected from that, I've always learned the most from the extreme examples, not the normal ones--the cases where the normal varnish is extremely thin or thick, for instance, or where there's a lot of ground or very little or none, even. These give hints that are more important that an average view.

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There is really no reason to make one's own dyes from raw materials for the ground. Modern synthetic dyes come in a wide range of colors, are color fast, easy and safe to handle, many are transparent, and are available for water or alcohol solvent application.

Check out suppliers such as W.D Lockwood, Kremer and Transtint.

Water-based synthetic dyes tend to be more color fast but pose challenges when applied to wood due to grain raising.

Alcohol-based dyes are easy to combine with diluted shellac to make a colored ground/sealer. But I found that this layer has to be "sealed" with an oil-based varnish if one wants to use an alcohol varnish as the top layer.

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There's actually a huge reason to avoid modern colorants and most painters' colors, and that is because they are almost always specifically chosen or compounded to give a lighter version of the same color when used thin, very simple colors rather than complex.  One characteristic of many of the colors that violin makers in the golden period used is that they can be seen to be yellow when thin and go through orange and dark orange-brown tending towards reddish and then move towards black as they get thicker.

Modern colors start, for instance, as pink and when used thicker turn to opaque paint of some relatively light color. Often you can see this in the art store where they will put a dab of the color on a board and rub it out to thin, showing both the mass and wash colors the buyer can expect. Most stains act similarly. 

This is a fundamental difference between painting and varnishing. But once in a while you can find a painter's color that does what you want. You can achieve similar but not identical results by layering starting with one color and building through the changes you want to see, but the difference is still subtly visible to someone who's looking. There's a certain amount of this happening with the golden ground (that someone above basically claimed doesn't exist :-)  interacting with the colored over varnish, but that's not the whole story.

Another problem with looking at varnish is simultaneous color contrast (look it up--it's beautifully complex) which happens in the greyscale as well (that "white" you see under a new chip probably isn't as bare-assed white as you think it is). (I'll give you this one:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/409616528591130544/ )

Old violins are incredibly subtle.

By the way, the two earliest examples I have seen of a "red" Amati and a "red" Strad violate what I laid down above--both were simple colors, a red tending towards black with very little yellow component--and I have only seen a single example of each. When each maker comes back with a red color later it's quite a bit more interesting and complex, so you might think that they got it right away and found that first effort less than satisfactory. ("Well, that was interesting--I guess we won't be doing that again!")

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5 hours ago, MikeC said:

Someone whose opinion I trust has told me that a new chip of varnish off one of these instrument will reveal quite white wood underneath and that the yellowness mostly comes from yellowing of later overcoats such as french polish.   

3 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

 (that "white" you see under a new chip probably isn't as bare-assed white as you think it is).

There's also the question of surface scattering making the bare wood under a chip look whiter than the actual wood color.  To see the true wood color, you'd have to wet the wood to eliminate the surface scattering.  And then to decide if it's white or not, you'd have to compare it directly to other known wood samples, rather than get fooled by the surrounding dark varnish.  I haven't seen any old violins where the wood is very white.

 

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I noticed in the section on varnishes in the Weisshaar book that it mentions the "1704" spirit varnish. The ingredients are:

seedlac

spike oil

elemy(i) and alcoho.l Elemy is how it's printed in the book. With a "y" instead of an "i".

The seedlac gives the varnish its golden yellow color. Weisshaar says the "elemy(i) can be left out. What if you don't want a golden yellow color to your varnish? Should you leave out the seedlac? Then you've just got spike oil and alcohol. I don't think that would make a suitable spirit varnish, but it may. Feedback greatly appreciated.  

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3 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

There's actually a huge reason to avoid modern colorants and most painters' colors, and that is because they are almost always specifically chosen or compounded to give a lighter version of the same color when used thin, very simple colors rather than complex.  One characteristic of many of the colors that violin makers in the golden period used is that they can be seen to be yellow when thin and go through orange and dark orange-brown tending towards reddish and then move towards black as they get thicker.

Many modern transparent dyes will do that too. The issue, for me, is that their lightfastness or degree of fading can vary, depending on the formulation and manufacturer, and what media they are mixed into.

I've had these colorants mixed into some mediums in which they turned out to be rather permanent, and other mediums where they faded quite quickly.

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5 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

There's actually a huge reason to avoid modern colorants and most painters' colors, and that is because they are almost always specifically chosen or compounded to give a lighter version of the same color when used thin, very simple colors rather than complex.  One characteristic of many of the colors that violin makers in the golden period used is that they can be seen to be yellow when thin and go through orange and dark orange-brown tending towards reddish and then move towards black as they get thicker.

Modern colors start, for instance, as pink and when used thicker turn to opaque paint of some relatively light color. Often you can see this in the art store where they will put a dab of the color on a board and rub it out to thin, showing both the mass and wash colors the buyer can expect. Most stains act similarly. 

This is a fundamental difference between painting and varnishing. But once in a while you can find a painter's color that does what you want. You can achieve similar but not identical results by layering starting with one color and building through the changes you want to see, but the difference is still subtly visible to someone who's looking. There's a certain amount of this happening with the golden ground (that someone above basically claimed doesn't exist :-)  interacting with the colored over varnish, but that's not the whole story.

Another problem with looking at varnish is simultaneous color contrast (look it up--it's beautifully complex) which happens in the greyscale as well (that "white" you see under a new chip probably isn't as bare-assed white as you think it is). (I'll give you this one:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/409616528591130544/ )

Old violins are incredibly subtle.

By the way, the two earliest examples I have seen of a "red" Amati and a "red" Strad violate what I laid down above--both were simple colors, a red tending towards black with very little yellow component--and I have only seen a single example of each. When each maker comes back with a red color later it's quite a bit more interesting and complex, so you might think that they got it right away and found that first effort less than satisfactory. ("Well, that was interesting--I guess we won't be doing that again!")

There are lots of dichromatic modern pigments that can simulate old varnishes. 
Before artist Don Jusko died, we had an extensive exchange of emails regarding Indian Yellow (dual tone) dichromatic pigments. His last email said to stock up on PY153 before supplies run out. (I did.) 
 

Here is a link to one of his web pages that gives an extensive list of those beautiful pigments. It focuses on his favorite dichromatic pigment PY 153.

http://www.realcolorwheel.com/indianyellowtobrownPY153.htm

Follow the other links on that page to learn about these pigments.

BTW, if you mix natural and synthetic pigments, you are combing fugitive and permanent colorants. That is a recipe for a time bomb. Bruce Carlson told me how some not very old violins come to him for repair work. He sees where the natural cochineal/madder faded but the synthetic Prussian Blue, a color complement darkening reds,  remained strong. Yep, a blue haze permeates that varnish.

So, please stop repeating the erroneous claim that ALL artist pigments are monochromatic. They are not. Moreover, dichromatic effects can be nicely achieved by combining  pigments. 
 

I have submitted to the VSA Journal a paper related to this subject. That process started 6 months ago. :wacko: Hope I’m around to see it get published.

 

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For the record I did not say all pigments do this, I said that most painters' pigments have been chosen for their monochrome behavior. I use a modern pigment myself, but it is one of very few that is suitable. I have not had the results I am looking for by mixing pigments, though. Perhaps our goals are different. 

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5 hours ago, michael breid said:

I noticed in the section on varnishes in the Weisshaar book that it mentions the "1704" spirit varnish. The ingredients are:

seedlac

spike oil

elemy(i) and alcoho.l Elemy is how it's printed in the book. With a "y" instead of an "i".

The seedlac gives the varnish its golden yellow color. Weisshaar says the "elemy(i) can be left out. What if you don't want a golden yellow color to your varnish? Should you leave out the seedlac? Then you've just got spike oil and alcohol. I don't think that would make a suitable spirit varnish, but it may. Feedback greatly appreciated.  

Yes, you have to remove the seedlac, but obviously you have to replace it with another resin that is not yellow, such as sandarac or Manila copal. But equally obviously the characteristics such as hardness will change, and first of all the film-forming properties, where shellac has no equal.

 

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3 hours ago, Michael_Molnar said:

There are lots of dichromatic modern pigments that can simulate old varnishes. 
Before artist Don Jusko died, we had an extensive exchange of emails regarding Indian Yellow (dual tone) dichromatic pigments. His last email said to stock up on PY153 before supplies run out. (I did.) 
 

Here is a link to one of his web pages that gives an extensive list of those beautiful pigments. It focuses on his favorite dichromatic pigment PY 153.

http://www.realcolorwheel.com/indianyellowtobrownPY153.htm

Follow the other links on that page to learn about these pigments.

BTW, if you mix natural and synthetic pigments, you are combing fugitive and permanent colorants. That is a recipe for a time bomb. Bruce Carlson told me how some not very old violins come to him for repair work. He sees where the natural cochineal/madder faded but the synthetic Prussian Blue, a color complement darkening reds,  remained strong. Yep, a blue haze permeates that varnish.

So, please stop repeating the erroneous claim that ALL artist pigments are monochromatic. They are not. Moreover, dichromatic effects can be nicely achieved by combining  pigments. 
 

I have submitted to the VSA Journal a paper related to this subject. That process started 6 months ago. :wacko: Hope I’m around to see it get published.

 

Mike, I eagerly await for this article. I wish you a speedy, full recovery!

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On 1/5/2022 at 3:00 AM, avandesande said:

Has anyone tried Indian Yellow? It's a pigment that was available during Stradivarius time.

If ‘Stradivarius time’ implies that the Cremonese master might have used it, this was certainly not the case. What I understand from varnish analysis is that pigments can be detected fairly easily sometimes just by looking through a microscope of high magnifying power.

Otherwise we need to understand for varnish color where which color has what purpose. For example if you make orange by adding pigments into a strong yellow medium it has a different effect than adding yellow pigments into a red medium. The first makes pretty brilliant ‘red’ and is somehow confirmed by 400x magnified picture of a varnish sample by Antonio Stradivari. 
 

In any case, if the pigment has the purpose to make a yellow ground, I think it is not a good idea.

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1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

 

Otherwise we need to understand for varnish color where which color has what purpose. For example if you make orange by adding pigments into a strong yellow medium it has a different effect than adding yellow pigments into a red medium. The first makes pretty brilliant ‘red’ and is somehow confirmed by 400x magnified picture of a varnish sample by Antonio Stradivari. 

Can you explain more on this?   Mix yellow and red to get orange,  what does it matter if you mix red into yellow or the other way around.   How would you make a brilliant red specifically?  and what picture are you referring to? 

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2 hours ago, MikeC said:

Can you explain more on this?   Mix yellow and red to get orange,  what does it matter if you mix red into yellow or the other way around.   How would you make a brilliant red specifically?  and what picture are you referring to? 

Not as simple as that.

Two colored pigments blended together make a different color impression in different light situations than a pigment (which is basically not translucent) with a plant dye which is translucent. 
 

You take a red pigment in a medium colored with plant dyes. In strong light it will be vibrant orange, in dim light the pigments reflect better and the impression will be more red. With two pigments added together it is always the same color.

I always make sure that my red pigments get their brilliance with translucent yellow. It’s a recipe I learned in the shop of Rene morel who always blended on the color board the madder lakes with the tutti galli plant dye mix.

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6 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Not as simple as that.

Two colored pigments blended together make a different color impression in different light situations than a pigment (which is basically not translucent) with a plant dye which is translucent. 
 

You take a red pigment in a medium colored with plant dyes. In strong light it will be vibrant orange, in dim light the pigments reflect better and the impression will be more red. With two pigments added together it is always the same color.

I always make sure that my red pigments get their brilliance with translucent yellow. It’s a recipe I learned in the shop of Rene morel who always blended on the color board the madder lakes with the tutti galli plant dye mix.

That is actually what you achieve by grinding pigments into a dark cooked colophony varnish. 

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