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Jack Devereux

Antiquing from New

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So, I'm just about to start varnishing a fiddle and thinking about antiquing. I started this one on spec and built it "new," but subsequently, a fellow has bought it and decided he wants it antiqued. In the past, I've kind of antiqued as I've gone along --rounded the corners and edge work over and softened the back of the scroll before varnishing, applied color varnish only in the places it wouldn't be worn back, then adding texture with rocks, chains, machine guns, chainsaws, particle colliders, the ususal-- but now that I have this unantiqued woodworking in front of me, I'm wondering about varnishing it straight and then antiquing the whole thing from there. Any thoughts? Would this lead to a more "real" look? In the past I've been frustrated with my antiquing because it looks pretty convincing from 10 feet away, but falls apart pretty quickly upon closer inspection. 

 

thanks, 

Jack 

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Here's my take on the whole idea.

 

Look at as many antiqued, and faux-antiqued instruments as you can.

If you can tell the difference - then what is the difference; exactly?

Antiquing isn't impossible, and when someone uses, or asks for an 'antiqued' instrument - well, they're simply asking for something with a particular "look". If they want an exact copy of a particular single very old instrument - then that's a far different story, where close copying is called for.

 

Antiquing, ahh, I must admit to a great affinity for the process. Did I learn it from someone in particular?

No.

I simply looked around me - and copied certain effects. (particle colliders not withstanding)

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Quite difficult to get the right look in the worn areas after varnish. You can retouch all you want but genuine antiques have the wood color gradually darkening under the varnish as well as where it is worn. Most of the convincing wood darkening techniques become difficult or impossible after the wood has been sealed.

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IMO, "straight" varnish would be preferable, if you could figure out how to wear and darken in a natural way.  But as Nathan points out, some things are harder to do after doing a straight violin.

 

The trouble with trying to take a straight violin and age it through speeded up "actual wear" is that it takes a long time and isn't always as convincing.  (Probably because that, too, is an art.)  But since bad antiquing is so prevalent in usual first attempts, a slow developmental approach might be safer.

 

I knew one maker who varnished straight and literally took down the varnish to the ground or wood, leaving only small areas with any varnish at all; then he built back up with touch up varnish, which is certainly seen on many old violins.  It was very convincing.  I assume he had darkened the wood, but I believe he also had ways of building patina.

 

Also, IMO, having a concept of good antiquing is limited at first.  It has to be developed, just like our eye for fine violins.  I have no doubt that many fine antique-ers look at their own early work and shake their heads in disbelief that they would have ever let it pass. 

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That's sort of where (and why) you need to look at examples of what is already out there.

Both real or actual old, and new or faux old.

There is no better example of what age and wear look like - than actually studying real age and wear - either in person, or from very good photographs - and also, looking at what new 'age' and 'new or faux age and wear' look like.

 

Oddly they can both be equally convincingly done.

I know this because I've seen examples of both.

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You are right, ct.  

 

IMO, however, with beginners just seeing an old violin doesn't transfer necessarily to a perfectly done antiquing anymore than listening to a Heifetz recording leads to a perfect performance.  What we feel pretty good about isn't always very good.  It's just the best we can do at the moment.

 

I've hinted before that the time is ripe for someone to come out with a book on antiquing which might at the very least help get past some "beginner mistakes."  I'm sure it would at least sell 175 copies world wide.  Start the excavations for the new indoor pool!   :)     

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IMO, however, with beginners just seeing an old violin doesn't transfer necessarily to a perfectly done antiquing anymore than listening to a Heifetz recording leads to a perfect performance.  What we feel pretty good about isn't always very good.  It's just the best we can do at the moment.

 

So then - where to start?

Well...

I started by varnishing many violins "straight" - with new (and new looking) varnish.

including simple shading, which is pretty well accepted as a regular form of "new" varnish.

Without which (skill, that is) one cannot go beyond simple 'straight varnishing' into the even more skilled version of varnishing which includes faux aging, of any sort.

 

Varnishing convincingly - period - is an acquired skill.

Including, what to use for, or as, a varnish, and exactly what to use for, and as, a colorant.

antiquing - with what? one might ask.

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Oh, I love this subject.  Just like making and playing the darned thing, there is no end to trying to make it as pretty as possible, as close in style and workmanship to the original, if it is a copy;  and to look the age it's representing .  Kind of hard to get bored.   :)  

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Hey guys, thanks for the responses. 

 

I've done a fair number of fiddles with the shade-and-add-texture method. The guy I studied with (Jonathan Cooper) gets great results using a glaze to apply color just to where it needs to go. I'm just curious about the pros and cons of working backwards from a straight varnish since I have the straight woodworking in front of me right now. I've seen a few fiddles that look fantastic using this method, does anybody have any ideas on that technique specifically? Nathan, I definitely see your point about not wanting to seal the wood so its too pale and won't take color when you're antiquing. 

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If any one knows which issue of The Strad has Jeff and Antoine's antiquing article could you please post it? Sounds like something I should read again.

It's a two part article, June and July 2013 issues. Good stuff!

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Jack,

For what it's worth, this is how I work. It's how the old instruments were worn in the first place. There is a difference to how the wood wears when it's protected by varnish, versus before varnishing. It's sort of like how carving a worn corner never looks quite the same as carving a fresh corner and then wearing it. I think it really improved my work when I switched to this method. It takes longer, for sure.

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On 12/28/2016 at 10:33 AM, Jack Devereux said:

So, I'm just about to start varnishing a fiddle and thinking about antiquing. I started this one on spec and built it "new," but subsequently, a fellow has bought it and decided he wants it antiqued. In the past, I've kind of antiqued as I've gone along --rounded the corners and edge work over and softened the back of the scroll before varnishing, applied color varnish only in the places it wouldn't be worn back, then adding texture with rocks, chains, machine guns, chainsaws, particle colliders, the ususal-- but now that I have this unantiqued woodworking in front of me, I'm wondering about varnishing it straight and then antiquing the whole thing from there. Any thoughts? Would this lead to a more "real" look? In the past I've been frustrated with my antiquing because it looks pretty convincing from 10 feet away, but falls apart pretty quickly upon closer inspection. 

 

thanks, 

Jack 

Jack,

This is easier if do some additive techniques before you start the subtracting.

Joe

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How about just getting one of those loose fitting, old 1930-40s, felt lined cases. Add a few bits of rosin crumbs and the cheap chin rest tools that come with chin rests to the bottom of the case. Then sit down to watch a movie and shake the case back and forth until the movie is over.

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On 12/30/2016 at 8:05 AM, Jeff Jetson said:

I have seen a few new instruments tastefully antiqued to look quite old. I just wonder what a new instrument that looks old now will look like one hundred years from now.

Yes, but you have to wonder (worry) about that if it's a clean violin too! :)

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On 12/30/2016 at 8:05 AM, Jeff Jetson said:

I have seen a few new instruments tastefully antiqued to look quite old. I just wonder what a new instrument that looks old now will look like one hundred years from now.

If a new violin is antiqued to look old why, in 100 years, would it necessarily not look like a violin that is now old look 100 years from now?  What will Strad violins and DG violins look like in 100 years?

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On 12/30/2016 at 8:05 AM, Jeff Jetson said:

I have seen a few new instruments tastefully antiqued to look quite old. I just wonder what a new instrument that looks old now will look like one hundred years from now.

One could antique rather conservatively, using the "Lady Blunt" as a guide. Some people take it much farther than they need to,  I think.

Yes, some artificially antiqued fiddles will wear in different ways than the originals will continue to wear. Depends on the methods used. A valid concern.

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I just saw a violin today that I made in 2000 which has been played hard by two owners. I think it would be hard to guess if it was 17 years old or 70 without looking at the label. In general I do antique instruments a bit now but am trying for about the same wear or a bit less than that one has attained naturally. A little softening of the corners and wear in the places the hand touches and a few nicks and scratches so when new scratches occur they can be darkened and will blend in. Instrument that are heavily antiqued will often go through a period when new scratches show white in areas which are basically bare wood and retouching still looks wrong because the scratches remain too sharp. I found the first part of the Phillips/ Nedelec article in the Strad and their techniques look pretty standard. I am still looking for the second part which would shed more light on aging the look of new damage and wear.

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