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Let's talk about Ground


joerobson
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2 hours ago, Evan Smith said:

Exactly,

The wood can't glow as it is possible to do,,

No light in = no light out

Nope, No light in (absorbed) = all light out; All light in (absorbed) = black

Just pickin for fun. :) 

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So, one thing that puzzles me is how violin making ended up using the term 'ground' in its own independent way.

The term obviously relates to the idea of a 'ground' in the painters world.  But violin making uses the term very differently.

In basically all the arts touched on in Cennini's book, ground means one clear explicit thing: a layer of whiting particles laid down before the coloring and finishing proper.

These grounds always consisted of a physical layer of particles, and they weren't necessarily the first thing to contact the substrate of a work.

But violin makers tend to use the word 'ground' to refer to the first things to contact the wood.  And we carry this to such an extreme as to not neccesarily call a layer with particles sitting just on the wood 'ground'.

For Cennini and his descriptions of artisan practices, a particulate layer sitting right at the wood, that would be called the 'ground'.

It's rather confusing.  

Things that Cennini mentions as in various circumstances as comming before the actual 'grounds': stains, mordants, gross filling before freacos with straw or brick dust, soaking with linseed for waterproofing or gross cohesion, sizing.

How to make things transparent is also mentioned in several contexts.  Penetration with linseed is the primary method. But it's also mentioned that varnishes can be very potent and make things transparent.

And running throughout, tooth seems a major concern both in sizes and in grounds.  Laying down not just a smooth surface, but an even tooth.

Now, even in 1580, a violin maker's concerns might have diverged from the general artisan norms.  But still, on some level I would expect a violin maker's ways to be as consistent with the larger arts as say a leather worker's or a guilder's.

From the context of Cennini, I would expect that the starting point for an instrument maker in 1450 or 1500 would be the idea of 1) wood prep, 2) a typical artisan mineral ground made transparent with penetration by oil or similar, 3) primary color work, 4) protective varnishing.

 

To complicate things, the first generations of Cremona making sit amid the general arts transition from protein binders and water solvent, to oil binders and spirits of turpentine solvent.  And the later periods of Cremona making run into the rise of alcohol solvents and related materials.

Now, since Cremona violin making witnessed a change in the availability of solvents, their ideas of preparing the wood, preparing the ground or tooth, working the main color, and protecting with varnish might have evolved.

But, their starting point would I believe most likely have been the historically obvious one.  And, I believe that's exactly what we're seeing for example in A. Guarneri cello finish that was analyzed with a high degree of spatial accuracy.

I also believe it like that a maker at the time would have identified the transparent mineral layer sitting above and on the wood as the 'ground'.  And that the oil/balsaam and stain hitting the wood first, what we call 'ground' today would have been called preparation back then.

 

Ideas to consider...

 

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On 6/4/2021 at 1:47 AM, joerobson said:

Hello all,

In the previous pop thread someone noted that I might be a proponent of pop or related substances as a ground.

As a varnish maker and someone who conducts varnishing workshops I am a proponent of knowing the tools and processes to control the desired effects on your instrument.  Information is key.  Lack of information gets you lost...and being lost and varnishing is no fun.

In my personal work varnishing instruments, one of the things I do not use is a grain filler of any sort.

There are many ways and many reasons to use the laundry list of ground methods.

Let's talk.

on we go.

Joe

 

Joe,

It’s a long thread, so I may have missed it, but did you say WHY you don’t use a particulate ground?

 

Thanks

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On 6/23/2021 at 12:20 AM, violins88 said:

Joe,

It’s a long thread, so I may have missed it, but did you say WHY you don’t use a particulate ground?

 

Thanks

So where do I begin....

I'd like to think of this as process....both for myself and for violin varnishers in general.

Using oil varnish on violins was revived in the late 70's and early 80's.  In the States Brain Skarstad was the first to use an oil varnish on a student instrument at VMSA.  He was quickly followed the Sam Z. and Ben Ruth.  In Britain we had the amazing crew in Newark..Koen Padding, Roger Hargrave, Joe Thrift, Julie Reeb[Yeboah] and others.  Greg Alf,Joe Curtin and Gary Baese were exploring the process in Italy.

Oil varnishing presented issues ....particularly the over absorption of color in the grain changes in the spruce.  As David B. so well noted, the use of gesso or similar materials came down to us from the painters tradition.  The process of adding particulates in a varnish based paste was encouraged by the Barlow/Woodhouse micro-graph of a section of Cremonese varnish which contained a variety of "bits" of metallic salts and elemental materials which seemed to make up  the material first applied to the instrument.

The historical precident from the art world combined with the Barlow Woodhouse finding encouraged Koen Padding and others to develop this grain filling process which solved the problem of absorption of color.  This quickly left other methods, like Liquin, in the past.  The process gained wide acceptance and has remained an effective method of preparing the surface.

Early in my work I was exposed to many makers who were very successful in the use of this method.  I was also privileged to examine some of the great Stradivari instruments, in particular the Paganinni viola, which etched in my brain the "Cremonese" ground.

As a woodworker I had lots of experience with grain filled finishes and the "mineral ground"  did not agree with my observations of the Stradivari ground.

At that point I began to work as a commercial varnisher for a number of companies and individuals.  This presented a great opportunity to compare methods.  I used every combination of mineral grounds that I had been taught by makers.  The most successful of these in my not so humble opinion was ground raw amber in a varnish paste.  I used vernis bianca, casein, casein emulsions, shellac, Venice turpentine and anything else I could think of of or was suggested.  All were acceptable but none matched the properties of the Amati/Stradivari ground.  This led me to the development of the Balsam Ground.

on we go

Joe

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5 hours ago, joerobson said:

Using oil varnish on violins was revived in the late 70's and early 80's.  In the States Brain Skarstad was the first to use an oil varnish on a student instrument at VMSA. 

That's quite a blanket statement, and I wonder how you arrived at it?  It seems to me that there was already a strong tradition of oil based varnish prior to the late 70's and early 80's.  Please let us know how you arrived at your opinion?

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20 minutes ago, Philip Perret said:

That's quite a blanket statement, and I wonder how you arrived at it?  It seems to me that there was already a strong tradition of oil based varnish prior to the late 70's and early 80's.  Please let us know how you arrived at your opinion?

There have always been a few proponents and users of oil varnishes.  Are you one of those makers? As I have been told this is how it became mainstream once again.  My information comes from those folks involved.  Perhaps my focus is narrow as  a result.

Irregardless of the time line, I have observed and participated as I describe.

If I am miss informed please tell me.

I mean.no offense.

on we go,

Joe

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13 hours ago, joerobson said:

There have always been a few proponents and users of oil varnishes.  Are you one of those makers? As I have been told this is how it became mainstream once again.  My information comes from those folks involved.  Perhaps my focus is narrow as  a result.

Irregardless of the time line, I have observed and participated as I describe.

If I am miss informed please tell me.

I mean.no offense.

on we go,

Joe

Of course, no offense!  This is all very interesting!  Having had my early training in Chicago, the Carl Becker(s) varnish, was perhaps the most scrutinized and talked about among us, with the general consensus being that it was oil.  As their varnish is quite similar from the late 20's until now, I've always considered it to be "mainstream".  In the early years of the Chicago violin making school, Mr Lee also gave out "oil varnish" for the students to use, saying it was much easier to apply than most spirit varnishes.  I don't know if that changed after I left in 1980, but I've never felt that "oil varnishes" went out of style!  That being said, with ongoing research, the internet and sites such as this, it is certainly talked about more!

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16 minutes ago, Philip Perret said:

Of course, no offense!  This is all very interesting!  Having had my early training in Chicago, the Carl Becker(s) varnish, was perhaps the most scrutinized and talked about among us, with the general consensus being that it was oil.  As their varnish is quite similar from the late 20's until now, I've always considered it to be "mainstream".  In the early years of the Chicago violin making school, Mr Lee also gave out "oil varnish" for the students to use, saying it was much easier to apply than most spirit varnishes.  I don't know if that changed after I left in 1980, but I've never felt that "oil varnishes" went out of style!  That being said, with ongoing research, the internet and sites such as this, it is certainly talked about more!

Mr. Lee is my mentor.  I have learned so much from him.  I believe that oil varnish was the one he learned from his teacher.

If I recall it was a cold solved copal varnish.

He soon turned to spirit varnishes for the students. 

He has never stopped his varnish inquiry and passion.  A great inspiration.

The Becker varnish remains a hot topic among some of us.

on we go,

Joe

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2 hours ago, joerobson said:

Mr. Lee is my mentor.

Please don't even attempt to claim such a thing, unless you worked with Lee in the Warren shop, or were a student in the Chicago School when he was still teaching there. To the best of my knowledge, you have done neither.

Phillip Perret actually has such fabulous background and training and outcomes, that he has no need to stoop to such a level of deceptive innuendo. I hope you will learn to do better.

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21 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Please don't even attempt to claim such a thing, unless you worked with Lee in the Warren shop, or were a student in the Chicago School when he was still teaching there. To the best of my knowledge, you have done neither.

Phillip Perret actually has such fabulous background and training and outcomes, that he has no need to stoop to such a level of deceptive innuendo. I hope you will learn to do better.

Oh my, this could get interesting.

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17 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Please don't even attempt to claim such a thing, unless you worked with Lee in the Warren shop, or were a student in the Chicago School when he was still teaching there. To the best of my knowledge, you have done neither.

Phillip Perret actually has such fabulous background and training and outcomes, that he has no need to stoop to such a level of deceptive innuendo. I hope you will learn to do better.

David,

As you know I do not have the credentials you require.  However Mr. Lee has critiqued my work and we have exchanged varnish ideas for about 20 years.  I have learned more from him in fewer words than anyone else in this trade.

I do not know Phillip personally but I am aware of his reputation and that he is held in high esteem among our colleagues.

If some sort of innuendo was taken, it was unintentional my part.

on we go,

Joe

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19 minutes ago, MikeC said:

So to put it in a nutshell.    No one knows what the Cremonese ground actually is right?    Joe are you suggesting your balsam ground is it?  

No.  I have no privileged information.   I am a tool maker.  My goal has been to make useful materials that work well for makers.

The personal, grail search, for me has been to create tools which reproduce the physical and optical effects that I see in these amazing instruments. In that, I am occasionally happy with my work. Well used the Balsam Ground is closer to.that goal than anything else I have tried. But this is an ongoing search.  We are only as good as the next one.

 

on we go,

Joe 

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20 hours ago, MikeC said:

So to put it in a nutshell.    No one knows what the Cremonese ground actually is right?    Joe are you suggesting your balsam ground is it?  

No one knows.  And we don't even know if the strata we point to as 'ground' is what he would have called.

We also don't know if the part we point to pas 'ground' would have been one layer for him.

For all we know, he might of 'stained', 'mordanted', 'sized', 'penetrated for transparency', and/or 'sized' for what we now call 'ground'.

Also, in the many historical instruments that do show a mineral layer just above the wood, they also show the 'into wood' things that we now often call 'ground'.   However, in historical context, artisans would nearly certainly call the mineral layer the 'ground'.   The stuff below that, we call 'ground', would very likely been called something different.

And, just imagining now, if Stradivari was asked about 'ground' he might say something like: 'Yes. I still do that sometimes. But these days I quite often do that layer quite differently, or even leave it out.  But I still prepare the wood surface very much as Andrea Amati did in earlier times.'

Our modern paradigm should be suspect. And is not neccesarily a friend to understanding old methods.

 

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Wonder if it would be helpful to put down a list of things that could be done in order after the wood surface is ready.

Proposed list, please add or remove as you see fit. Obviously not everyone would do all of the steps, but this is the order I see as useful:

Prime/Stain (in the wood)

Seal (maybe mineral, or not)

Varnish

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2 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Wonder if it would be helpful to put down a list of things that could be done in order after the wood surface is ready.

Proposed list, please add or remove as you see fit. Obviously not everyone would do all of the steps, but this is the order I see as useful:

Prime/Stain (in the wood)

Seal (maybe mineral, or not)

Varnish

Put it out in the sun sometimes.

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