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Touchup and pigments


flo
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Hi,

I’m learning about touchup and spirit varnish in general and this forum has been a great resource so far. Thank you all for the great talks.

I try to colorize using pigments and I can’t seem to have them dilute correctly in alcohol. I make a very thin varnish/alcohol solution to which I gradually add pigments until I match the desired color, them add more varnish/alcohol if it took too much pigments to get to the color.

But I constantly have to stir the mix, else the piment start to agglomerate in the bottom of the liquid.

Is it normal? Is there something I missed?

Also, I find it very difficult to understand the right amount of varnish/alcohol to add to 1. get the good opacity/colorization for a layer to be applied and 2. to have the least amount of varnish in the color layer.

I think I understood that the glazing process should be an alternance of clear varnish and few layers of pure alcohol/color mix but I can’t make the pigments and alcohol to mix well without some varnish added.

I found very little here about touchup using pigments. Does anyone use them?

Thanks!

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3 hours ago, flo said:

... I constantly have to stir the mix, else the piment start to agglomerate in the bottom of the liquid...

This makes it sound like you're using much too much alcohol.

The pigments should not be applied as a colored liquid.  Instead, the pigments are mixed with a small amount of alcohol on a palette until the desired color is achieved.  The small amount of alcohol quickly evaporates, leaving the pigment mixture dry on the palette.  Then the retouching brush is slightly moistened with alcohol and used to pick up the dry pigments from the palette and apply them to the instrument.  Once applied, they are covered with thin layers of varnish.

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Retouching is tricky! I would highly recommend the retouching workshop that Hans J. Nebel does at MCLA. (Workshops hopefully back from Covid next year.) Hans J. said: "The only thing tougher than retouching is selling the damn fiddle." I've taken that workshop twice, and continue to be humbled when I compare my work with his.

Brian Epp's book "The Art of Violin Retouching" is also pretty good.

if you're only using pigments, it's difficult. Pigments a basically insoluble, and also opaque. Too much pigment, and you're talking paint. I also use colored dyes mixed with retouching varnish for some layers. Remember, it's going to take several color layers, alternating with clear layers to get the result that you want. The clear layers allow you to remove individual color layers, if you don't like the result of your last layer.

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First: Pigments will be suspended in your varnish, dyes made for your medium (spirit in this case) will dissolve in it.

I often use both.

Maybe this will help;

After sealing (and filling if required), I mix relatively small amounts of color using retouch varnish as a binder (I don't dilute the touchup with alcohol all that much...at the most I dip the brush in alcohol to help keep things from drying out).  

When applying, I don't use much medium in the brush (it's what some people refer to as a "dry brush").  This allows you to apply very thin color coats and keep the color where you put it. Let things dry, adjust your color and intensity as required, and do it again.  Repeat the process until the color builds up and things look "right".

Apply as evenly as you can. My goal at the finish is that the touchup varnish does not require any manipulation (leveling, polishing, etc.). That rarely if ever happens, but having that goal makes for a much, much better job. If the instrument's surrounding varnish has craquelure, that can be addressed at or near the end.

Keep in mind that reflectivity of the retouched area is dependent of the coating thickness and pigments/dyes used in the process... and sheen (if your retouch is too shiny, you may need some matting agent as you build it up). If you want to check your color and intensity (which dictates film thickness to an extent) I'll share the following advice given to me way back when I worked for David Burgess in the 80s which helped me figure things out:

Take a piece of Saran wrap and slightly moisten one side. Put the slightly moistened side over the area where retouch is required. Mix the color/intensity of the retouch you plan to use.  Put a drop on the Saran wrap and let it dry.  Compare the color/intensity/film thickness of your touchup to the surrounding original varnish.  Adjust your retouch varnish until things look right (and look from several angles).

You'll be close, although you'll probably still need to adjust the color slightly as you build things up.

Good luck!  Getting the "feel" takes some time, as does experimenting with mediums and colors.

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22 hours ago, Brad Dorsey said:

This makes it sound like you're using much too much alcohol. […]

First of all, I’m sorry for replying so late, but it seems that I can only post twice a day. I don’t know what it takes to have this limitation removed. So, I reply to you all in a verbose post, sorry for that!

Then, thank you all for taking the time to write such good insights and tips.

Brad, I may use too much alcohol. I added so much in order to dilute the pigments (failure) and keep the transparency of the solution. I also added a little bit of varnish in order to help the pigments melt. Seemed to work, but as I wanted to keep the ratio varnish/alcohol low, I added more alcohol.

Nevertheless, I always thoroughly « damped » (I don’t know the correct word in English) the brush on the side of the palette compartment and then dried it on a paper towel.

I will definitely try you advice. I didn’t visualize the process as a « simple » transfer of pigments from the palette to the instrument using a damp brush. Thanks again.

21 hours ago, FiddleDoug said:

Retouching is tricky! I would highly recommend the retouching workshop that Hans J. Nebel does at MCLA. […]

Doug, I’m from France and could not find a single workshop on the subject yet. I have to rely on literature and I already have the book from Brian Epp. I read there is no « bible » on retouching but it is the best starting point for now. He doesn’t use pigments but watercolors, which I will try but can’t afford right now (time and money constraints).

I know it’s tricky but I like challenges and really want to get into it. The layers/glazing technique I’m aware of, and try to use it, but my color layers make so little difference (can’t see any in fact) that I don’t know if I’m going in the right direction. Really, I’m reluctant to apply a clear varnish coat just because seeing no color change, I feel like I will build too much thickness. I don’t know what parameter is wrong yet.

I’m using supposedly transparent pigments, by the way. And I don’t grasp the whole pigments/dyes/aniline thing correctly. Language barrier, but I need to investigate it well, then transfer/translate it with French resellers when I need to buy something.

16 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

First: Pigments will be suspended in your varnish, dyes made for your medium (spirit in this case) will dissolve in it. […]

Jeffrey, thanks for this thorough answer. Your pigments in varnish thing is much what I tried to do, but I thinned the solution in order to have the thinnest and most quickly drying layers possible. I’ll try without the alcohol added.

The problem with my current project is that I have a fairly large area to touchup, so I’m afraid of the brush sticking to the varnish in the middle of the line.

I look from every angles all the time, and what I seem for now is quite discouraging, given there are fibers pressed/raised and that the two table pieces reflect light in opposite way!

Thank you for the Saran wrap tip, it will help a lot.

See you tomorrow when I can post again!

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23 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

I'll share the following advice given to me way back when I worked for David Burgess in the 80s which helped me figure things out:

Take a piece of Saran wrap and slightly moisten one side. Put the slightly moistened side over the area where retouch is required. Mix the color/intensity of the retouch you plan to use.  Put a drop on the Saran wrap and let it dry.  Compare the color/intensity/film thickness of your touchup to the surrounding original varnish.  Adjust your retouch varnish until things look right (and look from several angles).

I could have sworn this was my idea, but it's been long enough that I can't be certain.  Regardless, it's a very useful technique!  One can also build up quite a bit of retouch varnish on the Saran wrap to check to see how a given pre-mixed batch will look in comparison to the original if the situation calls for it.  One pitfall of doing any retouching in humid weather is a bit of a color shift toward green and increase opacity until the varnish dries sufficiently.  It's been super humid here recently and what has worked for me for years to keep the level down was tested earlier this week.

Don't be too discouraged about the challenge of retouching.  It really is a challenging thing to learn for most people.  There are many different aspects to keep track of all at once and it's also easy to deceive oneself.  It really is valuable to do a little bit of work and then walk away from it for hours, if not a day, before looking at it again and proceeding.  It's all too enticing to keep putting varnish on while having the, often mistaken, impression that it's looking better all the time only to come back to it the next day and find that the color is all wrong, (usually too red) because we looked at it for too long and our ability to perceive color differences has reduced substantially.

Good Luck!

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1 hour ago, Mark Norfleet said:

I could have sworn this was my idea, but it's been long enough that I can't be certain. 

It very well may have been, Mark! I just seem to recall David showing me the technique.  A very nice thing about working in a shop with talented people when you're just out of school. Lots of good ideas and techniques.

Oberlin has had that kind of feel... always leave with my head crammed with stuff I want to try. Hope we can start that up again next year.

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7 hours ago, flo said:

I’m from France and could not find a single workshop on the subject yet. 

I believe Jean-Jacques Fasnacht was teaching a series of restoration courses in Paris a while ago... Not sure he still is, but you might try and find out...

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20 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

I believe Jean-Jacques Fasnacht was teaching a series of restoration courses in Paris a while ago... Not sure he still is, but you might try and find out...

I didn’t know this person. He seems to have moved to Switzerland. Out of my reach for now, but it’s worth contacting it.

19 hours ago, Bodacious Cowboy said:

Yes, I’ve been in touch with them but their teaching schedule has been kind of disrupted by the COVID thing. I will actively watch for updates on their side.

19 minutes ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

Iris Carr (listed in the above link) has a series of subject oriented video presentations available as well... Her touchup process is excellent...

I’ve bought her zoom lecture on retouching. It’s been helpful. I’m aware of much of the process of retouching, but as always with this kind of manual work, it’s much better to be teached in person.

Thank you all for taking the time to post here. I will definitely attend a workshop, may it be abroad, when money allows it.

I have tried picking dry pigments with a damp brush, without much success. I couldn’t have a regular layer of color. There were some clumps. I’ll give it another try later.

Colorized retouch varnish is easier but it can’t really tell if the color shows. I applied two layers, let it dry and rest my eyes during the weekend and we’ll see on Monday the effectiveness.

I will invest in watercolors and try it next week.

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1 hour ago, Alma said:

What kind of brush (brand, type of hair, size and shape of brush) should be used to transfer pigment from the palette to the saran wrap/or/final base?

Sable brushes are quite nice. As far as the size and shape goes, it depends what you are trying to do. If you are trying to retouch in individual wood grains (yes, that does happen), you nee a much different brush than if you are doing some kind of dime size work.

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