old watercolor


Grumbler in Training
Jun 21, 2002
Oakdale, CA
I have an old water color that a customer brought in. This piece has seen its better days. The paper is very light and is not rag paper. The paper is in very poor condition, ripped and burning on the edges, and there has been water damage to the paper.

Would it be best to encapsulate this piece. The water color was painted by the customers grandparent and is 20 x 26.

Thanks for any help on this one.
If you can overmat the damage, that is one way to deal with it. Or, you can suggest the owner speak to a paper conservator to see about dealing with the damage. Or, you can just mat as per usual and let the damage show. Unless the tears are terribly unstable and liable to rip under their own weight, it's not a conservation crime to frame them unmended. History has its own merits.

As Rebecca implied, the window mat is a great conservation tool It can add gentle, steady support, when it covers the edges of the sheet and
darker windows with richer surfaces can lessen the
impact of old grime and damage.

Rebecca and Hugh

Thank you for all your help regarding the fragile watercolor.

Will do the overmatting of the watercolor.

But is there any problem with encapsulation of the watercolor using Mylar D and making an envelope for the piece? Would it be better in this envelope framed?

Thanks again.
Encapsulation wouldn't harm the watercolor but it would, in my opinion, look funny.

It's a balancing act between giving the piece overall support (important for very fragile pieces), aesthetics, and chemical stability (acidic pieces can "stew in their own juices" if encapsulated). The acidity problem can be circumvented by 1)deacidification or 2) laying the piece on a sheet of buffered tissue prior to encapsulation or 3)laying it on alpha cellulose/rag matboard and just covering the front with Mylar. Clear as mud???

Originally posted by Rebecca:
Encapsulation wouldn't harm the watercolor but it would, in my opinion, look funny.

The acidity problem can be circumvented by...3)laying it on alpha cellulose/rag matboard and just covering the front with Mylar...
The clear film/art paper/alphacellulose board mount is what we call a "clear film overlay" mount.

Another alternative to the "look funny" nature of clear film on textured, matte surfaces is to make an overlay mount with Stabilitex of color similar to the paper.

Use an alphacellulose board backer, cut just slightly larger than the art paper. Paint the perimeter of its back with acrylic medium and let it dry. Wrap the Stabilitex over the art on the board's front, and secure the fabric to the back of the mount board; activate the acrylic medium's bond with your warm, not-too-hot tacking iron through the fabric. Pull slight tension on it as you go.

If a thin layer of polyfill is placed under the art paper to provide slight tension, better support might be achieved. But that would isolate the art paper from the buffered board below.

The Stabilitex might be less conspicuous than clear film, and hold as well. It works nicely with silk embroidery and other textiles, and I have used it on paper with great results.
Overmatting the edges of the sheet will allow you
to use folded paper edge supports and that takes
away the risk of hinging. One risk you face with
hinges is the condition of the edges of the sheet.
If the paper is breaking down, the hinges could peel, taking paper fibers with them. If the edges
of the watercolor are grimy, an hinge could set
the grime into the paper, making it more difficult
to remove. Edge strips will provide the most gentle support if they are made as wide as the
margins of the watercolor allow. For more information see: pictureframingmagazine.com,
articles index, preservation supplements, hinge-
free support.

I have a customer with a watercolor = major acid burn, some cockeling. I have a good working relationship with a paper conservator locally, and while she was in picking up another piece from me, I had her look at the current piece I had on the counter and give me a ballpark on the conservation of the piece. The fact that it was a watercolor and considered modern (around 60 years old) it was water soluable and would need a complete lab test prior to doing any conservation work, and that work would all be very time consuming because of the water soluability. We were looking at $450 - 600 to completely treat this piece. My customer appreciated the advice, but she was okay with a rag mat, covering the burn lines and stabilzing the package. But, at least she knew her options!

Rebecca - Michelle Phillips says hello! She said she has met you at conferences or somewhere (I can't remember), she is from Toronto and work here locally now.

my 2 cents!
Hi Elaine -

Yes, I met her in Victoria. Please pass on my regards to her