Experiment with Fixatives

One of the most coveted secrets (or widely not mentioned to customers) of linenbackers/restorers from the ‘make it perfect’ school, is the application of a fixative after in-painting. Fixative allows a restorer to even out the finish across an entire poster producing a better result visually. So you may ask ‘What is the big deal?’…

Fixative is not easily reversible!

Once it is applied it can not be removed with out solvents. Which in most cases, if a removal attempt is made, the action will remove the underlying ink of the original printing as well – damaging the poster.

Here is an example of what fixative can do for a poster that has been restored.  This poster has been one of my experiments from the beginning.  The poster had multiple types of touch-ups including water color pencil, gouache, a mixture of gouache and gum arabic, and Dr. Ph. Martins Air Brush Water Colors.  I also experimented with gum arabic to develop additional sheen etc. before learning that most contrast is concealed with fixative.

So this is the perfect poster to illustrate its effects.

To enhance the experiment I took diluted black gouache and placed two streak across the middle (equal into each quadrant) just above the title and another single streak in the border area just above Clint’s head.

For the experiment  I basically divided the poster into quadrants:

  • The lower left quadrant was the control without any application of fixative,
  • The lower right was sprayed with Krylon Workable Fixative (supposedly matte finish),
  • The top right was sprayed with Blair Matte Spray Fix, and
  • The top left was sprayed with Krylon UV Archival Matte Varnish.

What fixative can do to even the contrast of in-painting….

As you can see, the streaks basically disappeared in all three quadrants sprayed with fixative.  The Blair Spray Fix seemed to work the best, to my eye, being most matte and void of contrast.  The Krylon Varnish was terrible and would have been a mistake to use on an actual poster.  The Krylon Workable Fixative had more sheen and did not cover as well.  I am not sure how the temperature impacts the application.  I say this, because in earlier attempts, while spraying in 95 degree + weather, this fixative produced a very nice (super matte) finish.  The temperature at time of this application was 70 degree (F).  Maybe a good future experiment….

So what does all this mean?  It could mean a lot or not much at all.  There seem to be two very different ends of the spectrum regarding conservation, support, and restoration.

On one end, collectors want untouched pure paper, free of any restoration at all.  Just conserve and support! This is typically referred to as a ‘European Style’ – This poster was backed European Style…

The other extreme, as I have mentioned, is the ‘Make it Perfect’ school of restoration.  As in Man that restoration job made my poster look perfect… or Mint it!

So what does this have to do with fixative?  Well this is more a lesson in the statement and determination of an emerging necessity for a scale of conservation, support, and restoration. It is obvious that it is getting harder and harder to determine what has been done to a poster during restoration. I want to educate you on this scale in five (5) levels in my next post…

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