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Craig Preservation Lab

Question on sealing the surface of a collage

Occasionally we receive questions from the general public or the libraries we serve about some aspect of preservation or general treatment that the person who is asking the question hopes we can assist with.  We’ll be posting some of these and our response in this forum.  Here is our first Q&A post:

The Question:

Hello, I am a collage artist in Brooklyn, NY. I am writing to ask for your opinion concerning the conservation of my work. I construct collages on flat wooden surfaces, usually plywood or a higher quality grain, which I paint with gesso and sand. I repeat the gesso and sanding process three or four times. Onto the surface I glue magazine clippings as flatly as I can, in layers until I achieve the desired subject. In order to get a flat bond with the wood, I use acid-free craft glue sticks or industrial grade sticks. The problem is with the finished collage’s exposure to light, humidity, and other various changes in climate. The magazine has a tendency to warp and “bubble” with age. Is there any substance you could recommend to seal the surface of the collage? Any advice would be greatly appreciated – I have experimented with different substances over the last few years and have yet to discover one that has a lasting and professional effect, ! without warping or distorting the magazine. Even lamination has crossed my mind.

Our Response:

We had a sort of similar question last year from an IU student who was using collaged magazine clippings in her artwork.  Magazine paper is very difficult to work with, from the start.  It is groundwood pulp and very short fibered which makes it very reactive to water, dimensionally speaking.  On top of that, you’ve got the printing inks and varnishes to cause problems.

For a start, I’d get away from using the glue sticks- they’re often starch and vegetable gum- based adhesives which can cause difficulties.

Try using PVA glues (elmers, or a number of higher quality ones used in the conservation field, such as Jade or Elvace) or else Beva adhesive. These can all be found at Talas in NYC, among other suppliers. BEVA can be mixed with alcohol and other solvents, which may be the way you need to go as the magazine paper might react better to non-aqueous adhesives (as long as the ink won’t solubilize)

Also with glue, less is often more- you can apply it with a foam roller to get a thin, even layer.  I’d try not to dilute it though (don’t want to introduce more water).

A better quality adhesive will go a long way to improving the quality of your artwork over time and you may find no need for a sealer or ‘varnish’ over the top.  Try acryloid (a.k.a. paraloid) B72 if you still want something.  Of course it’ll change the surface reflective qualities quite a bit, and will saturate the colors.

The gesso might be creating a little bit of adhesion problem (just a guess), especially if you’re using modern, acrylic gesso rather than old-fashioned chalk and animal glue mixtures.  You say you’re sanding it though which may give it the tooth you need for adhesion by the magazine clips.

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