Material & Techniques

In the art world, the term archival means something used to protect artworks kept in a controlled indoor environment. The usual example of a controlled indoor environment is a museum. The common causes of deterioration are light, temperature, moisture, air pollutants, airborne particles, insects, and vibration. Strictly speaking, conservationists expect archival materials to be of such quality that they can protect artworks from those elements for at least seventy-five years.

Archival materials should not age rapidly and be able to protect the artwork from ultraviolet and infrared light, air pollutants, insects, acid migration, mould and mildew, stains from oxidation of metals (e.g., iron and copper) and changes in temperature and moisture levels.

PH neutrality (commonly referred to as acid-free) is an indispensable criterion for archival materials. Otherwise, acid compounds in the material or absorbed from external sources will migrate to the artwork during natural ageing and cause damage. For that reason, materials like boards and paper (which come into contact with the artwork during storage) are not only required to be acid-free when they leave the factory but also be buffered with alkaline reserves to counter acid compounds from being absorbed from the atmosphere.

The products are commonly used in the storage and preservation of artworks: shelves, wire mesh screens, framing materials, cloth, panels, films, fabrics, foam core, mat boards, cardboards, tube rolls, paper, tissue, polyethene sheets, polypropylene sheets, polystyrene, bubble wrap, boxes, folders, zip lock bags, cards, binders, velcro dots, seals, tapes, labels, photo corner, adhesives, waxes, gels, putties, pads, weights, hanging bars, straps, tie-downs, buckles, metal rods, staples, hooks, and insect control products. Not all of these materials will have the same lifespan. Some might only last a generation. A material with a shorter lifespan may still be safe for use provided no damage to the artwork or other materials will occur when it's time for a replacement.

Extreme care is required when handling pigments whether in paint tubes or in dry powder form. Pigments can enter through the skin, mouth, and nose—causing serious injuries and sometimes irreparable damage. The toxicity or hazard level of pigments varies according to how it gets into the body. A pigment that is considered non-toxic when coming into contact with the skin may turn highly toxic when ingested or inhaled.

An artist should check the label and do further research to determine the toxicity or potential health hazards of the pigments in their colour palette. A pigment considered extremely/highly toxic will cause serious injuries when a small amount gets into the body through absorption, ingestion, or inhalation. A pigment considered moderately toxic will cause minor injuries - whether permanent or temporary - when it gets into the body. A pigment considered slightly toxic will result in temporary minor injuries. A non-toxic pigment means no detectable injury will result when small quantities get into the body; however, it does not mean safe or non-hazardous. An accumulation of non-toxic pigment in the body over time will still result in some injuries. Age and physical conditions will determine how effectively the body can get rid of non-toxic pigments.

Almost all pigments with lead, cobalt, cadmium, and manganese content are highly toxic. Pigments that do not contain metal pigments and are considered non-toxic but must still be treated with caution. Paints described as hue, such as "cadmium red hue", indicate that there is no (or negligible amount of) toxic metal contained in the product.

Below are some of the pigments that have different levels of toxicity in them.

Alizarin Crimson, Anthraquinone, Antimony Black, Antimony White, Barium Yellow, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Barium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Vermilion Red, Cadmium Yellow, Carbon Black, Cerulean Blue, Chrome Green, Chrome Orange, Chrome Yellow, Chromium Oxide Green, Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Green, Cobalt Violet, Cobalt Yellow, Emerald Green, Flake White, Lithol Red, Lead White, Manganese Blue, Manganese Violet, Molybdate Orange, Naples Yellow, Prussian Blue, Raw Umber, Paris Green, Smalt, Strontium Yellow, Toluidine Red, Vermilion, Viridian, Zinc White, Zinc Yellow.

The use of solvents increases the risks of absorption through the skin because they act as a vehicle to carry the pigment into the body which would not otherwise pass. In the nineteenth century, turpentine was used as a liniment to carry herbs into the body through the skin.

Some artists, who feel they are only being exposed to small quantities in their practice, may adopt a lackadaisical attitude towards the risks of pigment poisoning. That is imprudent. They should think about the cumulative and long-term effects of repeated absorption, albeit in small quantities. A prudent artist will treat all pigments as hazardous or potentially hazardous and take the necessary precautions.

The egg tempera painting technique is more than several centuries old. Egg tempera paint is water-soluble and fast-drying. A thin layer of paint can dry within minutes into a translucent film. It's generally not as transparent as watercolours or as opaque as gouache but can be made to appear so with the right mixture, technique, and application. Unlike oil paintings, the dried egg tempera film does not yellow or darken with age but unfortunately tends to become brittle.

Traditionally, egg tempera was made by mixing powdered pigments with a binder made of distilled water and egg emulsion. The egg emulsion was made with either egg-whites, egg-yolks or whole eggs. Later recipes added drying oils and damar varnish to improve the handling properties and resistance to cracking; however, the disadvantage of using drying oils, like linseed oil, is that they cause yellowing. Due to the inherent lack of plasticity, rigid support is recommended where thick layers of paints are used. Once dry, the egg tempera paint film is water-resistant and has a matte finish. The matte finish can be polished with a silk pad to increase transparency and brilliancy or varnished to resemble an oil painting.

A prepared egg tempera emulsion cannot be stored for long even in a refrigerator. Simple egg tempera paint can be made by mixing watercolour paint, distilled water, and egg-yolk emulsion in equal proportions. A drop of vinegar can be added to stop it from going bad quickly. Today, egg tempera paints are available commercially in tubes doing away with the fuss of preparation and concerns over shelf life.

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