The Rise, Fall, and Repair of “Delirium”

A few months ago, I got to working on a commissioned piece inspired by the patron's word choice of "delirium." It didn't take too long to come up with a concept sketch for the piece and my reference fell together pretty seamlessly. The piece would be 11" x 14 and completed in watercolor.

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I also had plans to make this piece a full speed-paint for my forthcoming process and technique DVD, so I set up my webcam and attached it to a retired swing-arm lamp and got to work.

The piece begins with stretcher bars that are covered with gesso and then the watercolor paper is stretched, or wrapped, around the bars. (I have a tutorial here for this technique). When the surface is ready, I put down a wash of colors and create texture with salt and water. Once that's dry, the salt is removed and then I lightly draw out the piece with the help of my reference material.

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Once the underdrawing is finished, I began with the background, carefully filling in areas without the help of masking fluid. I then moved onto the face, and then the body.

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After 9 hours total (I happen to know the time spent because of the speed paint) over the course of nearly two weeks (thanks Penny!), the piece is complete.

Here's the thing, though: I originally intended for it to be upside down, but my husband thought it looked better right side up. The patron liked it upside down as well. And in the end, I had been looking at it from every direction for so long, that I couldn't figure out what I liked better. So, here's both:

"Delirium" was packed up and sent to the patron. A few days later, upon its arrival, I receive devastating news:

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The painting was destroyed en route. The box had been crushed, and in a haze of mom-bie sleeplessness, I completely failed to remember to insert the sheets of coroplast (a thick, lightweight corrugated plastic sheet) to protect the painting in the box. In an additional failure, I did not select to insure the painting, which I usually remember to do. Obviously, now I'll never fail to remember to do BOTH of those crucial things! But truly, the USPS was at fault here for apparently deliberately stepping on the box.

Anyway, after gathering my wits and recomposing myself from the initial shock, I set to figuring out how to repair the tear. I've repaired very tiny tears before (only two instances, and less than half an inch each), but this rip was gargantuan and I'd need professional help. My in-laws and husband do antique frame restoration and gilding, and have contacts with art conservators (as they sometimes work together). My mother in law's friend Christine Young came to the rescue! I met with her and she instructed me and gave me sample bits of everything I needed to repair the painting on my own: wheat starch paste, japanese paper, and blotting papers.

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First, I had to remove the painting from the stretcher bars. I removed the staples and then very carefully unfolded the paper and removed the stretcher. With smaller tears, this wasn't necessary, but the gash was so large that the paper lost some of its tension and the seams would not match up perfectly because of this.

Then, I cut up 1 inch strips of the japanese paper, applied the wheat starch paste to both sides, and applied it to the tear's backside, starting in the middle and working out.

Then, I sandwiched the rip with blotter papers on each side and weighted the painting face down and let the it sit overnight. The next morning, I checked on the repair, and while most of it looked great, a few sections were sticking up. Christine told me I would have to humidify the painting now.

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To humidify it, I filled a pot with hot water, placed the painting over it, and then encapsulated it with a plastic bag. I believe I left it for about 4 hours before removing it. Because the topside of the painting is varnished, I didn't need to worry about the watercolor running due to the humidity. While the painting was still damp, I reapplied the stretcher bars, since the paper would need to reform to it when drying. This part definitely complicated things. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have done this part, because the japanese paper let the seam stretch a little while drying.

Once the painting dried and had reformed to the stretcher bars, I set to checking the repaired seam and then began filling some of the cracks with transparent watercolor ground. Once the ground tried, I sanded it lightly with a very fine grain sandpaper, as the seam was bubbling a little.

The watercolor ground allows me to paint back over the area it was applied to and for it to be absorbed like watercolor paper. In theory, anyway.

And... finished.

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It's not perfect, unfortunately, but it was definitely a learning experience! I think that the repaired seam adds some more character to the piece, personally!

Sadly, the patron did not want the piece back after some thought. Which is totally understandable - she had already seen the rip and couldn't un-see it. So, I will be creating a new piece to make up for it and the original above is still available at a discount. Contact me if you'd be interested in giving "Delirium" a home!

*The original painting has now sold, but limited edition prints can be purchased in my shop!