Category: Events

Emergency recovery after a disaster

What to do in an emergency if you spill something on a work of art on paper

Last week I had a phone call from a distressed client who had an emergency and had managed to spill a glass of water over a beloved framed map. Water had got into the frame and was creeping up the map. Fortunately, I was free and encouraged her not to attempt to remove the map from the frame and to bring it to my studio that very evening. Speed was of the essence!

Water stains on paper

The map was framed unusually between two sheets of old glass and the glass pinned into the frame – so needed to be carefully taken apart before the map could be extracted. Another problem that I may have encountered was the map being stuck to the glass – this often happens, so I was very careful to check that this was not the case. Thankfully it was not stuck!

Dirty paper and water

Dirty paper and water do not bode well. The water had crept up the map and with it drawn the soluble dirt and discolouration that was in the paper, there was an obvious tideline of dirt around the water stain. If this had been allowed to dry there was a danger it might never be removed, so I had to act quickly while the paper was still damp.

Hand colouring on old maps

The main concern for me was the watercolour hand colouring on the map. It was obviously old, but also very thickly applied. If the water stain had got near, it may have solubilised and caused the paint to run. It also meant that the best treatment I could use might cause it to run and even wash it away. I tested the watercolour and indeed found it to be quite sensitive to water.

A different map float washing in a bath of water
Washing a similar map on the surface of water

Washing away the stains

So how did I remove the water stains from the paper and not the watercolour? I carefully floated the map on the surface of a bath of water – but please don’t try this at home! It took some time and kept me busy on a Friday night (and away from my usual glass of wine). The bath water became very yellow as the dirt and discolouration of the paper was sucked out of the paper with capillary action. The next morning after it had dried the stains had gone and the whole sheet of paper was looking less yellow – and more importantly the watercolour remained intact.

Photo of a map with water stains along the lower edge
Before treatment
Photograph of the map after treatment and with the stains gone
After treatment

So, what should you do if you spill something on a work of art on paper?

In the words of Captain Mainwaring – don’t panic! Call a paper conservator.

After treatment


For any other conservation emergency use Conservation Register

Paper, Paper all around: Finding the perfect paper for the job.

It was a busy week last week with work.

On Thursday I travelled up to London to do 3 things:  view a potential job, visit the British Museum exhibition The Business of prints and most importantly to choose my Japanese repair papers. I visited the showroom at John Purcell Paper in south London and spent a happy hour choosing my papers. For a paper conservator this is heaven!

Paper conservation Japanese paperSo why, you may ask, did I have to go to London and why couldn’t I get samples sent to me? The thing about Japanese papers is they often change and get discontinued. The last time I bought paper was 10 years ago! So, it is important for me to see what they have, have a feel, look at the quality even smell it! – there are just too many to choose from.

I came away with 6 types of paper, of varying weights/gsm (grams per square meter), one of which I bought just because I liked it – not sure I will even use it for conservation!

So, what do I use the paper for and why Japanese paper?

The samples

Japanese papers are made from many different plant fibres, most of which have very long fibres, the long fibres make the paper very strong for the weight of the paper and ideal for paper conservation. They are also good quality and usually acid neutral.

I use the paper for lining a fragile document or art work, repairing tears, strengthening weak areas and hinging art works into mounts. Depending on the weight of the art work and what you want it to do will depend on which paper you use, so having a variety is very important. Sometimes you want your repair to be invisible, sometimes it needs to be strong enough to work for a purpose (such as in a book). It needs to be strong enough to hold a tear together, but not so strong the repair becomes the strongest part and causes tears to appear where there is no repair. The Holy Grail is finding the perfect repair paper for the job at hand.


As it’s nearly Halloween I include a photo of the Skull and cross bones woodcut I saw on display at the BM. It is believed that it was used during the 1750’s pasted to a house as a warning that the occupants had the plague or some other infectious disease! Enjoy!

Conservation by Design 25th Anniversary Conference – and a sink.

I had a brilliant time last week at the Conservation by Design 25th Anniversary Conference celebrations. There was a good mix of talks and the opportunity to visit the factory and see how the products are made and put together. I found the polyester pocket machine quite mesmerising!

The day started off with Paull Messier discussing his collaborative photographic survey at the Hermitage. Paul gave an insightful talk on the Hermitage and the way the curators protected their collections from being sold off by hiding them within the catalogue systems. Gives a whole new meaning to the role of curators. He also described the way different departments protected their treasures from each other – something I think people can relate to even now!

Conservation conference, Emily O'Reilly Setting up my studio I was looking at what to use instead of Gore-Tex during humidification, something I have been using for many years, and thanks to Mark Allen from Flintshire Records Office I found it! Hydra Air PTFE…. Mark was demonstrating its use during the day on some parchment. I’ll let you know how I get on when it has arrived – just ordered some!

The day was topped off with an excellent cake – tasted as good as it looks. Although I did laugh at the fondant icing white gloves, what with the current debate about gloves in the conservation community. Should you use them v never use them! But maybe that’s a topic for another blog post??

Many thanks to all the Conservation by Design staff for a well organised day, Paper Conservation, paper conservator, sink, conferencetheir hospitality was much appreciated and the mug will now be my official ‘work day’ coffee cup!

Lovely opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues. Thanks also to the excellent Richard Hawkes for kindly passing on a large conservation sink – I really did come home with the kitchen sink!!

Antiques Roadshow, the experts and selfies….

Wednesday 6th September I spent most of the day at Cardiff Castle queuing up to meet an expert! I took some of my collection along, even took my ‘A’ level project (shockingly discovering it was 27 years old!)…. which reminded me that I really need to have a look at some of my own stuff: acidic mounts and thunder flies all need to be sorted out, but I don’t know when I’ll have the time! I met Dendy Easton – the pictures man….

I didn’t make the cut for filming – but had a good time anyway. Met a couple of other ‘mums’ from school and we had a look at what we had brought along and gave each other appraisals.

We all enjoyed spotting the experts, Christopher Payne (antiques man) came and gave an impromptu appraisal on a hall chair, 2 people down in the queue from us.

Emily O'Reilly Paper ConservationShamelessly took this selfie of me with Fiona the Bruce! Zoom in and you can see her.

Antiques Roadshow celebrating 40 years this year – I remember watching it in the ’70’s – always cut short the Sunday bonfire fun as I recall!!