Category: How to….

Creases, folds, dents and seagulls

Can you remove creases from contemporary prints?

Something that comes into the studio regularly is modern and contemporary prints that have suffered from creases, bashed corners, dents and handling creases – or what I was taught to call them – seagulls! That annoying, ‘v’ shaped light crease on the paper or in the inked area. These occur due to poor handling, particularly when a print is lifted with one hand and not supported. The print droops under its own weight kinking the paper right where your fingers are holding on to it.

Seagull in the inked area of a print before and after conservation treatment:

Due to the flat smooth finish they really show up, casting a shadow and spoiling the look. Even more annoying is when they are on the edges and you really want to float mount them within a frame and show the whole sheet.

Verso of a print showing a crease before and after conservation treatment:

But, fear not!

Something can be done. With gentle humidification and a press they can disappear almost completely. If they are a little persistent local humidification and pressing with a heated spatula can also help. But if there is any relief on the print or a blind stamp care needs to be taken not to over humidify and press – these really need to be kept.

Crease near the title of a print before and after conservation treatment:

But why do you humidify Emily? Surely that flies in the face of keeping my collection dry?

Well, paper has a memory. If you have something rolled or you have a crease, putting a heavy weight on it will not solve the problem. A little moisture or humidification helps to relax the paper fibres, so they are more willing to stay where you want them to go.

Dent in the paper of this print before and after conservation treatment:

As with any conservation treatment, things can go wrong if you don’t know what you are doing. You need to know what type of print process and paper it is. You need to know how long to humidify and how wet to get the paper.

Annoying crease on the edge of this print before and after conservation treatment:

Sometimes they can’t be removed completely, but most of the time I can reduce them enough that they become unnoticeable – and most importantly – not annoying!

Crease at the corner of this print before and after conservation treatment:

Ta-dah! The finishing touch is getting them framed – showing them in all their glory. And, I can help you with that….

But that can wait for the next post!

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