Monday, October 7, 2019

Wet Mounting

Having experimented with heat mounting with plastic food wrap and failed, I resolved to staying with the traditional wet mount.  The caveat being if I wanted the float effect, then I would go for my proprietary Suliao Xuan Ban method.

I have the "no roof" version of the Korean Maidens that needs mounting.

I had described my Xuliao Xuan Ban method in detail in past posts, so in the interest of allowing equal time, I would describe the process of wet mounting in this blog.

There are some basic tools needed for the wet mounting process, which is in itself quite esoteric, so bear with me.

We need

1. a clean and smooth surface sufficiently large enough for the painted work
2. a hard, dry surface for the mounted work to dry
3. 3 brushes: one for applying starch, one for initial pressing and a more robust one for final pressing
4. starch solution
5. stack of newspaper
6. spray bottle of water
7. clean rags
8. an underlayment paper, typically another piece of  Xaun
9. steady hands and patience

The starch solution can be prepared by mixing regular household all purpose starch in an aqueous solution of alum.  Sometimes a sprinkle of camphor powder is mixed in.   I still don't have a clear understanding of why the alum is needed.  I was told that it helps to ensure color-fasting of the painted work.  The camphor helps to ward off silverfish.  Use the camphor sparingly, as the fumes can be overpowering.  The starch and alum solution should be mixed thoroughly and all lumpiness are eliminated.  We don't want the initial suspension to be too diluted, as we need to add boiling water to this mixture to obtain the starch.

It is a common mistake to thicken this suspension by boiling over a stove, as in gravy making. This will result in too thick a product which is not suitable for mounting purpose.  The trick is to boil a kettle of water, and drizzle that into the starch suspension with constant stirring.  The end stage is revealed by a change of the appearance of the suspension.  It will take on a glistening, translucent look, with a consistency of skim milk.  If your finished product looks pasty, add more boiling water.  This thin starch can be stored in a refrigerator for quite a few months without losing any viability.  The stored suspension will separate.  Fret not, it works just fine by stirring and reconstituting.

I use a porcelain trough for my starch basin, the wide brush is for applying starch.
The red taped brush is for initial pressing, the bubble pack wrapped brush is for final hard pressing.

I used a large piece of Plexiglas (4 ft x 5 ft) as my work surface.  It was thoroughly cleaned with water and alcohol before use.

My Koren Maiden painting laid face-down on the Plexiglas ( notice the maidens are on the left now since we are looking at the backside). Now the entire painting was sprayed with clean water.  This was done to relax the fibers of the Xuan.

This is when patience is needed.  Typically huge bubbles would form and the painting would not be sitting flat on the Plexiglas.  Rather it would appear like a fresh piece of naan bread with the bubbles.
Our natural tendency would be to lift the wet painting and reposition it to assume a flat appearance.
Don't do that, unless of course you want to shred your painting.  The water added weight to the painting; along with the suction that was formed from the two wet surfaces sticking to each other created an ideal formula to form tears.

Wait this out.  As the painting slowly dried it regained its integrity while being relaxed at the same time.  Now we could tenderly lift and manipulate the moist painting to lay flatter on the Plexiglas.  It didn't need to be perfect, as the starch application would even things out.

The broad brush was primed with the starch solution and brushed onto the back of the painting.  Starting at the center of the painting and using firm but appropriate force spread the starch towards the edges and the corners.  Since the brush is made of firm bristles and the starch solution is wet and slimy, the brush actually glided on the backside of the painting with ease, all the while smoothing out and leveling any creases.  Stubborn creases could be eliminated by repeated wetting of more starch and passing over with the brush.

The repeated starch application and passing over the paper caused abrasion to the backside of the Xuan.  This was evidenced by the appearance of clumps of paper fibers.  No worries, these would blend nicely with the starch solution and would not be noticeable in the finished product.

In order to thoroughly apply starch to the backside of the painting, we were over brushing.  Before the next step in the wet mounting process could be done, we must rid any errant starch with a clean wet rag around the edges of the painting.  There shouldn't be any starch other than on the back of the painting.

Now we need to apply the underlayment paper.  The underlayment is typically another piece of Xuan which is similar to the one used for painting.  This piece need to have a border of about 3-4 inches around the painting to be mounted.  The underlayment is folded and creased along the short and long edges of the painting.  This is for the purpose of positioning the underlayment onto the painting.  Since the underlayment is larger than the painting itself, when applied over the back of the painting, we would be covering it in the blind.  Thus we needed some way to know exactly where the painting is.

Thus the folds represent the edges of the painting.  It would be relatively simple to line up the folded edges of the underlayment with the edges of the painting, which is on the Plexiglas, with starch applied to the backside.

Once the edges were lined up, we unfurl the underlayment onto the starched painting, with the help of the smaller red tape brush.  The brush is made of palm fiber bristles and is therefore stiff.  Using rapid up and down strokes the underlayment is brushed onto the starched painting.

The underlayment would begin to take on the starch from the backside of the painting.  It would look moist  and perhaps showing some minor raised ridges from the uneven wetting of the underlayment by the starch.

This is the time to pile on newspaper onto the underlayment.  I would use 3 to 4 layers of the newspaper.  The newspaper served to purpose of soaking up excess moisture, but mainly to protect the underlayment and the painting from the harsh pressing with the palm fiber brush.

I wrapped my brush with bubble wrap to help protect my fingers and my palm.  During the pressing process I would start from the center and press firmly outwards.  The purpose was to press the underlayment firmly onto the starched painting, forcing out any air bubbles and flattening any raised ridges.  The rough fibers could cause blisters to form on my palm and fingers if I didn't shield them properly.

The stiff palm fibers actually flattened out from the exertion of force

This is what a properly pressed and flattened underlayment looked like

So we now had a sandwich of underlayment and starch, with the painting on the bottom, facing down.  Hence it was critical that we wiped off any excess starch because we didn't want this sandwich to stick to the Plexiglas work surface.

Now we applied a judicious amount of starch along the edge of the underlayment, paying utmost attention to avoid the painting itself, which we could discern.

This is a graphic representation of what we had so far

Now lift this completed assembly and move it onto a dry, hard surface.  I used a half-door for my purpose.  So now we would be throwing the assembly right-side-up onto the door, with the starch on the bottom, along the edge of the underlayment.

We fixed the top edge onto the door first, tamping the edge down with the red-taped brush.

move the brush down along the surface of the painting and along the edges

The starch that was applied to the edges of the underlayment held the mounted work in place.  So now we had the painting with the right side out, starched onto a piece of underlayment, which again was starched along the edges and affixed to the door.

This assembly was left to dry.  The slower the drying process, the better would be the result.  The drying shrank the paper, and along with the starch rendered the painting flat and taut.

Remember your starched shirts?  Nice.

So this wet mounting process gave stiffness and provided white balance to the painting.

After complete drying of the assembly, the painting was harvested by lifting the underlayment off the door, or by cutting along the edges of the underlayment.  The oversized underlayment provides a nice place to apply mat tapes if one chooses to display the work with a matted border in a picture frame.

In my hast, or rather, lack of care, I eyeballed my folding positions on the underlayment.  The final result being the painting was not in the middle.  It tilted to the right.

Fortunately I had sufficient border left for the application of starch along tall he edge of the underlayment.  I lucked out.

After careful examination there was only one defect on my mounted painting.  I missed one of the creases and didn't brush it out so it was folding upon itself.  Fortunately the omission was minor and most people would not have noticed.

I have the examples of the wet mount and my dry mounted Suliao Xuan Ban for comparison.
The no-roof version is the wet mount and the roofed version is dry mount.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Mounting with plastic food wrap

Someone told me about using Saran Wrap as an adhesive for dry mounting a painting.  The information from this person was sketchy, definitely not first hand.

Obviously that triggered my curiosity.

Mounting is an integral part of the Chinese Brush painting.  The Xuan that we use is fragile and tissue like and it needs a backing for support and white balance.  Traditionally we use a starch solution for the wet mount and the steps are not too difficult, but esoteric none the less.  One of our tourist trap here would display work done on Xuan un-mounted.  The work is displayed in a transparent plastic photo holder the paper would never lay flat and becomes wavy.   I could think of two reasons why people don't mount their Xuan works.  I would like to think that lack of resource is one of them, and the other one could be unabridged ignorance, regrettably.  People are after the flavor, but not the substance.

These are examples of un-mounted works done on Xuan with all the waviness in its glory, and distracts from the works.  This illustrates the absolute necessity of mounting works done on Xuan before displaying them.

My painting of water was just floating around aimlessly so I decided to put it to good use.  I don't have any Saran Wrap at home, but I do have generic plastic food wrap at my disposal.  The way it was described to me was that under heat the plastic wrap would melt, thus binding the sheets of paper together.

Off with the experiment.

I laid a piece of blank Xuan on a flat surface, and covered it with my plastic food wrap.

I then laid my painting face-up onto the plastic wrap, sandwiching the wrap.

onto this sandwich I put a piece of paper to protect my painting and apply heat to this sandwich using my heating iron

Every so often I would lift the cover paper to see how my sandwich was doing.  I turned up my iron when nothing seemed to have happened and I started to not move the iron around so much as in ironing clothes.  I stationed the iron over an area and was counting to 10 before moving on.  When that failed to produce any tangible results, I turned up my iron even more and counted to 20 for each stay over an area.

That was brutal to my OCD.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight ............twenty!  One, two, three, four, five, six .........twenty!

In the meantime the miasma of heated plastic wrap permeated the room.  My dilemma was to apply sufficient heat to melt the plastic without incinerating my painting.   Should have measured my heart rate.  Another retching experience!

So the process seemed to have worked.  My short stack was intact!

Except for this corner, where it wasn't totally bound.  So I obliged with more heat.

After this sandwich cooled down, I tested its integrity by attempting to separate the layers.  Proof of the pudding is by eating it, right?

And the proof is

I could peel off the Xuan backing ( which is a heavier stock than the painting) with ease, except for a few spots where it actually stuck to the paper, as evidenced by the white tears.

While attempting to remove the plastic wrap from the back of my painting, I could see that the wrap had assumed a burnt color.

I attribute my failure to a couple of factors.

My iron might not have been hot enough, perhaps I was at the cusp of success as indicated by a few adhered spots.  I could have used a higher heat?,  Oh but that stench.

The other plausible reason is that I didn't use the proper brand of plastic wrap?  I know different brands of the wrap work differently for wrapping food, some better than others.  But I'm not going to find out.   Besides I am not sure about the health hazard of breathing in the fumes of melted plastic.

I'll just chalk this up as an interesting experiment.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Korean Maidens

Having seen the digitized roofing of my Hanbok painting, I decided to do something I rarely do.

To re-paint my painting.  This time with a roof.

For some reason I really resend having to do anything over again, not only paintings.  It is as if I was giving birth to something, whatever comes out is whatever I'll get.  When I work on a project, I seem to give it all I have at the moment, albeit that it might not be enough.  Perhaps I get bored rather easily, and can't bear to retrace my steps.   I'll have to live with the finished product, regardless of whether it's a success or failure.  Such is the bane of my life.

In order to re-invent this painting so that it will be fresh for me, I decided to start off with the background first.  Which means I need to reserve the spaces for my protagonists.

I suppose in oil or drawing, one just sketch out the space and leave the designated area untouched.  In watercolor I can use masking fluid, which is like a rubber cement and one could just paint over it. Unfortunately the Xuan that I use is like a glorified tissue and it cannot withstand the erasing, peeling of the dried film.  I need to devise a way to save my voids.

So I was invigorated.  I found something to tackle.  I was no longer bored.

I sketched out the intended silhouette of my protagonists on paper.  One of the changes I wanted to make in this new attempt was to align the clothing to the more authentic style of hanbok;  making the "A"  frame of the chima more Korean, and less of a skirt of the western flavor.  My first attempt at sketching out the figure had all the proportions wrong.  The body was too short.   Perhaps I was reading the chima still at the waist level rather than at the bust level.  I had to resort to the proportion of the body being approximately 7 and a half times the height of the head to double check myself.  As you can see I ran out of paper.

I drew two silhouettes facing each other and cut them out such that I could stage them the way I wanted.

I then positioned them on my Xuan

In essence I was hoping that the paper cut-outs would function as my masking fluid.  I could paint over them without violating the allotted space for my maidens.

I started with my support columns, knowing that a few of them juxtaposed with my maidens.  These are the skeletons on which the flesh of the painting attach to.

I removed the cut-outs after the background architecture was finished.  I was left with a void space in the shape of the silhouettes I fashioned.

The idea worked.  I was definitely not bored.

So I proceeded to work on the hair and the bows and ribbons on the hair.

I finished dressing one girl, and decided to take a rest.  I knew better to be headlong in the painting process.  There need to be a fine balance between the creative drive and the calm examination.  I had revealed my Id, now I wanted to give Ego a chance.

The critique I gave myself was that the girl looked too stiff.  By that I meant the brushstroke, or rather the absence of brushstroke.  The girl figure had a paint-by-number look to it.  The space was filled in with color and not brushed in, giving it a rather uninteresting feel.  Perhaps the fact that I was painting into a prescribed void left by my paper cut-out had something to do with it.  Subconsciously I was following a outline, rather than a form.  I became rather restricted.

Having diagnosed my own problem, I needed to paint the other girl with a more expressive brushstroke.  That was the note I handed myself.

I also decided on assigning a more "traditional" color to her costume, at least the stereotype that was perpetuated to me.  Again I am not trying to slight another culture by my own ignorance, I am just saying it.

I am hoping that you all agree with me that there was a lot more energy in the brushstroke for the girl on the right.  Chinese brush is such an unforgiving tool.  It can be so uncompromising, especially in exposing weaknesses.

By the time I painted in the shadows, the feet from the girl on the left disappeared.  I did not handle to dark tones well on this part.

Perhaps I was being pedantic but it bothered me to no end that I had lost her feet.  I would bet that nobody else but me would miss them feet.  I just couldn't get over it.  So I decided to put in light dabs of titanium white mixed with ink and gave a hint of something being present beneath the skirt.  

I know.  I am hopeless.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

To roof or not to roof

Having looked at my hanbok painting on the wall for a while now and I still like the way it is.
However my curiosity is killing me.  Am I never to find out what it will look like had I painted in the roof.

I figured out a way to make it work.  I could do this digitally.  Photoshop comes to the rescue.

This is the painting as it is, without the roof,

and here the roof is digitally added with the help of Photoshop

I didn't bother to select the correct color for the roof; and sepia happened to be the default color I had.

I thought I was being clever when I devised this scheme but it seemed to backfire on me.  I like both versions, each with its own ambience.

Now what do I do.