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Some Tips on Commissioning Paint Analysis

Some Tips on Commissioning Paint Analysis



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Published by Patrick Baty
Patrick Baty gives some tips on how to commission paint analysis and how to get the best out of the architectural paint researcher.
Patrick Baty gives some tips on how to commission paint analysis and how to get the best out of the architectural paint researcher.

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Published by: Patrick Baty on Feb 02, 2009
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Some Tips on Commissioning Paint Analysis
A revised version of this article was published in
 Layers of Understanding: Setting Standards for Architectural Paint Research
. Donhead Publishing, Dorset. 2002.IntroductionArchitectural paint research has progressed enormously in the sixteen years that I have beeninvolved in the field. It is increasingly understood that properly conducted analysis can reveal agreat deal of information about a room's decoration, development and use. However, there isstill some confusion about how such work should be commissioned and carried out.The aim of this paper is to provide a number of tips to the potential client in order that he mayget the best out of his project. It should go without saying, that when one employs a paintresearcher, it is essential to ensure that he is capable of carrying out the job. How does he intendto set about it? What projects has he worked on in the past? What techniques does he proposeto use?ScrapesThe first thing to stress is that a paint scraper, or ‘scrapist’, will not be able to provide anymeaningful information about the sequence of paint layers applied to a surface. Pigmentidentification, the dating of individual schemes, and the ability to identify (for example) exactlywhich cornice elements were gilded, and at what stage, are not possible by scraping throughlayers of paint.
A white-coated lab technician, on the other hand, may be able to provide anelemental analysis of each of the components within a paint layer, but will not necessarilyunderstand the appearance of a scheme, nor the intention behind its use.The argument against scrapes has been well rehearsed.
No literature outlining their benefits isknown, though, incredibly, the practice is still very much alive in many quarters.StandardsUntil the recent release of English Heritage's Draft Guidelines on architectural paint research, ithad been fourteen years since Frank Welsh, the American paint researcher, published his "Callfor Standards" in a North American preservation journal.
In his article, Mr Welsh listed the minimum requirements of a paint analyst as being..."a:1) Working knowledge and developed skills with stereo and polarized light microscopy andmicrochemical testing techniques, demonstrated through specific study and experience.2) Comprehension of architectural building history and technology, demonstrated throughspecific study and experience.3) Knowledge of historic architectural-finishes' manufacture and application technology, asdemonstrated through study, experience, teaching, lecturing, publishing, etc.4) True understanding and perception of color and how pigments and paint colors are affected by aging [sic].
5) Professional willingness and ability to evaluate findings and/or techniques with others who arequalified in relation to individual project/client requirements."These criteria have not changed, although they do need re-emphasizing.Experience of Researcher A good paint researcher will probably have been doing the job for ten years or more; will havemade some form of contribution to the field, and have carried out a hundred or so projects. Inother words, he will be somebody who knows exactly what he is doing. The client should listento the researcher, whose aim will be to carry out the job as quickly, accurately and efficiently as possible.Projects take many forms. If advice is wanted on the way that colour was used in an interior of a particular period, a report should not take too long to prepare. However, if an analysis of the paint is required, it is essential that enough time to complete the work is allowed. Whilst it is possible that an interim report can be issued within a few weeks, a full, illustrated report - possibly amounting to seventy or more pages - will take much longer to produce. The size andcomplexity of the job will obviously have a direct bearing on this.A client should not try to specify the number and location of samples to be taken. It is possiblethat repairs have been carried out previously, and sufficient samples need to be taken to avoidsuch anomalies. It is equally possible that surface detailing, or polychromatic decoration, wasemployed. It is far quicker for the researcher to take all the samples that are needed at one time,than to make an unnecessary return visit. A sketchy report will seldom justify the effort, andmay well raise many unanswered questions.Unrealistic ExpectationsOn the matter of return visits, occasionally the researcher will need to go back to the site, inorder to take confirmatory samples. Time must be allowed for this eventuality. To be told as Iwas recently, that a project had to be completed as follows, defies belief:In this case:The contract, following the tendering operation, was to be awarded on 4
February. Sampleswere to be removed by 18
February (some two weeks later), and the report was to besubmitted by 3
March (i.e. within a month). Furthermore, access was limited to six hours onSundays and Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Accommodation would be necessary, because of the distance from home, and the Tuesday would be spent inactive as the site wasclosed. This was not just for one room, but five areas of a building known to contain nineteenthcentury polychromatic decoration.As if to emphasise the ignorance of the project managers, the colours identified had to conformto RAL numbers.
 Quite what would have happened if each of the colours did not match the180 or so colours in that range was not explained. This business of specified paint colours will be discussed later.
"Cowboys"As with any specialised, and little understood, discipline, there is no shortage of cowboys.Certainly, there is every reason for a potential client to be hesitant about accepting the first quotefor paint analysis. I was recently asked to look at a building where, before my arrival, theinformation revealed by a paint scrapist was found to be wanting. When asked to recommendsomebody who could take and examine cross sections my client had been told that 600 sampleswould need to be taken from within the room, and that the bill would be in the region of £30,000. My quote was less than a tenth of that.Clearly it is important to keep costs down to a minimum, but to try and handicap the analysis bylimiting the samples to an unrealistic number is self-defeating, and no researcher worthy of thatname will comply with such a request. Analysis is not always the answer, and the expense andthe information that can be obtained is neither warranted nor relevant in a number of instances.Provided that the original paint is not removed, no damage should be caused by overpainting,and the earlier layers can be left for another time.An inexperienced researcher may offer to take a few samples from a large number of rooms withthe aim of helping the client form an idea of the general treatment. This can backfire if the client,or as happened to me, an English Heritage inspector, then comes onto the scene and insists onknowing how each moulding and element in twenty three rooms had been treated. Three yearslater, I was still going backwards and forwards in order to answer increasingly specificquestions. In spite of being allowed to put in a slightly larger bill for this extra work, it turnedinto another 
 pro bono
job.The Brief The paint researcher will want to have a clear brief...why is the project being carried out, andwith what aim in mind? Just to ask for "paint research" is not enough.Is the first scheme applied to a surface considered the most important, or perhaps that was justan interim scheme applied before the full carbonation of the lime plaster?
Perhaps an analysis of the first scheme, with a summary of the later "significant" ones would be more useful? Schemesthat are slightly unusual or noteworthy in some way - perhaps painted imitations of marble or woodgrain - might be included in this. Information on the use of gilding, the presence of expensive pigments, or finishes that one might not expect to find on such a surface might also prove of interest.Bear in mind that if one wants to know about the decoration applied during the occupancy of anotable individual, a full analysis may be required in order to establish datum points both beforeand after that period. The positive identification of pigments and components within many of the paint layers will be especially relevant in this sort of situation.Inevitably, however, if a full-blown analysis is required, it will not be cheap. The reportfollowing such work may well go into great detail outlining the components and appearance of each of thirty or so schemes applied to a surface, and may involve the use of some bought-inservices such as the use of scanning electron microscopy.Appropriate Information

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