Objects brought into the studio are photographed and examined with several different lights to help determine problems, pigment types, and other details not visible to the naked eye. It also serves as a reference of the item before treatment, and offers a quick comparison of the item before and after treatment.
Light types include raking light, transmitted light, ultraviolet (UV), and infrared (IR). Raking light illuminates the object from one side only, exaggerating any creases, folds, plate marks, and other dimensional elements. Transmitted light goes through the object, and is helpful in finding watermarks. UV is useful in identifying pigments and any coatings that may complicate treatment. IR is helpful in identifying pigments, and can be used to find underdrawings. It can help enhance faded signatures, notations, and other markings too faint to read.
The condition of an object is always documented before treatment begins in writing and photographs. The written portion includes notes on dimensions, paper type, condition, pigments, and both current and future problems. Any auxiliary materials such as old frames, folders, tags, and stickers are also recorded and kept.
Condition reports can also be useful for objects not receiving treatment. It provides a reference that can be consulted later to identify any changes or new problems with an artwork. Detailed condition reports are important when an object is being transported or being put on display, to know for certain if and when any damage occurred. Selling and insurance are made easier by having a recent condition report, certifying the state of an artwork at a given time.
Conservation covers structural repair as well as stabilizing a piece chemically. Problems such as tears, staining, overall yellowing, holes, mold, scratches, and insect damage can all be treated. Additionally, the internal breakdown of the paper can be slowed by neutralizing acids in the piece and adding buffers and sizing into the paper.
All treatments are reversible, meaning that any repairs, supports, and retouching can be removed without damaging the original materials. Additionally, original paper and media is never removed or covered, so that as much of the artists original intention is visible. Authenticity is never compromised when the work is being done by a trained conservator, and generally treatments are kept as minimally invasive as possible.
Storage and Housing
Good housing and storage conditions are the most important thing for preserving an object. Paper naturally ages and becomes yellow and brittle over time, and this deterioration is significantly sped up by exposure to sunlight, constantly changing humidity, acidic materials, and pests (to name but a few). Poor housing can also increase the chance of creases, tears, excessive dirt, and loss.
Enclosures and frames should be made from archival materials that do not discolor or off-gas when they age. They should be clearly labeled and be rigid enough to support the object and keep it from bending, sagging, or being crushed. Different objects have different housing requirements, and enclosures can range from simple acetate sleeves to multi part, custom fit scroll boxes.
Similar to condition reporting, collection surveys assess the overall condition of a collection of any size. A survey can take a day to several weeks depending on the size of the collection, and the report can be on an item by item basis, or by folder, drawer, box, shelf, room, etc.
Surveys are an excellent way to identify existing problems such as water, mold, pests, light and humidity, security, and physical damage. It also gives an overview of future problems such as eventual fading because of high light levels and increased discoloration due to proximity to poor quality, acidic materials. Things like mold and pests can then be addressed before they become a more severe problem, and steps can be taken to protect the collection from future deterioration by improving the storage conditions, security, or environment.