Restoring a pastel crayon drawing with water damage

Jeska pastel crayon with waterdamage

Restoring this pastel drawing made by Ed Jeska, seemed like a ghastly task, however, I purchased it with the sole purpose of restoring the piece and getting myself familiarised with the medium ‘chalk crayon’. A side note: old pastel crayon is of a different consistency then the modern stuff and pigments and arabian gum were the more expensive components of the old recipe. The cheaper the crayon, the less Arabian gum and pigments were used. Next to that, the binding agent, arabian gum, changed in the piece made by Ed Jeska. The chalk stopped binding and dried out with the passing of time, creating free travelling chalk particles floating under glass and eventually, sticking to the surface of the glass. In the end, you will end up with a misty piece, with the chalk creating a haze on the glass. Throw moisture in the mix and you will end up with something ending up in the attic, shed or basement and eventually in the trash bin.

I suspect this was the case with this piece by Jeska, since it was one of the most soiled pieces I had ever seen.

JSK> Jesksa> Jan de Staats Kiewiet

The piece was made by the Dutch artist, teacher and head of the ‘Academie of Beeldende Kunsten’ in The Hague, Ed Jeska. I began collecting his pieces at the time because they were often friendly-priced and readily available and because Jeska was born and raised in my hometown Arnhem.

Although Jeska also was a painter, I personally consider him to be more of a graphical artist. His work conformed to the standards of those days, often meant to ‘decorate’ or ‘illustrate’ not as out of the box, mind blowing artwork.

I have seen many of his woodcuts, some of which are great, especially some of the landscapes. One of my favourites being ‘carriage on a trail’. This woodcut depicts a great graphical 1930’s representation, almost in a comic-book style, of an antique black postal carriage, driving along a lonely road, looking like its tipping over and driving at great speed. That particular woodcut has “movement” and “energy” often lacking in Jeskas other woodcuts. The other great woodcut is that of a willow with its irregular black branches.

These woodcuts are still available. In retrospect, Jeska was a good marketing man, apparently with commercial insights that often seem lacking in artists. His illustrations were printed ‘en masse’ and ended up as affordable decorations in many Dutch households. He also was successful in the marketing and promotion of this trade via teaching and eventually, by becoming the director of the arts at the ‘art academie’ in The Hague.

Assessment of the pastel by Jeska

The piece is a laying rectangle, depicting a panoramic view of a lake in the evening sun, ‘the so-called; “golden hour’. Measuring approx. w 60 cm and h 35 cm.

Very powdery pastel with water damage

The type of paper is unknown; but it seems to be paper with a high percentage of wood pulp. Furthermore, it is very yellow, (probably from the acids) somewhat brittle and very thin. Jeska used a few colours for his pastel: orange, pink, yellow, green and brown. The piece was framed in a simple, art deco style wooden frame that was painted dark brown. In my opinion the piece stems from his early career. The piece was supported by cardboard that was nailed with many nails, (about one every centimetre) and mounted to the frame. The nails were rusty and under the card board insect specs and dust had accumulated. Over the cardboard, tick-paper or tack-paper was placed to close off the back of the pastel. The tack-board was mounted to the frame with small nails, also rusty and hard to remove because of oxidation.. The very old thick, heavy glass plate was scratched and damaged around the sides.

Last but not least; the most obvious damage: the big water spots, visible on both sides of the pastel drawing, about five centimetre across. Moisture had created brown tidelines and also small moldy spots verso.

Moldy spots, not much I can do about that.

The cleaning process

Firstly, the pastel was removed from its original frame. This was a tricky operation since it turned out that the paper was stuck to the glass. I managed to get this job done by pulling the paper bit by bit, using the scalpel where necessary. This had to be done very carefully and especially: slowly!

Dust and insect residue was cleaned from the paper with a soft brush. The water damage spots were scraped off on the surface with a scalpel. This instantly created a clean surface to work with. The paper on both sides was fixated with paper fixative spray.

On top of the fixation layer, new colouring was used to fill in and coat the stained areas. oil pastel from Sennelier was used in the colours: 703,117,039,519 and 515.

The frame was cleaned, little gaps in the wood were filled in with wood paste, left to dry and then sanded off.After this, the frame was degreased with ammonia and painted with Ebben wood coating.After this process the frame was sanded and received a second layer of coating.

Dust and insect leftovers

The pastel crayon was fixated with Pastel Fixativ for pastels three times, and left to dry a day in between the treatments. The pastelpaper was loosely mounted on museum quality backing board An acid free black matte was placed over the outlines of the artwork to prevent it from touching the glass in the near future. A new piece of glass was ordered, and eventually all pieces assembled.

In retrospect

What I learned foremost was taking it slow. Slowly disassembling the old frame and art, thinking about the strategy while getting to know the piece and taking the time to do just that. Tricky was touching the paper while working on it. When retouching, I found myself leaning on the piece a few times to have some support for my hand while working. I think it would be better to put something over these areas, to prevent smearing the chalk. Some kind of tyvek paper with a working area cut out would help to prevent touching it. The other option is to place a working “bridge” for my hand to lie on while I work on the paper.The pulling of the paper from the glass plate was also harsh on the paper, it created vertical striping. Some loose chalk particles rained down as it were and created a subtle pattern. I would however not know of any other means of getting the stuck paper safely and in one piece disattached from the glass. Using moisture of any kind, was in my opinion not an option as the paper was in a bad and brittle state. I think I ended up with a different kind of art piece. Restoring this to its former glory was not possible for the full 100 but as we say in the Netherlands, : “ bij benadering” or, getting as close as possible.

These were the possible goals

-Damage control. Cleaning and dissembling the piece, prepping it for the work that needs to be done. Trying to bring the piece back to its former state as much as possible.

– Making sure it’s preserved as best as possible with natural materials and quality materials,

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