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I sometime expose my
metal point drawings to sulphur (by placing them under a "tent"
alongside an open jar of liver of sulphur) to speed up the oxidation and
darkening of the drawing. Does exposure to sulphur cause any
detrimental affects to the materials of a metalpoint drawing (to
either a paper or wood-based panel support; or to an acrylic or
traditional gesso ground)? Are there other recommended ways to speed up
oxidation? I had a cohort once tell me he sips whiskey while drawing
and blows on his images - any truth to his claim that this speeds
By the way, which is
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I cannot answer all of these points
but will weigh in on what I can and send the others on to others. First as to
terminology, my resources say one word: metalpoint. As to your question about
the use of whiskey to speed up oxidation. I do not believe that this would have
any real contribution. The ethanol portion would be reactive to the metal than plain water.
I do not believe that any components in the oak casks associated with aging the Whiskey would reach the metal but
I guess that perhaps the tannins could theoretically have a tiny effect, but I
doubt it. Others may have opinions that are more concrete on this. I hope that
some of our paper conservators and scientists can comment on your other points.
BTW, you would probably have interest in this recent publication.
Hi Koo, I don't believe that short-term exposure to liver of sulphur (a varying mixture of potassium sulphides) would necessarily cause any detrimental effects to a paper-based support; in fact, liver of sulphur was used to tone black and white photographic prints around the turn of the 20th century. Due to the fact that this substance is alkaline, I also don't think that short exposure would be problematic for an acrylic ground. I'm not sure how it might affect a wood-based panel support - perhaps someone else could weigh in on that one.
There is so much to think about, here. I don’t know whether Ag2O looks different that Ag2S, but I think that sulphur is never a good idea. I wonder whether the Ag2S would be stable, or could continue to react, with atmospheric gases. I think that the sulphur would be bad for the paper, and may react with the acrylic, in either sheet or dispersion. Ultimately, I think that keeping thing as chemically simple as possible is always the best path to stability. If enhanced oxidation is really needed, I would be least uneasy with exposure to H202, since it brings only H and O, to the party, but it would have to be in a gaseous form, for my comfort, and I have no ideas whether this might work. Blowing on the image would bring it CO2 and any biologicals that might be expectorated, with the blows, and I would imagine that all would probably be a source of oxidation.
While I do not know with absolutely certainty, I suspect that hydrogen sulfide (that rotten egg smell) evolves from by a liver of sulfur solution. Hydrogen sulfide is a common ingredient in air pollution. As an oxidizing agent, it is corrosive – which is why it tarnishes the silver in metalpoint drawings and darkens lead white pigments (now prohibited for artist's use). Conservators see darkened lead white (lead carbonate converted into lead sulfide, usually resulting from exposure to air pollution or the VOCs emitted from plywood) pigments quite often in old master "heightened" drawings, in illuminated manuscripts, and, also, around the edges of the preparatory grounds for metalpoint drawings. However, oxidizing agents also attack the double bonds of cellulose, accelerating the symptoms of paper aging, such as brittleness and yellowing. As a paper conservator, I cannot recommend the exposure of paper to hydrogen sulfide. At the same time, we do not know how much exposure to hydrogen sulfide (how long, what concentration) is required before meaningful (greater or faster than "normal") degradation takes place. So a pragmatic approach would be to expose the drawing until you get the results you want and use a good quality, sufficiently sturdy, and toothy paper as the support for the preparatory ground.
As to why whiskey breath would accelerate tarnishing of silver, I cannot say – must have been something he ate!
- Margaret Holbein Ellis
I expose my drawings to sulfur for only a day or two, no more - it's sufficient to make a perceptible change in tone and color, but hopefully not enough to affect support or ground (my support is generally a wood-based panel, which I would suppose is more resistant than paper to detrimental effects, yes)? I'll see what it's like to put Hydrogen Peroxide on an image (I know, Hugh said only in gaseous form, but I'm game to try spritzing it on a test panel to see what happens). Thanks for all the helpful replies, and if any other ideas come up for accelerating oxidation of metalpoint, I'd be interested.
An update - I spritzed Hydrogen Peroxide onto some silverpoint marks and it dissolved them, they lifted right up. I've had success minimizing metalpoint marks with rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab; seemingly HP does the same thing, but I'm not sure if there is a detrimental effect to the ground.
I then placed a panel with silverpoint marks face down over a tray of Hydrogen Peroxide, so the marks were exposed just to the fumes. They turned from grey to brown in 24 hours, although the value of the marks did not deepen.
Thanks for the update Koo...
An update on oxidizing metalpoint drawings. My husband is a vegetable farmer and last fall his storage space (which abuts my studio, linked by a door that is sometimes open) was filled with baskets of allium vegetables, garlic and onions. I was working on some metalpoint drawings at that time, all of which darkened very quickly. I'm presuming the allyl sulphur compounds in the air were the culprit. Anyone hear of oxidizing metalpoint drawings using allium veggies? I have a drawing right now under a tent with a cut onion and will report on the results...
That is great. I would certainly expect this effect considering the thiols
in those vegetables, although I have not heard of anyone accelerating the darkening
of silver using produce. I have often joked with my students who
are bothered by the paleness of their metalpoint attempts that we
should make a sulphur chamber to speed up the process. I guess
that I will suggest refrigerator refuse in the future ;)