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A student just completed a wonderful charcoal drawing on Lanaquarelle watercolour paper. Unfortunately, she smudged it by holding it with her hands covered in charcoal dust. She tried to erase the stains, first with putty eraser, then with a normal eraser and finally with an electric eraser. The stains are still visible, as the paper is quite porous.
Do you have any suggestion on how to bring the whiteness back to the paper? Or is there any paint that looks exactly like the paper? We even thought of putting some soaked off-cuts of watercolour paper in the juicer, add some matte acrylic binder and apply it thinly over the stains!
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I am not a paper conservator so my comments here should be read
with that in mind. Additionally, I am only responding at all because this is an
attempt to fix someone’s own artwork and not an attempt at restoring the work
I am not sure there is anyway of removing the charcoal if a gummy
eraser was ineffective. On the other hand, I have really never seen overpaint
look convincing on raw paper to remove smudges, mistakes, etc. These types of
fixes are really only good for advertising art that will be printed in black
and white. Paint just does not have the open surface of paper. I am not sure
that there is a perfect answer other than matting the piece to hide the smudge.
No matter what, acrylic dispersion would be poor choice
of binder for any attempted overpaint even with fibers obtained from the same
paper, the acrylic would almost certainly darken the fibers making it an ill
match in color and value. The water in such a binder would also very likely
buckle the paper. Even if one used an alcohol containing cellulose ether, you would
probably need to apply a substantial amount to cover the smudge and create a
Perhaps someone else has a suggestion that I have not
As Brian says, overpainting in the old days was for camera-ready art, and the corrections were always painfully apparent on the original. I wonder if some of the stain could be lifted with a small vacuum cleaner and stiff brush? If it were my work, the affected areas were in the margins and the paper was sufficiently durable, I might try abrading and burnishing. I might also try lifting the charcoal with drafting tape or "dry cleaning" it with what we used to call a "mouse", a cloth pad filled with eraser dust. But, my perspective is that of a studio artist speaking about what I would risk on my own work, and there is always significant risk of making things worse when you aren't guided by professional training.
Clearly the discoloration is caused by micro-particles of charcoal
that are embedded in the interstices of the paper. Unfortunately, any
attempt of disguising the particles by painting over them will likely be
unsuccessful particularly because this is a modern, not aged, paper
with no wiggle room in terms of mottling (euphemistically called time
toning). Casting a thin layer of paper pulp over the entrapped charcoal
dust will likewise prove unsuccessful. The texture will be
interrupted, resulting in different patterns of light refraction. If it
is thin enough to be undetectable, it likely will not disguise the
charcoal dust. The application of a water-based slurry will also cause
localized distortion of the paper as it expands in response.
All in all, an intractable problem - better to think of the student's prints as evidence of process.
Margaret Holben Ellis
Eugene Thaw Professor of Paper Conservation
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University