Paint Analysis - PAYE
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Paint Analysis

Paint Analysis

Paint is a complex mixture consisting of pigments, modifiers, extenders, and binders. The recipes for paints have changed dramatically over the centuries and reflect the time periods they were created in. Paint research allows us an insight into the past and gifts us an opportunity to understand how our architectural heritage has been shaped.

As fashions and tastes change, paint; as a method which can instantly transform the feel and effect of a room or object, changes too. As previous layers are rarely removed before they are overpainted, these accumulated layers act as a great record which tell a chronographic story, documenting any changes that may have occurred.

Detailed analysis and assessment of accumulated paint layers therefore allows us to understand changes in design, colour, use and the variance in materials themselves.

Over the centuries, base mediums have of course altered, new pigments have been discovered and combinations of the two have both fallen in to and out of fashion – this again aids the analyst in understanding how buildings looked, felt and were often used. Decoration can also give an insight into the social standing of the occupants, such as how often the room was redecorated and the choice of materials used.

Analysis will normally involve in the first instance the collection of samples (often taken from a number of differing areas; to give a broad overall view of works and eradicate anomalies). A technical assessment is then completed of the samples via cross sectional analysis in visible and UV light, together with limited stain tests (for media) and microchemical tests (for pigments). Where it is felt polarised light microscopy will also add to the understanding of the paint films, this is also undertaken. On completion of all analysis, results are collated and a conclusive report produced. The identification of both pigments and paint mediums allow us to form a greater understanding of a buildings chronology.

Why is paint analysis undertaken?

Paint research may be completed for many reasons, these include (but are not restricted to);

  • aiding the comprehension of chronological change
  • documenting the significance of a particular decorative scheme
  • helping us understand the specifics of materials previously used for restoration purposes
  • identification of hazardous components (such as lead)
  • informing the reasons behind failure, or where materials are not performing as they are expected to
  • helping us establish what was used, if we are to remove them
  • contributing to a longer-term conservation management plan

An example of where a full interpretive analysis approach springs to mind was during the widescale restoration of Stowe House in Buckinghamshire. I had the privilege of working on this building for almost a decade where the Conservation Architects and the in-house Preservation Trust had decided that all state rooms were to be restored to a specific date – this being 1788.

Hundreds of small samples were therefore taken across all substrates within each room, from individual mouldings to ceilings, walls and doors. By analysing the materials and pigments used during the buildings timeline, it was possible to identify and recreate replica schemes restoring each room in turn, allowing the building to be returned authentically to this particular period of historic interest.