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Sebastian: Step 2(B) in the Balsam Ground process, Adding Aged Wood Color Gold. When a violin is initially finished it is white, if we applied varnish with no color and the instrument had a bump or scratch, the white wood would sparkle through the wound. Also, we, and more importantly musicians, want instruments that look old. Stradivari and Guarneri instruments are old, henceforth we value instruments that look old, at least not brand spanking new with white wood.
Since the Balsam ground is what goes INTO the wood, it makes sense that we add color down into the wood. With the color in the wood, when a dent or scratch happens, the colored wood will reflect back. Additionally, we will antique Sebastian in later varnishing stages. This antiquing will remove some of the varnish we will yet apply, and underneath that varnish will be our colored wood.
Over the centuries many methods have been used to darken the wood, everything from dark pigments to chemical acid baths that darken the wood during or before varnishing. Most of these methods either blocked the light illuminating from the wood cells, or worse yet destroyed the cell structure weakening the wood and hastening the instruments demise.
The 18th century Cremonese instruments had intense illumination. When you focus a bright light on the varnish of well preserved Stradivari instruments, the color of the varnish disappears and you see bright reflections from the cell structure of the underlying wood, particularly on the maple. Using pigments or chemical coloring processes deadens this reflective illumination of the wood. The Balsam Ground process is designed to enhance the wood’s natural illumination. If you have the chance to spend any time with Joe Robson you will hear his mantra,
“The Illuminating power of the ground is stronger than the tinting power of the varnish”.
To maintain and/or enhance this illumination the Balsam Ground uses a mordant on mordant process, similar to dye color fastening used for textiles. Balsam ground preparation #2 ground has polar compounds it adds to Mordent bind the vegetable based Aged Wood Colors to the cell walls.
The first color we will apply to the instrument is the Aged Wood Color Gold. If you have a chance to look closely at an 18th century violin, you will note a gradient of colors where the varnish is worn away. The color gradation will go from the Red/Brown varnish down to a golden halo around bare wood that often has a grey greenish color. Aged Wood Color Gold will help provide that illusion of age in the cell structure of the wood.
For at least one or two applications we want an even wash of Aged Wood Color Gold over the whole instrument. Then on subsequent applications we want to emphasize areas where we anticipate the instrument wood would wear over time.
Make a map of the wear patterns on the instrument, know where wear will be.
Go heavy with the gold where the wear will be.
Mixing ratios 1:4 Balsam Ground Preparation #2 2g,
Everclear Alcohol 8g,
Aged Wood Color Gold 2g,
You can apply heavier applications, but multiple light applications are easier to control.
This mixture will brush onto the wood with a very bright almost fluorescent yellow/green/gold color. It’s a bit stark, but no worry a few hours in sunlight or intense UV light and the color will fade to a soft yellow gold.
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