How To Treat Flaking Paint in an Oil Painting

A notable proportion of restoration work that comes into the studio has sustained damage due to incorrect storage and environmental conditions. One such type of damage this can cause is flaking paint on oil paintings.

Cracking and lifting of the paint layer occurs when stress such as environmental changes in heat, humidity and dampness, cause the paint layers to expand and contract. This shrinkage causes the paint to crack and start to flake away.

Such destabilisation needs to be addressed quickly in paintings, to prevent further losses from occuring. Key artistic details of the painting, such as the artist’s signature, are at risk from being lost.

If the paint on your artwork has started to flake away, the first step is to lay the painting horizontally, with the image facing up. It can be wrapped in bubble wrap or a soft material until it reaches the studio.

Once in the studio, it can be assessed and treated. Flaking paint layers can be consolidated in several ways, depending on the individual needs of the painting.  Animal glues or synthetic resins can be used. The most commonly used animal glues for consolidation are fish glue and rabbit skin glue.

The animal glues will be soaked in water for 24 hours and then warmed up and applied when warm. After the application of the glue, the treated part is gently pressed with a hot spatula and a weight is put on it if needed.

The same process is followed for the synthetic resins. A thin brush can be used to apply them and a weight on the surface is preferable.

Another treatment method for paint that is starting to lift is the use of a Preservation Pencil. The Pencil reactivates the adhesive under the paint layer and allows the flaking paint to be readhered.

Where there are areas of losses, pigments can be sampled and colour matched, and the paint can be carefully applied to the support.

It is never advisable to paint over the flaking paint, or paint in the areas where the losses have occurred. Overpainting and applying new paint will not correctly address and mend the damage, and will cause further aesthetic and structural problems.

As storage solutions and environmental conditions have proven crucial to the stability of paintings, our article on How to Store and Display your Artwork can advise on how to prevent flaking and other damage to your painting.

By acting quickly if you notice flaking paint, you will able to secure the longevity of your painting, and protect it for posterity.

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