Among the many different types of works-on-paper that we restore, pastel paintings are unique and delicate items. So delicate in fact, that we are often asked whether it is possible to safely restore such artworks.

Restoring pastel paintings is a completely safe process and will not cause any harm to the artworks when completed by a professional conservator. 

When a pastel painting comes in for restoration, the first step for our conservator is to make a full assessment of the artwork. It is important to complete this full assessment to check its general condition and other treatments it may require. 

We’ve detailed below some common causes for pastel paintings to need restoration, along with some examples.

Take a look and if you have any questions, please just contact our team for obligation-free advice.

Surface cleaning

As with any work-on-paper, surface cleaning can achieve excellent results. 

There are some complex variables for our conservators to consider before the cleaning process can begin. These include the stability of the pastel and the substrate used. 

When an artwork is first assessed and checked, our conservator can see the level of surface dirt that has settled. Prior to cleaning, preliminary tests are always carried out to determine the most effective method of cleaning. Works-on-paper will either require a ‘dry’ clean or a float wash. This second option sees a watercolour being treated with our cleaning solution to lift the contaminants while submerged. For pastels, any wash treatment is limited and monitored to ensure the stability of the pigments.

The tests we comprehensively carry out ensures the stability of the artwork, and checks that the materials will respond to the treatment well. These tests are carried out in a small area to check that the treatments are safe for the artwork. The colours will not run or become faded. The preliminary tests will guarantee that the cleaning will purely lift the contaminants and dirt lying on the painting.

For more information, see Cleaning a Watercolour Painting

The below painting required a clean, and treatment for acid damage and foxing (which you can read more about below). It was severely stained but the combined treatments lifted the surface dirt and counteracted the foxing and acid staining, with excellent results.

Foxing and acid damage

Moisture in the atmosphere reacting with impurities on the paper can also cause rusty brown spots, known as foxing, to appear.

Foxing can be a widespread issue for many different types of works-on-paper including pastel paintings but it can be very successfully removed after treatment. For more information on foxing, see our helpful article on How To Treat Foxing in Watercolours.

Historically, works-on-paper were framed using mounts and backing boards that are now known to contain acid. This acid leaches from the boards into the paper causing it to turn a yellow or brown colour. The damage can be fully reversed in our studio, revealing the original colours of the artwork. You can also learn more about acid damage, by reading our Case Study on Treating Acid Damage in Watercolours.

Tear repair and lining

As with any work-on-paper, any tears and missing areas can be repaired by using liquid paper pulp or lined with Japanese tissue. As with any similar artwork, pastel paintings can be treated successfully for tear repairs. Where there is retouching required, we can use pastels and replicate the existing pigment and texture.

Insect damage

Unfortunately, pastel paintings are not exempt from being affected by insect damage. Insects, such as silverfish, can eat away at paper and board. To restore artworks affected by insects, we first treat the entire artwork and frame to kill any remaining insects or eggs. Like with any tears, the damage to areas where the paper has been eaten can be filled with liquid paper pulp, and then any staining to the paper is reversed.

If you have a pastel painting you would like our advice for, please contact us for our obligation-free help.

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