The Best Christmas Present EVER: the gadget that gave me back 10 full working days last year…

This year, I wrote just shy of 195 000 thousand words. That might sound like an incredible number of words, but you’d be surprised: add up a whole year of emails, conservation reports, method statements, blog posts, and a novel and you too will see your word total hitting six figures.

Such an incredible number of words would usually take me over 80 hours of typing. Of course, that’s not done all in one go, but I have a fairly average typing speed of around 40 wpm so you can do the maths. Due to an incredibly inspired Christmas present from my husband last year, I wrote the 195k words and saved ten full working days in the process. Did he buy me a magic wand? No, but perhaps the next best thing: a Sony Digital Recorder and Dragon Software . This little duo allowed me to speak all those words directly into the recorder by pressing only one button.

When I attached it to my computer with a little USB cable, it uploaded the file and with the assistance of the Dragon Software – it transcribed the entire audio into text which I cut and pasted into my emails or word documents as needed.

Note taking on site, where I could be up a scaffold or handling chemicals, isn’t easy under normal circumstances, and then I have to return to my desk and start writing up all those scribbled notes that are only partially legible because I didn’t have anything to lean on while I was doing the work. This bit of kit, which was smaller than my mobile phone, meant I could eradicate the bulky notepad, and typing-up nightmare.

Ok, I didn’t write the novel or blogposts on site, but I can still speak many times faster than I could ever type so the audio method was much faster as long as I knew what I wanted to say before I hit the record button.

You might be thinking, but what about editing? Wasn’t the text a mess? Actually, it wasn’t. The spellings were certainly better than mine usually are. Of course, you did need to edit a bit, but I always need to edit the first drafts of my reports and emails anyway so I don’t feel like that part was any slower than usual. This method just did the donkey work.

Wishing Everyone a Very Merry Christmas ,

Lucy

A Shocking Discovery About Surviving Conservation Craziness

I haven’t written anything in a while and the reason is that I’ve been run off my feet – completely! I’m glad to say that work has been coming in thick and fast for us at Antique Bronze and we’ve had a non-stop period between April up until last week. It’s been almost eight months where every hand has been on deck and I feel annoyed every time I see the dog asleep on the sofa – lazy sod!

Months of crazy happen every year so this year I thought I would do an experiment to see if there was a better way to cope with the demands of a sustained period of intense work. Usually, I never manage to do much CPD when we hit these seasons.  I knew it was unlikely that there would be anything over these months which would particularly stretch me in terms of my practical skills as a conservator, so this seemed a good way of encompassing CPD without adding more to my plate.

Let me start by setting out my stall in case you know nothing of me. I run a conservation company with my husband and apart from doing ‘boss’ things, I am a senior conservator meaning I’m a foot soldier heading up projects and a team. I have three kids age 13, 10, 7 and a crappy illness which I’m not going to go into, but it has to be managed. For fun, I write novels: Adventures for Art Lovers – think Dan Brown (I wish!) but set in the art world.

Girl in A Golden Cage

Due, I’d say, entirely to my experiment, I’ve managed pretty darn well this year compared to many others. I haven’t become totally run down, or lost myself in the black hole of work entirely, and the only thing I did differently was commit to this experiment.

They may not be nifty new methods of halting active corrosion discovered by a Hungarian conservator (if you are a Hungarian conservator with nifty tricks, I’d like to hear from you!) but they have had a very positive impact on both my physical and mental health this year.

I can sum up in one line what I did differently – I added to my day instead of deleting things as I have in previous years.

What?! I hear you scream. You are suggesting I add extra things to do when my head is spinning off.

Yes, I am and it works.

1. Meditation – Daily

When I get finally got home from work and my kids were chilling out, I took about 20 minutes (15 if I was really pushed) and lay on my bed to meditate. I could have napped, I suppose, but I was usually too wound up from the day to do that. I’m no meditation expert so I used the Headspace app which offers users guided meditation. It was a game-changer. It raised my energy – REALLY raised it! I was in a better mood afterwards, and I felt like I’d had a proper break unlike when I watched TV for 20 minutes and then had to be scraped off the sofa to start the next phase of the evening. It worked – try it.

2. Just keep swimming –2-3 times per week

We all know that exercise is vital for maintaining health, but it can become the thing you drop when you get busy, but DON’T because exercise boosts your immune system. Previously what has happened to me when I’ve put my head down and worked like a maniac is that the moment I stopped,  I got super-ill. This time I did not and my kids have been ill. We are like a bug-factory here – you can choose from all manner of colourful coughs, virus’ and stomach flus, most days.

Also, I noticed that even on the days when I had a lot of physical graft ahead of me, far from depleting my energy stores, it boosted them. I was more productive on the days that I swam at the crack of dawn. I will admit that getting up and out, is never that much fun. Swimming may not be your thing, it is mine, but any exercise does the trick.

3. Tracking – Daily

Over the last several years, I noticed a common thread appear: I started to feel down about life when I was only about a month into the thick of it. It came down to the fact that when stress is contaminating every area of your life, your memory plays tricks on you, or at least it did on me.

It just felt like all I was doing was working, but actually that wasn’t entirely true. This year, I started tracking. Not in an elaborate sense, but I have a small A4 sheet on my wall with the list of things I enjoy doing regularly – this might be dinner out with my husband, sewing, reading – I’ll leave other activities up to your imagination. Each time that I managed to do one of those things, I made sure that I tracked it on my chart. This might sound like baby-stuff, but it really works. When I was feeling a little low,  I glanced at my chart, and it reminded me,  I’m not just treading water – I still have a life.

4. Podcasts – Daily

Oh, let me eulogize about podcasts. When I had almost no time for reading, I found that I could fit in listening to a podcast during grey-time. This might be driving from place to place, walking between project sites or even doing mundane tasks like cleaning out my kit bag and brushes. You can be learning all the time if you have quality audio and I have some old regulars, which I love, and I always ask people, ‘What podcasts do you listen to?’

Often I was learning about things that were not on my CPD radar, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t worth knowing about, and some have made it through to THE list, meaning they are now areas which I’m keen to devote more time to in that far-off-future when I’m not so busy.

5. A Project for You – Daily

I cannot stress the importance of this one. For me,  I take great pleasure in writing fiction. I lose myself in other places and characters that I love and hate,  but anything that you really enjoy counts. What I’ve discovered is that my mindset is better when I fit in the odd ten minutes during a day to work on something for me.

I was less tired rather than more when I did make the effort and the amazing thing is that increments of time add up to a lot during a year. Despite my stupid schedule, I will have my third novel out in Spring 2018 and that’s all just from totalling up tiny scraps of time each day.

So next time you hit a busy spell, don’t delete the best bits of your life, but double down on them. It really does keep you going.

Do drop me a line to tell me your coping strategies for when you are crazy-busy and if you’d like to know about my new release, do sign-up to my reader’s club at my website www.lucybranch.com

Reflections on Restoring an Art-Deco Lamp and Disguising Pits

It has been a busy week at Antique Bronze. I’ve completed an Art-Deco lamp which had been hit by a lorry and am finishing the restoration of a small bronze- plated sculpture scarred by galvanic corrosion.

Damage to an Art-Deco Lamp hit by a LorryThe Art-Deco lamp will have some follow-up posts as there were some difficulties I had when restoring it  – particularly trying to find the perfect filler. I usually mix my own with bronze dust and polyester resin, but this wasn’t suitable for this particular object. Finding a good copper-alloy filler that will take a patinated finish,  won’t corrode the bronze, and has some flexibility in it,  will be a future mission. Watch this space!

The small statue was interesting as it had a raised corrosion layer much like a form of bronze acne. Other than these small pimples, the surface was in good condition.  The cause of the corrosion originated with something acidic being sprayed across the statue’s surface, which etched the thin brass layer and caused a reaction between the two differing metal layers that made up the statue’s form: an outer layer of brass with an inner core of iron. Read more about galvanic corrosion on Antique Bronze’s blog.

Corrosion on a bronze
Galvanic corrosion on a plated statue

The corrosion was hard and I found the best way to remove it was by breaking its structure using a very fine file,  but as the corrosion broke up, it revealed a small pit. Now the struggle was how to lesson the disfiguration of the pitting. Re-surfacing the statue would be one way, but that’s highly interventive and not my approach. I tried mixing some pigment with a hard beeswax to fill the crevices, but as the surface was otherwise smooth – any slight excess of wax was detectable. Instead, I warmed the surface to drive off any moisture and applied soft clear wax into the pits using it like a filler. The soft wax was easier to wipe from the surface so didn’t result in the same build up as the hard wax had. Leaving it to harden, I later burnished and reapplied another layer. Finally, I lightly stippled with a little wax tinted with earth pigment over the pits and the results are shown below.

pitting harmonised
Pits are harmonised

 

 

A Cheap Trick To Prevent Metals in Storage Being Damaged by Volatile Gases – (Notes to Self Series)

Acid-detector strips can be included in packing containers and work well to detect volatile organic gases by using a reflectance spectrophotometer. I love the fact that analysis tools sound like they’ve been invented by one of the writer’s of Doctor Who. If you haven’t come across one of these little devices before, click here to read more.

Organic gases such as acetic and formic acid are particularly damaging to lead and copper alloy objects so these very inexpensive strips which show results within a couple of days could save significant damage occurring to an object.

Damage to Lead from Organic Vapours

Damage to Lead

They do not provide direct readings, but change colour to indicate the range of pH being encountered i.e. blue to green to yellow as pH becomes more acidic.  They are sensitive to higher levels of relative humidity, but much less so with low RH. They are tolerant of quite a wide fluctuation in temperature.  They should not touch the object, but being inexpensive can be placed around the container to help to identify gas sources.

Full Article by Stephen Hackney. Colour Measurement of Acid-Detector Strips For The Quantification of Volatile Organic Acids in Storage Conditions. Studies in Conservation 61, Sup 1, 55-69. 2016

 

10 Reasons Why Conservation Employers Look for Short Courses on Your CV

1 Short courses show a candidate has initiative.

Employers always want to hire critical thinkers, and short courses demonstrate precisely this skill set. Having a short-course on your CV indicates that you identified a gap in your knowledge, sought out a sound solution and followed through.

 

Conservation Courses
Short courses show you are a critical thinker

2 Short Courses Go Deep

The content of short courses tends to be narrow and targeted. Employers value in-depth knowledge because that’s the best type to be harnessed. You can share your learning with your co-workers, and the organisation can offer those new skills as part of the team’s capabilities, which adds value and potential profit to the department.

 

3 Short courses are relevant.

Convincing an employer that you have the relevant skills for the job is tough. Employers want a lot – excellent conservation skills with a side helping of associated know-how like project management, PR training or web skills. If you want to secure a job which has a focus on a particular skill, a conservation degree may seem too general to clinch it.  Deborah Cane, Conservation Manager Sculpture and Art Installation at Tate, said ‘It can help to determine levels of practical skills as a candidate may not have been able to experience a wide range of materials during their training.’ Showing you’ve attended a short course is a way of highlighting that you have precisely the skills an employer desires.

Add value by increasing your skill set

4 Short courses enable you to multitask.

Attending a three-year degree is a significant time commitment, and often when you graduate and move on to your first interview, you will be met with that old chestnut, ‘What experience do you have?’ Recently, I met a very impressive young man who was brave enough to step away from the traditional educational route and learn through short courses. Over the duration of two years, he had a dizzying list of short courses to his name, and he had been able to take work experience opportunities that arose between courses. When his turn came to answer the dreaded question – he served up a portfolio equally weighted between academics and work experience. Result: Hired!

5 Short courses are great value for money.

At around £9000 per year tuition fees at university – just think how many highly relevant short courses a student could attend for the princely sum of £27,000 – the equivalent of 3 years of study. John Rushworth MD of Restore London says, ‘Short courses are a cost effective way to improve skills, and they are not too time-consuming.’

6 Short courses are network hubs.

Meeting people on short courses is an excellent way to make valuable contacts. Groups are usually small so getting acquainted couldn’t be easier, and the conversation is unlikely to be stilted as you all have a mutual interest. Remember an employer isn’t just hiring you, but also your contacts so if you strike up a rapport with some other great professionals – you’re adding value to your organisation’s circle without any extra effort for them.

 7 Employers know you learn more on a short course.

Short courses tend to be conducted in small groups. Everyone knows that small-group education is the best way to learn. Why else do politicians always make promises about reducing class sizes at election time? You are likely to retain more, participate more and remember more from small-group learning.

8 Short courses can inspire you anew.

If your degree was twenty years ago, the chances are that your charismatic course leader’s touch may have worn thin. Short courses can give you that spark of inspiration which keeps the fire burning in our professional lives.

9 Short courses are ideal if you are time poor.

Your course tutor is likely to be an expert in their particular field and will have come across many resources during their working life. Attending the course means you partake of their expertise, but you are also likely to get a tonne of resources that they have put together for you. These titbits will save you hours of trawling through journals and websites – it’s good time management

Photo by Dineshraj Goomany, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

10 Short courses demonstrate a commitment to CPD.

Attending short courses shows that you are living the ACR ethos of continued professional development. It illustrates that you have a sincere interest in your career and are not just satisfied with the status quo. Rod Titian of Titian Studios summed it up well, ‘Attending short courses shows that you are not pompous enough to think you know everything. The best conservator/restorers are learning all the time.’

Lucy Branch is a sculptural and architectural features conservator and has been a Director of Antique Bronze Ltd for over twenty years. Join her in June on The Conservation of Immovable Bronze Objects

 

 

10 Ways To Look After Your Small Bronzes at Home

Small bronzes housed indoors have an easy time of it compared to their large companions outdoors in the public arena. They are sheltered from the urban air and ever-changing weather, but their environment still has an impact on them and if you want to keep your small bronzes as stable as possible then consider these 10 tips.

1: Dust Regularly – Don’t be frightened of touching a bronze just because it’s an artwork. If you use a dry micro-fibre cloth or a soft bristle brush you’ll be doing a lot of good rather than harm. Removing dirt and grime prevents prevents reactions between the pollutants in dust and the metal’s surface. We all hate more housework, but it will avoid the start of pockets of localised corrosion happening over time. Prevention is always better than cure.

2: At least once a year, give the statue a thorough clean and apply some wax. Putting a barrier layer in place is one of the best ways of protecting a bronze’s surface. Outdoor pollutants from traffic and the outdoor such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and ozone, do infiltrate buildings. Over time, they will corrode your bronzes (Grontoft et al, 2016). Rub on micro-crystalline wax and burnish with a bristle brush or cotton rag as you might your shoes. It will improve the bronze’s lustre and retard surface change.

3: Internal materials like wooden floorboards and furniture emit acidic gases such as acetic or formic acid. These will damage your bronzes particularly if air flow is static and where temperature of a room is likely to fluctuate widely. Consider where you locate your small bronzes and try not to display them in sealed cabinets made from materials containing hard and soft woods or plywood (Gibson, 2010)

4: Avoid handling your bronzes. If possible, lift your bronzes with a clean cloth rather than touch them directly. Sweat from the hands is acidic and will corrode metal easily penetrating a thin barrier layer like wax.

5: If you are storing a small bronze rather than displaying it. Ensure that the packaging materials are suitable. Do not wrap bronzes directly in bubble wrap or plastic. Houses tend to have poor humidity controls and though it might surprise you – bronzes do hold water. When they heat up that water will evaporate and if you’ve trapped it in plastic – you’ll get corrosion overload happening beneath that plastic.

6: If you accidentally spill red wine, tea, coke or even water on your bronze – don’t ignore it! Just because it’s not a textile that stains – don’t assume that the liquid won’t do any harm. If you whip it off quickly then harm is averted, but leave it to dry out and the metal will etch in the perfect shape of the drip, splash or spill. A little warm water on a clean cloth as dry as possible will enable you to remove the liquid and save your bronze surface. Don’t forget to dry your bronze after you’ve washed it though and replace the wax.

7: Admire your bronze often – don’t ignore it. If you keep an eye on your bronzes you will notice if there is any change occurring. Although we all like a beautiful mature patina on a bronze, if the bronze is starting to change within a short period of time then the chances are it is being exposed to something that isn’t doing it a lot of good. Be mindful and you could prevent a bigger conservation problem.

8: Think about where you locate your bronze. If a bronze is in a busy area of the house, its chances of being knocked, and scuffed rise considerably. Bronze looks tough, but often small bronzes have delicate sculptural detail and one bang can see sections break off or snap. Dents are very hard to remove successfully. Drafts also carry outdoor pollutants inside and humidity is likely to peak and trough more which won’t do your bronzes any good.

9: If you want to give your bronze the Rolls Royce treatment then a high-spec display case made with materials that do not emit gases will go a long way. Though undoubtedly an expense, it has been shown that cases with robust seals prevents traffic pollution getting in, provides extra security if you are burgled, prevents household damage like spills and knocks. A low and stable relative humidity under 40% is ideal.  It’s also  wise to add a little activated carbon into the base of the case in order to absorb any stray pollutants.

10: If you notice a greenish, powdery deposit on your bronze which is easily brushed away, but returns quickly – get it to a conservator ASAP! This is active corrosion and needs quick, skilled treatment to prevent metal loss.

If you would like help or advice on your small bronze, call Antique Bronze Ltd on 0208-340-0931

References:

Terje Grontoft, David Thickett, Paul Lankester, Stephen Hackney, Joyce H. Townsend, Kristin Ramsholt & Monica Garrido. “Assessment of Indoor Air Quality and the Risk of Damage to Cultural Heritage Objects using MEMORI dosimetry” Studies in Conservation 61:sup 1, 70-82. Routledge & IIC 2016 Link Here

Gibson, L.T. (2010) Acetic and formic acids emitted from wood samples and their effect on selected materials in museum environments. Corrosion Science, 52 (1). pp. 172-178. ISSN 0010-938X