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Violin/Ink Drawing on Violin

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QUESTION: Hi Michael,

I have a cheap violin that I want to draw ink designs on in the style of the hardanger violin.  Here's a link to a pdf I made with examples that caught my eye (http://marilynm.org/pdfs/Violin_Ink.pdf).

I read your instructions on this site about striping the finish off a violin. Would that be the first step? Then would I paint directly onto the face of the violin or etch into the wood with a metal pen?

Do you have any knowledge of the kind of ink used or what the process might be like?

I am so moved by the appearance of this ink work on the violin and am excited to explore this technique myself. Any thoughts would be gratefully received!

Marilyn McNeal
Oakland, CA
marilynm.org

ANSWER: Hi Marilyn
I don't know if you meant to send this question to Michael Barkas, but it came to me.

All the instruments I have ever seen with this kind of ornamentation, the ink was on top of the varnish. Otherwise it may get washed out by the colored varnish. Some varnishes may not be compatible and the solvent in the ink might disolve your varnish and make a mess. When done, a clear varnish needs to go over the ink. Without testing your varnish, there is no way for me to know if it is compatible with the ink. You will have to experiment on an inconspicuous spot on the violin. You will also need to go to a violin shop to find out what clear varnish will be compatible with your violin varnish as it is not possible to make a recommendation without personally seeing your instrument.

If all you want to do is have art work and not use the instrument, using acrylic paint should work.

Keep in mind that doing this will effect the violins value and may effect the sound.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for that info, David. It gives me a helpful starting point. Here is some background info I did not include . . .

I got the violin for $20 off of eBay and I plan on playing it but not so much in the traditional sense. My intention is to change the bridge and make some other adjustments and then do some live looping with it. I would also like to use the sounds the violin generates as the source for samples to be used in sound design projects.

I asked around and the general pathway that is emerging seemed to be

- start by giving the finish a light rub down with fine [1000] grade paper, or wire wool
- then get the dust off with a tac rag...or turps on a lint free rag
- then put on a couple of coats of varnish or sealant of some kind so the ink doesn't get messy
- then do the ink design (Micron felt tip pens by Pigma)
- let the ink dry and apply a coat or two of clear violin varnish

Does this sound like a good set of steps for the project described? Can you explain why I would scuff up the finish, then put on varnish before drawing with the ink? Seems like I am removing something (finish) just to replace it with something similar (coats of varnish).

Final question . . . what kind of varnish would I use at this stage of the process (right before drawing with felt tip pen)? Brand name or type?

Thanks in advance for your kindness

Marilyn

Answer
Hi again

Generally the steps are correct.  Scuffing up the finish gets any foreign matter off - like oils and makes for an easier adherence for the new material - both ink and varnish. I don't think you need to add finish before the ink. As I said the first time around:

 "All the instruments I have ever seen with this kind of ornamentation, the ink was on top of the varnish..... Some varnishes may not be compatible and the solvent in the ink might dissolve your varnish and make a mess. When done, a clear varnish needs to go over the ink. Without testing your varnish, there is no way for me to know if it is compatible with the ink. You will have to experiment on an inconspicuous spot on the violin. You will also need to go to a violin shop to find out what clear varnish will be compatible with your violin varnish as it is not possible to make a recommendation without personally seeing your instrument".

Here are the steps as I see it:
1. test or have someone test the varnish on the instrument to find out what it is - oil, alcohol, lacquer, water based or polyurethane. You can usually put a soft varnish over top of a hard varnish, but not the other way around.  It is always best to use them same class varnish, oil on oil... If the proper varnish is not used, there can be catastrophic results.
2. scuff up the finish either a small test area or the whole thing - under the chin rest or between the chin rest hardware makes a good test area.
3. do a small ink/marker test on an inconspicuous spot
4. try your over varnish on the spot
5. if everything looks good after it has completely dried, then and only then do the entire project.

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David Lashof

Expertise

I can answer questions on violin, viola, cello and bass making, repair and maintenance as well as supply general violin value ranges and information on instrument makers’ assuming the instrument's as labeled. I don't give values for modern makers as many of these modern makers are yet unknown to me. I can only give you feedback based on what information you give me, and no authority on the instrument can know every maker's work that ever lived. I have access to many books on makers and auction prices on over 25,000 makers, as well as having 36 years of experience with selling and appraising violins. Without having the instrument in hand, any estimate over the internet is just a guess as the label inside an instrument is more often wrong than right, so just having that information is not very useful. Pictures can sometimes be helpful but only so much, as the "feel" of the instrument along with small clues in workmanship and varnish cannot be seen in pictures. Any pictures should be high quality close-ups of the top and back. Additional photos of the front and treble side of the neck are also useful. It is always best to have an instrument seen in person at a violin shop that does appraisals. I can also provide advice on bows, rosin, strings and other string instrument accessories. As I am now retired, I have no bias towards selling anything; I only wish to share my knowledge and experience by providing information for those that may be getting confused by misinformation, misdirection or conflicting statements. (While I have seen many thousands of instruments and have performed numerous appraisals; if I have not evaluated an instrument in person, any information I set forth in an opinion is just that, an opinion based solely on what you have provided. Thusly, no financial decision should be based on that opinion, but rather, further investigation should be performed by having the instrument examined in person.)

Experience

I am a retired violin maker and repairman with 35 years experience having worked in Chicago and Maryland at 5 different violin shops and music stores including the first violin repairman at William Harris Lee in Chicago, the head repairman at Weavers Violins in Maryland, and in my own shop of 25 years. I have made 160 instruments and have restored countless professional level and student grade instruments. I am an accomplished violinist having performed with semi-professional as well as amateur groups although I haven't played for years and mostly stay away from questions about playing. I have taught violin making and restoration to about 20 students; three of which have gone on professionally and now have their own shops. I know violins from playing, selling, repairing, making and teaching.

Organizations
Violin Society of America (VSA). American String Teachers Association (ASTA)

Education/Credentials
I graduated from the prestigious 4 year Chicago School of Violin Making in 1981 under Master Violin Maker Tschu Ho Lee. I also studied with violin maker Willis M. Gault in Washington DC from 1973-75, who was the former owner of the oldest known example of an instrument from the modern violin family, an Andreas Amati Viola.

Awards and Honors
2008 Chester Petranek Award for service to the music community. ASTA award for service. Top All Expert in Violin for 2014 and 2015.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked with many professional musicians from DC area Symphonies as well as players from all over the US. Here are just a few, Leonard Slatkin - Former conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Doris Gazda - Nationally renowned string specialist and composer. Bernard Greenhouse, Tanya Anisimova - Internationally renowned Solo Cellists. Jody Gatwood, Mark Pfannschmidt, Lori Barnet, Doug Dubé, Judy Silverman - National Philharmonic Orchestra. Robert Blatt, David Hardy, Glen Garlick - National Symphony Orchestra. Eddie Stubbs, Brendan Mulvahill, Nate Leath - Professional Fiddle Players. David Basche, Pat Braunlich, John Knudson, Romano Solano, Ed Ferris, Fred Lieder - freelance musicians.

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