Lauren Gaylord is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Lauren for a year. You can read her previous posts here.
It’s been a busy month in the archives. Our impending collection move looms large in my mind as I try to complete smaller processing projects to prepare all of our items to move. I’ll deal with all of the details of move prep next month, but as my recent work life has been focused on housing some of our more delicate items I thought I’d share what that process is like.
One of the unique and fragile media types we deal with in the archives is pastel artwork on paper and board. Pastel concept art might be character or set focused, but most often the medium is used for color studies, lighting studies, and ultimately colorscripts. At Pixar, a colorscript serves as the production designer and art director’s guide to how color and light should be used in the film to convey mood, tone, and emotion. More recent films have utilized digitally painted colorscripts, but older Pixar films like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo relied on pastel colorscripts during production.
The number of pastels we receive from each production varies depending on artist preference. While we don’t have a tally of the number of pastels in our collection, we are working with a very large volume of pastel works (potentially hundreds from a single production), the likes of which are not found in many other archives. One of the problems inherent in preserving these delicate pieces is that many of our pastel works are unfixed. We do not alter a work once it arrives in the archives, so if an artist did not apply a fixative, we honor that. That makes our pastel pieces even more fragile and very vulnerable to accidental alteration from mishandling. Pastels also require individual attention, as opposed to other types of art, so the time involved in processing them is much higher. Though we may preserve them individually, many of the pastels belong together intellectually, especially if they are part of a colorscript or lighting study. Thus processing also requires an awareness of how a single pastel work relates to others and housing or arranging them together when possible. We currently have a huge backlog of pastels that are not housed or remain in insufficient housing, due to the time it takes to preserve each piece carefully.
Our methods for housing pastels in the Pixar Archives have evolved over time. For instance, over ten years ago the preservation method of choice was to tape mylar over the pastel to protect its surface. As we reevaluate the pieces that were housed in this way, we’ve seen pastel particles transfer to the mylar, altering the original piece. More recently we have been utilizing custom window mats (or cel mats) to allow us to view the pastels easily and stack them in boxes without anything directly touching the art. While these window mats are labor- and time-intensive to create, they are ultimately worthwhile projects in order to best preserve our pastels and ensure that they last as long as possible.
So how do we protect these fragile and precious pieces of art? We start the housing process with custom mats of archival board supplied by a vendor. The mats come with a precut window and a 1/2-inch spine of archival tape.
We then measure and cut strips of ethafoam and affix them to the inner mat window using archival glue and a hot glue gun.
The addition of the foam gives the mat height so that nothing will sit directly on the pastel.
After the mat has been built, we secure the pastel to the bottom of the mat.
While in the past we folded glassine or paper to create a corner for the pastel to rest in, more recently we have been employing photo corners and document tabs to keep the pastel in place without putting too much pressure on the art. As with many archival processes, we are constantly refining our methods and reevaluating the best way to protect the pastels and keep them safe without applying unnecessary pressure to their fragile surface.
Building window mats and housing pastels has been a welcome break for me from processing paper drawings. There’s something very satisfying about cutting strips of ethafoam and gluing them into place. There are just a handful of opportunities to get crafty in the archives, especially when it comes to glue, so I’m making the most of this project. Many of our pastels still need proper housing before they can be safely moved to our new facility, so much of my time over the next month will continue to be focused on housing these delicate pieces.