Inpainting a Seth Thomas clock dial – Part II

And now for the exciting conclusion.

This is Part II of a two part series. Part one covers the first three steps in renewing a Seth Thomas clock dial. In this, Part II, the decorative design is restored on the corners.

The Seth Thomas clock as found

Inpainting is the process of reconstructing lost or deteriorated parts of a clock dial. In the museum world, in the case of a valuable painting, this task would be carried out by a skilled art conservator or art restorer. Inpainting, as opposed to repainting and restoring the entire dial, addresses the degraded areas of the dial using a few simple techniques.

Inpainting is cost effective and can be done on the home work bench

Inpainting certainly does not meet the higher professional standards of a service such as The Dial House, which perform exemplary work but I will not have a dial professionally restored if the cost is twice what the clock is worth. There will always be occasions when a professional restoration is justifiable, however.

Inpainting is cost effective and can be done on the home work bench.

The dial on this Seth Thomas clock is in poor condition

For this project I chose the dial plate from a Seth Thomas column and cornice clock circa 1865. The dial, which is in poor condition, is likely original to the clock and rather than change it out for a similar one it was an ideal candidate for inpainting. The numerals are faded, large sections are without paint, half of the time track detail is missing or faded and the corner floral details are barely visible.

The first three steps are completed; now for the floral design
Elements of a clock dial

There are 4 steps to inpainting.

  1. Mix paint to match, cover the large and small paint loss sections,
  2. Touch up the numerals with black acrylic paint,
  3. Redraw missing sections of the chapter ring and fine line details of the numerals and
  4. Reproduce the floral designs in the 4 corners

The first 3 steps were covered in Part I. Now on the step 4.

Step 4 – the decorative corners

Some of the following methods can be found in T. E. Temple’s excellent resource book entitled Extreme Restoration.

This is the fun part and brought out the artist in me. Prior to painting the floral designs I practiced on an old dial to get a feel for the amount of paint on the brush and types of brush strokes.

Water based all-surface acrylic paint is forgiving and a damp cloth with address any errors. Use a wet Q-tip to wipe away small errors or excess paint.

Tracing out the pattern

I began by using a 3X4 inch piece of clear hard clear plastic to outline the pattern. Since each corner had bits and pieces of the floral arrangement the result after using a black artist pen is a composite of all four decorative patterns. This was my guide.

Artist brush

Using a Level 2 – 0 round artist brush I painted each element of the design freehand. It is important to use sweeping strokes rather than dab the paint. I bought grass green at the hobby store and discovered that it was too light and added black to give a richer leaf green look. Red went on first and then green.

Red and green paint

Finally, I used an artist pen to add the branches.

The best place to dry a dial is on the clock
Seth Thomas column and cornice "Empire" style time and strike shelf clock
Before inpainting

The case had been restored in 2018. Work included addressing chipped and missing veneer followed by the application of several coats of shellac mixed in the traditional way. The dial was not touched at the time.

The above photo shows what the clock looked like before I began the dial project. The next photo is taken after the dial work was complected. Not only will the dial work enhance the appearance of the clock but it will increase its value.

And the final result

There is no requirement to be absolutely precise recreating the decorative corners and that is the charm of an antique clock. Dial painters many years ago used simple templates for decorative work and while they might appear exact there are subtle differences on a single dial.

I hope you have enjoyed this two part series and if you have any questions or comments, let me know.


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