I spent an amazing week in mid-July at the studio of François Perego in Dinan, Brittany, refining my ideas about violin varnishing. François has a background as a painter, art restorer, chemist and researcher, and is the compiler of the major work on painting materials in the French language. He has been running courses for violin makers for years, but was sorry that as they were in French he had no contact with the English-speaking side of the violin making world. I found out about this by chance last year, and immediately saw how it could work. I had recently hosted a work experience for Marion Pollart, a student at the Newark School of Violin Making who in her previous life was a conference interpreter, so I floated the idea with her and she contacted François. After some meetings, many emails and phone calls, a course was organised with François teaching, Marion interpreting and me doing the admin (I can also speak French). And did I mention that Marion and I between us translated and edited 40 odd pages of notes…
The course was seven intensive days. We covered lots of useful theory in the mornings; colour and
lighting, particle shape and size, solubility, all sorts of background which helped to explain how the varnish looks on the wood, how the colours work, how varnish drys, which helped to give a much deeper understanding of why we do what we do. On a number of occasions, François gave an explanation of a technique or a problem which seemed to answer a query I had never before managed to resolve. The afternoons were taken up with practical work, and François demonstrated how to make and apply a range of different ground colours, sealers and how to mix and mull colours. I’ve come home with a bursting notebook and many new ideas to try out.
We were a great group of violinmakers from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland and we learnt a lot from each other as well as from François. And of course, Dinan is the most beautiful mediaeval town so it was a privilege to spend a week in such lovely surroundings absorbing knowledge from someone with huge expertise.