Ruminating. It can mean ‘to think deeply about something’, or to ‘chew the cud’.

Currently between assignments, I keep my appraisal knowledge honed by reading up on the latest trends in the markets, covering everything from farm equipment to fine art. And when the opportunity to practice very basic art conservation work crops up, I am happy to give it a go.

While preparing my work area, my mind roils with the upheavals in my life recently, which included a brief tussle with COVID. I’m fine now, grateful to have got away with little more than a minor flu. Others aren’t so lucky. That and multiple other changes involving difficult personal decisions ensure that there is lots to think about.

Or chew over. Like a cow chewing its cud.

Fittingly, today’s project involves cleaning an oil on board painting of curious cows – themselves ruminants – staring at the viewer. This painting is charming, but badly needs some TLC. A large handful of cotton swabs and cleaning solution are at the ready.

I pick up a swab, moisten it, and begin. Starting in the upper left corner, where underneath a layer of grime lurks a pale blue sky and clouds. The work is slow and meticulous; it has to be in order to avoid redoing it and wasting supplies.

Cleaning an oil painting is a simple but time-consuming task that calls for both great attention to detail, yet also the ability to fall into a groove. I welcome this stage, finding a clear channel for my thoughts to tumble into.

My breathing slows and mind calms as I work, dampening the cotton swab, touching it to the painted surface, clean, and after a few gentle strokes lifting it away filthy.

As I work I can see where the artist applied a palette knife to partially expose the board beneath; ah, so that’s why the apparent grime in that area won’t come up! I follow the painter’s broad, sure sweeps of colour; carefully poke into the areas where paint has been thickly applied and tease out the dirt. Here in the midground, they’ve overpainted; there, they’ve barely stippled the surface to create the hair fringing the cows’ ears, and it comes sweetly clean.

Losing track of time as my shoulders relax. It’s like I’m standing behind the artist, following their thoughts as they compose this charming little herd.

The swabs move further down the painting in their slow steady march, leaving behind refreshed colours and a crispness of line that had previously been obscured.

Finally, the painting is done, and it gleams at me. I swear I can hear a cow lowing. They do that when they’re content.

Though slightly sad that the work is done, I too feel contentment.

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