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My parent's home has a wall that apparently used to contain lots of pen and pencil marks indicating the height progression of my father when he was growing up. The house itself was built in the 1950s and the first time the wall was painted over was in the early 2000s (by accident). Afterwards, they thought it was not recoverable so they had it painted over once or twice more when renting the house out. Over the years they've always wanted to see if there was a way to get it back.

I am not sure if this is the right place to ask this, but is there a chance the pen and pencil marks could be recovered? I am assuming that if I were to remove the paint, the pencil marks might be destroyed. I do remember that when the pencil marks were made, the wall at the time may have been some sort of unpainted drywall. Would there be any options here anyone might know of? Thanks in advance.

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Experiment elsewhere on the wall first. I have once seen paint come off wood gently with repeated applications of limonene. This was as the result of a spray bottle being left open, as it heated and cooled a little would come out.

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    sorry, do you mean the spray bottle was right underneath some wood with paint? thanks!
    – user321627
    Sep 9 '20 at 11:50
  • was sitting on windowsill which peeled. 15 year old paint Sep 9 '20 at 12:48
  • Agree that experimenting on an area with same history is wise. If a latex paint was applied over very old paint that was not cleaned well, the surface grime on old paint may serve as a barrier that protects the markings on the original paint.
    – Kris
    Sep 11 '20 at 17:26
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There is a radiant heat device which heats up the substrate the paint is attached to and causes it to bubble off. Doing it that way might allow the paint to be remove without removing the paint. I think the device goes for ~$600 so depends on your budget but I'd setup a test and do what you think happened in the room. There are likely more expensive options that would also work - what kind of budget did you have in mind?

https://eco-strip.com is the one I've seen used to good effect on exterior wood siding.

Another option that is less straight forward is to do a thermal image of the wall and take advantage of the difference between graphite and the paint. Assuming the paint was non leaded paint it might be possible to heat up the wall and use a thermal camera to see the difference between the graphite and the paint and thus read the pencil marks. I am not sure on how sensitive the thermal camera would need to be. I'd probably start by renting the most sensitive thermal camera and doing tests on drywall with pencil marks to see what temperature they are distinguished with zero paint and then painting over them and seeing if you can still distinguish the marks.

Certainly laboratories are able to do this kind of work with super expensive lab gear, spectral imaging, etc. The scrolls of herculaneum is probably the most sophisticated attempt going.

Photoacoustic microscopy can "reveal clearly the presence of pencil sketch lines coated over by several paint layers, exceeding 0.5mm in thickness". Another lab example but it definitely shows it can be done.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5429688

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  • Thanks for your response, my budget is pretty flexible and if it works, I don't mind paying the money. It would be great to hear what other options you might have in mind, thanks!
    – user321627
    Sep 11 '20 at 9:17

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