Gilding 101

Nothing fills me with joy as much as the look of genuine gold on a smooth panel waiting to be burnished or embossed….the potential of the gilded surface before the paint is even thought about….So, I thought I would introduce you to a little lesson in gilding.

Lots of words and a few pictures – at a later date, I’ll produce some more thorough video demonstrations, but for now – with just me and my camera phone – I’ll fill you in on the basics…

I’ve done a fair bit of gilding in my time – it is such a satisfying process, but equally frustrating! People assume it is a difficult process, but its elements are surprisingly simple – you need patience, a steady hand and the capacity to hold a good lungful of air!

But first, you do need a fair bit of kit….Below:

Top Left: A gilding cushion and special knife and ‘Double’ thick 23 ct gold.

Top Right: Home-made water size (made from a pinch of rabbit skin glue, water and very strong alcohol), a designated size brush, a traditional gilding tip (for larger areas of gilding) and a smaller soft brush for lifting small pieces of gold.

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Bottom Row: Cutting the sheet of gold leaf into small squares, and lifting the gold with a soft brush.

I use ready made blocks made of plywood braced on the back – I then hand prepare these with gesso (rabbit skin glue mixed with whiting), sand smooth, prepare the clay bole (a red clay softened with water and mixed with rabbit skin glue) and layer it on in the areas I wish to gild – another blog post in the future methinks!

Great care must be taken when gilding as the sheet metal is very thin and light and will fly away if there is a draught or even a breath in its direction! One needs to prepare with a great deal of calm before undertaking such a task…

The bole is then sanded perfectly smooth and the water size is applied liberally over part of the area. I lift the small squares of gold with a soft brush (having brushed it over the edge of my nose to pick up a bit of grease!) It is then laid as quickly and as flat as possible without the brush touching the wet surface. The gold is then ‘sucked’ onto the panel.

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It tends to look a bit ragged as I overlay some of the edges, but it flattens as it dries.

Here is a small video of laying the gold:

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The next stage would be to brush of the excess gold, repair any faults and burnish as required…..

I’ve worked with silver, palladium and platinum leaf, but gold will always be my favourite – the depth, warmth and beauty, the endless possibilities for embossing, engraving and mark making on the surface, the sumptuousness, glow and elegance….

Much more to see soon…..

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Caroline Rudge

I'm Caroline Rudge, an artist living and working in Wiltshire, UK. I specialise in the beautiful and ancient medium of Egg Tempera.

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