Saturday, June 3, 2017

Gold Leaf Gilding for Works of Art on Canvas, Paper, and Panels...a Study for Fine Artists

23kt Gold Leaf Gilded Pastiglia with Red Bole
Student gilding water color paper

A particular new class that I've developed over the last few years, Gold Leaf Gilding for Works of Art on Canvas, Paper, and Panels...a Study for Fine Artists is, for me, one of the most intriguing and challenging both due to various mediums that artists use - oils, acrylics, water colors, and surfaces such as panels, canvas, paper - and perhaps even more, the individual approaches to artistic expression where gilding with gold or silver may be involved. 

Some of the most well-known examples come from artists such as Gustav Klimt of course but also those of more contemporary stature such as Brad Kunkle, Fred Wessel, Allessandra Maria among others. The use of gold leaf also extends back to 3rd - 7th century manuscript illuminations, 13th century Italian panel paintings, early Icon drawings, and to the exquisite Peruvian Cuzco School of painting where gilding played an integral and beautiful role known as brocateado de oro

Gilding, in essence, is the application of a metal to another surface. Gold leaf, silver leaf, white gold, palladium, and platinum as well as base metals such as copper, brass, and aluminum may all be gilded to a wide variety of surfaces using what we refer to as mordants or sizes which are adhesives ranging from protein binders to acrylic mediums. The practice of gilding involves several different methods depending up the surface and desired effect - traditional water gilding, mordant gilding of which oil gilding involves a prepared oil size, verre églomisé (reverse glass gilding), manuscript illumination (water gilding or the application of modern acrylic-based sizes such as miniatum from Kölner), and a contemporary version of water gilding from Kölner, a company based in Dresden, Germany.
Kölner Instacoll

The special luminosity of gold and silver leaf lends itself beautifully to certain works of art, whether as a background on panels where gesso incision and punchwork may be used to enhance a sense of brilliancy or complexity, or as slight embellishment to a painted canvas or the raised effect of gilded pastiglia on paper, literally dripped gesso as a relief which can then be water gilded.

Gold leaf gilding, however, remains a mystery to many, its options unknown, and the infiltration of quick-and-easy materials on the market may be confusing at best. In response to requests from Fine Artists I developed this class specifically for the artist seeking to incorporate gold leaf and other metals into their works of art.

One important skill which I teach in each of the gilding classes I offer is how to handle gold leaf which is as thin as .01 μm (4 millionths of an inch). This involves removing the leaf from the booklet, using the pad to lay the leaf to be cut with the gilder's knife, and using the tip, the delicate, flat fine-haired brush to lift the leaf from the pad to the surface.

During this one day workshop we work with a variety of mordants including oil size, Kölner's Instacoll, gum arabic, gum ammoniac, acrylic emulsion, clay bole, along with a summary of pastiglia and traditional water gilding. The idea is to educate the student with the many options available to them and the best approach to using the materials generally most suitable for use on canvas, paper, and panels. 
Oil Gilded Canvas Board, 23kt Gold Leaf

The Gold Leaf Gilding for Works of Art workshop is scheduled in several cities this year : June 13 in New York City at Sepp Leaf Products, Oct. 21 in Louisville, Kentucky at Art Sanctuary, and July 1, Aug. 5, Sept. 9, Nov. 4, and Dec. 30 at my studio at Gasworks Gallery in Seattle, WA.

For those interested in attending the New York class there are a few spots open. I am also proposing an informal afternoon gathering at 1:00 pm at the Neue Gallery to view some of Klimt's gilded paintings including a very special viewing of Adele Bloch-Bauer (Woman in Gold)! The website at the Neue Gallery states a reduced admission of $10, a great way to end the class that week! Registration for the gilding class can be found at Questions? Send me a note! Hope to see you!

~ Charles

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Announcing Gildingstudio YouTube Channel...

Interesting leading the Gilder's life sometimes. Working within the realm of a medieval craft the majority of my days while doing things like last night, setting up my YouTube Channel so I can share the various video clips I take when working on projects or feeling inspired to demonstrate a gilding method technique I find myself working on.  But there it is, modern life.

So, if anyone feels so inclined here's my Channel where I currently have five clips, from making gesso to burnishing leaf with more to come! I think I've amassed about 60 in my iPad to choose from :).

Enjoy - send me your thoughts - come to a class! Heading to New York Mid June to teach the Gilding for Fine Artists class and Traditional Water Gilding. Always fun!

Peace, health, and clarity,


Monday, May 15, 2017

New Gilding Class Updates!

Greetings! Listed below is a summary of gold leaf gilding classes offered this year in Seattle, New York City, and now Louisville, Kentucky! Additional classes in Seattle are offered monthly through December. Currently accepting Registrations for all classes, available on the website at (There is also a website link to receive the free email-based Gilding Arts Newsletter published quarterly which provides a 10% newsletter Member Discount for all classes!)

Questions? Email me at I always try to get back within 24 hours.

Hope to see you in class! ~ Charles

New York  City 
Location: Sepp Leaf Products

June 13, 2017: Gold Leaf Gilding for Works of Art on Canvas, Panels, and Paper...a Study for Fine Artists

June 14-16, 2017: Traditional Water Gilding
October 3, 2017: Kolner Contemporary Gilding Series: Instacoll Gilding System 

October 4-6, 2017: Traditional Water Gilding

Louisville, Kentucky New! 
Location: Art Sanctuary

October 21, 2017: Gold Leaf Gilding for Works of Art on Canvas, Panels, and Paper...a Study for Fine Artists

October 22, 2017: Special One Day Introduction to Traditional Water Gilding

Location: Gasworks Gallery

May 20, 2017: Glass Gilding: Creating White Gold Mirrors (Verre Eglomise)

June 3, 2017: Gold Leaf Gilding for Works of Art on Canvas, Panels, and Paper...a Study for Fine Artists

June 8-10, 2017: Traditional Water Gilding

June 24, 2017: Oil Gilding 

July 1, 2017: Gold Leaf Gilding for Works of Art on Canvas, Panels, and Paper...a Study for Fine Artists

July 13-15, 2017: Traditional Water Gilding


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gilding Class Announcements

Greetings All! For those inclined to jump in and explore this wonderful medieval craft there is still time to sign up for one or more classes before the year ends as well as a few already scheduled for January, 2017!

For Seattle we have:

November 17-19, 2016: 3-Day Traditional Water Gilding

December 3, 2016: Gold Leaf Gilding for Works of Art on Canvas, Panels, and Paper...a Study for Fine Artists

December 10-11, 2016: 2-Day Introduction to Traditional Water Gilding

January 12-14, 2017: 3-Day Traditional Water Gilding

January 20-21, 2017: Glass Gilding...the Foundation for verre eglomise

January 27-28, 2017: Introduction to Gold Leaf Restoration...mould casting, ingilding, gesso putty, crackle gesso!

Meanwhile, there will be classes taking place once again in New York City. Of special note is my participation in association with Sepp Leaf Products at Salon NYC 2017! This event which takes place April 13, 14, 15, 16, 2017 in New York is dedicated to the Decorative Arts and travels to a different city each year around the world. Stay tuned and plan to drop by the booth and say hello if you're in NY. Stay tuned for more details!

Meanwhile, to receive information on gilding classes, learn from an ongoing exploration of gilding techniques, and to find out what's going on in the Gildingworld , sign up for The Gilding Arts Newsletter published quarterly and delivered to your email. Beginning as an educational resource for students the newsletter is now sent to members in 15 different countries ~ join us!

Gilding Arts Newsletter

Peace and Clarity,



Sunday, September 4, 2016

Seeking the Meniscus...Measurements Used in Gilding.

Often students will ask during the Traditional Water Gilding class whether the measurement of materials should be by weight or volume when preparing rabbit skin glue size, gesso, and clay bole. I usually preface my answer by first pointing out that I prefer the metric form of measuring as I find it more exacting. 

When I switched many years ago from the US table of measurements to metric I performed a simple test: I measured by eye what appeared to be an ounce by volume of dry rabbit skin glue and then weighed it on a metric balance scale for comparison. Each time I performed the test the metric equivalent  was different. That was convincing enough for me to make the switch to metric; I needed to match samples of gilded picture frame finishes as closely as possible and since there are so many things that can go wrong in gilding it's best to control what can be controlled and that would include the measurement and freshness of materials. 

The question of whether to measure by volume or weight is a little more complicated. The equivalency of measuring materials by either of these two methods depends upon the material. Water may be measured either by weight or volume (1 ML of water = 1 gram). So which is better, to measure water by volume in a Graduate or weigh it on a metric scale? To answer this let me illustrate that in the past when I chose to weigh dry materials such as rabbit skin glue and whiting on a metric scale I measured water by volume in a Graduate, keeping the beaker as steady and even as possible for accuracy. However, I inadvertently discovered one day that a specific amount of water that I measured by sight of volume did not equal the same when weighed on the metric scale.

The reason for the discrepancy is due to what is called the meniscus which is the curve in the upper surface of the water in the Graduate. A meniscus may be either convex or concave depending upon the liquid and the surface material of the object containing the water. Water and the use of a glass beaker or plastic Graduate will produce a concave meniscus as shown in this photo of colored water in a burette, the proper reading being 20 ML:

What this means in practice for gilders is that the proper measurement of water requires viewing the surface of the water through the measuring container straight on so that the meniscus can be seen; it is the bottom of this curve that determines the proper measurement. As an example, if you are seeking to measure 50 ML of water make sure that the bottom of the curve is at the 50 ML mark.

To discover how much difference there might be by virtually 'eyeballing' a certain amount of water in a Graduate I tested measuring by volume 50 ML of water without specifically looking for the meniscus but still seeking a measurement that seemed fairly accurate. I then weighed this amount of water on a metric scale with a result of 41grams! When making small batches of rabbit skin glue size or bole mixtures this nearly 20% variance could prove quite drastic, partially because we run the risk of using a glue size that is stronger than we think.

What we can learn from this is that we need to seek the meniscus of water if choosing to measure by volume. Considering the chance for error, however, it is simpler and safer to weigh the water on a reliable metric scale.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Choosing Oil Size or Acrylic Emulsion?

Q. What would be the reason to choose either oil size or acrylic emulsion when using a method of gilding other than traditional water gilding?

A. Oil size and acrylic emulsion, sold under such names as Water Based Gilding Size, Aquasize, or Wunda Size, are a form of mordant gilding. Mordant gilding employs the use of an adhesive to adhere gold, silver, or imitation leafs to a prepared surface. Other mordants include gum tragacanth, gum ammoniac, gum arabic, garlic, and glair (beaten egg white).  

The use of oil size, a form of mordant gilding, is commonly referred to simply as oil gilding. It's a specially formulated varnish which produces a satin to semi-gloss tone in the leaf. It does not produce the high luster of traditional water gilding but it has an attractive appearance of its own. It offers a durable finish and is used for both interior and exterior gilding projects.  

Oil size is self-leveling whereby the oil tends to smooth out after it's brushed on thinly. It cleans up with mineral spirits and so is somewhat messy to work with so be prepared to use rubber gloves, spirits, and perhaps some acetone in the cleaning of your brushes.

Oil size comes in different drying times ranging from 3 hour to 24 hour. In practice however, once a can has been opened the drying time becomes shorter and shorter. It's best to open the can, stir the size to bring the driers to the surface, and pour some into another container for use on your project. This way you can close the can of oil size and preserve its life.

The water-based sizes are much cleaner to work with as they only need soap and water for cleanup; just make sure you clean your brush once you're done as the size will harden and will require acetone to remove the dried adhesive. One of the benefits of the acrylic emulsions is that once it's applied to a surface it will come to the proper tack in about 15 minutes and remain properly open to gild for about 36 hours. The drawback is that it never seems to quite dry. A clear coat after 24 hours can help protect the gilding from this effect.

Acrylic emulsions have a brighter appearance than oil size but do not have the brilliancy that you can only get from traditional water gilding nor does it share its almost magical tone and glow. As for which size to use, oil or water based, it's important to know that most any high quality project which is not water gilded uses an oil size. That said, acrylic emulsions can provide a gilding option that is both quick and much easier for the beginner.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

About Traditional Gesso: Part Two

Smoothing away pinholes in gesso

In our last installment of the water gilding process we discussed an overview of preparing gesso, its function in sealing the grain of wood and allowing the gold leaf to be burnished. It is also of great importance to understand the relationship between the strength of the binder (usually RSG - rabbit skin glue) and its relationship to the filler (whiting - calcium carbonate). If the glue strength goes much beyond the 10% solution, the possibility of crack mechanisms in the gesso increases; likewise, if the glue strength is too weak, gesso delamination from the wood surface could occur.

Once the proper gesso mixture has been prepared and at least 5-7 coats have been applied, the gesso is allowed to sit overnight to thoroughly dry. It is then ready for surface treatment to provide a smooth surface.

There are different ways to smooth gesso, the most common method today being sanding. I like using 3M Tri-M-Ite sandpaper as it holds up well and cuts through the gesso efficiently. Primarily, I use either 220 or 280 grit, depending on the surface and how aggressive the paper needs to be. As a rule of thumb I recommend using as fine a grit as possible while still being able to effectively smooth the surface. If the finer 280 grit works well there is no need to use the heavier coarse 220 grit which will leave heavier sand marks which will later need to be removed. If starting with the heavier 220 grit, follow-up with a light sanding of the 280 grit and a light, final dry polish with either 600 or 1,000 grit wet or dry paper.
There are other techniques that may be used to smooth gesso. Cennino Cennini discusses in his 15th century treatise Il Libro dell'Arte (The Craftsman's Handbook) the use of 'little hooks' and a spatula to scrape gesso smooth as well as the use of water polishing with a damp rag. The use of a method called re-cutting, prevalent during 17th century France and Italy, is still used today.

Other treatments to gesso for aesthetic affect include incising and punchwork which create texture and often elaborate surface decoration as a compliment to the gilded surface.