Monday, December 17, 2007

Single Gilding vs. Double Gilding

An object that is double gilded has two layers of gold leaf laid, one atop of the other. This is normally done with the traditional water gilding process and imparts a very deep, golden tone that is generally free from defects in the gilding. Water gilded leaf has a satin tone in its natural state; burnishing the gold or silver leaf brings the metal to a brilliant lustre.

When water gilded leaf is left satin, it's left un-burnished. This means that the leaf not only has a satin tone but is also not compressed against the wooden object, such as a picture frame, and therefore bonding of the leaf to the gessoed wood is somewhat more vulnerable to wear. It has historically always been this way and old gilded frames and furniture that has unburnished satin areas will likely show more wear than its burnished counterparts. Therefore, I often use additional RSG (glue) in the gilding water to aid in adhesion and sometimes apply a 5:1 RSG:Water wash over the satin leaf for added protection.

Single layer gilding usually results in some anomalies ('spots' exposing underlying clay bole from pin holes; air holes or breaks in the leaf) during the process of water gilding, many of which can be covered during spot gilding, although if done excessively the result can be unsightly. Double gilding covers all the anomalies that single gilding sometimes leaves behind and is useful when gilding satin areas. It offers a very solid layer of gold leaf.

There are times, though, that the somewhat translucent quality of single gilding is preferred when developing a satin section, especially when other areas of the gilded object are rubbed, abraded, or distressed. As an example, a picture frame that is antiqued to some degree can be somewhat jarring if the sides are a strong solid double gild. It is often aesthetically best if the overall appearance of the gilding presents a sympathetic quality between each of the sections, where no one area is dramatically different in its condition.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

What is Acrylic Emulsion Gilding?

The process of gilding wood involves the use of either of two methods: traditional water gilding and oil gilding. Sometimes the two methods are combined on the same object for different effects. However, if we oil gild with an oil size, what are we doing then when we gild with a water based acrylic emulsion? Good question!

The modern day acrylic emulsions for use in gilding - Wunda Size or other such products - are water based but are certainly not to be confused with traditional water gilding, a centuries old, complex and beautiful method of gilding with genuine gold leaf. Since acrylic emulsion sizes are not oil based they cannot be categorized as oil gilding. So what are they?

Oil gilding uses a linseed oil-based varnish-like medium which we call oil size. The term size implies an adhesive. Oil sizes are referred to according to their drying times: slow size and quick size. Within these two parameters there are actually a number of different drying times available - usually 1 hour, 3 hour, and 12 hour. The hour designation refers to the approximate length of time it takes for the size to reach the appropriate tack window needed to begin gilding. This window of time, where the size is just tacky enough that when you draw your bare knuckle across the oiled surface you hear a squeak, eventually closes to the point where the oil will no longer adhere the leaf to the surface.

A slow dry size, a term that is reserved for the 12 hour version, has the longest open window of any of the oil sizes and has the greatest leveling properties. It takes a fairly long time to reach the window when one can begin gilding - approximately 12 to 17 hours - and remains open for quite some time after that, perhaps 36 hours or more depending upon weather conditions. Lefranc slow dry is preferred by many gilders and a new lead-free version is now available in the 12 hour version only.

A quick size comes to tack quickly but will leave its window quickly as well. It usually stays tacky enough, however, to do a small job nicely. I often mix a slow and a fast dry Rolco brand size at a 50:50 ratio to gain greater control over the drying times.

So with all this talk about oil size, where are we with acrylic emulsions? After applying the emulsion size to the surface, it behaves like oil in that it needs to have time to set up and a window that eventually (emphasis on eventually!) closes. But it's not oil gilding. It's water-based but it's not water gilding.

The explanation is actually quite easy. There is an umbrella term that covers both oil gilding and acrylic emulsions: Mordant Gilding. A mordant is an adhesive medium that is used as a binder for gold leaf as well as silver and other metal leafs. In fact, oil size and acrylic emulsions are only two mordants; historically, a variety of binders, or mordants, have been used in gilding including garlic, glair (egg white), gum ammoniac, and tragacanth.

The new acrylic emulsions have some positives and negatives. They are water-based, therefore clean up easily with soap and water allowing you to avoid the somewhat messy mineral spirits and gummy residue associated with oil size. However, oil size, especially the slow dry, is nicely self-leveling, whereby an acrylic emulsion essentially lays the same way that it's brushed onto the surface; it just sort of lays there, so you need to finesse it carefully by feathering it out. But the acrylics can be gilded after about fifteen minutes or as long as thirty-six hours. I tested a piece recently and gilded a board after the emulsion size had dried for thirty-six hours and it gilded very well with great retention. I wouldn't be surprised if the window stayed open for a week, which isn't actually a plus unless you're gilding some very large walls!

The one thing that bothers me about the acrylic emulsion are the brush marks left in the size since it isn't self-leveling. But it's certainly worth working with if you have a good touch and are good with a brush. Be careful though on the type of project you use it on because it never seems to ever really dry. If it's not a piece that's going to be handled and is given a light shellac coat, then by all means try it and see if you can use it in your own work.

For those of you interested in exploring oil sizes further, visit The late Rick Glawson, a gilding colleague, was always full of helpful gilding wisdom.

See you next time...


Friday, July 27, 2007

Some Thoughts on Gilding...

...Some years ago I was told by a reputable source that true Armerian Bole could no longer be had. The bole we often use today is German or french primarily but Armenian bole - ah, there's something special. Well, after 15 or so years I find out from a Russian gilder that Armenian Bole is not only available but he ordered some for me from his supplier! I'll report back here when I get it and let you know how it appears, feels, smells and, of course, how it burnishes.

Helping another colleague edit her upcoming book on gilding. Need to keep things under wraps for the moment but look for something along the lines of verre eglomise. This should be good...

Venturing forth into architectural gilding, a somewhat different approach to the requirements of gilding and restoring picture frames but the same techniques. Required samples are different. Instead of rabbet sizes to measure there's blueprints. Next month I'll be gilding some custom moulding around the ceiling in a powder room, water gilding with 12k white gold to provide a segue between the black granite walls and the ceiling. Perhaps I can post a photo here when done.

Technically speaking for those of you interested, I've found an attractiveness to the use of Italian rabbit skin glue when preparing bole for water gilding. It seems softer than the German pebble which I have used for years. I am also finding hide glue to offer quite a brilliant burnish. Sometimes early tests like these show promise in the beginning and peter-out as time goes by. Something else for me to report back to you about after using these materials a little longer.

Decided to offer once again the two-day traditional water gilding class for people who wish to immerse themselves in the craft for a full weekend but may not need to do it for three days. Its been a popular format in the past and trust that it will meet the needs of students on a tight schedule but passionate nonetheless. Stay tuned to the class schedule at for dates and times. The next workshop is August 25 & 26.

More to come...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Gilding Thoughts for Today

As editor of The Gilder's Tip, the International Journal of the Society of Gilders, I get to correspond with some pretty interesting people in the gilding field. The issue we're working on now doesn't go out to members until January, 2008 - but time does fly. In it will be a wonderful article by a gilder in Chicago who specializes in the water gilding of harps and a paper by Jerry Tresser on a qualitative study of Cennini concerning slaked plaster.

The journal currently only goes to members so if you're interested, better sign up as a member with the SOG. Our 20th year anniversary is next year so there will be a special Summer '08 edition, just before our next gilding event at the Smithsonian next Fall! ~

Meanwhile, I am going to re-introduce my special two-day traditional water gilding class to be held at my new studio location in Green Lake at the northeast end of Seattle. It's an intensive two days, exploring all 12 steps of the water gilding process for frames, furniture, and decorative elements. I'd also like to incorporate an after class trip to the new Seattle Art Museum to view the Italian gilded frame collection. So, keep your eye on the schedule.

Today's gilding tip: always think through your projects slowly and carefully before applying materials and quoting prices. It's a complicated craft so you want to make sure you give yourself the best chance for success by taking your time and considering all the angles, reviewing samples, getting as much info up front as possible. I've gilded many different objects over the last twenty some-odd years - from glass doors and metal domes to 17th c sconces and early American frames. Each object has a story to tell and brings it's own challenges. Take your time when time allows.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Use of Fabric to Reinforce Gesso

Sometimes referred to as interlaggio, the application of a fabric, preferably linen, to a surface to be watergilded during the initial sizing (glue/sealing) stage can help prevent the subsequent gesso from developing crack mechanisms. I've usually rummaged through piles of fabric until I've found something fine and with a fairly open weave but I've decided recently to actually choose a fabric specifically for this purpose and standardize this part of my operation for gessoing and gilding large surfaces where gesso cracking is more likely.

I never knew there were so many forms of linen, some of it quite costly. But I did find something from a distributor called Rag Finders but when I returned to the fabric store today to buy more there wasn't any left in stock. I also learned that different types of linens are purchased frequently so it may be difficult to buy the same exact linen every time. So, I guess if you find something you really like, buy a lot.

I have found that when water gilding large flat surfaces, the gesso can have a tendency to develop hairline cracks. Fabric has been used for centuries for reinforcement of gesso and plaster surfaces and can help minimize or prevent these cracks from occurring. During the first step of water gilding - applying hot size (glue) to the wood surface - I like to size the front (and back if applicable) and let it dry and then apply another coat of glue to adhere the fabric. Saturate the wood surface with size, lay the linen on top and apply additional size to the top of the fabric, virtually saturating it. Make sure the linen lies flat across the wood while smoothing out the wrinkles with your fingers. Some people prefer to actually soak the fabric in the glue itself before applying it to the wood. After the glue dries after 24 hours, trim any loose ends of the fabric and gesso as normal.

Historically, the use of fabric between the sized surface and the gesso has also been used on metal before gilding. There is some evidence of this from early Egyptian gilding although it's a method most suitable to porous wood. The fabric will help the gesso to adhere to a non-porous surface but it will likely not be as long lasting as when done on wood.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Gilding Workshops and Demos

Just finished two more gilding demonstrations at Daniel Smith Fine Art Materials in Bellevue, WA today. That's four in the last couple of weeks. Met some great folks and had a few questions that I couldn't quite answer off the top of my head so I need to research some things... keeps me on my toes. So to all of you who came: thanks for coming! Drop me a note to say hi...

Tomorrow begins a journey to Texas. A true father and son adventure. I'm thinking of ringing up Society of Gilders members as we pass through their states and towns, just to send my greetings. In an SOG state of mind I guess since I completed the compilation tonight of all the gilding articles and photos for the next issue of our journal and sent it off to our publisher in Nashville. This will be a good issue; I especially enjoy the article on conservation of French gilded furniture by Cynthia Moyer who is currently working on a project for the Met.

Meanwhile, the question of the week seems to be: What type of size should be used for gilding on paper? Well, a number of mediums have been used over the centuries. Gum Ammoniac for one. Gum Arabic. Glair. People have even been using Elmer's glue at a 50:50 ratio, glue:water. Let it tack up and apply the leaf. I like glair myself. Pour the white of an egg into a bole, pour in enough distilled water that is equal to half an egg shell and beat it. Let it sit overnight and strain off the fuzz the next morning. Dilute if necessary and use this medium to first seal the paper, let it dry and apply again. Lay genuine gold leaf to the wet glair and let dry. It gets more involved than this but this should give you a start.

Back in a week!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Slow to show an entry this week since I've been putting the final hours into the upcoming edition of the journal for the society of gilders, The Gilder's Tip. As senior editor of this wonderful little publication it allows me to explore in depth various pockets of gilding information throughout the world and forces me to keep prying back the layers of mystery, myth, and mis-information concerning the gilding arts. ~

Tomorrow is delivery day for two 19th c frames which I've had the opportunity to work on these past six months. They'll be glad to see me go. All in all we spent over 120 hours on them. Finely carved water gilded pieces, they have gone through repair attempts in the past. Many areas where there were once carved wood decorative elements now showed dried, brown, putty compound. We removed all those sections which had also been covered in bronze paint; we re-carved the missing elements in wood and water gilded each one to blend with the rest of the frame. Numerous areas were consolidated with 5:1 water to RSG at 10% to help stabilize the flaking gesso. A light shellac coating was applied as a barrier between the existing gilding and the light raw umber casein wash applied to patinate the new gilding and to allow it to segue into the old gilding, essentially marrying the finish. A very basic approach but one that works well.

Will be back...Charles

Tomorrow I'll take the photos and will post one here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Gilding Demonstrations in Seattle

Yesterday was demonstration day at Daniel Smith Fine Artists supplies in Seattle. Always good to get away from the gilding dungeon and visit other folks interested in this craft. Some really great questions popped up and although I usually pride myself on having answers there's always a couple that leave me stumped, such as whether certain clay boles have colors added to them or are the colors - such as Green and Amalfi Blue - naturally occurring? Or, what's the best resist to use when gilding a surface within a specific section that is surrounded by an acrylic paint design to prevent any leaf from sticking in unwanted places? Talc has been effectively used, as has potato, or perhaps a contemporary mask. Either way, off for more research to find out. Maybe someone will actually weigh-in here before I do!

Sunday June 10 at 12pm and 2pm will be another demo day, this time at the Bellevue Daniel Smith store. A nice way to spend a few hours and this doesn't happen often since I teach in my Green Lake gilding studio primarily. So stop by, for those of you in the area.

Back soon...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Blue Bole for Water Gilding

Something new: Amalfi blue bole. For the uninitiated, clay bole is the undercoat used in traditional water gilding. Water gilding allows the gold leaf to be burnished to a brilliant lustre and as a method that has been traced back to at least 3,000 BC, little has changed in its' preparation. A protein binder (size, such as rabbit skin glue) is applied to wood to seal the surface and provide for proper adhesion of gesso. The binder is then mixed with water and a filler, usually calcium carbonate, to make the gesso. When dry, the gesso is sanded or water-polished. After this the bole and size mixture is applied.

As gold leaf is somewhat translucent, the color of the bole will affect the look of the leaf, especially if and when the leaf is abraded, either intentionally or through natural wear over time. Amalfi blue is fairly light with an almost aqua tone. It looks quite nice with a 22 or 23k leaf as well as 12k white gold.
One problem with blue bole in the past was its interaction with genuine silver leaf or with the silver present in white gold, eventually discoloring the leaf। However, the manufacturing process for blue bole was changed in the last few years to eliminate the tarnishing effect. I do find that it's important to polish the bole well before gilding as it can dry somewhat stiff and gritty. Polishing then allows for a very smooth and attractive burnish.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Of Gilded Books and Walls

Just started reading a wonderful new book by Deborah Davis called The Secret Lives of Frames, the basis of an antique frame exhibit by Lowy's in New York. An extensive publication so it'll take a while to read it carefully through, the kind of book that's savored over time. I don't necessarily agree with everything written in the section on gilding but the documentation and photography of antique frames is excellent and quite beautiful. Similar in scope to Eli Wilner's The Gilded Edge.

Meanwhile, another day of sample prep for an interior architectural gilding project using oil gilded aluminum leaf. Optional tinting of umber and lampblack pigment in clear shellac. We'll see tomorrow what works. Keeping my hands going on an extensive restoration project consisting of two 19th c frames in serious disrepair. Also received a call for gilding the name of a ship on a book. There are two bookbinders back East I could recommend but the schedule is tight and NY is far away. I have something in mind that may work.

The next issue of The Gilder's Tip, the journal for the society of gilders, is due at the end of the month to the publisher. Articles on book edge gilding and the search for a home base for the society's inherited gold beating equipment from Swift & Sons. The SOG is a great organization for those interested in learning more about gilding.

2 am. Need rest before the architectural gilding meeting in the am. To be continued...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Today's tip...don't make gesso when you're tired. Unless you're like me where you absolutely have to because that's how you make your living. In that case, go s-l-o-w. Gesso making - in fact, all steps in traditional water gilding - are based upon certain concepts of balance. Balance of whiting to RSG (rabbit skin glue...yeah, I know), proportions in the RSG mixture - a 10% rule of thumb of which no one can seem to agree on how to determine 10%, but we'll save that for another time.

And what happens if materials are not in balance? The system breaks down. Gesso may delaminate from the wood surface, perhaps not until you've laid down the expensive 23k gold leaf and you're now just applying pressure from the burnisher only to find everything is coming off the surface. Very disheartening. But that kind of thing usually only happens once because you learn real quick.

So, if you're tired, it's easy to make mistakes, especially when weighing materials on a gram scale and other materials by metric volume. Just go slow and triple check yourself if necessary. Or better yet, wait until you're awake.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Medieval Gilding meets the Blog

With a new studio in the heart of Green Lake, one of Seattle's many districts, I thought I'd celebrate - with a blog to help stay in touch with new and old students and others that I meet - in life and online - who are keenly interested in the gilding arts.

It's only been about 20 years since the walls of secrecy surrounding this ancient craft started breaking down, mostly in the US. The society of gilders, formed in 1988 under the guidance of Bill Adair, was particularly responsible for peeling back these hidden and protective layers built around such techniques as traditional water gilding by gilders intent in protecting their livelihoods. There aren't many gilders today but there never were, and likely never will be. But today you'll find various workshops and classes in gold leaf gilding in its various forms popping up across the country. Something unheard-of when I trained in NY in the early 80's.

It's here then that I begin the journey of sharing some of what I've learned in the various aspects of this craft and the challenges that come up every day. Feel free to add your thoughts, ask a question, whatnot. Until then, to see some visuals visit my website at