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