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.