Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Big Man Arrives: Peace Man Stops by for Seattle Opening

The parcel water gilded, contemporary wood sculpture, otherwise known as Peace Man, made his debut at the Wright Exhibition Gallery in Seattle October 10, 2009. During the private opening party, Peace Man opened up his heart to be gilded in 22 kt gold leaf by a variety of exhibiting artists and guests secretly hoping to lay a little leaf. In exchange they became part of an interactive social experience where the art of gilding was simply the vehicle for human interaction. Extending the idea, I managed to gild the fingernails of a number of innocently surrendered hands, offering this somewhat formal gathering a slight twist, adding support to the idea that some things are ok if everyone else is doing it.
The concept of Peace Man began when I was approached by friend and colleague Paul Conrad to join him in a collaboration for this particular show presenting the work of a large number of Seattle-area artists who have been associated with Artech Fine Art Services throughout its long arts-related history. Paul's idea was to create a sculpture that could be gilded. Since anything can be gilded, options were pretty wide open.

Once Paul created the skeleton we knew he needed a name since we could see he was beginning to come to life. We named him
Peace Man. A response of sorts to the state of the world at the moment. Our way of interjecting something positive. It seemed the name that he wanted so we let it be and the finish was ready to follow. Taking a somewhat improvisational approach, we applied over the entire surface a traditional gesso consisting of a 10% rabbit skin glue solution, calcium carbonate, and water. This served to seal the surface and to allow later burnishing of the gold leaf. To add character, Paul created texture in the gesso by using a stipple technique and Pastiglia, a method of applying thick deposits of gesso for a raised gilding look. As the texture was purposefully rough only minimal sanding would be needed.

A red clay bole, mixed with the same 10% rabbit skin solution, was applied over the gesso, concentrating on the areas we knew we would be gilding since the idea was to use a 'parcel gilded' method, where we would apply gold leaf only to certain sections along Peace Man's body. Once the clay was applied it was polished by hand to smooth the ground, followed by the laying of gold leaf. In keeping with the International feel of our project I chose leaf from a variety of countries: England, Italy, China, France, and Germany in both 22 and 23k.

The leaf was burnished with an agate stone and shellaced for protection. The entire sculpture was then painted with black casein which was removed from the tops of the water gilded areas, allowing the gold to give the impression of coming through the black. We then mixed our own paint comprised simply of blonde dewaxed shellac and French Ultramarine Blue and Mars Violet pigments which covered all the areas as a glaze over the black casein, surrounding the bright, burnished water gilding. The heart, painted in red acrylic gesso atop Japanese Unryu paper adhered to a wire mesh screen, was given a coat of acrylic emulsion at the opening party which allowed for quick gilding by participants, resulting in a heart of gold.

Adjusting to his new life, Peace Man has asked to venture forth into the world, inspiring conversation and the touching of hands. How can we say no?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Gilding of a Wooden Sculpture

A gallery opening this week will be including an oil gilded silver leafed frame I did for a painting of Napolean by friend and colleague Paul Conrad (Napolean looks suspiciously like Paul himself, but that's another story). The show this weekend will also be presenting a recent sculpture that Paul and I collaborated on, a wood statue of sorts which we call Peace Man.

The statue is about 4 feet tall and was covered with pastiglia, a method of dripping gesso on to a surface to create raised areas that can then be water gilded. After Paul drooled this dripping gesso all over the surface we let it dry until we could cover those sections with red clay bole.

After the bole dried, I gilded each of these sections with various layers of gold leaf: 22.9k from France, 23k from China, 23k from Italy, 23k from England, and 22k from the US, representing some element of world cooperation. I would have liked to have used leaf from other countries as well but in this modern world, deadlines exist. But hopefully the germ of the idea will come through somehow.

Once the leaf was laid, it was burnished and then shellaced for protection. A black casein was then flowed over the entire sculpture, including the gold leaf, the reason for the protective shellac layer. The water soluable casein was then removed, revealing the bright gold leaf underneath. Once again, clear shellac, which I make from shellac flakes and ethyl alcohol, was coated over the casein to seal it.

For additional complexity, Paul and I sprinkled Mars Violet and French Ultramarine Blue pigment over the blackened surface which became a flurry of color as it was mixed with a final brushed-on coat of shellac.
The result: Peace Man

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Louis XIV: The man and the King...Exhibition at Chateau de Versailles

A first-time major exhibition dedicated to Louis XIV, the Sun King, to be shown at the Palace of Versailles October 20, 2009 to February 7, 2010. It is during the reign of Louis XIV that the practice of gold leaf gilding, most noteably water gilding, was refined to its most exquisite level. It is the period that many gilders and those who appreciate the gilding arts today refer to as the pinnacle of gilding, a place in time to aspire to.

For further reading concerning this exhibition and amazing period in both French and gilding history, visit the Chateau de Versailles website.

Upcoming Fall Traditional Water Gilding Workshop in Seattle: November 6, 7, 8, 2009. Visit for details and Registration.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gold Leaf Gilding Workshop

November 6, 7, 8, 2009
Washington State Convention Center

An Introduction to Traditional Water Gilding

This popular intensive workshop has been expanded to a 3-day course of study, introducing the student to the traditional method of water gilding. Students are guided through each of the steps including preparation of gesso and clay bole grounds, laying of genuine 23k gold leaf, burnishing, and toning. The oil gilding method will also be discussed as well as an overview of patination principles.

Handouts, including recipes, a bibliography of educational materials, and a supplier list will be provided. Each student will gild his or her own picture frame to take home. Traditional water gilding is designed for use on wood and may be used for such objects as frames, furniture, and architectural elements.

Workshop Fee: $650.00: includes a book of 23k gold leaf, materials, use of all gilding tools, a frame to gild and take home, and entrance to the nearby Seattle Art Museum for the class trip to view the Italian gilded frame collection
Register Early - Space is limited to 12 students per Session.

TO REGISTER: Visit: the Gold Leaf Gilding Classes section at
Gilding classes are held periodically throughout the year. Information concerning workshops and their locations are announced through this website. Please feel free to call or write if you have further questions or wish to inquire about the status of a particular workshop, to explore private instruction or to ask about arrangements for conducting a gilding workshop in your area.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Dutch Black Finish for Picture Frames

The predilection for frame finishes during 17th century Holland steered away from the opulence of the gold leaf gilded frames being produced at the time in France and Italy. Tastes tended more towards simpler, earthier tones as seen on the frames of Vermeer and Rembrandt and as shown below on Rembrandt's early self-portrait which hangs today at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Many of the early, ripple-style frames, however, were actually manufactured in countries such as Germany and Spain and thought of as 'Dutch' because of their extensive use in Holland.

Frames were often painted black in a form of ebonizing, due to the limited availability and cost of ebony. Considering the wide use of this approach the finish has come to be known in certain circles as Dutch Black.

The method used to achieve a deep, antique umber-black tone involves painting a custom blend of casein onto finely sanded wood which is sometimes burned with a torch for deeper colorization. Numerous layers of ruby shellac are brushed or padded on, depending on the shape of the frame profile, and hand-rubbed between each layer. The use of gilding combined with the Dutch Black finish is optional and can add an attractive, complex contrast, especially when silver or white gold is used.

For a somewhat deeper variation thee is a similar approach based on original techniques used in both America and Holland during the 17th and 18th centuries. This exquisite finish combines lampblack pigment and ruby shellac, best prepared fresh from shellac flakes and alcohol due to the short shelf-life of shellac. As many as ten coats are applied, each layer hand-rubbed. Early American cabinetmakers referred to this finish simply as Black Varnish.

The use of Dutch and Early American black frames offer an excellent choice on certain works of art such as portraits in oil as well as for mirror frames. The toning texture can be represented as a modern finish, smooth and free of distress, or enhanced with various antiqued effects, a vocabulary achieved through various means including the deposit of gray and umber pigments in crevices, washes, and rubbing-through to the wood on high points to signify age. Often, a simple and occasional rub-through to the wood and moderate distress provides the most attractive and sophisticated finish.

For those interested in experimenting with the casein-based Dutch Black finish the following steps should prove helpful:

1. Apply a diluted coat of shellac to the bare wood which helps raise the grain while holding the fibers stiff to facilitate sanding (a commercial brand of blonde shellac may be used if flakes and ethyl alcohol are not readily available)

2. Apply two (2) coats of Iddings black casein (one available source is Pacific Northwest Theatre Associates in Seattle –; sand between coats with low grit sandpaper or scotchbrite pad)

3. Apply 8-10 coats of thin shellac. Lightly sand between coats after the second coat.
4. Allow last shellac coat to dry a minimum of 24 hours.

5. Polish the frame with 0000 steel wool with a little water. Avoid using too much water as this will break through the shellac layer. In areas of desired rub-through, the steel wool and water is used to this effect but must be performed carefully. Also try polishing without the use of water for a more contemporary ‘look’.

6. For a final, higher luster, an optional 1 or 2 layers of shellac may be applied and dry buffed with 0000 steel wool without water. Rottenstone applied with cheesecloth and/or steel wool can marry the overall tonality while leaving a small amount of ‘aged dust’ in crevices. Distressing with chains or other objects may also be used along edges and surfaces but should be done with great care and kept to a minimum.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

24kt Gold Leaf on Glass: An experiment of the electrical properties of gilded glass

Occasionally I have requests from those conducting
scientific research about the prospect
of providing gilding on glass. However,
until recently, I didn’t know whether any of
the traditional binders would interfere with the
required electrical conductivity. I recently had the
opportunity to provide gilding of a large glass
beaker despite the unknown suitability of traditional
glass gilding techniques. The purpose of
my client’s experiment was to repeat in the laboratory
the process by which electricity produces
lightning and to demonstrate that when water
vapor condenses, the condensate is not neutral
but negatively charged.

The first requirement was that the leaf
be 24kt. I chose Manetti double weight purchased
through Sepp Leaf Products in New York.
Although gold leaf can be adhered with a variety
of binders including oil size or glair (egg white),
we chose gelatin dissolved in distilled water as
used in verre églomisé. The rationale for the
choice was that the residual binder remaining
on the glass would be minimized with the small
amount of gelatin used. I used four diamonds
of gelatin to 300ml distilled water.

The beaker needed to be gilded on the exterior
including the bottom with a 1.5" distance
from the edge of the leaf to the top edge of the
glass. I simply taped off a section of the beaker
1.5" from the edge and gilded the glass upside
down. For maximum coverage I double gilded
the glass to allow for a solid covering of gold.
After carefully packing the beaker with a layer
of Saran Wrap and a multitude of cotton balls,
bubble wrap, and packing peanuts, I sent the
beaker on its way and waited to hear the results
of my client’s project. Here is a brief description
of his experiment.

The electrical properties of the gilded beaker
were better than expected. The gold surface is
used to collect water condensate. Ice water is
put inside the beaker to make the gold surface
cold. Dew forms on the gold if there is enough
humidity. This allows the investigator to demonstrate
whether, when water vapor condenses, the
condensate is neutral or negatively charged.
As a gilder, the main finding of interest in this
experiment is that when electrical conductivity
is required, gelatin in distilled water is a successful
method of adhering gold leaf to glass.

(originally published in the Spring 2009 issue of The Gilder’s Tip, the International Journal of the Society of Gilders)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Model of Napoleon’s Coach Receives the Royal Treatment

In 1931 the General Motors International Craftsman’s Guild was established by the Fisher Body Division of General Motors to support youth craftsmanship. They sponsored a national Napoleonic Coach contest to build an exact working model to scale of Napoleon’s Royal Coach he and Princess Marie Louise of Austria rode in for their wedding.

Judges awarded the two best coach-makers in each state with an all expense paid trip to Detroit and $50 in each winner’s pocket. One of those First Place winners was 15 year old Emmett Day from Texas.

I was very pleased to meet Mr. Day in later years and to have the opportunity to gild this intricately assembled miniature replica, so painstakingly crafted from blueprints during his youth. Today this Coach resides in the President’s house at Mr. Day’s alma mater, Texas A&M University-Commerce.

The Coach had already been painted many years ago and therefore the oil gilding method was quickly decided upon with the choice of 24kt Manetti gold leaf. The existing painted surfaces still provided appropriate sealing of all wood surfaces so the oil size would rest on top of the surfaces to be gilded. Very small brushes were used to apply the size while equally small pieces of gold leaf were cut and used to decorate each element. Extreme care was needed to safely guard against staining any of the applied velvet cushions or brocade work with the oil size or shellac which was applied to the leaf to protect against minimal handling and to add warmth to the glow of the gold leaf.