Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Superyacht Invictus

Superyacht, a term often used now for a commercially operated luxury yacht where one may find marble floors, spiral staircases - or, if you prefer - an elevator. And in this case, 900 feet of 23kt traditionally water gilded moulding.  

2013 saw the completion of Invictus, a yacht built by Delta Marine in Seattle who contracted me to gild the interior of the Executive Office on the top floor of this magnificent 215 foot ship.

When I first met with Delta and the Diane Johnson Design team, we reviewed the plans for gilded mouldings that would later be fitted into routed grooves (see photo below) along with cove and floorboard mouldings that would combine gilding and black catalyzed varnish. 

Superyacht Invictus
The presentation of various samples of gold leaf gilded mouldings resulted in a choice for water gilding due to its elegance and ability to balance the requirements of a hint of brilliancy against an aged appearance with a rubbed leaf over a dark, earth-red ground. The hermetically sealed design of the ship, of which I was informed is better than one's home, would provide a suitable environment for the gesso-based gilding.

The final design plan was to use water gilded 23kt gold leaf, burnished over a custom-mixed dark red bole consisting of 50/50 German Red and Black clay. The leaf would be rubbed to expose the dark red bole and then toned with an umber-tinted Ruby shellac.

As for challenges, there are always difficulties with a large scale project that need to be confronted and resolved. In this case one of the larger issues was that the mouldings to be fitted into the wall panelings measured only a quarter inch wide and were joined at the mitres like picture frames so the mitre cuts wouldn't show. Unfortunately, once hydrated, the frames bowed in the middle causing some of the corners to pop open - I would sometimes actually hear them snap from across the room! - so the handling of these delicate mouldings proved very difficult, especially during burnishing. As the wall panelings were already meticulously painted the gilding needed to be done separately and the mouldings inserted. 

Finished Moulding 
Applying weights on the corners of the frames after any hydrating helped stabilize them and after many hours all the various sized frames were finally gilded, toned, and installed successfully.

One of the aesthetic challenges was that some of the gilding was accomplished in the studio, some onsite in the manufacturers's workspace - the size of a small airplane hangar - and also onsite on the yacht itself in a separate hangar amongst the wiring, cables, woodworking, and painting of the yacht builders. The goal was to maintain a consistent antique color tone on all 900 feet of moulding, executed under three separate lighting conditions while also envisioning how the appearance may change once the ship was launched where the lighting would change once again under natural conditions. The only true approach to this is to maintain awareness, make sure the toning recipe and application is consistent, and to not go too dark on the tone - it's always easier to make something a bit darker later than lighter.

In the end, the look of the water gilded gold leaf set against the deep, dark black elegance of the varnished walls and cabinetry was quite stunning. Several studio assistants were on hand to contribute their skills throughout this year long project: Madeline, Heather, Alyssa, and with a special thank you to Swedish Gilder and Restorer Malin Isaksson who flew many miles to be involved and lend her assistance. (To view some of Malin's work visit the website at the Stockholm Furniture Fair.) 

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