Art of Gilding
art of gilding has never, to my knowledge, been fully explained.
The language used by the professional gilder is worlds apart
from that used by the layman. Also it is one of the hardest
jobs an inexperienced hand can undertake. It is an awful lot
of fun, though, especially when you do finally get a carving
gilded and look at it in awe and wonderment at your handiwork.
I will try to describe, as best I can, the steps I take to gild
New Home Smart-Saw Does The Work of 10 Professional Woodworkers... Click
carving being completed, I apply two coats of white lead and
oil paint. I mix this myself out of ground white lead, raw linseed
oil, some turpentine, and some japan dryer. The consistency
is about that of medium cream. It should be very thoroughly
stirred. The stirring blends the lead pigments with the vehicles.
I think the more it is stirred, the better it flows. Allow at
least two days between coats for dryinglonger if the weather
is humid. Usually, not always, the proportion of oil, turpentine,
and dryer are given on the can of white lead. (I buy it in 5-pound
lots.) If not, then write the manufacturer for these. He will
be glad to send you any information he has on this matter.
the second coat has set and is hard to the touch (usually three
to four days), I apply a slow-set oil gilding size. This can
be made at home, but I have found that Hastings and Company's
size is extremely good and very consistent. I apply the gilding
size in such manner that there are no skips ("holidays"
to the initiate) and usually do the sizing about four o'clock
in the afternoon. It takes about eighteen hours for the gilder's
size to set up to a suitable tack. Tack, in this case, means
the degree of stickiness. It is hard to define or explain.
nearest I can come is to say that it is the degree of stickiness
that, when you touch it with your knuckle, there is a distinct
feeling of the size pulling at the flesh yet not coming off
the stock onto your finger. When it has reached this degree
of tack you are ready to apply the gold leaf. Gold leaf comes
in books. There are twenty-five books in a pack. The leaf is
supplied in either the "Board" or "Mounted"
leaf. In the mounted leaf, the gold is adhered lightly to a
thin tissue separator. It is used primarily for gilding on glass.
Unmounted or "Board" leaf is, as its name implies,
not mounted on tissue. The separators are rouged to prevent
the leaf from adhering to them. The trick is to get the leaf
off the rouged paper and onto the carving without having it
fold out of shape. Mind you, this leaf is only two ten-thousandths
of an inch thick.
must be done in a room where there are no drafts and where the
probability of a door being suddenly opened is reduced to the
irreducible minimum or else the draft will take charge and "there
goes sixpence." To lift gold leaf from the book, use a
fine camel's-hair, a red badger or a squirrel hair brush. I
use a red badger brush one inch wide. It costs about $15.00
and is worth its weight in gold. I have tried gilder's tips
without much luck, perhaps because I am in the habit of using
the brush described.
the brush across your hair, if you aren't bald. If you are,
I don't know what you do, but in this case try a bit of velvet.
What you are trying to do is to charge the bristles with static
electricity. Then expose the sheet of gold by folding back the
cover and pages of the book in such a way that the whole piece
of the leaf is exposed on the rouged separator. Very carefully
(and be sure that your hand is steady) place the brush against
the edge of the leaf, lift with a slight circular twist and,
again with care, float the suspended leaf onto the face of the
sized carving. It cannot be moved once it touches the tack.
is a suggestion. Try all these steps on a practice piece. Plan
to waste four or five books of gold leaf in the process of learning
the trick. After all, you are spending a rather small sum to
learn a new and, to me at least, fascinating part of the business.
When I started to gild, I didn't know any more about it than
a Hottentot. I spent three days, and I forget how much leaf,
trying to learn some of the tricks of the trade. A very gifted
sign painter was in the shop not long ago and saw one of my
carvings that I had just gilded. He looked at it and, turning
around, offered me a job doing all his gilding. Now, that could
have been a line or he really meant it. I didn't press the pointnor
am I gilding his lilies.
final step in gilding is to brush all the fractured leaf back
onto the face of the carving, using the one-inch brush. Keep
it moving about the surface to be sure that no voids are left;
that is, no places where you didn't get the leaf on exactly
as you wanted it. These skips or voids can be touched up later
by reapplying the size to the spots and regilding. Several days,
perhaps four, after the gilding has been done (the time lapse
is to be sure that the gilding size has made its final set and
that it has hardened under the gold leaf), burnish the face
of the gold with a piece of silk velvet. A piece about 8 inches
square is large enough. This can be done with surgical absorbent
cotton. Surgical cotton is sure to be free of any foreign matter
that might scratch the gold. Do this burnishing very carefully.
Don't rub, pass the velvet or cotton pad gently across the surface
in the same direction. This process brings the gold up to a
feel reasonably sure that if you were to write Hastings and
Company * for instructions they would be only too glad to send
them to you. I didn't think of that when I "lessoned myself."
There I think I was really stupid. And on some other scores
as well. If any carving which you have made is to be used out
of doors, the back of the carving has to be protected from the
weather as well as the face of the carving. Three coats of white
lead and oil paint should provide this protection for some while.
Gesso provides a smooth, firm white surface as a base for bright
gilding and polychrome work on a carving. It is especially recommended
for carvings made of pine. Errors or small fractures can be
modeled up and gesso is good insurance that sap spots will not
bleed through the applied finish. Gesso is a mixture of animal
glue, whiting, and water. It can be prepared by heating water
in a double boiler, dissolving the glue in the water with occasional
stirring, and heating thoroughly. A double boiler must be used,
since no glue solution should ever be boiled, overheated, or
scorched. Add whiting to the hot glue solution until a thin
cream consistency is obtained. I use 3 parts glue to 12 parts
water by volume, and 5 parts whiting.
gesso thinly with a brush, in several layers, being careful
to use a hot solution. Let each layer dry thoroughly. Enough
layers of gesso must be put on the wood so that the final, dried
coating can be sandpapered to a smooth finish, free from brushmarks,
without the sandpaper going through and exposing the wood. Air
bubbles in the first coat should be removed by stroking with
your fingertips. Subsequent coats will conceal any fingermarks.