Thursday, 27 March 2014

Adventures in Gilding

As you may have surmised from my previous posts, I've been experimenting with goldwork on illumination, and perhaps, not too successful. I've made several attempts in trying to get the technique down, all with varying levels of failure until recently.

Having done my research in reading various online tutorials and referenced a few books, I set out to try gilding on parchment.In typical overambitious fashion, for my attempts I copied out two images - an acanthus leaf copied free hand from the G√∂ttingen Model Book, and a stylised pomegranate traced from Italian Renaissance Textile Designs. 

For the leaves I attempted to use the glair as size, while for the pomegranate I used diluted PVA as size, for comparison and contrast. I mixed each with a bit of red gouache, the idea there being it will make an almost colourless liquid easier to see on the page. The images below can be clicked to enlarge, but even in the smaller images, the cracking of the gold over its base layer is clear.

After consultation with a friendly local laurel, I found that glair is more often used to create pigments for painting than as a size. Right so, scratch that for any further gilding attempts. I had also picked up a commercial modern, but the attempt I tried with that seems to have grown it's own little legs and walked off, so I can't show it here. But trust me, it didn't work either.

On a household day Thora suggested I try just painting up the parchment I was using with gouache, to make sure it wasn't so permeable as to not be usable for my purposes at all. A couple of splashes later, and while the end product is quite matt, it had no troubles adhering either.

One of the vital steps in gilding is reactivating the size by breathing on it, and allowing the moisture in your breath to make the glue sticky again. Lack of humidity not really being an issue in Ireland, a part of my mind starting wondering if I should make sure I could still fog up a mirror by hawing on it, or if I'd suddenly become undead while I wasn't looking.

The gouache test confirmed, I moved on to trying my new garlic size, to see if that would work any better than the previous attempts. Go on guess. I bet you know the answer. Again you can see the crackling in the attempts to lay it out. At this point I was becoming very frustrated. It's one thing to get things not-quite-right as you learn, it's another to be following the instructions from a book and still fail. 

You might notice, as I went on, my practice pieces became smaller. Granted I probably should have started out small until I got the hang of it, but it says something for the state of my confidence. So, one more try I told myself, and this time I checked the method in one of Thora's books, and found something that none of the previous tutorials had mentioned - sealing the paper.

So on my last attempt of the evening I drew out a tiny leaf, painted it meticiously with garlic size and waited for the longest thirty minutes of my life. Time up, I repainted with size and waited for the new longest time of my life; a whole hour. I carefully reactivated, applied leaf in three layers, burnished oh-so-carefully, and voila! A tiny, but perfect little gilded leaf!

This was the overview of my attempts but when I next have the kit out, I'll make sure to take pictoral notes of all my steps, in the hopes that this might help someone else get started. 


  1. shellac would often be used to seal any surface before applying size