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The Art of Gilding

Any Amateur Can Make a Success of This Work Providing
He Follows the Instructions Given in This Article

By Ray Lewhite.

The art of gilding, or the applying of gold leaf is one that can be undertaken by the average handyman, provided he is willing to devote a little time to the job and learn from his mistakes. Perfect results may not be obtained at the first attempt, so the initial job should not be an important one. However, after a few attempts it will be found that quiet creditable work can be produced. Gold leaf as the name suggests, a very thin leaf of gold usually of 24 carat. The leaf is so thin that it is impossible to handle it, and this is one of the first things that the worker must learn. The leaf is never touched by the fingers because it would adhere to them. The leaves of gold are purchased in a book. and each leaf is held apart from its neighbour by protective tissue paper. The book is slightly larger than the gold leaf which measures three and a quarter inches square, and there are 25 leaves of gold in each book.


The Art of Gilding
The tools required by the gilder are simple and can be seen in Fig.2. The cushion (Fig.1) can be easily made as it consists of a hardwood base covered with a layer of cotton wool, and this in turn is covered with chamois leather. Drawing pins can be used to hold the leather in place and also the wind guard which is a piece of stiff paper. The tip consists of camel or badger hair fixed with an adhesive between two pieces of cardboard. The knife is best purchased as it has a special blade which has no sharp edge and is perfectly smooth. The handle is so balanced that when the knife is set down the blade will not touch the surface. A rough or dirty blade will not cut gold leaf. The brush sometimes known as a dabber or mop, can also be purchased. Another item is the pounce bag which is a piece of rag filled with french chalk and tied in the form of a small ball.

The Adhesive

The Art of Gilding
An adhesive is required to hold the gold in place and this is known as gold size. This can be obtained in two varieties. Oil gold size is perhaps the best as gold applied over it has a good lustre. The size requires thinning and this is done adding carriage varnish. This size should not be gilded upon until it is at least 24 hours old, and for this reason it is not always practical to use it. Japan size has a shorter drying time, sometimes to short. However, the addition of a little carriage varnish will extend the drying time.

Preparation and Sizing

The Art of Gilding
The surface to be gilded must be free from damp and grease. If it is painted the paint should be quiet firm and the same applies to a varnished surface. It may be that only part of the surface is to be gilded and this is where the pounce bag is used. The bag is dabbed over the area and the French chalk acts as a barrier, or in other words it masks off the part of the work were the gold is not required. However French chalk acts only on non-glossy surfaces, so a painted or varnished surface must be treated with Glair. This is easily made by mixing the white of one egg with a pint of warm water. This is applied to the work with a camel hair brush before the size is brushed on. Sizing is done when the Glair has dried and as large a brush as is practical is used for laying it. If a very small brush is used it will be found that the size is not perfectly flat and the ridges will be visible in the finished work.


The Art of Gilding
After the size has obtained the correct tackiness the gilding operation can be commenced. The cushion is placed on the workbench or table, and the book of gold leaf opened allowing one leaf to fall out on to the cushion just behind the wind guard. A second leaf is then allowed to fall out, and a third if the job is large enough. The leaves will fall in a crumpled heap, but this is quiet in order. If the leaves do not fall easily from the book it will be necessary to hold the book close to the fire to dry it out slightly. In Fig.1 you will see that there is a leather loop under the cushion, and at this stage the thumb on the left hand is placed through this allowing the cushion to be held in much the same manor as an artists palette. The blade of the knife is now placed under one of the leaves so that it can be lifted forward to the front part of the cushion. The leaf will still be crumpled to some extent but it must not be flattened by using the knife. Instead blow directly down on it and it will result in the leaf becoming quiet flat or, if not blown correctly it will float off across the room. If this happens the leaf must be recovered by using the knife and not the fingers. The lifting of the leaf and the blowing of it flat are two items that require practice.

Small Jobs

The Art of Gilding
For small jobs the leaf must be cut to size, and this is done with the knife which as previously stated, must be perfectly clean. The blade will be found to be very blunt and, in fact, the knife wears its through the leaf rather than actually cutting. When the leaf has been cut it is lifted by the tip and is carried to the job. The actual distance of carriage should only be a few inches, so the cushion is held as close to the work as is practical. The chances are that when the hairs of the tip touch the leaf it will be found that the leaf will not adhere to the tip as it should. To remedy this defect draw the tip lightly over the forehead and so moisten the hairs with the natural oil of the skin. The leaf is now lifted and placed on the size and the next piece of leaf transferred in the same manner. Each piece should overlap its neighbour by about one-eighth of an inch. When all the pieces have been placed on the sized surface they must be dabbed into place with the dabber. If the suface is fairly flat a piece of cotton wool can be used for this job, but if the surface is of the relief nature the dabber is necessary to work the leaf into all the openings. The next operation is the "skewing off" or removing of the surplus leaf. This is done with a small brush which is carefully worked over the job until all unwanted pieces of the leaf float away and fall. When this operation is in progress a careful watch should be kept for small areas which are uncovered, and such defects must be made good with small pieces of gold. Before burnishing the gold it is advisable to leave the work for as long a period as practical to ensure that the size is quiet hard. The gold can be easily burnished, but before this is done the surface must be washed down to remove the glair. A pad of cotton rubbed lightly over the gilded area will bring out the beauty of the gold, and after this treatment the work can be sized. The size used for this is made from parchment cuttings which are stewed in water. The resulting size must be strained through a piece of silk and allowed to cool. It is then applied to the work with a camel hair brush.

Transferred Gold

The Art of Gilding
A more simple method of applying gold leaf is to use transfer gold. This is similar to the usual gold leaf, except that each leaf is backed by a piece of tissue paper, slightly longer than the leaf itself. The surface is prepared in the same manner as previously described, but the gold is applied by taking the leaf by the extended tissue, placing it on the sized surface, gold side down, and rubbing the tissue back lightly with a small pad of cotton wool or the thumb. As the name suggests the gold is transferred from its paper backing to the sized surface. This method is very suitable for small jobs, but the results are not quiet equal to the "cushion and tip" method as the final lustre is not so brilliant.
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