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Gilding: An Overview
Here's is an overview of the techniques and materials used in gilding. You may also wish to view the Gilding FAQS for additional information.
Where is Gilding found?
Gilding is the application of thin sheets of beaten metal (usually gold) to a solid surface as a means of surface decoration. Gilding is commonly seen on decorative items such as picture frames, mirrors and furniture. In addition, Artists have used gilding techniques in the creation of Fine Art. Gilding has been used in the religious and secular arts for several centuries, examples including Iconography, Illuminated Manuscripts and Verre Eglomise or reverse gilding and painting on glass. Architectural gilding, which also has long standing historic roots, can been seen on the exteriors and the interiors of churches and governmental buildings. Often times, architectural gilding can be found in lobbies and public spaces of commercial buildings such as hotels and corporate head quarters. Sign Gilding is another discipline within the Gilding Arts. Sign makers will create gilded signs for exterior and interior applications. Often Sign makers will apply gold leaf to the interior surface of glass for lettering and other decorative commercial applications.
The two primary methods of gilding --water gilding and oil gilding-- are described below.
Do Gilders use special tools?
The gilding process requires a specialized set of tools and materials:
- Gilder's pad and knife, for handling and cutting leaf.
- Gilder's tip, a flat brush-like implement for transferring leaf from the pad to the object being gilded. Tips are available in various widths.
- Burnishers - tools with polished agate (or other stone) tips for rubbing the leaf to develop a highly polished surface. Four burnishers are shown below, together with two "mops" --brushes for tamping and brushing away excess leaf.
What is Water Gilding?
Of the two types of gilding, water gilding is the only method of applying gold leaf that allows the surface to be burnished which provides the highly reflectivity. Water gilding is only used for interior applications and is most frequently used on frames, furniture and objects.
Preparation of the surface for water gilding is as follows and is then illustrated in the image below:
Glue size is applied to the wood.
Numerous coats of gesso are applied, sanded and polished.
Several coats of gilder's clay (bole) is applied and polished.
Gold leaf is then applied using gilder's liquor which activates the glue present in the bole and gesso.
At this point, the leaf may be left as is, providing a matte appearance, or may be burnished with the polished agate. In order to further accentuate the burnished surfaces some areas of the gilding are left matte.
What is Oil Gilding?
Oil gilding or Mordant gilding requires that the surface be completely sealed and then a size ( oil varnish or acrylic) is applied. After a period of time the size comes to tack. At that point the gold leaf is laid on the tacky surface This technique does not allow the leaf to be burnished, and thus does not provide the brilliant finish of water gilding. Oil gilding allows gilding on a wider variety of surfaces than water gilding, and is the technique used for exterior gilding projects such as signs and architectural gilding.
Now that you have an understanding of basic gilding technique, you may want to learn more about the following gilding specialties:
- Manuscript Illumination
- Verre Eglomise
- Sign Lettering
- Restoration and Conservation
- Fine Art Gilding
- Frames, furniture and objects