The Gold Gilding Process

Let’s delve into the basic process of Gold Gilding (Or the application of Gold Leaf) onto picture frames or other substrates.

Gold gilding, also known as gold leafing or gold plating, is a decorative process that involves applying thin layers of gold to the surface of an object. This technique has been used for centuries to add a luxurious and eye-catching appearance to various items, including artwork, picture frames, statues, furniture, and architectural elements. Here’s a general overview of the gold gilding process:

  1. Preparation: The first step is to prepare the surface that will be gilded. It needs to be clean, smooth, and free from any dust, grease, or imperfections. Depending on the material, the surface may require sanding, polishing, or priming to ensure proper adhesion of the gold leaf.
  2. Adhesive Application: A special adhesive called “gilding size” is applied to the prepared surface. The gilding size can be made from different materials, such as water-based or oil-based adhesive solutions. It acts as a bonding agent to hold the gold leaf in place.
    Readymade ash floating frames with splined corners and a gold gilded (leafed) top edge trim
    Readymade ash floating frames with splined corners and a gold gilded (leafed) top edge trim

     

  3. Wait for Tackiness: After applying the gilding size, you need to wait for it to reach the correct level of tackiness. The timing is crucial, as it determines how well the gold leaf will adhere to the surface. The size should be sticky enough to hold the leaf but not so wet that it will cause the gold leaf to stick excessively.
  4. Gold Leaf Application: Gold leaf comes in very thin sheets, often made of pure gold or gold alloys. It is extremely delicate and can be easily damaged by the slightest touch. Using a gilder’s tip or a special brush, the gold leaf is carefully lifted and laid onto the tacky surface. The leaf is gently pressed and smoothed down to ensure it adheres properly to the adhesive.
  5. Burnishing: Once the gold leaf is applied, it may have some irregularities or slight wrinkles. To achieve a smooth and even surface, a process called burnishing is performed. Burnishing involves gently rubbing the surface with a soft, smooth object (such as an agate stone or burnishing tool) to make the gold leaf conform to the underlying surface and remove any imperfections.

    The Gold Gilding Process completed: Scott Dawsons standing next to one of Graham Reynolds latest Gold Gilded frame masterpieces for this Charles Blackman originals
    The Gold Gilding Process completed: Scott Dawsons standing next to one of Graham Reynolds latest Gold Gilded frame masterpieces for this Charles Blackman originals
  6. Sealing and Protection: To protect the gold leaf from tarnishing and damage, a sealer or varnish is often applied over the gilded surface. This also enhances the appearance of the gold and ensures its longevity.

Gold gilding requires a steady hand, patience, and precision, as working with gold leaf can be challenging due to its delicate nature. It is a skilled craft that has been mastered by artisans over centuries, creating beautiful and timeless works of art and decorative pieces.

 

Two corner samples of ornate period styled frames that have been Gold Gilded.
Two corner samples of ornate period styled frames that have been Gold Gilded.

 

The Gold Gilding Process completed: A Gold Gilded closed corner detail of a floaral oil painting.
The Gold Gilding Process completed: A Gold Gilded closed corner detail of a floaral oil painting.

 

In progress: The Gold Gilding Process: Scott Dawsons and Graham Reynolds discussing a new design for a gold gilded frame.
In progress: The Gold Gilding Process: Scott Dawsons and Graham Reynolds discussing a new design for a gold gilded frame.

 

In progress: The Gold Gilding Process: Graham Reynolds mentoring Scott on the Process of Gold Gilding.
In progress: The Gold Gilding Process: Graham Reynolds mentoring Scott on the Process of Gold Gilding.

 

In progress: The Gold Gilding Process: Scott practicing his gold leafing technique
In progress: The Gold Gilding Process: Scott practicing his gold leafing technique

 

Scott practicing his gold leafing technique / process
Scott practicing his gold leafing technique / process

There are several different types of gold gilding processes and techniques, each with its own unique characteristics and applications. Some of the most common types of gold gilding include:

  1. Water Gilding: Water gilding is a traditional and intricate method that involves using water-based adhesives (gilding size) to apply gold leaf. It requires multiple layers of gesso (a plaster-like material) as a base, followed by layers of bole (a colored clay) before applying the gold leaf. Water gilding produces a brilliant, mirror-like finish and is often used for fine art and high-quality decorative items.
  2. Oil Gilding: Oil gilding is another traditional method that uses oil-based adhesives (mordants) to apply gold leaf. The process involves applying the mordant directly to the prepared surface and then waiting for it to reach the right level of tackiness before laying down the gold leaf. Oil gilding is relatively easier than water gilding and is commonly used for gilding larger areas and architectural elements.
  3. Patent Gilding: Patent gilding is a simpler and more straightforward method compared to water and oil gilding. It involves using pre-adhesive “patent” gold leaf, which already has a backing of thin paper. The gold leaf is applied directly to the surface by pressing it onto the adhesive, and the paper backing is then removed, leaving the gold in place.
  4. Leaf Imprinting: This technique involves pressing a sheet of gold leaf onto a textured surface, such as fabric, paper, or leather. The gold leaf adheres to the texture, creating a pattern or design that can be used for various decorative purposes.
  5. Powder Gilding: Powder gilding, also known as dust gilding, involves applying gold powder onto a tacky surface coated with an adhesive. The gold powder adheres to the adhesive, creating a shimmering effect. This method is often used for decorative accents and details.
  6. Reverse Glass Gilding: In this technique, gold leaf is applied to the backside of a glass surface, such as a sign or a mirror. The lettering or design is painted on the front side, allowing the gold to shine through the glass.
  7. Verre Églomisé: This is a form of reverse glass gilding where the gold leaf is applied to the backside of glass, and then a design is painted over it, creating a beautiful, luminous effect.

Each type of gold gilding process has its own unique characteristics and level of complexity. The choice of method depends on the desired outcome, the surface to be gilded, and the skills of the gilder.

Detail of the Gold Leaf applied to the service before smoothing, different application techniques will result in different styled looks and finishes.
Detail of the Gold Leaf applied to the surface before smoothing, different application techniques will result in different styled looks and finishes.
A Gold Leaf Frame in production at the Dawsons Framing Workshop in Ashmore on the Gold Coast.
A Gold Leaf Frame in production at the Dawsons Framing Workshop in Ashmore on the Gold Coast.
Detail of the Gold Gilding process applied to the surface before smoothing, different application techniques will result in different styled looks and finishes.
Detail of the Gold Gilding process applied to the surface before smoothing, different application techniques will result in different styled looks and finishes.
The Gold Gilding Process completed: An example of a completed gold gilded Ray Crooke artwork.
The Gold Gilding Process completed: An example of a completed gold gilded Ray Crooke artwork.

READ MORE ARTICLES ABOUT GOLD LEAFING / GILDING HERE:

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