Complete Frame

So far, we have looked at gilding a few things and should have a little experience with the tools, handling and the personality of the gold. In this project, we're going to take it a bit further and look at a project in a slightly deeper way. This particular project is once again, a resin frame. However, with this particular frame, we are going to spray it a particular colour first, gild it completely with loose leaf, and then give it an antiquing colour wash, to tone down the gold and add some character.

For this exercise, you will need the following equipment:

The first thing I am going to do, is colour the background of the frame. There are going to be very small misses in the gold, and the background colour will show through. If you want a completely gilded finish to look like solid gold, then you should paint the frame in a yellow ochre colour. That way any misses in the leaf will blend in with the yellow background and not be visible.

You can choose any colour you like of course, although there are some colours that are very traditional. One of these, is a dark red. This is the colour I have chosen. The thinness of the gold will allow a background colour to slightly influence it, so a deep red is used as it imparts a warm tone to the gold. Any misses of the leaf will have flashes of red coming through, which is an acceptable distressed finish and sought after by many.

I am using a cellulose spray can (it's car spray) to colour the frame. You can also use acrylic too. I am spraying several thin coats rather than one thick one, as the finish will be better and I leave about half an hour between coats. It's very advisable to do this in a well ventilated area, as the fumes are not good for you.

The whole frame will need to be covered and special care should be taken to colour the recesses, as these are the areas that are most likely to have holes in the gold due to their being more difficult to. Once you have sprayed it completely, leave it for several hours, or preferably overnight to thoroughly dry.

Once the frame has dried completely, it's time to size. Once again, I am using a 3-hour oil size. I am applying with a synthetic brush, that has a bit of stiffness to the bristles. This will allow me to ensure the size is pushed into the recesses of the frame. Once you have evenly coated the whole frame, you should go over again with the brush, and mop up any of the size that is pooling in the recesses - especially if you have put an overly heavy coat on, so exercise caution here.

It's also a good idea to use the brush to go over the entire surface again which will also help ensure there are no misses in the size application. Don't use any more size on the brush (unless needed), but just use the brush to 'flow out' the size. With some base colours, it can be difficult to see if you have applied the size over the whole surface - especially if using a gloss colour. You should look at the piece from many angles and in good light to ensure a good cover.

The frame has been sized and is ready to gild. Being a 3-hour size, you will need to start checking the frame after about two hours. Use the back of your finger, lightly touch the surface and feel how much pull there is. You want a minimum amount. When first starting to gild, play it a little safe and gild while it has a little stick to it and with experience, you will be able to gild later and later, until you have almost no stick at all on the size - but this is a process that comes naturally and cannot be rushed.

Whilst waiting for the size to 'come to tack' prepare all the equipment and tools ready to start gilding. There is nothing worse than having something come to tack when you're not ready and then panic sets in! Let's just politely acknowledge that I've been there before...

I have decided to start gilding this frame in quarter sheets around the outside edge first. This will be followed by half sheets on the inner edge. The reason for this is that the outside edge has more curves and decoration, and so will need more leaf to fold into these areas. So I start by cutting the leaf, pick it up with the tip (straight down and straight up, remember - and slowly!) and start on the frame.

I start in the corner, and logically make my way down the frame. The leaf too, is applied straight down and up with the tip. I am not using the tip to push the leaf into the decoration, as this could allow some gilding size to end up on the tip. I am placing the leaf over the surface. Each piece is overlapping its neighbour by about 5mm. This will allow a little excess gold for filing in the gaps using the squirrel mop at the end.

Once I have completed one side, I move onto the next one. It's the same process, quarter sheets on the outside and then half sheets to overlap in the centre. The half sheets over lap the previously gilded areas quite a lot, and look like the gold is being wasted, but this is not the case.

It is necessary to be generous with goldleaf when gilding, to obtain the best finish. Yes, there is going to be waste, that's something you can't escape from, but if you try to salvage too much gold, or don't have this excess, you will not have a quality finish. Don't try to be economical, it won't work, trust me!

Towards the end, there are a few areas that just need a small piece of gold to cover them, but once again, I am putting a large piece of gold over these sections. Eventually the whole frame is coated with leaf.

It is important to cover the size with leaf before using the mop. If you periodically use the squirrel mop and skew before gilding the next area, you are allowing the exposed size in the un-gilded areas to dry. This could cause the finish to be a mixture of matt and shiny finishes, as the size at the end of the project has had a lot more time to dry than when you first began. It is best to quickly and evenly coat the whole frame (or area in larger pieces) and then use the squirrel mop to skew, knowing that the size will not be compromised.

Once the whole frame has been coated with the goldleaf, it's time to start skewing the surface. The gold is not adequately fused to the size at this point, so you will need to gently use the side of the squirrel mop and push down the leaf onto the surface.

As can be seen in the picture, the side is used, rather than straight down as it is a more gentle and softer approach and won't lift the gold from the surface. Gently tamp down the gold over the whole frame. If there are any noticeably large areas that are bare, you can apply a piece of leaf to cover the miss.

Once the entire frame has been tamped down and there are no glaringly obvious misses, you will skew the surface of the frame. This time, you will use the brush in a more upright position, as the ends of the bristles are what will be able to reach into the recesses and fill them with gold. It is still a delicate task,and care should be taken not to be too forceful.

Holding the mop, move around over the surface in gentle circles. Your mop will be picking up all those loose flakes of leaf that you've generated with using that excess gold when coating the frame. The bristles transfer these flakes into the recesses and will allow them to stick the size in those hard to reach areas with the tip. Although the leaf is a metal and a solid material, it has been beaten so thinly that it will act almost like it is a liquid and should easily flow over the surface filling in all the gaps and giving a lovely even finish.

Now the frame is finished. There are a few small areas, where the red background shows through, giving it a traditional feel. As said at the beginning, for a more solid look, paint the background yellow ochre. Although this is a finish, this time I am going to go one step further and add a coloured glaze to the gold.

The glaze I am going to use, is a traditional gilding glaze called 'dragons blood'. This deep red colour is made from the pigment of an Asian tree, and is a very strong colour. To use it, I dissolve a small amount of the pigment in a small pot of 'isopropyl 99% alcohol'. You will only need a small amount of pigment added, and less is more. I test the strength of the glaze, by brushing some onto a piece of white paper. Happy with the results, this glaze is then brushed onto the surface of the frame.

The glaze is applied using a synthetic bristle artist brush. It has to be relatively soft as you dont want to scratch the gold. It is evenly applied over the whole frame. Because it has been dissolved in alcohol, the process is reversible, and pure alcohol wiped over the surface will remove the colour again. This allows different finishes to be achieved, where the recesses are coloured, and the flat areas are less so.

Although I have used this pigment, you can experiment with a range of your own. It is also possible to do the same with water colours, watered down acrylic paints, oil paints and coloured shellacs. Why don't you try some alternative ways to colour the leaf? As an exercise, you could gild some mouldings with composite leaf (cheap and fake gold), and try out different methods before advancing to the more expensive gold-leaf! Try a different range of colours, strengths, materials etc and see what works best for your style.