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Gold leaf technique

This page is about water-based gold leaf technique, suitable for use on paper,
parchment, vellum etc. By contrast, outdoor gilding, signwriting, verre églomisé etc
are all specialised techniques usually involving oil-gilding – which still uses standard
gold leaf supplies but requires different tools, materials and method to get the leaf
to stick on and stay on.

Any gold leaf technique – water or oil – is a function of gold leaf being startlingly
thin, lightweight and fragile. It's so thin it's translucent; a whole leaf blows away
across the room on a breath. And that character of gold leaf is determined by its
manufacturers and users agreeing on the sweet spot between cost and practicality.

So before I get into details further down the page, I want to share the following
morsel of wisdom. It's cheaper (and far more rewarding) to invest in the right
tools to handle gold leaf than it is to keep wasting gold for years. A gilder's tip
(broad brush for picking it up), cushion and knife make gold leaf technique easier
and simpler. I tell you this as one who did waste gold leaf for years :-)

All right.

Now to the details.

Raised vs flat
Calligraphic gold leaf techniques divide pretty much into raised gilding and flat

Raised gilding is the kind where the gold looks like a smooth, solid lump on the
page. It's 3D, and reflects the light very lusciously. It can be decorated with little
indentations (tooled) for a more glittery effect.

Raised gilding in books and on pages is a variation on the most traditional gold leaf
technique, water-gilding. So first up below is a Renaissance-type version of water-
gilding. You can use this method directly on any rigid support (wood, board etc) or
on rigidly mounted paper or skin. On flexible supports, it tends to crack, and come

After water-gilding, I'll discuss more briefly the variations on the technique which
are used to create raised gilding on flexible supports such as paper or skin. This
along with flat gilding is the technique of most interest to most calligraphers.

Flat gilding is just that: flat. It can look amazing: more nuanced and subtle than
raised gilding, but also capable of appearing very dramatic in large areas. On the
whole, it's easier to achieve, too.

I'm going to give just a rough outline of the technique. sand and burnish the dry raised bole . gilder's tip. but enough that it doesn't shift when you put the next layer on. As a result I can tell you that if you are able to:  persuade a cat to take medication and keep it down  apply 2 coats nail polish to toenails and only toenails  cause a plaster (bandaid) to adhere to the right place on a screaming under- 5-year-old  fill your own wine-glass while juggling shoulder-bag.. usually. rabbit-skin glue. IV. say. bole.. burnish with agate. ten minutes. . allow the bole to dry. preferably 2 grades fine sandpaper (as fine as it goes and one grade coarser will do). repeat repeat repeat . as the basis for more calligraphy-friendly gold leaf techniques outlined below. V. yawn . prepare the support (such as a piece of fibreboard. yawn . (which. btw. depending on your standards and predicted lifespan. because trying to apply bole smoothly to a finely detailed shape is a nuisance. or pasted-down vellum): basically. then dry it out overnight. in the renaissance they clearly had a lot of time. plate of canapés. gesso. it is. (find details of all this elsewhere.. is not made with real rabbits anymore. or oil-free non-warping wood. repeat. a particular variety of fine. means essentially 'dirt' in latin. preferably agate or haematite. and wrapped gift  defuse a time-bomb then you were born to excel in water-gilding. for example by applying one layer of dilute rabbit-skin glue and allowing to dry. How long I lived in fear and awe of this supremely focused art which marries intricate manual dexterity with split-second timing and the cool focus of a Zen martial arts master. not completely. gilding bole. then coating with successive layers of carefully mixed warm gesso. So.. Actually.. book of loose gold leaf. cruddy brush for applying bole. a burnisher.. cushion & knife – or else supreme genius in handling gold leaf with something other than the proper tools. coloured clay mixed with the universal adhesive. thick enough that it won't sand right off again during the next stage. till the bole's thick enough. how thick is thick enough? well.) III. lightly. it really helps if this area has smooth outlines.. make it clean. smoothly. water containing a few drops of size (usually rabbit-skin glue). the breathless mystique of water-gilding. dry and not-too- porous.. and: a support.. apply a thin layer of bole to the area to be gilded. it has to be really dry to be sanded.) II. i mean. a soft medium artist's brush (eg squirrel).. a good novel too. Finally I took the plunge and learned water-gilding in person from a tutor in Renaissance painting techniques. using Renaissance-style materials. drying each coat for a period of between half an hour and a week. use two grades of fine sandpaper. for the waiting periods. when it's perfect. more . if i recall correctly. watch out for corners and edges where the bole will rub through easily.. more . Here is how: I. You will need at least 3 days.Water-gilding: the 'elite' gold leaf technique Ah..

But it gives the best results. The slow and painstaking preparation of the surface. ready the gilder's tip by running it over your forehead for a bit of grease so the gold will lightly stick to it. hematite. (riiight. a hair-thin scratch. it's uncanny. apply water to bole with one hand andimmediatelyapplygoldleafwith the other. there will be overlaps. . really. bring both hands near the bole. brush off the excess (called. VII. a minute difference in texture. but it's fun too. XI. with the floppy squirrel-hair brush ready in your hand. 'skewings'). Bole burnishes to a mirror-like-gloss. overnight at least. here is the beating heart of this particular gold leaf technique and all the prep is meant to make this step work really well. allow to dry. after the first couple of attempts it's not as tricky as it may sound. Let me show you a photo from the class . wafting it flat and even onto the water. repeat until area to be gilded is covered. natch).. IX. even pressure. That's it. well. because every single mark on the bole is going to show on the gold. cut your loose gold leaf sheet in four and position one piece handy on the cushion on your dominant side. just try it and you'll get it. or more. admire like hell. for some unguessable reason or other which is nothing to do with being an amateur. X. using gentle. the surface tension of the water 'sucks onto' the gold leaf. hoping you paid the correct attention to all the previous steps. here we are. etc. polish with silk or do whatever you can think of. and collect them in a jar for making your own shell gold later in the afternoon. meanwhile the bole is very quickly absorbing the water. burnish carefully (with an agate burnisher. non-dominant side. the laborious yet super-rapid application of water and gold. and the overnight drying stages all go some way to explaining why water-gilding seems (to me) the scariest gold leaf technique. in that second or two while the water is still shiny-wet on the surface of the bole. get your water 'n' size mix handy on the other.k. thoroughly.) VIII. o.. VI. the result is that the bole appears to suck the gold straight down onto its surface. kind of grabbing it off the tip. pick up some water.. i mean a fingerprint is going to show. where it sticks. it's not. appealingly. sit down with the thing to be gilded comfortably in front of you. yes it is. use the tip to pick up the handy scrap of gold. no. touch up the places that got missed or where the gold didn't stick. and the gold adhering to it then looks amazing.

days) necessary to make the underlying bole surface absolutely smooth. But I can still see my face in the result. Other water-based gold leaf techniques Minus the gesso layers to start with (which are usually there as a painting base or to even up rough surfaces or create forms in picture frames). not effortless. possibly. They are not necessarily better. so the gesso doesn't crack or spring off the page as it flexes during turning or because of humidity warping A humectant (water-attracter) is added to the gesso sottile Raised gilding. is used. but be warned that the bole may crack. adjustments are made to the technique as follows: The gesso is made even smoother (gesso sottile) and combined with the bole A flexible glue. you can use the above water-gilding method in small quantities on flexible supports such as pages. Therefore. but not that kind of raised gilding Several manufacturers have come up with products that promise to make raised gilding super-easy and effortless blah blah compared with water-gilding.It looks a bit scratchy because it is a bit scratchy: I did not use the super-fine sandpaper for those few extra hours (or. but they are easier and far quicker. That is what 'mirror-like finish' means: creating a golden looking-glass. . The cracking can be a feature of course. dabbling about with water on pre-written pages is not a good idea. traditionally fish-glue. Also.