Sunday, April 29, 2012

Science Lab Part II

Set-Up for Gilding

     Laying the actual 22 karat gold leaf on the frame is called gilding.  It's one of those things I wonder whether I'll ever master but from what I understand, it takes months or years of constantly working at it to feel confident about the results.  Add to that mix my perfectionist, artist personality and you have a process that could end up in ulcers and heartburn!  What you see is the frame with it's red clay (bole) applied.  It's on a platform that is angled so the gilders liquor (distilled water and alcohol) can run to one end of the frame and be sopped up by cotton balls.  The gilders liquor is in the center of the frame, behind it you see the gilders pad which has a book of gold on it.  To the right of it is the gilders knife used to cut the gold, and finally you see the gilders tip which is a squirrel hair brush designed to pick up the gold and lay it on the frame.
     Once the entire frame is gilded it'll look something like this:

Gilding Complete -- almost

     You can see there are several "faults", areas where there isn't any gold either because of a void in the leaf or gilder error.  An area that is tricky to lay the gold into is all of the reeds that go around the frame.  I could have used some yellow clay there so that even if the leaf faulted, the color of the frame would blend in.  Didn't do that for two reasons, first off I didn't have any yellow clay and secondly, I've decided to thin down some asphaltum to age the frames appearance.  I've attended several workshops taught by Marty Horowitz of Gold Leaf FrameMakers  of Santa Fe.  They replicate any period of gold leaf frame and are simply fabulous in the work they do.  Check out his website that I've linked.  He has a great story regarding King Louis of France and why frames have the patina and character that they do.  In days of old, when there wasn't any LED lighting in the castle to show off the portrait of the kings the purpose of the bright gold leaf was to illuminate his portrait.  As time went by, soot and ash from the candles and fireplace (torches?) would deposit onto the frame and the maids would have to clean it off so everyone could see the kings portrait.  As the years went by this created the patina we now try to replicate on modern frames.
     I've always had a bit of a problem with that because why purposely destroy something you've worked so hard to achieve?  Here's the frame after most of the faults were repaired:

Faults Fixed & Ready for Burnishing

     The shine and brilliance is what I like but .... too garish for most applications so the gold is always toned down.  The part of this process that's like magic is the burnishing process.  This is where you take a piece of agate that's attached to a stick and press down hard on the gold areas you want to bring out.  What happens is that this pressing action forces the gold leaf tight against the bole (clay) and the shine is just so cool, always reminds me of a molten ribbon of gold.  You can't get this any other way:

Hounds Tooth for Burnishing 

     I tried to get a close up view of the difference between the burnished and unburnished gold but my camera won't focus that close.  You can see the leaf I'm working on is getting some of that brilliance, the leg at the top of the picture has had the reeds burnished and you should be able to spot the difference.  I chose to lay leaf on the sides of this frame although it's not really required.  Usually there will be a flat, casein finish on the edges since it will stand up to handling better than the gold will.  Since this was the last of my gold leaf I figured might as well go for it.  Last time I checked on the price of gold it was close to $700.00 for a pack of 500 leaves; little too rich for my pension and lack of clientelee.
     In any case, this is a very time consuming process with the possibility of errors or problems anywhere along the way.  I know I can get pretty frustrated doing this process but when you start using your hounds tooth burnisher like I'm doing in the picture, and you see the brilliance of the gold you tend to forget all of the pitfalls you had along the way.

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