Gilding Tips and Tricks

Here are some gilding tips and tricks that save you lots of time and trouble. Most of these tips apply to gilding on parchment, but many readily apply to gilding on paintings.

  1. Do your gold leafing before you paint and preferably after the calligraphy is done.

  2. Always do a test piece before applying gesso to a whole piece. The same batch of gesso will work differently under different weather conditions. Some days the gesso will work better if you add more sugar or slaked plaster.

  3. Apply size by laying down a small puddle in the middle of the area you wish to gild and pull it into corners and around edges. A smooth, even gesso application will save a lot of work sanding and burnishing.

  4. Lay a piece of scrap paper down beside the areas you are sanding. The sandpaper will raise the nap of anything it rubs across. It's much better to ruin a scrap of paper than the scroll you are working on.

  5. If you do happen to get gesso dust into the fibers of the paper, an eraser usually removes it without any problems.

  6. Cut pieces of gold slightly larger than the area you wish to gild. This may seem like a waste, but it's not. You will waste far more gold trying to match tiny bits together to fill in missed areas than if you had just used a little more in the first place.

  7. Minor repairs can be made with tiny bits of gold. It may be a bit tricky to use tweezers. A paintbrush rubbed through your hair will produce enough static electricity to attract and hold a small piece of gold long enough for you to place it.

  8. Save all of the gold scraps you brush off of your work. You can make your shell gold with them. Mix the gold flakes with some table salt and honey. Grind well with a mortar and pestle. The gold mixture will look a bit like mustard. Add a good bit of distilled water and pour it into a clear jar or test tube. Remove most of the water with a dropper when the gold has settled. Add more clean water, shake and repeat. Do this several times, then taste the water. If it is not salty or sweet, you are done making the gold into pigment. Draw off most of the water and pour the gold sludge into a shell. Mix it with a few drops of gum Arabic and let it dry. Store it until you want to use it.

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