The word gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone or metal to give a thin coating of gold. These gilding techniques are employed especially in framemaking, cabinet making, decorative painting and interior decoration. The process of gilding wood with thin shets of gold called gold leaf, is the same process used since ancient times, and it requires a high level of skill to be perfected.
Among many forms of gilding (e.g. mechanical, chemical, fire gilding, cold gilding), the most popular are oil and water gilding, which are very different processes that offer distinctly different results, we use both techniques in depending on the requirement of the client with the specific nuances of the piece.
The majority of gilded furniture and frames are made of wood that have been coated with material made of chalk and glue that is applied when hot,commonly known as ‘gesso’. The ability to apply ‘ gesso’ very thinly over detailed carving plus the ability to build these layers into a thick coat, which allows the layer it self to be carved , known as ‘ cut gesso’, makes it a versatile material for skilled gilders.
The first layer is used to partially seal and colour the gesso helping to to disguise and fill in any areas deep recesses that the gold has failed to reach and is made of a mixture of yellow ochre pigment and glue.
The subsequent layer is bole, or clay. Bole is a very fine clay, recognisable by it’s colour, gain comprised partly of glue bole provides a deep and rich backing colour for the gold, but being so thin it’s final finish finish stays true to the colour and qualities of the bole beneath, which vary according fashion.
Oil gilding is a similar process to water gilding in that gesso is also applied. However the gesso is covered with an oil size, which helps provide a warm backing colour for the gold and helps to disguise any small holes in the gilding. Once the oil size is almost dry gold leaf is then applied, ensuring the gold leaf sticks.
One of the major differences to water gilding is that oil gilding cannot be burnished, however the gold leaf will more reliably stick to more complex surfaces and will reach much deeper recesses than water gilding.Though it is used indoors it is often used outdoors for as it is very durable and for it’s ability to weather the elements on metal or stone.