A CARPET PAGE’S PROGRESS/PROCESS XI
Gold, after red. In terms of gold, gilding always comes first. Since shell gold is actually gold paint (it is real gold – crushed and made into a pigment then a paint – literally liquid gold – more on that later) it can be done at any stage of a painting as it’s more flexible and can be used like you would use paint. Here it’s done straight after the gilding, since there is a lot of it and it anyway makes sense to do it first since all other elements are based around this.
Loose leaf gold is fine, flyaway stuff, like a kind of fairy foil, so it’s a separate skill involving hand-eye coordination and fine motor control. It needs specialist tools. Here I’m using water gilding (there is also oil gilding for things like picture frames and statues). Water gilding can be raised, as in European manuscripts, and done on a 3D gesso surface to catch the light; I’ve never seen it in Islamic manuscripts, which were always flat. This could possibly be because the vast majority of Islamic manuscripts were done on paper, which is very flexible and gesso would crack. European manuscripts were also done on vellum or parchment which is thicker and can stand the gesso. Different climes, different techniques. Both are beautiful. I’ve layered my gold up to get a slight raised effect as I do like it; you can double- or triple- gild in this way too.
The gold is cut with a very sharp gilder’s knife on a suede leather gilding mat (luckily because my husband works in this field I have a bespoke fine leather one) and then the area to be gilt is painted with gold size (gum ammoniac, water gold size, garlic, honey… various ways!). There is a window period of tackiness which you have to watch out for (you can just about see the shine in the top left photo), and this is the time to gild – not too wet, not too dry. When it’s tacky the gold is lifted gently with a gilder’s tip (squirrel hair) and ‘dropped’ onto the surface, where it sticks almost like magnetism (this is most apparent in glass gilding). I always leave it and wait until it’s fully dry before tamping it or indeed tampering with it. It’s worth waiting for as gold picks up any contours both underneath it or on top of it, like a fine gold carpet of snow dust across a bumpy landscape. You want it to look like a manicured golden lawn.
Once it’s fully dry – and depending on the season this can be hours or even overnight – you can gently brush or tap off the excess gold with a gilder’s mop (squirrel hair again) and then see if the gold has taken to all areas and whether you need to re-gild or not. The excess gold that is brushed off is kept in a jar, ready to make shell gold at a later date. If the gold has covered the area well then you can burnish with an agate burnisher. A dog’s tooth burnisher (so-called because of the resemblace to an actual dog’s tooth) is a good all-round shape. All gold tools are always kept separately to other tools as any impurities or surface scratches will show up on the gold.
I’m using my Clouds Brush – Fine Detail to paint the shell gold. It’s dreamy ~