Gilding in Seattle

For quite some time it’s been a desire of mine to add the fine art of traditional water gilding to my framing  repertoire.  Although I feel pretty proficient at using composition metal leaf; aka Dutch Gold, there’s just no comparison to the beauty of using precious gold leaf.  Well I decided to go for it so at the beginning of this year and took a 3 day intensive workshop from Charles Douglas in Seattle, Washington.  I’ve talked with him about 7-8 years ago when visiting there and also subscribe to his newsletter where he shares his experiences about the craft of gilding.  After taking the workshop with him I’m impressed with his knowledge and desire to maintain the traditional methods, he’s on the hunt for that elusive “holy grail” of gilding just as I’m on the hunt for that in my woodwork.  Click on the link I’ve provided for him and check out his work, not only does he gild frames he also does furniture and other art objects.

Like most everything else, final results are based on the preparation you put in before hand.  Think in terms of building a house, if the foundation isn’t level, square, and solid the house won’t be either!  When gilding with precious gold leaf there is a base that needs to be applied first.  For the workshop the item we gilded was a small, papier-mache horse.   The base coats are called gesso and it’s an artful process on it’s own — if it’s not done with the correct ratios it will fail.  Essentially this is a mixture of whiting (chalk), rabbit skin glue, and water.  We spent most of the first morning discussing the different ratios used for either hard or soft gesso and their purpose.  Another part of the morning was spent discussing clay, rabbit skin glue, and gelatin; all of the ingredients need to be carefully measured and prepared using a double boiler and a kitchen scale that measures in grams.  Charles put a sequence of photo’s on his Instagram to illustrate me making the gesso; looks like I’m getting ready to bake a cake!

Gold leaf is applied with what it called a gilders tip.  In the past, I’ve attempted precious gold leaf and taken a workshop but Charles made me realize that I’d picked up many bad habits with my self taught ways!  From how to properly remove the leaf from the book and place it on the pad, cutting the leaf, where to place your tools so you don’t contaminate anything, and the list goes on and on.  Here are some pictures to illustrate what was done in the 3 days:

In addition to gilding the horse, Charles also discussed gilding picture frames since he knew that was my main interest.  We were able to work on a section of French molding, Charles put a sequence of photos on his on his Instagram page.  He took the time to share some techniques used to tone picture frame molding too.  The pictures of that molding after it’s been gilded don’t begin to do it justice — you’ve got to see it!

Speaking of picture frames, I had the chance to meet with Richard Boerth of Antique Frames.  His atelier is also in Seattle and a short distance from where the workshop was held.  We met through social media and I asked if we could get together during my time in Seattle.  So glad he agreed, his shop is astounding!  Check out the link and watch the video’s he’s produced showing how he restores and re-makes the most gorgeous antique picture frames you’ll ever see, this will give you an understanding of the time, skill, and effort required to produce work of this caliber.  Must admit, I was somewhat awe-struck seeing the work in his shop and thinking that’s what I’d like to achieve sometime.

Great experience but glad to be back in Phoenix, missed Diane, the critters, and our desert weather.  Now I need to sit down and order the materials needed to do my own water gilding here — no doubt Diane will have a beautiful painting that could use a fine frame!


About woodworksbyjohn

I'm a retired woodshop teacher. I build one of a kind furniture pieces and custom picture frames. You can see some of my currently available work, boxes, carvings through my Etsy store: Contact me about your project -- always up for the challenge of unique work.
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3 Responses to Gilding in Seattle

  1. cmkerner says:

    Hi John. The way you and Diane both share your process and knowledge with others speaks to the fact bv that you are both such generous spirits. Thanks for being you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob Easton says:

    Thanks John!
    Continuing to learn about gilding is most interesting. Looks like you’re well on your way to a new version of the art. Thanks for all the links.

    If you don’t know of them, you might like meeting Esteben Jiménez and his colleagues in Barcelona. They specialize in carving baroque style religious “furniture,” much of it gilded with precious gold.You can get a sense of their work in these two YouTube videos:


  3. Pingback: 2019 + Cowgirl Up Show = 3 Frames! | Woodworks by John

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