Watergilding Tutorial

Watergilding is the craft of adhering gold leaf onto a surface prepared with traditional gesso and a soft clay bole. The advantage of watergilding lies in the ability to polish or burnish the surface so that the leaf becomes highly reflective. Contrary to popular belief, the reflective surface is not created by polishing the gold leaf, but by burnishing the soft clay ground underneath the gold. A smoother bole ground under the gold yields a more reflective gilded surface. Watergilding is not a craft that can be learned from a simple on-line tutorial. Many atmospheric factors and material deviations affect the recipes and a skilled gilder learns how to make these adjustments as conditions vary. This tutorial offers an overview of the process, but is not meant as an in depth instructional demonstration. For a basic recipe that can serve as a starting point, read our Clay Bole Recipe Blog
1. Watergilding needs to be performed on a hard surface that is prepared with traditional chalk ground. In preparation, the wooden panel needs a cloth adhered to the surface, in order to offer a solid working foundation for the rabbit skin glue gesso. 2. Apply gesso in at least three to four layers in a smooth and even fashion. Gesso can be sanded after application, if the surface is not smooth and even.3. Layers of soft bole clay (poliment) mixed with rabbit skin glue are applied on top of the gesso. Even though the panel has received 6-8 layers of gesso and bole, the surface profile is still thin .4. Once the bole has completely dried, the clay surface is polished with a soft cloth or piece of linen.
5. Before moving to the next step, prepare the gold leaf by removing the sheets from the booklet. Watergilding requires the use of surface leaf, not patent leaf with the wax paper backing.6. The bole surface is flooded with a mixture of water, denatured alcohol and a diluted rabbit skin glue solution.7. Gently place the leaf onto the flooded surface, before the liquid soaks into the surface. This will allow the gold to lay flat in the bole. The liquid that floods the surface not only helps with applying the leaf smoothly, the moisture reactivates the rabbit skin glue in the bole in order to adhere the gold to the surface.8. Repeat, until the entire surface is covered.
9. The surface leaf needs to be applied with a gilding tip which is a soft brush bound in cardboard in order to avoid static electricity. The gilding tip is prepared by running the bristle through your hair in order to coat the tips of the bristle with oils from your hair. If your hair is too dry, apply some Vaseline to your arm and run the bristle over the moisturized skin.

10. Once the leaf is applied, allow the bole to dry underneath the gold. Burnishing should commence once the surface of the bole has dried, but the core of the bole is still pliable. Tapping the bole helps in ascertaining the moisture content. If sound is dull upon tapping, the bole is too wet. The tapping should yield a hollow sound to signal the optimum burnishing moment.

11. With an agate burnisher, burnish the surface. This polishing action smooths out the bole beneath the surface, thus yielding a highly reflective surface.12. Watergilding does involve some work, but the results are stunning.
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Rabbit Skin Glue, powder