Sunday, June 13, 2010
Gilding after beginner's luck; saved by vodka
The first time I gilded on clay bole it turned out absolutely fantastic, unfortunately this gave me a false sense of ability. Now I am learning the hard way what can go wrong with gilding. What should have taken me about 6 - 8 hours ended up taking twenty and it isn't as pretty as I hoped it would be but it is done.
The first time I gilded an icon with clay bole I used bole my instructor made herself. I tried to use her recipe to make my own bole but it turned out horribly every time and I'm still not sure what I did wrong.
To prepare my icon I decided to take no chances and use professionally prepared bole instead of my own concoction. With the prepared bole you have to add a bit of honey so the gold will stick. I added too much honey and ended up with a gooey mess that wouldn't dry. I ended up having to scrape it off with a razor blade, making my gesso surface uneven. Then I was so traumatized that I did the bole for the background with no honey added. It dried like it was supposed to, and the gold seemed to go on, but the slightest touch would rub the gold away. Yikes!
Then I seemed to get the proportion about right and laid the bole for the halos but kept accidentally getting a finger or arm stuck in it. Also I accidentally dropped a loose gold leaf on it before it was dry - what a mess. After hours of sanding and angry thoughts too incoherent to form swear words I finally ended up with halos that would accept gold and a background that would not. What to do?
To solve the problem of the background I turned to water gilding, a technique I learned years ago but hadn't practiced since. Instead of laying down the leaf on the bole with just the moisture of a breath to make it stick, with water gilding you moisten the surface to be gilded with a solution of alcohol and water. The website I was referencing recommended using water with alcohol added, but I remembered what I learned from Russian icon painters and used what they do: cheap vodka. Vodka already has water and alcohol mixed together, and it worked perfectly. My background area is supposed to be matte so I did not have to worry about not being able to burnish the area. The only difficulty with water gilding is that the gold will stick to everything, unlike regular bole gilding where the gold only sticks to the clay.
In this photo you can see where I just started water gilding. The solid gold areas were laid down with vodka, the patchy areas were where the gold rubbed off because it wouldn't stick to the clay by itself.