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Hello Mitra... so happy to have stumbled onto this forum via Koo Schadler's website.
I've been dipping into the world of water gilding and have a strong desire to begin using it in my painting.
The process I've been considering and experimenting with is as follows:
Cradling 1/4" plywood panel.
Coating panel twice, front and back, with Zinser white shellac
After lightly sanding surface applying linen gauze soaked in 15% RSG
application of 10% RSG /Bologna chalk gesso (8-9 coats)
application of white kaolin clay and titanium dioxide white (10:1) with 10% RSG (6 coats)
*But now this is where things get tricky... I would like to paint onto the surface very loosely with water media, (Golden High flow acrylic) before water gilding the whole surface and bringing it to a high polish, then removing the gilding where I want to reveal the under painting, coating it with Golden MSA varnish and a coat of GAC 100 before I oil paint on top of the entire thing.... I know, talk about over-complicating things.
My questions are:
Does this process raise any red flags for soundness and archivability? Even though loosely water painting onto the kaolin surface does not appear to cause any issues, I worry about the soundness of the gesso after I've wet it? I'm stuck on using traditional gesso because I'm looking for the high polish the kaolin provides. Unfortunately any ready made bole products I can find here in europe aren't white enough.... even with the addition of 1/10 titanium.
Another concern is the ability of traditional gilding liquor to adhere the leaf considering I've now covered it with a water-thin layer of acrylic? I've noticed on some websites here in Italy that they use fish glue to adhere the leaf after traditional gesso prep. I've since secured some Isinglass (Selinski) and I'm wondering if this is a sound way to adhere the leaf that will allow a true burnish? Should I apply a coat of glue and let it dry, then apply the leaf in a normal fashion with gilder's liquor? Plus I honestly have no idea how to prepare the glue or at what strength I should be using it.
Any expertise and help would be greatly appreciated. Just hoping I'm not completely off my rocker on this one, because I've been working for well over two years to nail this process and I'd hate to give up at this point, but I keep running into archival walls and I'm beginning to doubt that what I want to achieve is doable.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
First, I would not seal a panel intended for an animal glue
bound ground with anything, including shellac. It is far preferable to size the
panel with two coats of thin animal glue. The shellac will promote
Second, I hate to throw a monkey wrench into your plans, but
high sheen water gilding can only be done on an animal glue bound ground,
preferably with an animal glue bound bole layer. Any water-resistant coatings
like acrylic dispersion paints may possibly prevent adhesion but will certainly
make burnishing impossible. When one burnishes gold leaf in water gilding, they
are actually burnishing the ground and animal glue bound bole and not the metal
leaf. It is not even necessary to use a glue solution during gilding since
there is such a surplus of glue in the bole and ground.
I am sure that if you use animal glue or fish glue to adhere
gold to the surface, it will likely work, it just will not be burnishable. The
result will be a matte.
I would not suggest applying MSA varnish below oil paint as
this will increase the chance that the painting could be harmed during future
Finally, if you go ahead with a procedure like you describe with
its complicated, disparate materials mixtures and stratigraphy, please record
your process on the back of the panel to aid future conservators in devising
and appropriate treatment protocol.
Since you will not be able to do burnished gilding given
your plan, why use the animal glue ground at all? You could size a panel with
an acrylic dispersion ground, apply a sandable, hard acrylic dispersion ground,
paint in acrylic dispersion colors, then glue gold leaf to that layer. I am not
sure about the most appropriate adhesive for this. I do not know if animal skin
glue would be a good adhesive over the acrylic dispersion paint, it may bead,
etc (test first). Certainly, most of the commercially available water borne
dispersion/emulsion gold sizes tend to be too “rubbery” to scratch through and
retain a sharp line. Perhaps one of the harder acrylic dispersion mediums would
be appropriate. GAC 400 comes to mind but this is outside of my purview. I am just
thinking (writing) out loud. I will send this to other moderators.
I agree that water gilding is probably not the best technique for your paintings. Water gilding cannot be applied as specifically in certain areas only. For detailed and more controlled applications oil gilding or acrylic sizes are more suitable, but cannot be burnishes. You can do a whole surface in water gilding and polish only certain areas, then apply MSA Varnish followed by High Flow Acrylics. It is not possible to paint with oil paints over MSA Varnish as the UV light stabilizers hinder the oil paint from curing, so the oil paints remain tacky (see https://justpaint.org/?s=painting+with+oil+over).
Removing gold leave locally, as you suggested, is also not easy. It would require physical abrasion and most likely you would scratch into the paint layer underneath. If this aspect of applying and removing a gold layer is the most appealing to you, then you could consider using an iridescent gold color. The OPEN Acrylics would give you a few hours of working time before it sets up and iridescent oil paint dries extremely slow, but you can control that by adding a fast or slow drying alkyd medium.
The best thing for you to do would be to practice water gilding on a test panel and that will quickly give you a better understanding of the technical possibilities.
One more idea that comes to mind is, if you build up your layers with acrylics, as Brian suggested, you could create you first pictoral layers with the High Flow colors, then apply one or two coats of Isolation Coal, apply oil gilding on top of that and while the oil mordant is still relatively fresh, you can remove the gold leave with OMS and Q-tips or a rag. The Isolation Coat should protect the acrylic paint layer underneath during this process. Afterwards you can continue painting in oils.
Thank you for your expertise and timely reply. Unfortunately I've just now seen this. I was waiting for an email notification that never arrived. I'm hoping you'll have the patience to answer one last question....
I have since stumbled across the same advice given online over several forums, but I'm quite certain it's coming from the same source. That is, if I prepare a traditional ground of RSG and bole on panel (not primed with shellac), and gild and burnish the ground, this source claims the gilded surface can then be varnished (they recommend MSA), and then coated with Golden GAC 200 before working on the high-polish, gold field with either acrylic or oils. Just wondering what your thoughts are on this. I'm understading the varnish is to protect the gold from the acrylic polymer and the polymer is to protect the varnish from the solvents? What I'm liking about this approach is that it allows me to work reductively with oils (liquin/sansodor) and does not appear to be dissolving the varnish? I'm also wondering if there is a better varnish choice as your response mentioned I should stay away from MSA as undercoat because it would make a conservators nightmare.
Also, what are your thoughts on gluing a linen gauze over the panel before applying gesso? I noticed this is a traditional approach in iconography. From what I've seen the linen is soaked in a solution of RSG 13% and can be applied to help with cracking etc. before proceeding with gesso.
I don't have expertise in gilding, so I can't address that area of your question. I can comment on the importance of applying a layer of cloth to a support with a wood-grain surface (solid wood or plywood). I've seen examples of paintings on wood and plywood, no cloth between the wood and gesso/paint layers, in which the grain pattern is telegrpahing through, cracking the gesso and paint. In once instance, this happened very quickly. I consider it an essential step.
I consider it essential to adhere fabric over wood panels
before adding gesso or a chalk-glue ground. What you propose may work, but as I
stated above, please record all of this on the back of the panel. Any solvent-borne,
non-oil containing varnish would cause the same concern (MSA, Shellac, Dammar,
etc). Even with the acrylic dispersion layer, the MSA could be undercut using traditional, solvent
methods. The conservator may need to use more complicated cleaning methods. Perhaps the work would be left unvarnished.