Traditional Signwriting and Gilding: About Water Gilding, Nick Garrett

Nick Garrett is a specialist gilder with restoration and decorative works across the globe.  Recently his projects have included work in prestigious homes and projects in Italy and the City of London.

Even in today’s modern architectural context gold leaf still stands as a statement of elegance and quality.

Whether you require 24ct English or Italian gold leaf, lemon antique gold, blue bronze, white gold or platinum leaf, I can help choose the perfect material for your design.

If you have a gilding project, need genuine expertise and that extra finesse then contact me at for more information and pricing.

ARTICLE:  The Art of Gilding 

The history of using gold leaf to decorate and embellish surfaces is one of the oldest professions known to mankind… and entirely legal! As soon as people discovered gold,they began using it as a form of illumination, body adornment and tribal decoration.

It was originally discovered that by annealing, or heating, the gold and beating it one could take this precious metal and make gold leaf. Gold leaf is a material that can be attached to a sold object by various mastics and transform the object into an appearance of solid gold.

Traditional Water gilding, oil and mordant gilding, manuscript illumination, verrre églomisé, sign and glass gilding are all different catogories in the gilding trade. Each discipline in the gilding arts has specific techniques and methods. Water gilding is an extremely labor intensive process and arguably regarded as the finest.

Traditional Water Gilding is normally created on a wood structure such as furniture or frames. The wood is sealed and then several coats of gesso (made of rabbit skin glue and chalk) are applied to the surface. Once dry, the gesso is then sanded and many coats of thinned bole (clay) are applied. When the bole is dry, the gold leaf is applied using liquor (made of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol) floated all over the surface of the bole. The gold leaf is dropped by a tip onto the surface of the liquor and then it stabilizes onto the surface. Once dry, the gold leaf can be burnished with an agate tool to reach the desired brilliance. The leaf can then be rubbed, sealed, toned and or given an antique finish depening upon the desired treatrment.

Short Glossary

GILDING: the application of thin sheets of precious or non-precious metals to a surface for decorative purposes.

Gold Leaf is generally 22-24K and pounded into thin sheets and packaged as 3 inch squares with 25 sheets per “book” and 20 books per pack. One pack covers 39 sq. ft. and weighs between 17 and 21 grams.

Precious leaf includes: gold, palladium, silver, and silver/gold alloy leafs. Silver leaf can be treated with dyes and is available in all colors.

Brass Leaf, also called metal leaf, composition leaf, Dutch metal, and imitation gold, is an alloy of copper and zinc. Packaged the same as gold leaf but the sheets are 5 inch squares. One pack covers105 sq. ft. Non-precious leaf includes copper, aluminum, and fumed “decorative” leaf.

Gilder’s Clay or bole, is mined and processed. Its ability to take a polish enables the gold to take on its highly reflective quality after being burnished with an agate. In Ralph Mayer’s The Artist’s Handbook, he describes clay as “Various native red oxides of iron or clays colored with iron.”

Rabbit skin glue is a protein based glue used as a binder in gesso and gilder’s clay.

Gesso is composed of calcium carbonate (whiting), rabbit skin glue or gelatin, and water. These ingredients are combined. They are warmed to a brushable consistency and several layers are applied. Gesso can be carved or “re-cut” to replace detail lost in the ornament during gessoing.

Gelatin, a refined protein glue, has less of the adhesive properties of rabbit skin glue or hide glue, and more of the glutean qualities.

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