by Claire Russell RMS
Claire talks us through the history and artistic application af Gold Leaf, referred to as Verre Eglomise in an indepth article and demonstration video.
Working with Gold Leaf and the Art of Verre Églomisé
Gold Leaf has long been used to decorate and embellish everyday objects, with many of the earliest artefacts still surviving to this day. The extraordinary durability and malleability of gold has been utilised by goldbeaters and gilders from as far back as the Egyptian times, as seen in hieroglyphs which depict men melting and beating gold into thin sheets.
What is Gold Leaf?
Gold Leaf is created through a process known as goldbeating which involves hammering gold into an extremely thin, unbroken sheet. This Gold Leaf is used for gilding and, when applied to an object, creates the illusion of solid gold. Gold Leaf is produced in books of 25 sheets as ‘Loose Leaf’ or ‘Transfer Leaf’ and can be found in art and craft retailers across the UK. Both Loose and Transfer Gold Leaf measure approximately 8x8cm and are manufactured in different grades and shades.
What do I Need?
Loose Leaf is extremely difficult to handle as it can easily disintegrate when touched. To successfully manipulate and apply Loose Gold Leaf, gilder’s require a set of special tools including a Gilder’s Cushion, Gilder’s Knife and a fine, flat brush called a Tip. A Gilder’s Cushion is a soft pad covered in Vellum or Suede and has a draught flap at the back, usually made from stiff parchment, which reduces the risk of an unwelcome breeze sending the Gold Leaf flying. A Gilder’s Knife is a razor-sharp tool used to cut loose leaf into a desired shape, and a Gilder’s Tip, often made from squirrel or badger hair, allows the delicate Gold Leaf to be picked up using natural static.
Transfer Leaf is a more expensive form of Gold Leaf as the Gold is pressed into a backing sheet of acid-free Tissue Paper. The added tissue backing makes the individual leaf easier to handle without the use of Gilder’s Tools, making it a great option for beginners to the Gilding Craft.
An alternative to genuine Gold Leaf is Dutch Metal Leaf which is Gold in colour but made from Brass and Silver from Aluminium. It’s relatively cheap compared to Gold Leaf making it ideal for experimentation. Dutch Metal Leaf can also be handled without tools as the individual sheets are much thicker and cover a larger surface area, with each sheet measuring 14x14cm.
How do I Apply it?
The adhesive used to apply any Gold Leaf or Dutch Metal Leaf to an object is known as ‘Gold Size’ and is an oil or water-based adhesive.
Water-Based Size is a milky glue that dries clear and can be either hand-mixed using water and gelatine or bought pre-mixed. As well as being used for Gold Leaf projects, it can also be used for craft work such as decoupage.
Oil-Based Size is a thick, honey-coloured medium that creates a tacky surface and can be used for both interior and exterior gilding.
What Is Verre Églomisé?
Verre Églomisé is an ancient form of Gilding that pre-dates the Roman Era,but its resurgence came about in the 18th Century thanks to French Decorator Jean-Baptiste Glomy (1711–1786). In Verre Églomisé, Gold Leaf is applied to a glass panel with a thin layer of Water-Based Size.
Gold Size is hand-mixed using a recipe of gelatine and water, and if the ratio is just right the Gold Leaf is sucked down onto the glass.
Once left for a minute or two, any transfer tissue can be carefully lifted from the glass revealing rhe thin layer of Gold beneath. The strength of Gold Size and drying time can create unique patterns between the Gold Leaf and Tissue Backing, meaning the remaining Gold layer is seldom uniform in its appearance. The gilded glass panel must then be left to fully dry before it can be drawn onto using a fine needle or hard pencil.
Beginning a Verre Eglomise Piece
Before work begins on a Gilded Glass panel, it’s placed on a black velour-covered board to prevent the Glass panel from slipping. This can then be flipped over regularly to view the marks scratched onto the Glass as the image progresses. Although not entirely impossible, Iit’s very difficult to correct any mistakes made as the image appears as the result of Gold being removed from the Gilded Glass Panel. Once the drawing is finished, a black enamel paint is applied over the Gilded side of the Glass Panel, locking in the design and creating an attractive vontrast with the remaining Gold Leaf.
The marks made by drawing into Gold Leaf are often so fine they can be almost invisible to the naked eye. As such, Verre Églomisé is a practice which requires an immense amount of patience, especially when working in Miniature. Larger Verre Églomisé artworks can be created but these will require several sheets of loose Gold Leaf to be applied edge to ddge.