The Pharoahs’ Tombs
Way back in about 1990 when I first wanted to learn to gild, I bought a book. In fact, it’s the book on the subject: “Practical gilding by Peter and Ann Mactaggart” which I’ve since referred to many times.
But initially I got nowhere. There are no pictures and it’s not exactly a bundle of laughs, but the main problem was that I simply couldn’t believe that at the end of the twentieth century the best way of doing something was boiling up bits of dead animals amongst the many other rituals required to do the job.
So I went on a course: five days with the Rural Development Commission, and it was great. With a bit of practice, I was away. But then I spent the next ten years or so trying to invent more efficient ways of achieving the same sort of results. I only came back wholeheartedly to the traditional processes and materials about six years ago, when I realised just how brilliant they are.
Shortly after the gilding course, I visited the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with Caroline on our honeymoon. Getting as close as I could to the remnants of the Pharaohs’ tombs, I could see the bits of gilt still remaining in places, and in others the layers of gesso and clay underneath. The process is exactly the same now as it was then over 3,000 years ago. There’s a reason that nothing better has come along – it’s hard to beat.
What is a Gesso?
Traditional Gesso is a mix of animal glue and chalk. Sometimes called “Stucco”, Gesso is the base surface for water gilding and other traditional finishes acting as a grain filler and undercoat. It gives frames a “fluid” look and its unique properties can be used to create many beautiful finishes. We can supply any frame in Plain Gesso for artists to apply their own finishes. Any timber can be gessoed – Obeche is normally first choice being the least expensive, particularly for large mouldings.
Moulding 22 in Obeche with Plain Gesso finish
Other than flat colour, stains & lacquers or grainy finish nearly all of our finishes are created on a Gesso base. Here’s a bit of a glossary:
Bole: Natural clay in various colours used under gold leaf and also to create coloured finishes.
Gold Leaf: 23.75Ct Gold, which comes in 3” square leaves each only a few molecules thick.
White Gold: 12Ct Nickel & Gold alloy – champagne silver colour
Caplain: Palladium & Gold alloy – beautiful soft pinky silver
Water Gilding: The process of laying precious metal leaves onto a gessoed and boled surface with gilding water.
Burnishing: Compacting the precious metal leaves by rubbing with an agate stone to achieve a beautiful deep sheen. Can only be done on water gilded surfaces.
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