All about animal glue, from Natural Pigments
Blurb about rabbit-skin glue, yet another binder to try
Articles about gilding, from Natural Pigments
So we did all these things - us, Ozbeg and Katherine, Earl Paul and Lady Anne, Isabel and Vitus, and alternately helped and held up by assorted children.
It was a beautiful afternoon, so a fine time to be out of our own house and in someone's garden and you never go hungry in this crowd. The BBQ groaned under the weight of sausages, marinated chicken parts and chicken livers (way better than I expected), and Saturday is ice-cream day for the kids.
And I had a fine intro to two-hand sword with Paul, who is quite knowledgeable in matters two-handed-sword related, particularly the distinction between German and English styles. He's got all the fancy names for positions down pat, and can explain why you move from one position to the next in a very clear way with his usual cheery enthusiasm.
I was talking over illumination and gilding with Katherine (who is starting illumination, and was trying out different mixes).
Vitus over heard me talking about what gesso is made of. 'Oh', he says, 'you should use Gesso di Bologna for the filler, like I did when I was priming this box with gesso and bone glue'.
(It stank, said Isabel, even from the garage you could smell it...)
'Sure' says I, whenever you have a load of gesso di bologna, let me know. It's very expensive and you get huge quantities, when you only need tiny amounts. (Cornelissen's smallest quantity is 1kg, when I might need a teaspoon's worth at a time.)
He stares at me, then reaches down (he's standing in the garage as we're reloading the trailer) and picks up a 5kg bag of gesso di Bologna.
Apparently when you're Vitus, you buy it on the Internet from a German source in industrial quantities. Why am I not surprised?
So now, on top of every other esoteric ingredient for gilding, I have a lifetime supply of gesso di Bologna...and so does Katherine. I helped myself to some Ziplocs and we each made off with about a cupful, earnestly hoping neither of us got stopped by the cops carrying a bag of white powder.
SO: does anyone have a recipe for gesso that uses this stuff? how is it different from plaster of Paris, or is it suspiciously similar? Anyone got any success stories?
Since Ozbeg doesn't travel w/out his iPad, I was able to point Katherine to the recipe's of Mistress Yvianne's, which are almost identical to Mistress Oriane's. Both these call for slaked plaster vs the Bologna powder; Oriane uses coffee sugar rather than honey (less control over what goes into honey), but otherwise quantities are very similar.
This isn't directly related to my 30-day challenge, but it's part of the Great Gilding Project which may yet take off again.
Generally pleased with it, and the photos don't show up the flaws of the gilding. :-)
I think I'll do more in this hand, because it was a real delight to practice.
Work is full-on this week while my mgr is away. Knackered.
At the shire meeting, Mistress Oriane asked about my progress, and I complained about my dry non-sticky gesso.
She said she'd been working on a batch herself, and had had to double the sugar(!) to get it to a sticky state - something in the conditions here are different, that require a different mix.
Relief! and I said so, as I'd thought it was just me.
'It probably is just you' said nusbacher helpfully. What are friends for?
SO: I go home with intent to either add a teeeeeeny amount of sugar to the current gesso (I was thinking dissolving some sugar into the water, then letting a new gesso button soak in it)...I'm not quite up to knocking out a new batch of gesso, not without at least trying to salvage what I have.
But hurrah - if Oriane has to change her old-faithful gesso recipe to work in southern England, I feel much better.
Tried another button of gesso today - just 3 drops of water this time, and let it soak, and then worked with a brush to dissolve it. Had a really smooth consistency, with no bubbles or lumps.
Painted it onto some samples, let it dry. Tried lots of breathing on it, then transfer gold...nuthin'. Nothing stuck, except a tiny fringe around the edges in one corner. It was dry dry dry.
I added a layer of gum arabic on top, and reapplied the transfer gold.
This mostly worked, at least after a few tries; it sometimes took several applications to complete the cover.
As usual the pictures don't convey the project very well. But basically, it's fairly flat gilding but not as flat as if there were no gesso at all. It's not mirror finish, but is reasonably even, no lumps and fairly straight edges, that can be smoothed a bit more with a knife.
It is not perfect - one patch on one of the rectangles wouldn't take gold, not for nuthin'. I painted over it with more gum arabic, and tried again, and filled the patch, but I can see it.
I have no idea if this gesso + gum arabic has any basis in medieval practice.
On this one, you can see a bit of 'bleed' on the right-hand piece, on the right bar. I don't know how this happened, because neither the gesso, nor the gum arabic, appeared to bulge when I applied them. The bulge appeared only after I applied the gold, and the gum arabic seemed to have spread as if going through a hole. I scraped off most of it, but the unevenness remains.
SO: I have no idea what the issue is. It's as if the gesso has mass and body, but no stickyness at all.
I haven't used a quill in some months, but I really wanted these pieces to be as completely medieval-made as possible (didn't quite make it, the size and transfer gold are modern, though the gold is real). The results weren't as smooth as they could have been with a metal nib, but frankly I was pleasantly surprised they were as good as this.
One silly mistake: I use my slope almost all the time for scribing, and I forgot you need a flat surface to lay the size on the parchment, otherwise it pools at the lowest point. So I can see a pool of size in the foot of the P, where it gathered overnight.
One very cool aspect: Robert made me an inscrbing tool for making lines in parchment.
Somewhere, I've read, that the lines you see in manuscripts aren't pencil - they're silverpoint. The scribes used a silver-tipped 'pencil' to indent the lines in the parchment. What you now see is the effect of tarnished silver embedded in the parchment, which has turned dark with years. But initially, you would not have seen it.
So Robert took a piece of broken arrow (lots of them in this house) and inserted a nail in one end, to create a slightly blunted point. It's sharp enough to make a line, but not so sharp that it breaks the surface of the parchment.
You can just see the shade of these lines on the pic.
There's a large space at the bottom, so that it could be folded and sealed, as well as signed. I'll have to ask Matthewe to bring it to an event, to ensure this happens, because I know I didn't manage to convey that before it was given out.
ETA: link to the full text on Robert's wiki
To my great annoyance, the picture of the whole scroll is poor, though you can see the gist of it: I was finishing just before packing and running out the door to catch a train, so I didn't take the time on the pictures. It looks lopsided, because I was shooting from an angle, trying to get the shine on the gold.
The closeup of the initial was good, and you can see the texture of the parchment well.
The large word KNOW is on purpose, not a scribal goof - it's modelled on a 16th c grant of arms from the English college of heralds, that doesn't use capital letters to start sentences, but uses large 'miniscule' letters instead. Proper names are capitalised though. In the photo I have in a book, there's no sign of periods to end sentences either but the photo may simply not show them.
Again, the slopey-ness of the text is from the angle of the picture, not in the original. Honest.
SO: freshly armed with beautifully finely-ground gesso, I tackled my next round of samples.
And I get a new problem.
Mistress Oriane had reminded me of working 'wet into wet' on gesso, rather than waiting for the gesso to dry before adding a new layer. This technique is important in other arts where you want to get a smooth even coating, like silk painting.
So I'm carefully doing the lines on my samples wet into wet, and very carefully keeping the rectangular areas wet with gesso for an even coat. It's a thinner gesso than before, but still workable. We're going swimmingly.
Then I leave it to dry... and come back to what looks like a volcanic surface. Sigh.
The pics are a bit blurry, but I think you can see the bubbles in the rectangles.
When I'd read about bubbles, I thought scribes had meant tiny pinhole bubbles that happen whe you mix something quickly and get air trapped in the mix.
These bubbles are not pinhole bubbles. I think they're from the surface buckling under the gesso layer, as it's drying, and the gesso pushing up while retaining its surface tension (rather than leaking outside the area).
Unfortunately, by the time I reach them, they're dry and brittle. and crack when you touch them. They are not fixable with a fine pin.
The lines of gesso are fine - no extended surface area.
I'm sure this is a positive development, somehow.
I no longer have gritty gesso. I now have fine gesso, that doesn't bleed, which is good. It draws nicely in lines, which is also good.
But it needs...something. I'm not certain what. I wonder about re-wetting them, to see if they'll soften and sink.
Because it's not a complete loss, I'm thinking of sanding off the rectangles and recoating these areas.
Has anyone else fixed bubbles like this? Sanding? rewetting? starting over?
I'm sooooooo glad these are not commissioned scrolls. I'd have packed it in on day 2 if I was under a deadline.
Mistress Oriane having (rightly) taken me to task for the lumps and bumps in my previous gesso made me aware that I wasn't grinding enough - and rereading the instructions brought that home too. Hence, the muller, which brings grinding particle fineness to a new level.
Some things I tried:
- Per Oriane's recommendation, I both ground pigments and sugar (individually) in the mortar, then sieved these using cheesecloth. It's useful because you can then grind the bits that remain in the cloth some more.
- I cleaned all my tools like the muller, slab, and burnishers to remove grease from handling. Instructions recommended rubbing alcohol, but I used meths (known as 'the purple stuff in the cupboard' in our house, since I wasn't familiar with it by that name in Canada).
- The instructions recommend mixing the gesso in a bowl or mortar, then dividing it up to mull it, then grind each batch three times. This works out to a lot more grinding than my lightweight grinding and mixing had yielded before.
Using the muller, in a circular or figure-8 fashion the way all the instructions say, is a real pleasure in itself.
Next time I'll make a bigger patch. It's a bit of a letdown to work for an hour and half for a net result of about 2 teaspoons of gesso. But until I get one that works, there's no point in making larger quantities.
Scraping 'rested' gesso for more mulling. Finished batch is on the paper.
Slab is bijou, rather than useful.
Trying to contain the mess...
Some things I didn't know:
- I can generate a sound worse than nails on a blackboard, by scraping out my marble mortar and pestle with a plastic measuring spoon. Yeeeeech.
- I need a bigger slab for grinding. We have small medium and large marble slabs in our house, the largest being a base for soapstone carving. I'll have to clean up the medium one next time, because keeping all my runny ingredients on the small slab was a PITA.
- I also need some decent rubber or silicon spatulas. Scraping micro-quantities with a spoon gets old fast.
Yesterday after skiving out of work in the mid afternoon I took myself to my favourite shop, Cornelissens, for a Christmas treat.
I'd been resisting buying the specialist gilding equipment for a long time - looking for homemade bodge-fixes instead, because I'm not a gilder, I'm a calligrapher, right? - but I've decided I don't want to fight with my tools. If they'll make the difference between frustration and success, I'm willing to spend some money.
My stocking included:
- a glass muller: I was sold on this when Mistress Oriane asked 'what are the lumps in your gesso?' and truthfully I had not done nearly as much grinding as is suggested in 'the gilded page'. So today's project is to Get It Right, or at least follow the instructions.
I was surprised to find that the Cornelissens mullers are made individually, so they vary even within the small med and large designations. So the staffer brought up three for me to fondle, and number 2 was a perfect fit for my hand. It was striking how different it felt in my hand.
- a gilder's pad. The staffer started describing the destinctions between the 'economy' and the 'professional' pad, and I told him I'd only ever planned to buy the economy one. (Honestly, he was struggling to explain the difference - AFAICT it was nicer finishing nails round the edge). I could have made one, but that would cost me more in time and fuss than the £27 it cost me. If I ever get to gild a wall, I'll make a bigger one for myself.
- a thick gilder's tip, the specialist brush that I saw all the cool-kid gilders using on YouTube.
- starter pack of loose gold. This is not really a bargain, you're better off buying a standard pack and sharing it, but I wasn't clever enough to plan that. If I finish this pack, I'll know I'm keen enough to buy more.
- more titanium dioxide dry pigment. I found some watercolour version, but am sticking to dry til I get a working gesso, then I can play with the recipe to find out what can change.
- a bunch of 15ml containers. I'm finding our small-container supply stretched as I mix and collect bits, and we can only consume so much mustard in tiny pots.
Why am I blogging on Christmas Day? Because our Christmas is spent very quietly at home.
If you don't own a car, and get out of London on 24 Dec, you're stuck in the city for 2 days, because the Tube doesn't run on 25 Dec, and the near-traditional Boxing Day Tube strike is on 26 Dec. (Given the flooding this year, lots of people are stuck in crap places anyway - I'd rather be at home.)
So we take advantage of it, and hole up with food, drink, holiday TV (Dr Who! Her Majesty in 3D!) and crafts.
It's the best holiday imaginable.
On Boxing Day we're headed to Sir Vitus and Lady Isabel's house for a feed, but til then...gild on.
YouTube: I've left out the many examples of people using transfer leaf (US patent leaf) because that's not what's causing me grief.
Charles Douglas - best video I've found so far but very brief
Bethlehem icon school - water gilding an icon, very lovely, handling gold in whole sheets
How (not to) gold leaf - novices errors. Low quality video, Aussie narration.
Free online water gilding course - Lesson 4 is about actually handling the gold.
Extensive series on making icons, including gilding and egg tempera - might be of interest. In Greek, w/ English subtitles
Another series, this time in Italian, about gilding wood decorations. The link is for the actual gold handling bit.
First pic - loose gold, followed by attempt of transfer gold.
When I managed to lift gesso with the transfer page...I gave it a rest.
This is the bit where I was lifting gesso. Sigh.
...and I managed to lift the loose gold I'd laid, cause it stuck to the transfer page.
...so I let it rest today.
I think I still have to work out the best ways to handle loose gold. It's pretty maddening stuff.
Looked on YouTube for guidance, wanting to see how other people handle the gold itself.
It appears that on YouTube, 'gilding' to some people is applied to 1/12th miniatures; picture frames; icons; and motorcycles. Cause no motorcycle is complete without a gilded gastank. Who knew?
If anyone has some favourite links, I'd be glad of them.
ETA: forgot to mention - I did find a good example of burnishing and polishing the gesso before gilding. The person's gesso was clearly far harder than mine, to take a polish like that. He was using transfer gold, and got a far better shine on it than I thought possible.
So that was a good help - gesso has to be dry enough to polish. He also tended to use just one hard 'darth vader' breath to get enough warmth/humidity for the gesso.
I measured quantities more carefully this time, and took more time grinding down the rock candy fine - first a mortar and pestle, then a spice grinder, which is a bit like a muller; This kitchen item was courtesy of thorngrove. I've resisted buying a real glass muller, since I don't grind pigments (yet).
I'll need more titanium pigment for the next batch!
Since I'm making it far, far more quickly than I'm using it, I'm looking for interested users...
Again, this is transfer gold (22.5k), the rub-off stuff. I have a book of it, whereas I have only a sheet and a half of loose leaf gold (22k), so I'm using the loose sparingly.
These critters are from the same 13th commentary on the Psalms that I used to model Katherine Percival's Pelican. They're very cheery looking monsters with very sinuous necks.
On another note- how do I get the page to lay flat? all my gilded samples are curling like crazy.
Results are...disappointing, to say the least.
I should mention - the first two pieces are using transfer gold (the 'letraset' type, that you rub off a backing paper) rather than loose leaf gold.
I found a consistent problem - the gold stuck around the edges of the letter, or the beads, but would not stick to the 'highest' points, where the gesso was thickest. Repeated applications worked the gold up towards the highest point, but sometimes the very centre of a bead remained bare.
After the first couple of tries, I tried adding a coat of gum ammoniac, which you usually only use for flat gilding - I was thinking maybe the gesso could provide some shape, and the gum the stickiness. No real improvement.
You can see that in a second or third application, the gesso actually lifted off, and stuck to the gold transfer paper, rather than the page.
I'm at a loss here - any one had a similar problem?
I'm aware that gilding is very sensitive to atmospheric conditions. Extremes of heat, cold and humidity can help or hinder.
Since I'm in SE England, my conditions are almost continually 'damp', or at least humid. Today humidity ranges from 77-85%, and today is bright and sunny, as it was yesterday (rained overnight).
It's always humid, even when it doesn't feel especially wet. And since most English home heating systems are crap, what you get outside will dictate what you get inside.
The bottom example is leaf gold - I had a similar problem, though not exactly the same, and because this is my second try at leaf gold, I don't know how much is gesso problem, and how much is me and my lack of handling experience.
I'm still debating, but life may be too short for leaf gold - the single test piece took me over an hour, and I wasn't happy with it. I did, in the end, get better coverage, but it was painfully slow and clumsy.
These are my test pieces with gesso on them. They're bookmarks - not terribly medieval, but conveniently shaped for the strips of perg I always have leftover after cutting large sheets down to A3, A4, A5 and other easy framing sizes for scrolls.
It's based on MS Digby 36, a very pretty 15th c manuscript in the Bodleian Library - very 'girly' with lots of stylised flowers, and easy for a non-artist.