Moot Icon – Work-in-Progress (Pt.3)

So, inevitably when you’re making paintings, the (literally) sticky topic of gold leaf comes up. I often put haloes on the characters in my painting, so I can’t really avoid using the bloody stuff. Its basically small squares of gold that have been beaten flat into sheets that are so thin, if you sneeze, they’ll disappear.

You think I’m joking. The first time I bought a book of gold leaf sheets, I cautiously peeled back the first page to look at one, and it disintegrated in front of my eyes, purely as a result of being exposed to the vapour in the air.

The process of adding gold leaf is called gilding, and there are two ways of doing it – water gilding and oil gilding. I don’t really bother with water gilding, as oil gilding is a lot easier – although if you can get good at water gilding, it goes on a lot more smoothly.

Basically, if you’re oil gilding, you put a liquid called gold size down exactly where you want the gold to go on your painting. Leave it to go a bit dry (so its sticky like scotch tape, not wet – usually after about an hour), then put the little squares of gold on. Getting the gold squares from the book to where you want them to go is usually pure comedy. You can’t pick it up with your fingers. It’s too thin. You have to get a big wide, flat brush about 15cms wide, breathe on it so it gets the vapour from your breath, pick up the leaf with that brush and then dump it on the painting in the right place. It will detach itself from your brush, and sail through the air like a feather in the wind about 4 times before you finally persuade it to go WHERE YOU BLOODY WANT IT TO!

For this work, rather than just put a perfect circle on the painting for haloes, I thought it would be interesting to dip the bottom of a paint tin in the gold size, and then put it onto the painting (that’s what I’m doing in the photo above). It’s still a circle, but it bleeds like when you put a coffee mug on a table. So now its got gold leaf on it, its a much more ragged circle, which is in keeping with the work.

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