Inside a Gold Leaf Techniques Workshop
[This guest post is from Pascale Arpin who attended Anne McDonald‘s recent Gold Leaf Techniques Workshop in Mazeppa. Anne’s next classes will be in: Mazeppa, May 4-6; New York, May 11-13; and Pontiac, May 18-20.]
Gold on glass has such a fascinating and magical quality to it that becoming privy to the process and techniques is really empowering for anyone looking to add gilding to their skillset. Between the materials, tools and techniques, learning to gild seemed really daunting, but I was amazed at how much we were able to learn and accomplish over the three-day workshop. This comes from a very green gilder with only a few reverse glass projects under my belt. I knew that I needed to develop my skills and knowledge to be able to offer my services to businesses, and to make sure I was doing it as well and efficiently as I could.
The starting point for those in the workshop varied, although I was at the more experienced end of the spectrum. However, although I had gilded before, I still felt like a beginner because I was learning something new and useful at every stage. There were so many tips and tricks that I wish I’d known when I was first started out, and it was great to see so many participants getting to learn these right away.
Anne was able to seamlessly impart an incredible amount of information without ever making it feel overwhelming. Over the three days I saw participants who had never gilded before complete not one but three (or more) projects, each featuring myriad techniques. Everything we did was accompanied by key pointers throughout, for both beginners and more advanced students. Anne welcomed questions and, although it was her first time teaching this workshop, she had an incredible wealth of knowledge and years of experience to draw on when answering.
Anne was a wonderful teacher and gave personal attention to each participant. Her demeanor was warm and welcoming, and she consistently reminded us that “it’s ok to make mistakes” while also showing us how to correct them. The workshop was meticulously planned to keep everyone’s learning at a similar pace, while also offering enough independence to work on the projects in parallel so that each person could shift from one to the other at will.
The start of the workshop was all about the basics. We learned: how to clean our glass; what to look out for and avoid when preparing and handling glass; how to prepare size; how to apply gold leaf (including the intricacies of holding the gold leaflets, cutting the gold, using a gilder’s tip, polishing the gold, etc.). Learning to lay gold was one of the key pieces of learning for most of us, especially how to correct mistakes with each layer of gold. Once everyone’s glass was gilded we moved on to screen-printing the gilded surfaces and learning about the types of inks used for durability when working with gold.
While our pieces were drying, we began working on our second project. This was a piece of glass that had already been screen-printed and on which we would learn how to add an embellishing texture using varnish, as well as how to gild using varnish, and eventually how to create a marble effect with paint. Once our first pieces had finished drying, we learned how to rub away the excess gold and began painting the areas of the piece that would require colour.
By the end of the first day, everyone had learned essentials of reverse glass gilding. I was stunned to see how quickly the learning curve was overcome by participants as it had taken me much longer to learn about all of the various intricate elements and steps via YouTube videos and books! We also had Urban Billmeier, fourth-generation owner of W&B Gold Leaf, give a presentation explaining how gold leaf is made. It was absolutely mind-blowing and instilled respect in all of us for the tiny sheets of gold we’d been using! [NB. Urban plans to attend as many of Anne’s classes as he can.]
On the second day, we started with a more in-depth look at the size-making process and got to continue working on the projects we had already started. We added variegated gold to our first piece, and eventually learned to create a special effect by using varnish, abalone shell and glitter (yes, glitter!) to fill in some of the letters. By the end of the day, everyone had their first piece completed and drying.
Across the day, we were given independence to rotate between our other projects. While one was drying you could choose which of your other pieces to work on next. This was a good lesson in time management and keeping track of drying times. We also started working on our third and final piece, which was a surface gilding project on a piece of carved wood. All of this helped to solidify the techniques that had been taught on the first day while also introducing new methods and new ways to embellish our pieces.
On the morning of the third (and last) day, we learned how to create a marble/cloud effect using paint on our second piece, and then the rest of day was all about completing our projects. We added finishing touches to each piece, and used our new skills and knowledge to experiment with the materials. Once again, students were given a fair amount of independence to complete their projects while still benefitting from Anne’s support and guidance.
By the end of the day it was astonishing to see all of the completed pieces, each totally unique and beautiful despite us all working from the same original designs. It was clear that every participant was leaving not only with three completed pieces to take home, but also with an understanding of the fundamentals behind the ‘magical’ art of gilding.
Personally, I left the workshop feeling substantially more confident about offering my services to businesses: being able to gild more efficiently and with a more in-depth knowledge of the small variations in technique that can really make a big difference in terms of efficiency and the finished product. I’d strongly recommend this workshop to anyone who is fascinated with the art of gilding!