GILDING BASICS From historic recipes we learn the basic materials for gilding. The simplest require
only an adhesive and gold leaf. Others require a “filler” such as chalk to give bulk
if the gilding will be raised and clay or something like it if it will be burnished. They
require an adhesive such as glair, gum or glue. Many recipes include a hygroscopic
agent such as honey or sugar this improves flexibility and increases tackiness
For simple flat gilding garlic solution, gum arabic solution and glair all work. A small
amount of pigment is usually added to make the adhesive visible. ¼ part sugar or honey
may be added if needed to assure adhesion or flexibility.
Dry gilding is accomplished by breathing a very deep breath directly onto the preparatory
layer from deep in the lungs and very quickly applying the gold leaf. The preparatory layer
must be tacky after this breath. Fish glue recipes work well this way and recipes with honey
Wet gilding is typical for traditional preparations, specially hide glue based recipes. The dry
preparatory layer is re-wet with a gilders liquid (or liquor) and the gold laid onto the
Gilding liquids for wetting the preparatory layer for application of the gold can be as simple as
plain water. They can be more complex with the addition of glair or glue to increase adhesion,
(1part to 5 parts water should be good). These liquids are often called gilding liquors as a little
alcohol 1/5 part, is often added specially for large areas of gilding to break the surface tension
of the water and allow it to lay across the surface smoothly.
Mordant gilding is a technique for applying gold embellishment, usually little dots or lines, onto
finished painted surfaces. Garlic juice solution, with addition of a little pigment and/or white lead for
bulk, works well for this. White lead is poisonous, people often substitute titanium white, which is
safe to use. A little gum ammoniac or gum arabic may also be added to the solution.
MODERN FISH GLUE RECIPE
The most popular recipe among gilders on paper and parchment today.
This is a recipe for dry gilding technique. It is a 20th century recipe of
This recipe utilizes commercially available fish glue sometimes called seccotine.
The glue remains liquid at room temperatures making it easy to use,
traditional glues gel at room temperature and must be used warm.
8 Parts dry slacked plaster *
3 Parts lead white pigment
1 - 5 parts sugar or honey *
1 - 5 parts fish glue
Small amount bole
Notes: * Dry slaked plaster, called sottile, is prepared by soaking a
small amount of plaster of paris in a large amount of water for a month
after first stirring with out stopping for 20 minutes to prevent it setting
hard. It will refine itself and be free of all irregularities, which would
affect the gilding. It may be dried and stored indefinitely.
* Amounts of glue/ honey or sugar may be varied. It is traditional
to increase these amounts in drier hotter climates. The more adhesive
present the less brilliant the burnish will be, but the easier the gilding
1. Grind together plaster, sugar and white pigment
2. Add bole and a few drops of water, grind until very smooth.
3. Add glue grind. You may add a few more drops of water as needed.
Grind for 20 minutes or it will not be smooth enough.
4. If bubbles develop add a few drops of oil of cloves.
5. Dry in small buttons / reconstituted for use with water or glair.
6. Apply the preparation to desired areas with pen or brush. The preparation must
be smooth and free of all irregularities.
7. Allow to dry. If irregularities are present in the dried surface scrape smooth with
razor blade or small sharp knife or burnish them away.
8. Apply gold leaf by dry gilding method: Breathe onto the surface with very deep
breaths from a few inches above or through a straw or tube about 5 inches in length.
The surface must become tacky, but not wet. Apply gold leaf, press down with cotton
ball, or with aid of glassine paper.