Guide to Gilding: Applying the Gold

Now that we have our substrate ready to go, the time has come to apply gold to the frame. The gold is the tomato in the salad, the omelet’s goat cheese, or the chocolate for the cake. It’s both essential and exciting.

To get started, one of the gilders at Lowy Frame and Restoring Co. sets up the workspace with brushes, a gilder’s knife, gilder’s liquor and booklets of gold leaf around the prepared frame. The gold leaf comes in boxes of 500 sheets, separated by very thin tissue paper. The purity of the gold can range from six to twenty-four karats, and it is common for us to work with both white and traditional yellow gold. Whether restoring an existing frame or applying an entirely new finish, the frames at Lowy are a product of art history and aesthetic preferences.

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The gilder starts at the corner of the frame. He or she will cut a section from the booklet of gold leaf with a gilder’s knife on a leather pad. The width and shape of these sections are dictated by the size and pattern of the frame. Very thin pieces are required for the most ornate schemes, while larger rectangles can be used for flat panels. When the gold leaf is cut, the gilder uses a brush to pick up the leaf and lay it on the frame. The brush is about three inches wide and made from very soft squirrel hair, weighing less than an empty paper cup. A gilder must be practiced and steady-handed to apply this layer properly because gold leaf is an unforgiving material. Once the leaf has been placed, the gilder uses a sable brush to paint a layer of gilder’s liquor over the gold. Gilder’s liquor is a combination of water, alcohol and gelatin glue, which when used by a gilder to adhere gold leaf to the frame produces a bond that can last hundreds of years.

The skills, experience and understanding of Lowy’s gilders and their knowledge of traditional materials used in gilding make us a great resource for your framing needs.


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