Author Topic: Raised Gilding on Vellum  (Read 671 times)

Offline BGoldstein

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Raised Gilding on Vellum
« on: September 02, 2018, 03:49:54 PM »
Hi all!

Background: Over the past two years, I've begun to experiment with gilding. I cut the vellum, pricked, blind-ruled, penned, painted, and gilded the two traditional Jewish wedding documents that were used at my wedding this past December (the Ketubah and the Tena'im). The gesso I used was Rublev Easy Gesso that I got from Natural Pigments (https://www.naturalpigments.com/easy-gesso-extra-fine.html); the gold I used was roll of ribbon transfer gold from Blick (https://www.dickblick.com/products/roll-gold/).

My method was: I prepared the gesso as per the instructions (with a little added red ink for color), painted it in the letter sketches that I made, painted several coats (pausing for drying), sanded with 320 grit and then 600 grit sandpaper, then burnished with agate burnisher. I tried to breathe on the dried gesso and lay the transfer gold, but it wouldn't adhere. I got the gesso really damp by breathing on it and the gold partially adhered, so I figured with a lot more moisture it would better adhere. Eventually I found that the best way to get the gold leaf to stick was to take a wet q-tip and brush the water over a small part (about .25in*.25in) of the polished gesso, then lay a piece of the leaf, press from the back (hard), and then repeat until the whole area was gilded. After the gesso had fully re-dried, I burnished it with the agate. It worked quite well, but some small cracks did develop. I guess that that was inevitable unless the vellum had been mounted.

My question: I am now working on an illuminated Passover Haggadah. The leaves are 180mm tall and 110mm wide, so it's relatively small (duodecimo size). Thus, I don't expect too much flexion of the pages, even though they will not be mounted. I would like to use gesso, but I'm afraid of it developing cracks. I bought Kφlner Miniatum, which apparently works well for raised gilding on flexible surfaces, but apparently cannot be burnished once it's dry (in addition to not being period-appropriate). If I added some Miniatum to my gesso, would the resulting mixture be more flexible and burnishable? Or would it be a cracky, unburnishable mess?

Does anyone here have experience with raised gilding on non-mounted vellum? Any tips or ideas?

Thanks so much!
Binyamin

Offline SueL

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2018, 07:41:30 AM »
I'm not familiar with the brand of gesso you're using, but I wouldn't mix that gesso with miniatum. I suspect that chemically they wouldn't play well together. Why don't you just go with one or the other?

Offline BGoldstein

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2018, 02:41:27 PM »
Thanks for the suggestion, Sue. I would go with the miniatum, but gilt gesso seems to be a bit more hardy than miniatum. In the few tests runs I've made with miniatum, the material is rubbery (even when fully cured) and can be scored with a nail easily (a quality that I do not want my raised gilding to have). On the other hand, the gesso that I've gilded before is much less susceptible to damage post-gilding (except by cracking with bending of the substrate, which is why I'm hesitant to use it in gilding a loose page).

Do you have any suggestions for a different additive that I could mix with the gesso to make it more flexible?

Offline Estefa

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2018, 09:16:50 AM »
Like Sue, I am not familiar with the ready made gesso you used, but I second her opinion that the binders / sizes used in an acrylic, sythetic base are so different from those in the traditional gesso, that I would not mix them. The mix might react or behave strangely after weeks or months, and that would be sad for all the work you'd put in it! 

I took part in a workshop about traditional gilding with Peter Thornton two years ago. We made the gesso ourselves. I still have the test sheets – the gesso is in fact not as flexible as Miniatum, but on a 300g paper it still sits nicely and uncracked. I kept it of course in a folder all the time, but when I bend the paper a bit, the gesso stays intact.

I checked the gesso you used and it seems it contains more or less what we used to make it. Which was:

Chalk, titanium white, white candy sugar, rabbit glue plus a tad armenian bole for color.

The gesso you used doesn't contain sugar candy – but according to Peter that is used for its hygroscopic properties (to help the gesso get a bit wet when you blow on it, – adding that could help that the gold sticks better). You need to crush the candy sugar and grind it (best on a glass palette, or in a clean mortar). You only need very little of the sugar (about 1/12 of the whole mix).

Peter told us that it's the titanium white which helps for pliability. So maybe you want to add a bit more of that to the mix – it's hard to say when I don't know the ratio of the materials originally used in your gesso.

Traditionally of course white lead was used instead of titanium white. It seems, if you listen to people who used to work with it, to be much superior to titanium white. Sadly it's highly toxic, and in many countries you can't even buy it if you're not a certified restaurator or such. I also wouldn't advice it without proper training by someone who knows how to handle it!

Regarding Miniatum: you actually can polish it – just not with an agate burnisher. You just use a soft cotton cloth, it gets a real nice shine. But I agree it's somehow »not the real thing«! It sticks quite well to paper in my experience, I did not have that happen that you can loose it with a nail – maybe it behaves different on vellum. Maybe if it's still a bit fat on the surface …?

I hope some of that is of interest to you! It sounds like wonderful projects. Good luck!
Stefanie :: Website :: Blog :: Instagram

Offline SueL

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2018, 02:16:03 AM »
Gesso is definitely firmer and will stand up to being between pages than miniatum. Given that the size of your book isn't that large, I think gesso should work fine for your needs. Think of the old days where books and bibles were gilded. These were all done using gesso, not miniatum.

Offline BGoldstein

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2018, 02:06:55 PM »
Thank you, Stefanie, for your response, and Sue for yours!

Thanks for the suggestion of adding sugar to increase the tack of the gesso - I had seen it listed in medieval recipes for gesso and was wondering at its absence in the gesso that I was using. Perhaps that also explains the lack of tack when I moisturized it by breathing on it...

Re: white lead - I would actually be comfortable using it (with ventilator mask and gloves of course) if I would be keeping the volume in a display case or something, but my project is a Passover Haggadah and will be used twice a year at the dinner table. So I'd rather avoid the lead poisoning.

If the titanium white (/lead white) is for pliability, why do we not substitute another metal oxide, instead? Titanium is pretty brittle, no?

I visited my vellum supplier yesterday to buy the vellum to make the remainder of the sheets needed (I already cut four leaves), and they said that they would put in an order for vellum prepared on both sides (the vellum I had been using was klaf, which is prepared for writing only on the flesh side). Soooo... I'm making it a quarto. This raises another question: Since it will be a larger page, should I ask them to keep it relatively thick, so that it won't cockle when I paint it? Or should I just try to stretch and clamp it and hope for the best?

I think that I'll use miniatum for gilding thinner lines (I found that the gesso that I applied in thin lines on my Ketubbah cracked with the same pressure that did not crack the gesso on the larger gilded areas.

Thanks again for the help; if there's any interest, I'd post a few pictures when the project is underway! (Being as I'm writing the MS before beginning the gilding, and I'm still waiting for the vellum, it may be a while...)

Offline Estefa

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #6 on: September 07, 2018, 05:12:58 PM »
First thing, Binyamin – I would very much like see pictures of your projects!

I am really not that experienced but from what I read and heard I think the sugar really could help. Do you know this book by Patricia Lovett?

https://www.cornelissen.com/book-tools-and-materials-for-calligraphers-by-patricia-lovett-14604.html

She explains the whole process very, very extensively and I think she said that you could also use honey instead of sugar.

About the lead white or titanium white: I don't know enough about the chemistry involved about the differences. But I also read that lead white is superior, so maybe that is because titanium is more brittle. If you have the time and energy … sure, why not try another white pigment? I'd be interested in your findings :). – And I agree, if you read from the finished book before a meal, maybe lead is not such a great idea …

Regarding your thoughts about the vellum – I also read in Patricia's book that the finest illuminated manuscripts were written on that super fine vellum (don't remember how it's called), and they often used gilding especially in the most precious books in medieaval times. But then again books of hours for example were often very small … it seems like there is a lot of experimenting to do for you! But I think that generally vellum is much less cockling than paper …

Thin lines: I think that usually thin lines were rather painted with shell gold than done with raised gilding – so probably miniatum (minatum ink is even possible to write directly with a dip nib) is the better solution, if you don't want to use shell gold.

Sorry I can't say anything more specific or sure!! Good success again!
Stefanie :: Website :: Blog :: Instagram

Offline BGoldstein

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2019, 04:27:19 PM »
So I decided to use miniatum for all gilding that I'm doing for the lettering. I've found that the best way to lay the miniatum is by first setting down the lettering in regular ink and pooling/dragging miniatum over it. I'll be using gesso for the illumination-gilding that I do after I finish writing the text. I'm up to page 20 out of 60!

Offline KristinT

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2019, 12:07:04 AM »
This is gorgeous.  Are you satisfied with the technique so far? 

Offline BGoldstein

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #9 on: April 11, 2019, 04:46:13 PM »
Thanks so much, Kristin!

I am! And I'm a big fan of Kolner Miniatum, now that I've got the hang of it  ;D

Offline Estefa

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #10 on: April 11, 2019, 04:51:44 PM »
Wow – I really love your work. It looks amazing in its puristic beauty! Thanks for posting your project!
Stefanie :: Website :: Blog :: Instagram

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #11 on: April 12, 2019, 10:20:33 AM »
Wow! So beautiful! Thank you for sharing!  :)
Truly, Erica
Lettering/Design Artist, Homeopath, Photographer, Mom, Wife
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Offline KacyBG

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #12 on: April 12, 2019, 02:33:16 PM »
Binyamin, this is a family treasure in-the-making!
So beautiful. Which brand of vellum did you use?

Offline BGoldstein

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2019, 08:54:00 PM »
Thanks so much Stefanie, Erica, and Kacy! I wasn't going to post photos of all of the pages here, but here's my Google Photos album in which I'm documenting the process https://photos.app.goo.gl/RtABuNNZ9e4dCvzW7. After I finish writing the 60 pages, I'll go back to the beginning and write in the vowel points, and gild and paint all of the illuminations. Any comments or suggestions are most welcome!

Kacy, I used Klaf (calfskin vellum prepared for Jewish ritual use https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaf). Since I do safrus (Jewish ritual scribing) as a side hobby, I have connections with the klaf market. All homes of traditional Jews have mezuzahs, small Klaf scrolls with specific portions of the Bible written on them, affixed to their doorposts. Additionally, every synagogue has a Torah scroll, which must be written on Klaf in a very specific manner, and is generally around 24 inches high and about one hundred and forty [140!] feet long (many sheets of klaf stitched together with bovine sinew). All this is to say that there remains a large market for vellum in modern Jewish circles. Anyway, Klaf is produced mostly in Israel these days, and it is prepared for writing only on the flesh side, as the hair side was deemed unfit for writing by ancient Jewish scribes. For a codex such as the one that I'm working on, of course, both sides need to be prepared for writing. So I custom-ordered these sheets of Klaf, which were "equalized" - scraped down to the point that the hair and flesh sides are indistinguishable.

I believe that due to the high volume of Klaf production, it is much cheaper than vellum produced by Cowley's, Pergamena, or any other vellum producer.

Offline KacyBG

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Re: Raised Gilding on Vellum
« Reply #14 on: April 15, 2019, 01:21:21 AM »
Binyamin, thank you for the links.
I didn't know about klaf; I'll study it further.

The Haggadah is truly beautiful--a treasure for Passover!