Icon Diploma Student

Learning to see with the eye of the heart

Oil Gilding the Council of Archangel Michael (pt2)

Summer is the best time for gessoing icon boards. It’s a messy job and I like to make the most of working outside especially sanding the boards. I wrote about the method of gessoing on an earlier post here.

3 sanding the large icon board.jpg

Making the most of a dry sunny day to sand the gesso smooth

I felt that the icon of the Council of the Archangel Michael should be painted on a large board as there are a lot of figures. I don’t know the size of the original icon, but small faces can be tricky so the size I went for was the optimum I can work with at home: 40 x 42cm. With it being cut from 24mm birch ply it’s quite heavy.

I placed the board on a towel to prevent it from sliding around the table whilst I sand. Red ochre rubbed over the surface helps to show up any scratches I had missed.

Once it had been sanded down with 1200 grade sandpaper, it was ready to oil gild. I chose the oil gilding method (matt finish gold) because it’s more robust than water gilding.  Having so many figures and faces it will be handled quite a bit during painting.

finding scratches

Red ochre shows up scratches which still need to be sanded

I moved my drawings on to tracing paper so it was ready to transcribe on to the gesso. Although it is possible to oil gild after painting, I prefer to gild before painting the faces. I find both methods of gilding challenging so I will keep practising!

It isn’t necessary to scribe the areas to be gilded with the oil gilding method but I find it helps contain the shellac. Aidan Hart protects the gesso from the compass points with a wooden ruler which works very well but if you don’t have a ruler to hand, several layers of masking tape over some card helps (see photos below).

transcribing halo on icon

compass points on gesso

Protecting the gesso from compass puncture marks

Anyone of a ‘certain age’ will understand when I say that some red ochre rubbed over the scribed areas helps me to see where I’m going!

transcribing drawing

Aidan taught us the following method of oil gilding which I will summarise below. You can also see some amatuer video clips from our class demonstration on You Tube here.

Gold transfer leaf is applied on to several layers of shellac but first the gesso is sealed by painting on a thin layer of tinted shellac. Tinting is done with a pinch of red ochre or vermillion. Leave it to dry for a day then lightly sand working your way through the sandpaper grades from 600-1200. The following day, repeat the process but using untinted shellac. Leave it for a day and then sand as before.

shellac on halos for icon gilding

Shellac ready to sand

It is then ready to gild. Aidan suggested using Le Franc’s 3 hour gold size. Shake well then apply one very thin layer and place it in a dust free place, like a plastic box.

Wait for an hour at least (1-3 hours) then test whether it is ready to gild by touching the surface with your knuckle. If it squeaks, it is ready to apply gold transfer leaf. If not, wait a little longer and re-test. Drying time depends on the thickness of the layer and the drying conditions.

Small areas of shellac are fiddly to sand smooth and as you can see under the scrutiny of the camera, there are a few missing dots. However, I’ve since touched these up with some shell gold.

oil gilding on icon

Oil gilded halos

Wait two or three hours and then it should be ready to polish the gold using a gilder’s mop, working from light to medium pressure.

After waiting a few days to let the gilding harden, I could carry on with transferring the rest of my drawing.

transfer of whole drawing

Gilding complete, time to transcribe the rest of the drawing

I kept the compass protection pads on so I could add the halo outlines as soon as the sky had been painted. That’s all for this post but I will sign off with a photo of the icon a bit further along.

underpainting icon of Council of Archangel Michael

Outlines of figures applied and underpainting begins

Once again, thanks for reading!


6 Responses to “Oil Gilding the Council of Archangel Michael (pt2)”

  1. Betty Montague

    Wow, I have just discovered your blog and am amazed. I have just been on a beginners Icon Painting Course at Belmont Abbey and loved it. But so much to learn and understand. So thank you for providing lovely guidance and information. Betty

    • ronniecruwys

      Hi Betty, I thought I had replied to you, but it isn’t showing up here – Thank You! Yes, there is so much to learn at every stage of icon painting. It can seem overwhelming, but it is worth persevering! The Belmont Abbey courses sound wonderful, what a great way to get started. Aidan Hart runs one week introductory courses at Walcot Hall in Shropshire, which is where I got started and I am still persevering! Thanks so much fir taking the time to comment and so pleased you like the blog. Hope to get back to updating it again soon.
      Best wishes, Ronnie

  2. Rick Ricbrookes


    Thank you so much for these invaluable posts. I’m going to have a go at the cold gesso method – I’ve had so many failures with the hot!

    Looking forward to your upcoming exhibition in Blossom St Gallery York. I was chatting to them the other day and we all think it will be an exciting event.

    If you come across any fellow icon painters during the exhibition, I wonder if you would mind collecting details of any who would like to join an informal support group similar to the one running in Doncaster. I am by no means able to teach anyone the techniques, but I certainly would like to share my experiences and spend time painting with others.

    I can host the group in my little studio in Woodthorpe.

    Looking forward to meeting you.

    Kind regards

    Rick Brookes

    On 27 August 2017 at 23:48, Icon Diploma Student wrote:

    > ronniecruwys posted: “Summer is the best time for gessoing icon boards. > It’s a messy job and I like to make the most of working outside especially > sanding the boards. I wrote about the method of gessoing on an earlier post > here. I felt that the icon of the Council of the Ar” >

    • ronniecruwys

      Hi Rick,
      Thank you! Really lovely to hear from you. The cold gesso method is much simpler and gives you a bit more time as you can prepare on day one, the apply on day two. Hope it goes well for you.
      I would be delighted to invite any other icon painters to get in touch – it is surprising how many icon painters there are these days. Really looking forward to the York exhibition and would be delighted to meet up with you there at some point.
      Best wishes

  3. Michael Brown

    Hello Ronnie
    Enjoying reading this. I started last year in lockdown. I have wanted to paint an icon for years. I have made mock icons, but never considered myself uch of an artist. Trouble with lockdown is that courses were all cancelledd. I have abook, which isnt good for faces etc, so your notes are handy. I still cant get the hang of faces, hands and the layers. So far Iv e only painted on paper, but I now have a board…

    • ronniecruwys

      Hi Michael,
      Delighted you have found my notes handy. If you focus on one thing at a time – say hands or eyes – you will find that it will help in other areas too. The intention is just as valid as the skill – enjoy working on the board – although good paper is lovely to work on too. If you have been wanting to paint an icon for years then now is the time!


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