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.
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.
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).
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!
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 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 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.
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.
Outlines of figures applied and underpainting begins
Once again, thanks for reading!