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- Ed Fortino and Dayle Duchossois, Chicago
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Archive for Gilding

A Palladium-Leafed Ceiling – A Fitting Story for my Blog Post #100

Palladium Book of Leaves

Platinum Gilded Ceiling

Gilding is one of our specialties as painting and decorating contractors in the Chicago area. It consists in the laying of super thin, square leaves of metal over a tacky varnish. Precious metals and composition metals can be successfully used for the gilding of surfaces.

To this day, our most interesting gilding project had been the decoration of an ornate sarcophagus intended to be used by an Italian club, as part of an annual festival to celebrate a beloved Saint from their native town in Sicily. White gold (12 karat gold) was used for that project.

We were recently hired for a gilding project that rivals our sarcophagus project in scope. This project consists in the gilding of an architectural, curved ceiling, in a high-style powder room, using palladium leaf. Palladium is in the family of platinum, one of the precious metals. It is the least dense of the platinum elements and is therefore best suited for leafing purposes. It also rivals the cost of gold in dearness.

Palladium has a soft silver color. However, contrary to silver or white gold (which is a combination of gold and silver), palladium does not tarnish and therefore doe not need to be sealed-coated. Only pure gold leaf can make that claim. As a result, palladium has a beautifully soft metallic look.

The attached picture shows the final look of the palladium ceiling. Our client wanted the look of silver, with its soft reflectivity for the different light sources in the room. She was thrilled!

To Give the Look of Real Metal, Use Metal leaf!

Gilding is an ancient decorative art form. Egyptians loved it and Romans went gaga over it. It consists in the laying of real metal leaf over the exterior of an object or a surface, using a tacky varnish as an adhesive for the leaf to bond to. The metals used can range from real gold, silver, platinum, copper, aluminum and imitation gold, among others. Acids or glazes can also be used over the gilded surface to distress it. A glossy varnish is often used to protect the gilded work from abrasion or oxidization. When the gilding is completed, the decorated piece has the brilliance of real metal! Upon closer examination, the square shape of the metal leaves can be seen in the final work, which is the distinctive mark of gilding.

Gilded Pedestal

Pedestal Before Gilding

We were recently contacted for our decorative finishing expertise by a client in the Chicago Northwest suburbs. The client had two pedestals, which had been sprayed with an acrylic metallic paint and a clear glossy varnish coat. That process made the pedestals look like plastic and the client did not like that look at all. She wanted the pedestals gilded with imitation silver leaf and coated with a protective high-gloss varnish. She wanted the look of the real stuff!

We took on the project and completed the work within a week. When you want the look of real leaf, that it be to adorn moldings, architectural elements, a ceiling, wall or a special object, gilding is the approach of choice.

Gold Leafing Meets Venetian Plaster

Gold Leafing over Venetian Plaster

Gold Leafing over Venetian Plaster

Gilding is an ancient decorative painting technique. Romans were particularly found of it during the time of Plinius Secundus, around 50 AD: even the ceilings of their temples were gilded. In the United States, gilding found a place in the decoration of the interior of public buildings, the exterior of capitol domes, statues and fine residential interiors. To this day, it continues to be a technique of choice for fine decorative finishing.

Gilding consists in the laying of an ultra fine sheet of metal over an adhesive sizer (tacky varnish). Once applied, the leaves are flattened and made to cover every little bit of the surface to be decorated. The portions of the leaves that are not attached to the sizer are then brushed off. The end result looks like a continuous sheet of metal. A telling sign that something has been gilded is that the square shape of the metal leaves used in the gilding process is still visible when the work is completed.

We just completed a most interesting decorative finishing project that involved the gilding of an artful design onto a venetian plaster surface that we had earlier decorated. A wide array of materials can be gilded: metal, glass, wood, drywall, stone and plasters. Although rarely done, venetian plaster is one of those surfaces, as shown in the attached picture.

Ink Sketch for Stencil

Ink Sketch for Stencil

Lazer-Cut Stencil for Gilding

Lazer-Cut Stencil for Gilding

How did that project come about? The client wanted some artwork next to the shower area, but was concerned about the moisture affecting the art. I suggested gilding; they liked the idea. They showed me an etched leaf design on a lotion bottle which was on display on the vanity table. I asked our muralist to replicate that design as an ink drawing on a piece of paper, as shown in the next picture. I then asked our sign maker to digitize that same drawing, enlarge it to the desired size (24” wide and 36” high) and create a vinyl stencil. By the way, this is the same technique used in painting a sign, except that , in this case, the subject matter was a leaf design, not letters. Once the vinyl stencil was perfected mounted on the wall, we were ready to do the gilding process. Before removing the vinyl, we applied a coat of varnish over the metal leaf to protect it from oxidization.

This was a fun project for both the client, our decorative finishing people and our company. It is always a pleasure for the folks at Painting in Partnership, from the Chicago area, to combine the talents of many people in creating a result that is artful, creative and long lasting.