Gilded Picture Frame with Patina Finish

This art form has been used to adorn objects for thousands of years and dates back to the ancient cultures of Egypt, China, and Japan. In this article I will describe the process I used to create the unique finish on the picture frame in the photo.

Essentially there are five basic steps: priming the wood, building layers of color, gilding, creating the patina, and sealing the surface with clear top coats to protect it as well as create depth and beauty.

Surface preparation is a big portion of gilding. The smoother the surface is, the better the gilded metal will look. I like to use white pigmented shellac to prime and seal the wood. In addition to having excellent properties of adhesion, it dries fast and sands smooth. After spraying three to four coats of the white pigmented shellac and sanding the final coat to 220, the surface should be sealed, smooth and ready for color. The advantage of having a white base is that it illuminates the colors as opposed to a dark base coat which turns the colors dark and drowns them out. I prefer to use oil based Japan paints for the colors and start with layers of red. After they have dried, I spray on several coats of cobalt blue. One can use a variety of paints, oil, or water. As I sand the surface to 320 grit, I will cut through the blue paint and expose layers of red. At this point I have a visually interesting surface to gild on.

Oil size is what I apply next either with a “bob” or sable hair brush. A bob is basically a disposable paint brush that enables me to apply a thin uniform coat of size to the surface. I make them by cutting 1 ˝” squares of upholsterer’s cotton batting and wrapping them with an 8” square piece of imitation silk. Both of these materials are available at fabric stores. Once the size reaches the appropriate tack range, we can apply the leaf. If the size is too wet it will soak through the leaf and ruin the sheen. If its is too dry, the metal won’t bond.

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