Beginners Guide to Verre Eglomise
Verre Eglomise, from the French term meaning 'glass gilded', is a process where the reverse side of a piece of glass is gilded with gold or silver leaf using a gelatin adhesive. The result is a mirror-like, softly reflective surface that when combined with reverse painting techniques creates rich, shimmering and beautifully reflective pieces of artwork.
There are many different techniques, most of them extremely complex and time consuming, but as always there are ways of simplifying the process. For beginners, copying a design through a stencil and backing it with silver or gold is an easy way of achieving an attractive result without needing to have a lot of artistic experience. You can gild onto any flat glass surface but to keep things simple, for this project we suggest using the glass in a frame of your choice that you can buy from most high street stores.
1 - Prepare The Glass
Put a soft piece of material such as a cotton sheet on your work surface, this will protect the glass from scratches and marking while you are working on it. Remove the glass from its frame and lay it carefully down on top of the material before wiping it clean with a soft cotton cloth. Make sure to remove all marks and fingerprints, as these will affect the quality of the finished work.
2 - Copy Your Image Onto The Glass
Take the stencil or image that you wish to copy and place it underneath the glass, then secure both in place with a putty adhesive, such as Blu-Tack, to prevent movement while working with the glass.
You can copy the outline of the design onto the glass with a glass pencil, (Such as the Stabilo pencils on our website, these pencils are suitable for drawing directly on glass, ceramic or other shiny surfaces and can be wiped off after use). For those who feel more confident, the design can also be painted directly onto the glass. For this project we have used Le Franc Vitrail glass paint which available from our website in a wide variety of colours.
Before applying the paint carefully look at your image to decide what should be painted first. As the image will be viewed from the other side of the glass, smaller foreground sections of the image should be painted before larger background details, this is known as reverse painting. Once the image is complete leave overnight to allow the glass paints to dry thoroughly. Clean your brushes with white spirit.
3 - Making And Applying Gelatin Size
After the paint has dried on the glass it will be ready for the application of the gold or silver leaf. First, make up the gelatin size by dissolving two gelatine capsules in a pint of hot water and then allow it to cool. Once cool, dip your size brush into the gelatin water and use it to soak the glass panel on the side with the painted design, ensuring that that surface is wet completely as the leaf will only adhere to the gelatin water. Taking the time to completely coat the surface at this point ensures that there will be no need to patch up ungilded areas later. Take care when applying the size as the glass paint is delicate, if you use too much force when applying the design you may rub off the paint.
4 - Applying The Leaf
Ensure that your hands are completely dry and take care to keep all water away from the book of leaf.
If you are using genuine gold or silver leaf you will need a special brush, called a gilders tip, to work with the leaf, as it is too fragile to handle. Imitation leaf is thicker and can be applied without a gilders tip if handled carefully but care must be taken to handle it only with dry hands as the leaf will adhere to the moisture in the skin if it is damp. A pair of scissors and eyebrow tweezers are a great help here as keeping the book of leaf open can be quite difficult due to it's lightweight nature. To make things easier you can cut the binding off the book of leaf and use tweezers to lift off each piece of paper between the leaf. This keeps the leaf flat and protected until it is time to work with it.
Taking care, lift up a sheet of the leaf and then lower it onto the wet glass slowly, you will find that the leaf will be sucked down onto the glass by the water, just let this happen. Repeat the process until the glass is completely covered, ensuring that when you overlap each leaf to do so by about 2mm or so. At this point the leaf may look a little wrinkled but don't worry, this can be smoothed over later during the burnishing process. It is best to leave the piece overnight for the size to dry, but the process can be sped up by using a hairdryer and gently heating the leaf.
5 - Burnishing
When the leaf and the size beneath has dried, take a small piece of cotton wool and gently rub the surface all over. This will remove any loose pieces of leaf (called skewings in the trade.) Save them as they can be used to patch up any gaps. This process also burnishes the surface. If there are any areas of leaf that are missing they can be re-gilded by reapplying the gelatin water and using the skewings that you collected. This process is what gilders call 'faulting'.
6 - Backing Up
To protect the leaf from tarnishing or scratching, it is a good idea to back up the gilded surface. Apply a coat of black Japan oil paint and leave to dry. Once dry, you can add another coat if you wish. The backing paint doesn't have to be black but traditionally this is the colour gilders use with silver and it gives the best results, other colours can give different effects, feel free to experiment! While working with gold it is recommended to use either red or yellow paints, red giving the greatest contrast to bring out the lustre of the gold while yellow minimizes the look of any faults in the gilding.
If you are worried about the appearance of paint showing up through faults in the leaf you can leave the piece without backing up. Alternatively, you can double gild, adding another layer of metal leaf upon the gilding to enhance the depth of the colour of the leaf.
7 - Finishing Touches
If you have purchased our Verre Eglomise kit then you have everything you need to get started on your own decorating projects, for example this guide covers the gilding of a 26cm x 22cm mirror and only took four sheets of metal leaf, the metal leaf booklets in the kit contain twenty-five leaves, giving you plenty of supplies to experiment with. If this project has whet your appetite and you wish to move on to larger pieces please contact us for further supplies.
The glass paints are available in 18 different colours so your artwork can become as detailed as your palette allows. Verre Ã©glomisÃ© is a very exciting process and does not need to be restricted to small pictures. It is used on a lot of Interior glass panels, kitchen splash-backs, tabletops etc. If you have a project in mind but don't have the confidence to work on large areas we can recommend excellent gilders who would be happy to quote and advise.