Gilding Tips: Artist Karen Fitzgerald

My work is idiosyncratic – it’s round and it incorporates gilding extensively in its surface, process and idea.  In a wider view, my work is traditional in that I put paint on a substrate.

Gilding has wide applications in our world. It’s been found as far back as the early Egyptian civilization. We know the Chinese were gilding 5,000 years ago. While gilding in our modern world is usually decorative in application, traditionally it was used to signify something beyond the physical. It indicated the sacred, spiritual realm.

Learning gilding has been an experience of constant surprise. The basic idea is that a metal, beaten thinner than a human hair, is applied to a surface. The variety of glues (referred to as ‘size’) is astounding. Older German gilders used a mixture of beer and honey. A contemporary gilder uses the juice of garlic. Size falls into 2 categories: water-based and oil-based. Leaf is delicate to handle – I rarely use loose gold leaf. It is available in two forms: loose and transfer. The transfer leaf is adhered to thin tissue – handling it is less risky than loose leaf. When using loose leaf (I always use loose leaf in silver, copper and aluminum) you can tear it up, achieving an interesting non-gridded surface. By carefully sealing gilding you can gild in layers – for instance, adding linear elements on top of a gilded background.  Sealants are as various as size! One of the things I’ve learned is that gilding requires a constant attention to touch, and a constant willingness to change a habit of process. I recently gilded a copper ground.  I sealed it with shellac first, allowing the shellac to cure for 24 hours, then added a layer of Lascaux UV.  Overnight the Lascaux turned a deep brown!  Whatever reacted, the fact that it did signals me to that attentive mode, being careful not to assume materials will sit happily together.

I use gilding in a non-decorative manner. My intention is to signal to the viewer that they are not looking at a replication of the physical world. Gold is embedded in the core of our civilization, its dynamic energy often signals something beyond the purely physical. The precious metals I gild with indicate a quality of energy that expands beyond our physical world, a quality that is metaphysical and transformative.

Light suffuses our world – its energy shapes the mood of each day. I use color as pure light, physical energy, creating complex shades and tones that reconnect energies present in the everyday world with my own as well as viewers’ experiences. My work gives you a way to have a visual experience of your own energy. Similar to looking in a mirror, when you look into one of my paintings, you respond to the color, nuance and energy that is embedded in the piece. You have an experience of your energetic self, manifested in the physical properties of the paint. We know from scientists that energy can travel in waves.  Here-in lies the power of the wave: as you experience this energy, it has the capacity to shift your own energy to a higher level. I have always loved the action of wave energy in water. As the energy passes through the water, it lifts the water. As the energy of my painting reaches you, it lifts your energy.

In the New York area, a terrific resource is Sepp Leaf, international distributor of gold and metal leaf, gilding supplies, Liberon and decorative finishing products

Karen Fitzgerald’s work has been widely exhibited in the United States, including at the Queens Museum of Art, the Madison Art Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, the University of Arizona – Tucson, and at the United Nations in New York.  Her work is also in the Spencer Collection of the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Union Gas collection, the Rienhart Collection of Germany, the Museum of New Art in Detroit and many other public and private collections.

Workshop: Ms. Fitzgerald will be offering a day-long gilding workshop at her studio in Long Island City, NY on January 21, 2012. She’ll cover types of gilding, how to gild large areas, gilding in layers, working with copper, aluminum, silver and gold and related topics.  For information, contact Kbfitzgerald@gmail.com.

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