Gold and silver leaf on ceramics, Part 1

The first time I saw gold and silver leaf was in the mid-1970s, as the guest-of-honor at a dinner held in the home of a South Asian gem stone dealer and archaeologist. When the dinner was served, it took my breath away, for much of it was covered with edible gold and silver leaf. The shiny warmth and coolness of each contrasted starkly with the rich yellows, greens,and reds of sauces, and the whiteness of rice and dips. As colorful as a silk sari…. Afterwards, we sipped gold-tip Assam tea, as that was where Mahendra was from, and it remains my favorite tea to this day. Then we chewed betel nuts. We were settled into comfortable conversation by that time, but had all had our mutual shocks that evening, them, learning I was a white woman in her early twenties and, me, finding out the degree to which they were honoring me. It was an incredible entry into a different world. I had eaten curries and other South Asian delights, but this was on beyond zebra. So exquisite! Since then, I’ve had the chance to taste desserts that were silver-leafed up here in Canada. It is a beautiful treat. I thought of metallic leafing again after I saw the Sid Dickens site and it sparked an interest in the idea of using leaf on ceramics. Dickens’ uses it on painted surfaces and his material also seems to be in flaked form, but maybe it is leaf. I also had a boo at this youtube video in which a woman shows how to apply gold leaf transfers to glazed pieces. Here’s the link…there are English sub-titles. She uses pre-designed transfers that aren’t readily available here, so I decided to look further. I had previously posted about using water-soluble metals. In addition, I thought of the materials that must be used in china painting, which often has accents of gold or silver. First, I decided I needed to know more about materials. Here is an excellent video that talks about the different forms metal leaf comes in. Gilded Planet, the source of the video, looks to be a good outfit for resources and it also has many tutorials. In addition to using gold leaf, there is also the subject of gilding, which has a rich history. On to ceramics, though… According to Wikipedia, “Both porcelain and earthenware are commonly decorated with gold, and in the late 1970s it was reported that 5 tonnes of gold were used annually for the decoration of these products.” This article talks about three different ways gold is used on ceramics:

  • Acid Gold – ceramic surface is etched with acid prior to using gold, reported to be a difficult method
  • Bright Gold or Liquid Gold: a solution of gold resins is placed in a bismuth flux; needs application and firing; bright after removal from the kiln
  • Burnished Gold or Best Gold: gold powder in a liquid suspension with flux; needs polishing after removal from the kiln

The method I’m most interested in is the ‘mechanical’ method, which started being used in the Middle Ages, says the Wiki site. Those days, the method consisted of gessoing the object, letting it dry, smoothing it, then rewetting it with ‘glue waster.’ After that, the gold leaf was applied in sheets, left to dry, followed by application of gold painted on (ground gold dust suspended). I’ll stop here today and will resume tomorrow to close with a post about using gold leaf on fired, glazed ceramics.

About Jan

I have a background in ceramics, graphic design and journalism.
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