Saturday, 24 September 2016

Sunday, 11 September 2016

More Veneered Frames

                                William Dyce,   George Herbert at Benerton,  1861    detail

I've been making at lot of veneered frames and this one is of Bird's Eye Maple.

The frame contains a watergilded slip that was traditional to this sort of victorian frame.
Bird's Eye Maple is the most difficult of all veneers, to reproduce the finish as seen on antique frames. To be technical, the aim is to blind out the wood grain but at the same time, enhance the "quilting" figure and print out the characteristic eyes.
The frame is polished with wax and this contrasts nicely with the dry finish on the gilded slip. 

                                      William Dyce,   Welsh Landscape with Figures   1860   

Here again is a veneered frame using Burr Elm. I like the colour on this one where there is a greenish cast behind the walnut/mahogany tone; and also the relief pattern from the burr veneer.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Creating an Antique Finish

In this blog I would like to explore the challenges of re-creating an antique gilded frame. To describe a frame as antique is not only to recognise the style of manufacture but to see also the effect of age on the surface of the gilding. This effect we call the patina and it is in the reproduction of that patina that presents the greatest challenge to any framemaker.

                                          Frame - Richard Christie Antique Frames
A first question is why we would put such a value on this patina. After all, when the artworks were first completed and a new frame chosen, the idea of a patina was hardly considered. So, what is happening here and why do antique paintings look so correct when framed in an antique frame?

Well, even with careful restoration and sensitive cleaning, antique paintings still have an appearance of age. The oils and varnishes will  have oxidized and many of the pigments reacted with the atmosphere to now give a subtle tone that we recognize as a signal of age. So too with the original frame.
And if we look closely at an antique frame we will see what appears to be a crust on the surface of the gilding and it is the colour and texure of this finish that matches so well the patina evident on an antique painting.

It would now be interesting to examine what might be the make-up of this crusty patina.
Let us imagine a large gilded frame, newly comissioned and hung up in a grand 18th century house. It probably houses a family portrait or some old master bought  during a grand tour. We shall assume it is a Rococco or similar style frame with the high points on the ornaments burnished and the contrasting matt areas muted back with some weak size.

The gilding will be bright and soft toned and serve well to illuminate the artwork in daylight. At night the frame will sparkle and shimmer in candlelight.
Now, after several hundred years, the frame still looks splendid but it's colour and character will have radically changed. The gold will have turned dark green in places, will have been worn through on others and along the bottom will have a rather heavy deposit of dust clinging on to the surface. And the unusual thing here is that that deposit of what appears to be loose dust is in fact quite a durable and permanent finish.

So is this the white dust we see when we run our finger over the top of a  wardrobe? Well yes but it isn't coloured white. That is just the appearance of scattered light off the surface.This  dust will have been made up of soot from candles, ash from open-fires, fibres from clothing, earth particles carried in on clothing and foot-ware, insect debris and most common, skin flakes and hair from the household occupants.
So all this stuff will have been floating about in the room and have settled onto our gilded frame. But instead of getting blown off, the moisture and hydrocarbons in the air condensed onto the dust to form perhaps an oily compound. These hydrocarbons would be from candles, oil lamps and even tobacco smoking. And then along comes the house-cleaner and wipes "clean" the surface of the "dusty" frame. What they have really done is smeared a thin coat of this compound all around the frame. This was repeated over many years and so built up a paint layer of patina. As this paint layer got thicker, so the light reflected off the gold and through this compound, became more subdued and altered to so represent the colour we see on antique frames today.

                                Photo - Richard Christie

Of course this patina became a more and more durable  from the slow oxidation of the hydrocarbons polished into it's surface.
Another interesting thought is to compare the patina on Italian frames with those of North European origin. The Italian frames tend to be lighter toned but have a more heavily crusted patina. Perhaps this was because there would have been fewer hydrocrbons loose in the air; in other words a warmer and brighter climate so less need for heating and lighting. And did the Italians then not need to clean their frames as vigorously as their Northern European neighbours?

To complete the examination of the patina now visible on our frame, we must mention all the small chips, scratches, dents and losses to the gilding. These are of course a result of years of handling, polishing and cleaning. A psychiatrist would describe all these as perceived visual complexity. We are always happy to see this on a frame as it confirms authenticity of it's age and supports the antique aesthetic we value on old frames.

Having explored the origin of the patina on an antique frame, the next challenge is how to reproduce it on a newly gilded surface.
Re-creating the visual complexity mentioned above is a simple matter of knocking and scratching the outer edges of the frame. Next will come the distressing by abrasion where the gilding is partly worn through in places, to the underlying gesso and bole. If all this is done with care and subtlety, then the gold will remain bright and glistening for the next stages.

                     Frame - Richard Christie Antique Frames
To make a paint that will mimic the patina we will need two elements; a mix of pigments to supply body colour and texture, and a binding medium to blend and fix them to the gilded surface. As we have discussed, the main components of the patina are natural products such as dust and organic debris. The pigments that represent these colours of nature are the earth pigments; deep shades of red, brown and yellow. If we wanted to just give a hint of age to our frame, then it would be perfectly adequate to paint on a light glaze of selected earth pigments.

                                Photo - Richard Christie

The glaze however that I have created has been the result of many hours of trial and experiment. Behind all the mixing of pigments has been the belief that too many colours can often result in an opaque mud, so every trial was subject to as much editing of the pigments as possible.
The basis of creating an aged effect was to use some of the earth pigments. These are the colours of nature but used alone can be very singular in their effect. In fact many of the earth pigments, if used too predominantly, can be heavy, lifeless and dull. So after selecting a suitable earth hue, several other pigments were added to sharpen up their colour. These were then given definition by adding in a further group of pigments.
Now if we look closely at the finish on an antique frame, especially where it is heavily patinated, we can see that the crust has an almost granular structure, rather like fine sand. And even with this heavy coating of material, the gilding beneath remains bright and reflective.

                                       Photo and Frame - Richard Christie
So the mixture of earth pigments must be modified to create this reflective quality and also added to a base that gives the impression of a crystalline film and not just a dull powdery finish.
And to top it all, the whole mixture is given accent and colour by the addition of a selected group of dyes.
I can liken this to a musical chord where the series of notes all work in harmony and even one note out of place can corrupt the whole sound, so with this mixture and all it's ingredients - just one incorrect pigment or dye can distract and deaden the overall effect on the gilding.  

The glaze that I have now created, when applied skillfully and with a matching degree of distressing, will well mimic the colour and patina found on many antique frames. The glaze is waterbased and and can be overlaid in several thin coatings. The finish can also be manipulated for subtle stippling effects and easily removed again, if worked in error.
To purchase or enquire about this glaze, please contact me at

 Sample corner water-gilded with 231/2 ct gold.

The same corner, distressed and painted with several coats of Ageing Glaze.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Silver Gilding

Here are two frames gilded with silver leaf. The gilding here is oil laid using a long drying oil to obtain the brightest finish.

Creating a worn antique finish on oil gilding can be quite tricky and easily spoilt. There are no burnishing effects or leaf overlaps to show but sometimes these in themselves can be a bit of a cliche.

Both frames are heavily toned and polished and then matched up to some very early watercolours.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Making a Hogarth Frame

Here I've made the profiles and added the compo ornament to form the basic Hogarth moulding.
Even though this would have been considered an inexpensive frame in it's day, reproducing it can require a quite disproportionate amount of time.

This shows a small section of the finished frame.

Monday, 21 March 2016

A Brief Treatise on the Analysis of CRAP.

Today I want to talk about crap. Well it's more about the dirt and cruddiness that you get on even the most valuable of picture frames. In fact, it's that very dirt that is the value of many of these frames.

Take when we go into a museum art gallery. We look at the ancient pictures in their frames and to the most disinterested, these are big knobbly gilded things with lots of twiddly bits all along the sides.

But if someone was to take a bottle of Ajax or Vim and give one of these frames a good clean-up, then even the most artistically uneducated would step back and say - there's something wrong here.

And yet for all the academic articles and books on picture-frames and their styles and ornament, there is no mention as to why they actually look that way. Taking all the gilding, carving and applied ornament as given, it's the antique colour and the patina; that's what's doing nearly all the work.

I've seen examples of microscopic analysis of the surface of old frames done by various museums but they ignore what's on top and concentrate instead on the various clays and gessos used in building up the frame.

Is it just me or why doesn't anyone take a rigorous scientific exploration of the "dirt" that contributes so much to the beauty of frames held in our museums.

Here's some examples of my own work.

And it's another small Morland style frame,

So here we have the profile and as we can see, the whole frame is covered in gold, watergilded and burnished.

And it's all very nice and shiny and -
very very boring.

So the first thing to do is to knock it about a little and wear back the gilding to show some age. This is what psychologists would call adding "visual complexity". In the context of antique art, we like and expect this in our appreciation of beauty.

I've done this to the frame below.

Now it all looks a bit more convincing.
But the photograph doesn't quite show how "new" the frame still looks and here we have to change the colour and tone so that it really does look like an antique frame.

Toning the frame is back to my first question as to what chemical process occurs over time that turns everyday crap and dirt into a noble patina that gives frames in museums their visual majesty.

For a frame maker and restorer, the only option is to use artistic methods to recreate the effect. And here's the further mystery.

I always thought that given a decent box of paints, I could wet my brush and come up with a paint that quickly does the job.
Not so simple I found out. 
To get me anywhere near to what I want I have to mix 9 unique pigments together and add a further 6 dyes. And why is that?
All to make a simple paint that I can brush onto new gilding and make it match the colour on an old frame.

It's really all about a search for perfection in that whilst all the woodwork and all the gilding is so important to get right;  to give it all some meaning then the finish on top is the thing that really matters - the money shot.
Maybe someone out there can show me some research on the subject.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Gilding a Pre-Raphaelite Frame

This was a rather exiting project to gild a beautifully made oak Pre-Rapthaelite frame supplied by Richard Christie Framemaker

The frame was supplied carved and finished in plain sanded oak, so the first thing to do was to liven- up the surface of the oak. This brings up all the markings and fiqure patterns characteristic of oak but which can often be lost by the application of a layer of gold leaf.

Next was to stain and colour the oak so as to give it an antique appearance and this would show through where any of the gilding is rubbed back or worn.

Finally the frame is given a thin coat of oil gold size. I've used a 12hour size and with the current cold and damp conditions, this becomes an effective 20hour size. The longer the better, because the gilding varnish has longer to level out and so provide a much brighter gild. A few weaknesses have also been built into the size, and this is to make the distressing effects more convincing.

Now we have the frame gilded so the next stage was to distress and apply antique glazes to the finish. First all the edges and carvings must be carefully "knocked back". This gives those elements a "visual complexity" such as would be seen on an antique example. Then the gilding is rubbed back to expose the underlying colours. Rubbing back oil gilding is often problematic, as the gold can tear in an unattractive way, hence the intentioned weaknesses mentioned above.

Finally the frame is coated in a series of waterbourne glazes. These are a wide mix of transparent and reflective pigments, modified with dyes to produce a colour closest to that seen on antique frames.
And the finish is then further protected  with a thin film of  resin varnsh.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

A Gothic Sanded Slip Frame

The title's a bit of a mouthful but this ever popular frame is ideal for early prints and engravings. Although by appearance quite a simple frame, the actual profile is quite complex. To make it, a compo ornament is glued onto a slip moulding, edged with sand and then gessoed over.

This rather mucky looking assembly is then oil gilded over a yellow base and then held inside a black gothic moulding.

These frames require a significant degree of "distressing" and colouring to replicate their current found appearance. The greatest challenge is to tone down the gold without losing the quiet quality of antique gilding.

A Simple Flat Black Moulding

This is a flat moulding that has been gessoed, then laquered black over a red clay base. The gilded sight edge is watergilded with "moon" gold.
A very popular frame.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Gilding on Oak, and other thoughts.

This post is about my latest experiments to re-create the tone and colour of the gilding seen on frames held in museums and art galleries.
I've shown this on a simple oak frame and superimposed it on a book print of a Pre-Raphaelite painting.

Gilding on the oak is reasonably straight forward. The raw oak is well sanded, stained a bit and then sealed with a thin coat of shellac. I use a long drying 12hour gold size as this will always give the brightest gild and the longest working time.
After 24 hours the gilding is given a thin coating of clear transparent shellac.


Traditionally, new gilding was given a coat to size so as to dull the sparkle of the gild. A varnish called a "gilder's ormulo" was also used to better match the colour of the gilding to the art work in the frame.
Today, the colour we see on antique picture frames is a result of all the  domestic pollution and wear and tear on this  thin film of size or ormulo covering the gold.
To achieve this effect, I've mixed a glaze of 10 unique indexed pigments and 4 dyes. This sounds a bit preposterous I know, for what is a simple paint effect. However, the reality turns out a bit more complex.

In mixing up this glaze, I wanted three main properties. One was a selection of earthy pigments. These are naturally occurring pigments which reflect the colours of nature so would be a good choice to represent the air-bourne dirt and grime of everyday life. On their own, however, they can dull too much the vibrancy of the gold so the next property was to brighten up the gold and the third effect is to darken and neutralise any predominant hue within the glaze - ie a black to grey glazing colour.

I've kept the mediums all waterborne, as these are easily removed and cause least damage to the gilding.