Where to start gilded frame restoration?

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Jacky Dahlhaus
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Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Jacky Dahlhaus » Tue 14 Jan, 2020 1:49 pm

Hi there,

I'm new to the restoration of old (gilded) picture frames. I have acquired some old (gilded) frames in dire need of restoration to practice on. Would anyone be able to direct me to any literature or online videos that can help me in the right direction? I'm looking in particular for info on how to establish what sort of finish has been used in the first place. From there on, I guess, I can look in a more focused direction, but any hints and tips would be welcome.

I have looked for similar posts, but only found those that said that you can't learn from a book. I know I need to practice, but I need someone to tell me how :D.

Cheers,
Jacky D.

"Communication is the key" :D

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by vintage frames » Tue 14 Jan, 2020 5:12 pm

Hi Jacky
The only book I ever found useful was a book called Framing and Gilding by Paul Curson. Unfortunately he's gone to Australia and taken his book with him. He showed everything you needed to know with simple and accurate descriptions and not like the usual fuzzy mentions of "a cup full of this and half a teaspoon of that". The other book that everyone seems to push is Practical Gilding. It's OK but seems to make a big opera out of a simple song.
Much of what you'll find on the internet is either rubbish, confusing or just showing off.
So how do you start ..
You need to know how to make gesso and bole first. Go on Goldleafsupplies and look at their tips/techniques section. They also show how to make castings of the compo ornament from an old frame. You will need to know all about that too.
Then you need to know how to both oil and watergild, handling the leaf etc and then the different methods of basic finish. I get the feeling I'm not really telling you much here but there is but one cardinal rule - FINISH is everything!
Very imperfect gilding can be hidden by a good finish but no amount of gilded perfection can make up for a bad and unconvincing finish.
Now if you lived nearer, you could come to one of my gilding courses, ( life changing events) but otherwise keep coming back with any questions as you go along.
And .. you also want to know how to identify the finish on an old frame. Well if there is a lot of compo ornament on the frame, then there's a good chance that the gilding is oil laid and is usually varnished over. The surface of oil gilding has a slight stipple to it, as if the gilding was laid on very fine sand. With water-gilding, the finish is much smoother and look out for the leaf overlap marks, spaced about 2 1/2" apart, as well as the underlying red bole colour showing through on all the areas of wear. That's not definitive but a general guide only.

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Not your average framer » Tue 14 Jan, 2020 5:45 pm

Over the years, I have restored quite a few old frames, but I have only used bronzing powder finishes which I happily admit is not in the class of water gilding with real gold leaf. As far as I'm concerned Real gilding is using real gold leaf and everything else is mainly only an imitation of the real thing. If you want to be the best, get someone who does the proper thing to give you some proper training. As you've said there are some aspects of gilding which are difficult to learn from books, some things are best learnt from a person, not a book.

I wish you success.
Mark Lacey

“Life is short. Art long. Opportunity is fleeting. Experience treacherous. Judgement difficult.”
― Geoffrey Chaucer

Jacky Dahlhaus
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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Jacky Dahlhaus » Wed 15 Jan, 2020 12:28 pm

Thanks for your replies, Dermot and Mark. Much appreciated!

I have ordered 'Practical Gilding' from the Gold Leaf Supplies store (it was cheaper than buying it on Amazon!). Maybe I can afford to buy the other book by Paul Curson next month (I've gone over my budget this month already with buying all these frames :giggle: ). I had a browse on the Gold Leaf Supplies website. They sell a lot of things, but they're not overly generous with 'how to' information, certainly not regarding 'repairs.'

My first problem is indeed that of identifying the finish used. One of my frames has a reddish color shining through, so I'm assuming this is an original gilded one. Not sure if it's oil or water gilded, though. Two large frames are more of a bronze colour. One of them has what I think Art Deco prints on it. I don't know if this tells you something. Another frame looks like it has different finishes, one of them being a golden paint. The paint has been applied where bits of gesso had fallen off. Other areas have bare gesso (no fallen off pieces of gesso, unfortunately). So, yes, I do need to learn how to mould! I had a look at the 'how to mould' instruction and it seems like it's easy to do (apart from forming the barrier with clay). They don't mention with what to protect the frame. I've seen videos that say oil and others that say talcum powder. I guess talcum powder is the saver one to use.

I wished I could insert images, but it seems you can only insert images that have a url address :-|

I have tried to 'clean' little pieces of the paintings with spit, diluted white spirit, and isopropyl alcohol (70%). Only little areas on the top of the frames (where I hope no one will see it if it went wrong). The spit was the only one that made somewhat of a difference. I got a lot of dirt on my cotton buds, but I think it included some gold (real or paint, I don't know as it looked really dark) as well. I only want to get the grime off, not the finish. I have bought a bottle of Vulpex, but it will arrive on Friday, so I'll have to wait to see if this works better. I'll keep you up to date with my progress.


Cheers,
Jacky D.

"Communication is the key" :D

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by vintage frames » Wed 15 Jan, 2020 4:25 pm

The first thing to do with an old frame is to give it a good dusting with a dry brush. Indeed, on very valuable frames, this is the only preferred cleaning they should get. Next is to have a good quality "one-stroke" water colour brush ( Pro Arte Prolene 1" flat, series 106 ) and a bowl of clean cold water. Paint the water over a large section and leave for a minute or two. Now work the surface of the frame with the brush, wringing out the brush and re-applying fresh water until you see the surface dirt beginning to move. It's best to work over the whole of a frame side so as to avoid any patchiness.
If nothing is happening, then add some of the Vulpex. Try warming the water even, but not hot. If the frame is of good quality and real gold leaf gilded, this process should be enough to clean the surface dirt but preserve the patina.
Often these frames were "restored" using gold paint and that presents a different problem. You might have to try acetone or some sort of paint stripper. You could phone one of the conservation supplies companies for their recommendations. But even gold paint can achieve a pleasant patina over time.
To make repairs to the ornament losses you need to take a cast from a good section. I use two part polyurethane rubbers for this. There is stuff called Smooth-On which is easy to use or products from Alec Tiranti etc. You would also be buying a spray release agent such as Ambersil or MacWax which will release the cured mould without damaging the frame. Soft plasticene is ideal for either the sides of a small box mould or sealing around a mould made with foam-core board. On varnished frames you can use ordinary glazing silicone to seal the mould ( that needs to set overnight, first ). If you use foam-core, cover the board first with brown vinyl parcel tape. Make up the box mould then spray in the release agent, leave for 10 minutes, then pour in the mixed polyurethane and leave overnight.
When you're cleaning the frame, the water will dissolve some of the exposed gesso and produce a slight milky cast over the frame. This, when it dries can be quite attractive but that I'll leave to you're own judgement. I think you'll agree that there's nothing worse than an over restored frame. Have a close look at the frames in your nearest art museum gallery - you'd be surprised at the accepted condition.
And when you've recovered from all that, there is horror of warm compo casting, and then the nightmares of loose leaf gilding.

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Jacky Dahlhaus » Thu 16 Jan, 2020 12:59 pm

Thanks, Dermot,
That gives me a good starting point. The booklet and the Vulpex arrived today, so now I'll have to order that brush you mentioned 😊. I couldn't help myself and tried a bit of the Vulpex on a tiny bit of frame and it's amazing! It's not making a 100% difference, but I'd say a good 30% 😁. I'll try the water treatment first, then the Vulpex. I thought I read somewhere never to use water on a frame 🤔, but I guess it's okay if you say so 😄. I'll quickly find out if it's not. Like I mentioned before, the frames are to practice on, so no worries 😊.
Jacky D.

"Communication is the key" :D

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by vintage frames » Thu 16 Jan, 2020 4:01 pm

I wouldn't say it's the best idea to use water on a gilded picture-frame, but for most of the frames we're likely to encounter these days, water is the simplest and easyest solvent to aid restoration. Cold water alone would not be enough to dissolve the RSG from that age but it's always best to do a trial test on one of the side walls first. And if the frame was of significant value then one would be using Q tips etc.
The brush I mentioned is good for this sort of work, and further in the laying of gesso/bole as well as any antique finishes applied afterwards. The bristles are firm enough to matter but gentle enough not to injure. And that's good to hear the Vulpex is effective.

Jacky Dahlhaus
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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Jacky Dahlhaus » Thu 16 Jan, 2020 7:14 pm

What does RSG mean? Does it stand for R-something, smoke, and grease?
I have used Q-tips for the cleaning so far. They don't get into the tiny crevices at all. I'm so glad you suggested the brushes!
New question: another practice frame arrived today (I know, my husband told me to stop buying them 😄). It has a lovely profile, but they have painted it gold, almost completely hiding the details. What do I use to get the paint off; turps or white spirit or something completely different? I have no idea if it is properly guilded underneath. How will I know I'm not taking off the gold if it is?
Jacky D.

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Not your average framer » Thu 16 Jan, 2020 7:30 pm

RSG = Rabbit skin glue.
Mark Lacey

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by vintage frames » Thu 16 Jan, 2020 7:42 pm

RSG is short for Rabbit Skin Glue, which is just a refined grade of hide glue - no rabbits were harmed in it's production. The glue is used as a binder in gesso and bole, as well as a glue-size for use in water-gilding. It was also used to matt out fresh gilding and indeed forms one of the components of the patina on the frame surface.
As regards gold paint, well it's probably been on there for quite a while, so very few gentle solvents are going to shift it. I don't have any real experience in dealing with gold paint but I have heard people use acetone or even paint stripper. Maybe one of the new eco style strippers will do less damage. Once again I'd try a test area first. If the gilding is water laid, then the solvents shouldn't affect it and you should see the underlying gold appear as the top coat of paint is dissolved. If the frame is oil gilded, however, the solvents will attack the oil glue-size and then you will be removing the gold as well. I'd be inclined to phone one of the conservation supplies companies as ask what solvent they would recommend.

Jacky Dahlhaus
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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Jacky Dahlhaus » Thu 16 Jan, 2020 10:24 pm

Thanks for explaining RSG to me. I have so much to learn :D
Yes, I'll ask the restorer who is going to patch up one of our oil canvasses about the gold paint. It's a small frame, so I can bring it along next month. Better to wait than to be sorry.
Jacky D.

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by vintage frames » Fri 17 Jan, 2020 10:42 am

Two things to try would be acetone and cellulose thinners. You can get both in small quantities and free-post on e-bay. Thinners is not very pleasant stuff, so I should order a box of blue vinyl disposable gloves.

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by vintage frames » Fri 17 Jan, 2020 11:43 am

Polyco GL890 are the gloves I use. Always best to buy 1 size larger than you need, then they can be taken off and on for easy re-use. But don't let the Thinners near any good brushes. Use Q tips or a disposable brush.

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Not your average framer » Fri 17 Jan, 2020 6:13 pm

You won't find this recipe for stripper anywhere, it's partly a recipe from another framer and something I added myself. It's one of those things that's almost a dash of this and a dash of that. Sorry I'm a member of the bucket chemistry brigade and sometimes I adjust the ingredients, if it needs a bit more bite according to results. Mix nine parts of White Spirit to one part Household Ammonia then add a drop, or two of Vulpex Liquid Soap to emulsify the white spirit in a small glass jar with a screw on lid that seals well when the lid is screwed on tight. With the lid screwed on tight it is then possible to mix the ingredient by vigorously shaking the jar. The result should be that the White Spirit and the ammonia become emulsified at stay in suspension for quite a long time. If they quickly separate back into White Spirit and Ammonia, then add a few more drops of Vulpex Liquid Soap.

If you do not have any Vulpex Liquid Soap, then you can substitute a strong washing up liquid, such as Fairy Liquid, but you will require more volume of washing up liquid to achieve the same results as with just a few drops of Vulpex Liquid Soap. The important active ingredient in this mixture is the Ammonia, which is both caustic and is characterised by a very high level of alkalinity. For removing highly resistant paints, or varnishes it is possible to increase the Ammonia content, but do this with care it is remarkably powerful and should be treated with respect. It is best used in a well ventilated area and with eye protection and protective gloves. The addition of the Vulpex Liquid soap is the part of the recipe added by me and without it you have to keep shaking the mixture in the jar every time you want to apply it.

As always try the mixture on something other than a customers property, so you can practise and get used to working with this before using it on a customers item. You will be surprised how effective this can be, I've even used it to remove paint from carpets. It's very strong stuff and even enables removal of linoxin form old layers of varnish that have been exposed to sunlight causing the linoxin to form over the years. It weakens the linoxin, making it brittle enough to break the linoxin away with a dental probe. Without enough ventilation it can affect your breathing and / or your eyes. this is not something to just play around with. Don't take chances with this, the precautions are very necessary. You have been warned.

Also seeing that cellulose thinners have been mentioned, I will warn you the many brands of cellulose thinner contain dichloromethane which can be absorbed through the skin as well as by breathing and as it cannot be metabolysed by the human body, the body has no way of removing it from you system. It has a known connection with cancer and the formation of chrystals in the liver, kidneys and the brain. Take proper precautions, this stuff is dangerous.

https://www.msdsonline.com/2015/02/20/d ... formation/

BTW, I still use dichloromethane based cellulose thinners myself in small quanitities mixed into larger quatities of meths when distressing some types of finishes. You would be spending hours trying to disolve many finishes with meths alone, but full strength cellulose thinners will remove the whole finish almost immediately. So it needs toning down to slow down how fast it acts, to allow a proper level of control to the distressing process.
Mark Lacey

“Life is short. Art long. Opportunity is fleeting. Experience treacherous. Judgement difficult.”
― Geoffrey Chaucer

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Re: Where to start gilded frame restoration?

Post by Not your average framer » Sat 18 Jan, 2020 2:57 pm

This is not specifically about gilding as it applies to hand finished framing in general, but Ialways find it worthwhile visiting places where I can spend time carefully looking at authentic looking old frames and expertly created old style modern frames, by created to look old. It's not that easy to create a finish that's so authentic that even the experts think it might be older than it actually is.

Particular things to look for is what level of gloss, sheen looks right on something that appears to be old, how genuine distressed features transition from distressed to un-distressed areas of the finish (with particular regard to being able to discern the colour of the finish underneath through the top finish. I am often careful to mix a proportion of chalky emulsion into acrylic finishes to create something that looks more natural rather than synthetic.

I think that it is more important to develop your own feel for what you think looks right rather than try to let what someone else says influence you too much. Is really all about learning to educate and use your own personal judgement and being able to trust your own instincts. We are individuals and we should allow our work to express some of that individuality.
Mark Lacey

“Life is short. Art long. Opportunity is fleeting. Experience treacherous. Judgement difficult.”
― Geoffrey Chaucer

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