Having shown in ‘Part One’ how to make a picture frame molding, I am now going to describe and illustrate how to produce a metallic finish upon it, prior to making up the frame. This process can be used of course on a frame that’s already made up. I have accumulated a number of frames from garage sales, usually at about 50 cents apiece. It’s a good idea to strip the existing finish completely, otherwise make sure to give it a careful sanding so that the new finish will adhere properly.
The finishing is a four-step process: priming, undercoating, putting on a metallic paste, and finally varnishing. Make sure you have made plenty of molding for the size of frame you contemplate (DSCN5321). Run a minimum of 20% over your theoretical needs (50% is better). When making stock this way there will always be little anomalies that will show up during the finishing process, and it’s good to have lots extra so you can select the best. Also, you will find it difficult to reproduce the same frame molding so exactly as to match perfectly what you have already made. In my opinion, the best native wood for making framing is Basswood, called Lime in England and Linden elsewhere, but I find this increasingly difficult to find and expensive. My second choice is Eastern White Pine.
After sanding lightly, I prime the wood with an alkyd primer. The first coat of this will raise the grain slightly and leave a furry surface. Rub down with a worn piece of 220 grit garnet paper and if it needs it, apply a second coat of the primer.
Next is to put on a coloured undercoat, and this needs some thought (and a word of explanation). Because of the burnishing which is done after applying the final metallic finish, a certain amount of undercoat will show through; more or less depending on technique and the effect desired. (DSCN5364). It is therefore important that the colour of the undercoat is in harmony, not only with the metallic colour chosen, but also, to a certain degree, with the nature of the painting and the preponderant colours in it. For a rich, warm effect, a bright red undercoat with a reddish gold on top works well. Under a silver finish I might use black, grey, blue or green. You get the idea. (DSCN5109). For this undercoat I use everyday acrylic craft paint (DSCN5490). If you want a solid metallic finish, then don’t rub this coat down. The metallic paste will stick better to a slightly rough and porous surface; but if, for effect, you want to show a lot of colour through, then rub the undercoat down with a coarse cloth: the metallic paste won’t take the same grip
Now for the metallic coating. The product I use is called ‘Goldfinger’. It is a paste made by Daler-Rowney which comes in five different shades – Antique Gold, Sovereign Gold, Green Gold, Copper and (imitation) Silver (DSCN5491). Rub that on in accordance with the instructions (DSC02517). You can just use your bare finger, but I have lately taken to wearing a latex glove and using a cloth in order to try to protect my aging skin from solvents.
The instructions given with the ‘Goldfinger’ suggest that after the paste is dry (I wait overnight), you should buff up the finish with a cloth, but I have experimented with a harder burnishing and think I can offer a technique which will produce a finish more closely resembling metal foil . Instead of rubbing with a cloth, I employ homemade burnishing tools. The first ones I made were shaped from scraps of hardwoods such as ash and walnut (DSCN2834,5,6). More recently, I have been making burnishers from bone (DSCN5473). Shape them with files and sandpaper, polishing the working surface as finely as possible with 600 grit paper. Once in use, the burnisher will polish itself to a mirror finish. Traditionally, agate was used to burnish when gold leaf was applied over a gesso ground, so I bought a few little agate pebbles to try. They don’t work as well for the purpose, most especially because one cannot work them into a variety of concave shapes which is so easy with bone and wood.
So take a burnisher and gently, but firmly, rub it back and forth along the molding. By holding the work up to the light you will immediately see how a smoother, more polished surface develops. Don’t rub so hard as to remove too much of the gilt. By using tools of different concave and convex radii you can quickly achieve a polished metallic surface. Now finish off by buffing with a soft cloth.
The ultimate task is to varnish the burnished molding, using Daler-Rowney’s ‘Goldfinger Varnish’. This is one area where I have some trouble, and I should be grateful for suggestions to overcome it. The finish you have just achieved by burnishing is simply gorgeous; it cannot be improved upon. But the manufacturer does suggest overlaying a protective coat of their special varnish, made for the purpose, so I have been doing so. There are three problems with this. Firstly, the ‘Goldfinger Varnish’ is alcohol based, and so dries almost instantly. You have only time to lay it on with a full brush and sweep it once, maybe twice to ensure even and complete coverage. Then you have to stop as it will have stickied up. Secondly the flow of varnish tends to dissolve and remove your beautiful finish, so you have to employ a very gentle touch. Thirdly, the final result just doesn’t have quite the same rich sheen as an unvarnished piece. I am thinking that I should maybe not varnish a few frames now, and see how they hold up over a few years. Or else try a different varnish perhaps. Come on now. If you’ve read this far, help me out with a little experimentation and research.
In part three I’ll cover some ideas for decorating framing with special effects.