Magical Pink, Ivory, and Gold Frame Tutorial

I just finished refinishing four frames for another beautiful wedding in Ravello, Italy! I really love how they turned out, so I thought I’d share the process.

When choosing frames, I look at weight (for shipping), condition, dimensions and style. Vintage and antique frames tend to be more majestic than modern frames, however they are rarely the right color. So I then refinish the frames to match the rest of the event. In this case, I did something similar to the last wedding I helped with in Italy. I wanted to capture the magic of Villa Cimbrone with gold leaf. But I also didn’t want to gold to overwhelm the design. The wedding planner, Exclusive Italy Weddings, had already designed the tables with gold & ivory Florentine chargers, so I incorporated ivory paint to match. And as a final touch, I custom made different pink waxes and dusts to match the wedding’s romantic color scheme.

Frame Inspiration: Florentine Chargers

The Frames are Inspired by this Tablescape & Florentine Chargers, Designed by Exclusive Italy Weddings


These are the brands that I enjoyed using for this project. I am not sponsored by anyone and am always trying new products:

* This project uses imitation leaf. Real gold leaf crumbles easily and can be hard to handle. I’ve always been happy with both types so I went with the easiest option. The following results use imitation leaf and will probably vary with real leaf.

Project Steps

The following steps are how the project is *supposed* to go *in theory*. In reality, as you will see in the videos, I often re-did steps out of order, sometimes many times over, when I decided I didn’t like the paint color or gold effects enough. Hopefully when you try this, you won’t need to re-do steps like I did 🙂 I highly recommend: 1.) being VERY sure of your paint color before applying 2.) use a separate non-contaminated batch of shellac for sealing, so that your final result is nice and shiny and not muddy 3.) using an ivory base coat and 4.) applying several base coats. Those were my mistakes!

surface preparations & gilding

I won’t go into much detail on the first three steps, if interested I cover these in depth here. Clean up the frames, two coats Gesso, and at least two coats ivory base color. (It’s important not to skip the base color step — I did on the first frame and really regretted it later. It made it so I had to re-guild a few times, because the colors that shown through the gold were too dark.) Then cover the frame in size, wait 15 minutes, and then guild. Touch up gaps if necessary. Wait until size cures. (Note: If the frame is already gilded, you can skip these steps.)

french soda wash & paint

Mix up a batch of Washing Soda & water, at a ratio of 1:1 in a plastic cup. I found two tablespoons soda to two table spoons water to be more than enough for one frame. Be sure to use gloves when handling soda wash, as its an acid and will irritate your hands. Apply soda mix into the ornate groves of the frame. Let dry until soda is hard, typically overnight. Once dry, sculpt into the desired look using a small steel brush (like one you would use for a grill).

Cover frame with clear wax. Wait 20 minutes, then apply 1-3 coats of ivory paint, depending on how much gold you want to show through. Expose some the of gold below the paint by using clean rags with a bit of mineral spirits. The amount of gold exposed is a personal preference.

pink wax & dust

Pink Wax & Dust

Ingredients to Make Pink Dust & Wax

Mix up different shades of pink wax using clear wax, calcium carbonate & different amounts of red & pink powders, and mineral spirits. Apply colored waxes to select accent parts of the frame, like the corners. I like to apply a darker pink to the lower parts of an ornate accent, and lighter shades at the top. Let dry, then apply a clear wax to select parts, wait 2 minutes, and pounce on blush colored dust, again mixed from calcium carbonate and pink powder. Wait for wax and dust to dry (at least 30 minutes), then brush off excess. Clean up all areas where dust overboard with a clean rag.

re-guild accents & seal with shellac

Mix up two separate batches of homemade shellac. One is used as size, and the other to seal. The reason I like to separate the batches is to avoid contamination. Shellac that has dust residue mixed in it, will produce a muddy effect, where I want a clear, golden look that enhances the shine. Apply the size shellac to the corners and any select area on the frame you want to stand out. Shellac dries very fast, so you will only want to do small sections at a time. Wait a minute or two after applying shellac and then add gold leaf. About an 1-8 hours after applying leaf (will depend on amount of shellac you used and temperature), you can use a soft brush to remove excess. Seal with fresh batch of shellac, being careful to clean brush every time with denatured alcohol and a clean rag. Let dry overnight.

The Four Finished Finished Frames

The Four Finished Finished Frames


DIY: French Washing Frames Part 2

This is Part Two of the DIY: French Washing Frames Post. Click here to go back to part one. In the previous post, we covered the Base Color, Gilding, and French Wash. Now we are continuing on with the last remaining steps: Splatter Seal, Wax & Dust, and Highlighting!

Splatter Seal

Splattered shellac was another great idea that from ! It creates a pretty, light-catching effect of “years gone by.” Horowitz explains it best, but the idea is to create multiple rounds of random splatterings using a brush. As you can see in the video below, I used a steel brush but you could also use a tooth brush.


Splatter Seal Shellac

splattered shellac catches the light in different ways and creates the illusion of “years gone by.” this close up shows how moving the brush closer or further away from the frame creates bigger or smaller dots. randomness is key.

Dust & Wax

Blending the dust was my favorite part! I’ve always wanted to try an aging dust, but found dust of ages looked too “dirty”. So I decided to make a custom dust that matched the bridesmaid dresses – blush! I ordered commercial whiting online (after checking local stores) as well as red and yellow cement color.

I found it was easiest to pick out a Pantone color to match it to. The one that seemed the most "blush" was Pantone 7604 U.

mix dust from commercial whiting & cement color. i found it helpful to pick out a pantone color to match. i thought the perfect “blush” was pantone 7604 U.

I didn’t follow an exact formula, but started with white and mixed in only a tiny amount of red and yellow. (Easy tip: add gold leaf scraps to the dust for a “fairy dust” effect.) I blended until I matched Pantone Color 7604 U. It helped to have a specific color goal – otherwise it’s hard to know when to stop adding color.

The dust sticks to the frame with wax. After trying dark, clear, and liming wax on my practice frame, I instead opted for a custom wax blend. I found the clear wax was too clear, the liming wax too opaque and I wanted something in between. So I blended clear wax, blush dust, a drop of acrylic white paint, and mineral spirits. It went on like butter!


It finally comes all together! I used normal aging dust instructions. The video explains it best, but you apply an even, thin layer of wax and wait until it becomes tacky (roughly 5-10 minutes) and pounce on dust. (if you apply too soon, you risk altering the dust color.) Let everything dry for another 30 minutes or so, and then brush off excess. Buff with a clean rag.

Excess dust comes off with a rag or q-tip and a little bit of water. I especially highlighted the gold corners with industrial q-tips, and then i finally buffed with a little clear wax to seal the work!

After Photos

Finished Frame for "Gifts & Cards"

this is the finished Frame for the smallest sign “Gifts & Cards”. as my final step, I added a little more gold leaf to the corners. there will be lots of candles at the wedding and i want the accents to romantically catch the light. 


Final Three Frames

this is how they turned out! they are especially stunning under dim lighting.

Video Summary

This video is a quick summary of all these techniques!



Now for the best part — adding the signs! I’ll include those photos soon! Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, please email — Susan

DIY: French Washing Frames Part 1

This week I am antiquing three frames for a gorgeous wedding at the famous villa cimbrone in Ravello, Italy. This historic villa needs frames that match it’s history and beauty. Real antiques could potentially get caught up in customs, so I am transforming three new frames into lovely antiques. Gold leaf (or gilding) creates the most authentic and richest gold. I am still an relatively new at gilding and this post walks through my attempts to match this stunningly romantic candle-lit venue.

Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, Italy

these frames are headed to the beautiful Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, Italy.



It’s worth noting that this project is truly a labor of love! This is not a “do-it-yourself-er” that saves time or money. It’s not “cheap” or “quick and easy.” But I would do everything again because the finished frames are so special.

What really “makes” the frames is the finishing process. Gold leaf is beautiful, but by itself it’s too shiny and overpowers the sign. I’m so glad I found this technique that includes: shellac, french wash, and blush dust. It was my first time trying these and I was quite intimated. But I’m glad I tried! Blush on gold looks like fairy dust out of “a midsummer night’s dream.”

inspiration frame -- french wash

This is the first frame I ever thrifted! It has a beautiful white wash that I’ve always wanted to recreate. I’ve tried white chalk paint and it just doesn’t come close. I looked far and wide and am thrilled I found soda wash, shellac, and blush dust.



Note: There are so many amazing antiquing products. I happened to use these for this project but I am always trying new ones 🙂

Note: This project uses imitation leaf. Real gold leaf crumbles easily and can be hard to handle. I’ve always been happy with both types so I went with the easiest option. The following results use imitation leaf and will probably vary quite a bit with real leaf.

Base Color

Before and After

The base color or “bole” shines through cracks in the gold leaf to mimic years gone by. You can use any base color, but I went with brick red for it’s warmth. A clay bole is ideal, but I decided to simplify with spray paint. I’d eventually like to try something like this technique that strategically varies the bole color in the highlight zones.


The base color shows through the gaps in the gold leaf. I planned to use gold, but after seeing it on in the frames I thought it looked too "great gatsby". so I warmed it up by adding another layer of brick red.

The base color shows through the gaps in the gold leaf. I planned to use gold, but after seeing it on in the frames I thought it looked too “great gatsby”. so I warmed it up by adding another layer of brick red.

Mix Size

I chose shellac as my adhesive (or “size”) and splatter sealer. I used to use acrylic spray adhesive. It’s easy but has downsides: 1.) a long drying time (24 hours), 2.) you can’t spray inside and when it’s too hot or cold, 3.) it dulls the base color, and 4.) you can only seal it with a clear acrylic sealer, which dulls the shine of the gold.

I started researching and it seemed that most experienced gilders used homemade shellac. It sounded like a huge upgrade! It’s 1.) non-toxic (made from lac beetle secretion – it’s technically edible), 2.) has a quick drying time (1 hour), 3.) used indoors (not the spray kind) 4.) comes in many pretty colors and 5.) nicely ages the gold leaf.

Mixing the size was relatively easy. I used this recipe100 ml denatured alcohol to 25 grams Garnet shellac flakes in a sealable bottle and let sit overnight. Only the first batch was a little tricky – I needed a kitchen scale. After that, I always used this 4 oz bottle, filled the shellac to the 4th dash line & the rest with alcohol.

homemade shellac is both an excellent adhesive and sealer. garnet shellac looks dark but is surprisingly subtle on. Combine 100 ml denatured alcohol and 25 grams garnet shellac in a sealable glue bottle and let sit overnight.

homemade shellac is both an excellent adhesive and sealer. garnet shellac looks dark but is surprisingly subtle on. Combine 100 ml denatured alcohol and 25 grams garnet shellac in a sealable glue bottle and let sit overnight.



I was surprised at how easily the shellac paints on. It was just like painting on a thin coat of paint. After waiting a few minutes for it to become tacky, you apply the leaf and after an hour it’s dry! It helped that I had a good brush. I splurged on an escoda brush. With cheap gilding brushes, like these, the bristles come off too easily and get stuck in the glue. Tip! don’t use a foam brush. Apparently, foam dissolves in shellac and you end up foam bits everywhere. 

I wont go into much detail on applying gold leaf because there are some many excellent resources on it already. You will want to learn from the experts! I found these resources helpful: the gold vault, amy howard’s tutorial, and these impressive masters.



At this point the gold leaf is too shiny and will overpower the sign.

French Wash

I learned about french washing through amazing frame maker . Horwitz uses this technique from Arm &amp Hammer Super Washing Soda and water. You are essentially making a caustic acid wash and Horowitz cautions to be very careful. once the wash dries into a solid form you can sculpt the wash to the most beautiful effect.

The recipe combines 2 ounces of water (1/4 cup) to 2 tablespoons of washing soda. Mix thoroughly and apply with a brush. it goes on easy but make sure you really get it into the fine grooves. At first it’s a little scary because it looks like you applied dirty water all over the frame. But soon it becomes a translucent pink and hours later it’s dry and ready to refine!

Refining is fairly easy with the right tools; I had the best luck with soft rags, industrial q-tips, and occasionally steel brushes for stubborn parts. A little water was helpful for stubborn areas.




the frame after the soda wash has dried

after the soda wash has dried you can began to refine it with steel brushes.

This post is broken into two parts. For the second part of the post click here.