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.
These are the brands that I enjoyed using for this project. I am not sponsored by anyone and am always trying new products:
- Workspace Things: Clean Rags, Newspaper, Disposable Cups, Paper Towels, Assorted Industrial Q-tips, High Quality Brushes, Popsicle Sticks, Protective Gloves, Newspaper
- Base Color: Gesso & Ivory Paint (various Golden acrylic paints blended with Gold Satin Glazing Medium)
- Shellac Materials: Wellermart Dewaxed Garnet Shellac Flakes 4 oz bags (or Orange or Platina), Denatured Alcohol, Plastic Tupperware
- Gilding Materials: Nazionale Metal Gold Leaf*, size, and goat hair gilding brush
- French Wash Materials: Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (not to be confused with baking soda), Water, Steel Brush
- Waxing Materials: Brush, Clear Wax, Mineral Spirits
- Custom Dust Materials: Calcium Carbonate, Pink & Blush Pastels or Red Cement Color
* 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.
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
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.