What is Verre Églomisé?

oil gilding

Celtic love birds - 8x8cm oil gilding on glass
Pronounced Verr Egg-loam-eezay, it is a term used to describe the application of gold leaf on glass using a gelatine adhesive (gold size). It is an ancient technique that pre dates the Roman era but its resurgence came about in the 18th century by French decorator Jean-Baptiste Glomy (1711–1786). So popular was this art from, his name became synonymous with the decorative procedure – É-glom-isé.

Designs are drawn/scratched into the gold leaf with a fine needle creating minute detail. The drawing side is the reverse side, as the final image is viewed through the glass, the opposite way around. This 21st-century revival, for me, has become something of a love affair since establishing my bespoke picture framing business some 16 years ago. 

Gilding frames has become a speciality and the desire to develop my gilding technique (with such a ready supply of gilding materials) became irresistible. I experimented at first with Dutch metal leaf on oil size and developed a range of designs on glass panels, vases and dishes. However, I found that using oil size had its limitations, only achieving designs on a 2 dimensional level, with a minimal gilded area of 3mm.
the cardoon visitor

The Cardoon Visitor
8x8cm, 22.5ct gold leaf on glass
sketch of the cardoon visitor

Sketch of The Cardoon Visitor
Verre Églomisé has allowed me to create designs and draw representational images on gold leaf in the fine detail I craved. 

Working within the area of 8x8cm, the size of gold leaf naturally attracted me to drawing in miniature.
The ethos of traditional miniature art work is: Exquisite fine detail and infinite patience. The marks that are made in drawing into soft gold leaf are so fine they are almost invisible to the naked eye and the infinite patience needed in the process of gilding glass and then drawing onto the surface of gold leaf seem very appropriate to the world of miniature. 

Verre Églomisé can also be accomplished in large scale, by applying many sheets of loose gold leaf to a glass panel and employing the same detailed miniature technique in the drawing.
I work from my own photographs, producing sketches before adding them to the gold.  My inspiration predonmiantly comes from the natural world, mainly insects, flowers, reptiles and many more exciting forms which capture my imagination.

gold leaf

gold leaf
Gold leaf is produced in books of 25 sheets as ‘loose leaf’ or ‘transfer leaf’ and can be found in many good art and craft retailers across the UK. Both loose and transfer gold leaf measure approximately 80mm (3”) square and are manufactured in different gold grades in a variety of shades. (see below)
Loose leaf is extremally difficult to handle and will simply disintegrate to the touch, therefore, gilders tools are required to successfully manipulate and apply loose gold leaf.

These are; a gilders cushion, a gilders knife and a fine flat brush called a tip. The gilders cushion is a specially designed soft pad covered in vellum or swede and has a draught flap at the back, usually made from a stiff parchment, reducing any unwanted breeze that can send the gold leaf flying! A specially shaped, razor sharp gilders knife is used cut loose leaf to the shape you require, or manipulate the gold on the cushion, and a gilders tip made from squirrel or badger hair is used to pick the leaf up using natural static.
Transfer leaf is still genuine gold leaf but can be more expensive than loose leaf, as the gold is pressed into a backing sheet of acid free tissue paper. However, the added tissue backing makes the individual leaf easy to handle, without the use of gilders tools, and therefore great for beginners to the gilding craft. An alternative to genuine gold leaf is Dutch metal leaf, gold in colour but made from brass and silver from aluminium. It’s relatively cheap and ideal for experimentation. Dutch metal leaf can also be handled without tools, as the individual sheets are much thicker and cover a larger surface area, with each sheet measuring 140mm (5½”) square.

All the gold leaf I use, listed below, is made and supplied by Habberley Meadows, Birmingham, UK.
22¾ct Egyptian gold leaf: I use a high carat for creating miniatures and pendants. It has a lovely soft warm quality in which to draw fine detail onto.
21.8ct Moon Gold: (a mixture of gold, silver and palladium) An unusual soft grey with a hint of pink. 
18ct Lemon Gold: A lighter yellow gold
7.2ct White Gold: Very similar in colour to Silver, but warmer, and has a softer quality.

Gold Size

gold leaf applied to glass

So how is gold leaf applied to a surface? 
The adhesive for any gold leaf or Dutch metal leaf is referred to as ‘gold size’ (a type of glue) and is oil or water-based. 

Water-based size is a milky glue that dries clear and can be either hand mixed using water and gelatine or brought pre-mixed from a good retailer. As well as being used for gold leaf projects it can also be used for craft work, such as decoupage. 

Oil size is a thick, honey coloured medium that creates a tacky surface and can be used for both interior and exterior gilding.

When creating Verre Églomisé miniatures transfer gold leaf is used and placed on a glass panel with a thin and even layer of water-based size. The gold size is hand mixed using a traditional recipe, as the amount of gelatine to water ratio can be controlled or changed each time. If the gold size is just right the gold leaf will suck down onto the glass. Once left for a minute or two the tissue can be carefully lifted from the glass revealing the thin layer of gold, and depending on the strength of gold size and drying time, unique patterns form in between the gold leaf and tissue backing. A finished gilded glass panel must be fully dry before it is drawn onto and becomes the first part of the Verre Églomisé process.
Selecting an image to draw on any gilded panel is just as important for the overall effectiveness of the final piece of work and the two are married with careful consideration. To begin work on the gilded glass panel, it is placed on a black velour covered board. This prevents the glass panel from slipping and can be flipped over regularly to view the marks created through the glass as it progresses towards the final image. Once marks are made into the gold leaf, essentially removing it, it can be difficult to correct mistakes, although not entirely impossible. Once the drawing is finished a black enamel paint is applied all over the gold leaf and the image is viewed through the glass the opposite way around.