The Book of Gold – an e-book available for sale
Over the years I have run a lot of professional development workshops with artists, craftspeople, conservators and academics who wanted to learn the secrets of making finely ground gold pigments, such as was used by artists of the medieval and early modern periods to embellish paintings and manuscripts, both in the East and the West. It seems that it is considered a difficult skill, with very little authoritative or accessible information available on the best way to prepare this marvellous pigment, which is why I decided to prepare an e-book at reasonable cost and suitable for studio use that can be easily accessed by anyone who wishes to make authentic Shell Gold.
The book is available at £11.99 for instant download at my Etsy shop DesignRepository, and contains 51 pages of detailed information illustrated with stunning photographs by Katharina Kacur. In addition to step-by-step instruction on how to prepare the pigment, there are additional sections on how to work with the pigments including a variety of clever techniques, an introduction to Persianate illumination with designs that you can use, and some tricky techniques like ruling gold lines with a brush and making gold-sprinkled paper.
The method is based on that employed by a hereditary craftsman in India who supplies painters and jewellers with carefully hand produced gold products for use in their craft. I was privileged to watch Shammi Patel prepare a batch for me in Jaipur the early 1990s, and he also very generously showed me his workshops and the processes undertaken.
Traditional hand-beaten Indian gold and silver leaf are much thinner than commercially available leaf, because it is intended to be ground into pigment, whereas Western gold leaf is largely intended for using in sheets for classic gilding techniques. Nevertheless, it is possible to use it to make finely divided shell gold if you are prepared to work hard. Mr. Patel’s approach was quite robust, which is what you need when preparing useful quantities of precious pigment. There is little point in using it unless you are going to be lavish!
Mr. Patel’s hereditary method of grinding gold is also bourne out by a number of treatises that were produced during the golden age of manuscript production in the Iranian world (15th – 17th centuries) – here is an excerpt form a 16th century master who served the Safavid court, called Sadeqi Beyg Afshar, using animal or fish glue as a mucilage:
” If your heart desires to dissolve silver and gold, by this method I will dissolve your difficulty;
Using clean and pure serishom (glue), soak it,and after that put it on the fire;
Take a plate clean of any grease, and when the glue is hot, pour it onto the plate;
But you must think of the exact amount, do not put more than a drop for each leaf;
Put in some roughly ground salt, throw it in and rub, oh Wise Man;…..
The duration of rubbing should be (no?) more than the space of an hour, oh Man or Art;
From one side start to work little by little, and you will be in the direction towards the Land of Success…”
(Translated by Azar Soleymani and Anita Chowdry)
My method does not use animal glue, which needs to be kept warm, but honey, which is easier. After trial and error, I also felt that the salt was unnecessary and made washing more tedious. Much discussion and experimentation has taken place over the years in my workshops amongst participants and colleagues, and the resulting practice is pretty much as foolproof and efficient as it is possible to make it.
So please do give it a try, and if you like The Book of Gold, please leave a shop review, ask me questions, and spread the word.
A final word, the book has been carefully prepared and its contents are copyrighted, so I would be grateful if it is used for the purpose intended – as a studio guide – and not copied or distributed in any way.