The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

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Jack Hollands
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Joined: Thu Nov 15, 2012 5:14 pm

The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Jack Hollands » Mon Jan 28, 2013 12:03 pm

My final chapter of my dissertation on gold leaf gilding in signwriting is dedicated to the future; I would appreciate any views and opinions from craftsmen who use gold in their hand lettering work.

With techniques and processes changing very little for hundreds of years, do you see any new technologies that may impact the trade?

For example, I have seen lots of signs in London that are just gold vinyl, that doesn't have the same luster as the real thing. Not to mention the way the gold vinyl starts to peel away and fall off in a short amount of time.

Vinyl screens are also used here, with gold size being applied through the screen. At least, I hope I'm correct in saying this example of lettering is a from a computer and not by hand.



This technique, in my opinion, loses some of the beauty in hand craftsmanship. It becomes too 'perfect' and therefore inhumane.


I understand the complex issue of economics and offering services to clients on a level that is affordable. But when you see luxury retailers that pride themselves on authentic quality resorting to vinyl, it seems like something is amiss there. That's not a future that I'd like to see common place. Will all respect for quality and craftsmanship fade from life?
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Mike Jackson
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Mike Jackson » Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:44 am

Jack,
There are a lot of moving parts in this simple question.

Many things have changed since the days you might expect to see gold on almost all banks, lawyers, and doctors offices.

Just a few factors:
1. Gold is much more expensive lately.
2. Cost of living, including health insurance has gone out of sight.
3. Small town, mom and pop, businesses are being replaced with corporations.

When we had our shop, it was always difficult to pack up and go to a window or door downtown and spend all the time away from the shop.
I always think back on Steven Parrish. He did bank window and door lettering all over the Central Plains of the US. He worked out of a small basement in his small house in a small town. His biggest expense was his vehicle, gas and motels. He worked for the home town banks with names like "The First Bank of Aurora" and not Wells Fargo. He knew the bank president personally.

I think the guy you really need to speak to is Bruce Jackson in Australia. He has made a business of doing mostly gold work.
Mike Jackson / co-administrator
Golden Era Studios
Vintage Ornamental Clip art
Jackson Hole, WY

Photography site:
Teton Images
Jackson Hole photography blog:
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Terry Colley
Posts: 57
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2004 2:26 am
Location: Stockport England

Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Terry Colley » Thu Jan 31, 2013 4:03 am

I think one of the main problems for the craftsmen of the future will be the lack of materials (mainly oil based paints and sizes) We had the old le franc size it did it's job , you could rely on it being ready on time , Now you just don't know where you are with it. They changed the 12 hour because of the lead content and told us they would not change the 3 hour as it contained cobalt not lead, then next thing they have changed the 3 hour . It is like starting all over again every time a manufacturer changes the product, what ever happened to ' if it ain't broke don't fix it 'Try getting a decent black for outlining on glass, i don't know of one. I can see a return of signwriters/ glass artists having to go back to grinding their own pigments and mixing paints in the way it was done 100 years ago. I know the some of the glaas artists here spend a lot of time seeking out old methods then the materials to do the job.
Thanks Terry
Terry Colley
Stockport, England
Signwriter/maker

BruceJackson
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by BruceJackson » Thu Jan 31, 2013 7:55 am

I think there will always be a future for hand-lettering and gilding, especially for window signs. It has a long history of being the method of choice for high-end work and it has integrity. On that basis alone, people will recognize that it has value and they will continue to appreciate it.

The barriers to overcome are educating clients and keeping enough old gold leaf signs alive and visible so that people recognize them. When there are a few shops in an area with nice signs, it builds momentum. People enjoy and comment on how good they look and then other new clients want a piece of that action. This happens with any type of creative work in public spaces....be it architecture, landscaping, creative shop dressing, or novelty letterboxes.

We may have been in a slump for a couple of decades, but who knows when that may change. Recently, a young guy came to my studio for a weekend workshop...He went home to hold an exhibition of hand lettering as art. It was the sort of thing any of us old dinosaurs might have made painted during a regular working day and not given a second thought, yet here it is being appreciated as art to be exhibited on gallery walls by a generation brought up looking at vinyl signs in Helvetica.

As for materials changing. yes it's annoying, but you can usually find other solutions when things disappear. Even if you have to make them yourself. I recently found I can't buy wax paper anymore from the supermarket. I use it to make transfer leaf out of loose gold leaf. But that's another topic.

As for making a living from gold leaf window signs.....I think you still can, but it helps to supplement it with other related projects or a wider scope of work. In my case, splashbacks, tabletops, mirrors, honor boards. I also do the odd job of gilding restoration work and supplying a bit of gold leaf

joe cieslowski
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by joe cieslowski » Thu Jan 31, 2013 10:21 am

In New England, the carved and gilded sign is a part of everyday life. It has been throughout our history.

I don't see that changing at all. 90% of the signs I carve are gilded.

On the other hand, window work is rare. It's not the cost. If people don't see it, they don't ask for it.

Joe
Makin Chip$ and Havin Fun!

Mike Jackson
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Mike Jackson » Thu Jan 31, 2013 11:30 am

Hi Joe,
I love all of your work! Keep posting photos anytime you can.

My point would be easily highlighted with you and your business. You are probably busy in the shop laminating panels, designing, carving and painting. Just imagine selling a reasonably complicated reverse gold leaf glass sign downtown. You'd need to pack up all of the materials, make patterns, and shut the doors to go start the sign. Then you do a layer of water gilding, assuming the weather is warm enough to do this process, have to wait a few hours, then apply the second gild. Then wait...er...go home. Go back, pounce the pattern and back up the gold, then wait for it to dry to clean off the gold. Another trip. Now, apply some slow or quick size and wait, or go back to the shop for a few hours. After applying the surface gold, things speed back up and you might be able to add outlines and shades and finish the job.

An on-location job like that can drain the profits if you have to be away so much and your shop overhead is still chugging along. The scenario above assumes the glass job is just downtown. Selling the same job in a town 30 miles away would compound the issues.

I don't think reverse gold on glass is dead, but it takes a special kind of craftsman with a much smaller overhead, similar to Steven Parrish.
Mike Jackson / co-administrator
Golden Era Studios
Vintage Ornamental Clip art
Jackson Hole, WY

Photography site:
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joe cieslowski
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by joe cieslowski » Thu Jan 31, 2013 3:15 pm

Excellent points Mike.

There are a lot more skill sets doing glass work as well. I've never contemplated even trying it, never mind selling it.

Except for an occasional street number on an old building, gold on glass is non-existant around here. Tough to sell something people are not familiar with. Now, walk down most streets in the UK and I'm sure it's quite common which, I think, might make for a better market.

Just a couple of thoughts.....

Joe
Makin Chip$ and Havin Fun!

Roderick Treece
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Roderick Treece » Thu Jan 31, 2013 3:37 pm

I think at this point in history gold leaf glass signs are enjoying a resurgence in popularity.With the help of the World Wide Web more people are seeing gold leaf glass signs and the contemporary artists creating those pieces. They are also able to see the historic nature of the craft and those that came before us.With the internet someone can simply Google "Gold Leaf Glass Signs" and get a list of some of the best and worst glass sign artist available today.Doing an "Image search" is likehaving photos of all the best that work that is available right in front of you.
Within the last few years I have even started bidding project in competition with other gilders from around the country that people have found through internet searches.
As for original techniques I have enjoyed some of the advancements of modern technologies. If anyone has ever been on the job and had to make a pounce pattern by hand with a pounce wheel the first thing that comes to mind is "Thank God someone invented the Electro Pounce". In my daily work using a plotter to cut sandblast mask is a dream come true. Anyone remember how sore your fingers got from hand cutting the old thick paper sandblast mask ? The most important thing for me is , use the best techniques to make a finished piece that has a look that would make are mentors proud.
Within my work I always try to include some type of precious metal into the piece. Even though gold may be expensive I find it's impact on the final look is well worth the cost. One big saving grace for me is that I am of the "Steven Parrish" mentality. Very low over head helps me make a profit with most projects except the ones where I completely screw things up.When I do an on-site job it's because the client really wants it done traditionally and is willing to pay a premium for that service.


Thanks for starting the conversation.

noelbweber
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by noelbweber » Thu Jan 31, 2013 7:32 pm

Hello Fellow Gilders,
We're still gilding in Boise. At least a window a month , sometimes a Docs office sometimes a restaurant sometimes just a detail. Sometimes just for fun. There is nothing more beautiful than a properly gilded window. Everything is expensive these days but you can still sell it. Hand art forms are fading away due to technology. As craftsmen its our task to figure out how to bridge that gap.
Noel
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Kevin W Betz
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Kevin W Betz » Thu Jan 31, 2013 9:44 pm

I am curious to know about the silk screening. We have done a few using Black for the Back up on Windows, but have not heard about using this for size. I have to assume this is for Surface Gilding ?

kevin

Mike Jackson
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Mike Jackson » Thu Jan 31, 2013 10:14 pm

Hey Noel, Nice work! (As always)

Are you able to leave the shop to do the on-site glass work much anymore?

Say Hi to Lucy for Darla and myself!
Mike Jackson
Mike Jackson / co-administrator
Golden Era Studios
Vintage Ornamental Clip art
Jackson Hole, WY

Photography site:
Teton Images
Jackson Hole photography blog:
Best of the Tetons

John McMahon
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by John McMahon » Fri Feb 01, 2013 4:11 pm

Kevin,
I've worked for Noel for about 15 years and did the work on that Hercules piece. He asked me to post a few production shots for you.
The artwork is a panel designed by Mike Jackson (thanks, Mike!) and the font (Lasso) was hand drawn by Noel, digitized by myself, and formatted as an Opentype font. As a side note, we've developed this as a complete font with uppercase, lowercase, numerals, ligatures, and accents for non-English languages, and are working to make it available for sale shortly.
Anyway, the surface gild was printed with a mix of 12 and 3 hour sizes and yellow screen enamel. We dusted the surface with shadow kaolin so the gold wouldn't stick in the wrong place. As you can see, we use registration blocks pierced with threaded rod, so the screen can be micro-adjusted into position.
Image
We pulled prints for each color of gold (18, 12, and 23k). Soft shadows were airbrushed and a hard shadow was printed with transparent ink. The detail photo shows this before the final 23k line art was added. The whole thing was cover-coated with clear screen enamel.
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Final panel.
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The Atwater sign is reverse on glass and the matte centers were screen-printed with 12 hour size before the gold was applied. This can leave an orange-peel texture in the size because the print lays out so thin it doesn't flow out much before flashing off. It can also get messy, as the size runs everywhere. But we got away with it here.

John

Rich Hawthorne
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Rich Hawthorne » Fri Feb 01, 2013 8:43 pm

John, very nice description and, of course, the work is stellar. Good to hear from you and to see some of the elegance you guys produce. You always amaze me with your skill and knowledge.

As for the future of hand painted lettering with Gold Leaf, I know from personal experience that many people don't know what you are talking about until they see it. And that is a critical point because unless you live/visit someplace and actually see it you don't know what it is or have the mind synapses to realize what can be done. Around here (Portland) we have some but not enough to reach critical mass. Lee Littlewood would be a better resource for commenting on that rather than me. So here is my point, I don't think it will disappear but it is a matter of having some in the real world for people to see so they get the idea. Perhaps a chicken and egg thing. Once it is visible, people get the idea and it is less difficult to sell. But, you don't know what you don't know ....

Kevin W Betz
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Kevin W Betz » Sat Feb 02, 2013 7:17 pm

Hello John.
Very Nice Work.
With the 12hr & 3hr mix, are both LeFranc ?
A Big Hello to Noel.
I Always Appreciated Your Work.

kevin

noelbweber
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by noelbweber » Sun Feb 03, 2013 1:12 pm

Hi Kevin,
Both gold sizes were Lefranc. Their 12 hour is very dependable. When vertical screen printing we do mix 30% quick with 70% slow. Flash time is over night. Test patch is essential. I have also been using Letterhead Sign Supply's quick size by itself on glass and surface gilding. It holds a nice tack. We try not to have to many products on the shelf, dependability of products is key to this art form.
Noel
Noel B. Weber

Doug Bernhardt
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Doug Bernhardt » Sun Feb 03, 2013 10:18 pm

I guess this ends the discussion of "How to live with Vinyl/ Computers" in our day and age. Although McMahon has more grey hair than I remember the work at Classic is just that....classic and outstanding.....and one of the perfect confluences of old world and new world.

Dan Seese
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Re: The Future of Hand Painted lettering with Gold Leaf

Post by Dan Seese » Mon Feb 04, 2013 1:08 pm

I guess I haven't checked into the forum here for a week or so.

Much of the time I was busy on-location, as Mike mentions. Not for glass gilding but being taken away from the shop for protracted periods of time always interrupts the flow of the multiple hats I need to wear as president, designer, production manager, receptionist and janitor at my corporation.

Jack - I hope you got things finished up in a timely manner with your dissertation. A worthy subject, indeed, and something that most of us who visit this forum think about a lot. All the insights posted here are helping me as I consider how to find more of the work I love doing. (Especially significant is the importance of having live examples of the work you want to pursue exhibited around town.)

Nice to hear from you, Noel. Your workshop back in the late 90's really helped me with my window gilding techniques - (despite the "memories" we all made together with food poisoning from the catering service!)

Nothing to add here at the moment except for a thanks to Jack for raising the subject and to those who've responded.
Dan
"The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne."
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340 - 1400)

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