Glass gilding with Lewis

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Drawing by Mari Prekup

Lewis McGuffie came by to try out screenprinting onto gold-leafed glass – a technique he discovered whilst learning the tricks of the gilding trade in England with Dave Smith. Lewis has been working like mad to burnish his skills in sign writing and gilding over the last few months – public evidence of which can be seen on Tallinn streets in the window of Frank bar on Sauna, or online here where you’ll also find a nicely written article by the man himself.

Unfortunately, the results first time weren’t great. In the process of cementing the gold leaf to the glass, gilders use a very different kind of ink to our usual water based silkscreen inks. The chemical ink sticks the gold leaf to the glass in the shape of the design, allowing the remainder of the gold leaf to be rubbed away. The Sericol produced black ink (this one) that Lewis brought with him was much thinner in consistency and packed with chemicals (requiring a special cleaner, afterwards and demanding all windows be opened wide – is that how the cat got in?).

Current Grafodroom resident

Current Grafodroom resident

The first couple of trial pulls onto a mirror left behind a bubbling, bleeding version of the crisp design exposed on the screen.

We tried toughening up the ink by leaving out the thinner, and the results improved slightly, but it was still far from passable. Next experiment : thinner mesh. We’d started off with a 48 count mesh and so grabbed a nearby finer screen (72 mesh count) still sporting an old image of Mari’s and tried that.

First trial with the 72 mesh screen (on which an image of Mari's was already exposed)

First trial with the 72 mesh screen (on which an image of Mari’s was already exposed). The image looks doubled due to the mirror surface, but comparing the print to the hand drawn image on the screen, it was fairly cleanly printed

The result was a lot better so we re-exposed Lewis’ separation onto another 72 mesh screen. By this point the ink had thickened somewhat, as it had been left sitting out on the table in the meantime, so we tried again with the finer screen and yet thicker ink. As the hour was getting late and this was our last shot at success, we boldly printed straight onto the gold-leafed glass.

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Final pull and the best of the day : thinner-less Sericol ink, toughened from sitting, through a 72 mesh screen.

This set of variables vastly improved the printed image – lines were crisper and there was less trouble with bubbling and bleeding ink – but it still was a long way off the result that Lewis had achieved with Dave Smith, back in the UK.

Lewis followed through the remaining steps in the process, waiting for the ink to dry before rubbing the excess gold leaf away from the glass with a cotton bud, leaving behind the gold only where the image had been printed. He tried painting the back white this time, instead of the common black background, just to see how it looked.

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Lewis took the glass home, removed the excess gold leaf and painted the background white

After some emailing with Dave, we now know that the frames he uses are machine stretched and have a mesh count of 90. He also informed us of another brand of ink which works with 90 mesh screens, produced by Nazdar (probably this one). We’ll have to give it another bash soon with Lewis and a machine stretched 90 mesh screen, and if that doesn’t work out then who knows what, but we’ll experiment full power and find out, goshdarnit.