Reverse glass gold-leaf signage is generally considered as the pinnacle of the traditional signpainter's work. The brilliant luster of the finished product is the result of a protracted process that hinges on an incredibly delicate and expensive material: 24 carat gold-leaf. It comes packaged in "books" of twenty five leaves, with each leaf an eight centimetre square, separated by a thin layer of tissue paper. You need only breathe a little too hard, move a little too suddenly and you are liable to ruin a leaf.
Despite its temperamental nature, gold-leaf gives an undeniably luxurious feel to the finished sign, and is well worth the extra investment. So here is a little insight into the process, breaking it down stage-by-stage.
Firstly, the areas of the lettering that wont be done in gold leaf are painted in with one-shot enamels, applied in reverse. For the "SOFT" I wanted to create matt centres, done by painting them in with a varnish. The second photo shows a close up of the varnish which you can just about make out.
Now the sign is ready for the first layer of gold-leaf. A "water size" is made by diluting a small amount of gelatin into distilled water. This water size is then generously brushed over the surface of the glass before the gold-leaf is applied using a gilder's tip, a wide brush made of squirrel hair that is passed through your own hair picking up enough oil to lift the gold-leaf from the tissue-paper and onto the glass.
As the first gild dries overnight the leaf flattens against the glass creating a mirrored gold surface. The excess leaf is then removed with a piece of cotton wool. Regardless of how carefully the first gild was executed there will always be small holes in the leaf, so a second layer of gold-leaf is applied in the same fashion as the first. When the second layer has dried and the excess has again been cleaned off the gold is ready to be "backed-up". This is done by applying a pounce pattern (there's full explanation of pouncing in my previous post) and then painting in within the pounce lines.
The leaf that lies outside of the backing up paint is then cleaned off using a slightly damp piece of cotton wool. Flip the glass round and you're left with the finished gild.
Now all that needs to be done is put a black shadow on the SIGNS that will help bring out the gold, and to fill in the arm that will have 'Hand Painted' on it. Here'd the finished piece: