Let me interrupt all things encaustic with a brief gilding adventure. Part of my work for Lee Kelly has been learning how to apply gold leaf to sculptures and drawings. I’m not very good at it yet so this isn’t a tutorial. What I want to look at in this post is how to speed up the tarnishing process on small sculptures with a silver leafed surface.
Why do I want to tarnish perfectly good silver?
New silver is flashy and bright like a pair of silver earrings. Perfect. But silver can be a living surface, absorbing elements of its environment and changing color with time. Here’s an example of a silver leafed wall relief that has been tarnishing since the early 1990’s:
The surface is beautifully irregular and rich with texture and color. This piece is one of my favorites because I feel like I can look at that surface forever. But… did I mention it took 20+ years to develop?
Sulfur, according to the great Delphic oracle Google, is the key to tarnish. People use chopped hard-boiled eggs for tarnishing small objects, and it works. But three dimensional objects any bigger than cabinet hardware require a lot of eggs. I found soil acidifier in ten pound bags at the garden store and I prepared a chamber with a small, lidded plastic box.
Next I found three pieces of scrap metal and leafed all three with pure silver.
Two leafed scraps went into the box and I kept the third piece in the open air as a control subject.
Within eight hours, the material was noticeably yellowed and within twenty four it looked like this:
The next issue will be stopping the tarnishing process at the perfect moment. The soil acidifier seems to be extremely strong and the process doesn’t stop after the piece is removed from the box. A simple wipe down with a soft cloth might be enough or perhaps some soap and water. Will get back to you about that.
In the meantime, here’s a link to a gilding video from Gilded Planet. YouTube has many, many videos on gilding but I learned something new from this one. Also here’s a link to our gold and silver leaf supplier, Easy Leaf. They are extremely conscientious when it comes to precious metals.