Decorations using metal have been cherished throughout the world since ancient times.
Metal not only adorns art with glitter but also makes the work look more majestic.
Precious and heavy elements like metal have been manufactured in a variety of ways to make them easier to use, from three-dimensional to two-dimensional, such as the "metal leaf," a sheet of metal that has been pounded into a thin leaf.
In this article, I would like to introduce you to a workshop where you can experience using metal leaf, which you might be familiar with but have never gotten a chance to try.
WORKSHOP “Introduction to Metal Leaf”
Dates: Once a month on Sundays
※The day of the week may change in certain months. Please refer to our workshop schedule for more.
During the course, our instructor will provide easy-to-understand explanations for those who are new to metal leaf.
This is a workshop where you can enjoy learning through hands-on experience the modern and simple way of applying metal leaf, as well as the traditional techniques, such as Hira-oshi(平押し, metal leafing/gilding), Akautsushi (transferring), Sunago(砂子, sprinkling gold dust), and Kiri-haku(切箔, leaf-cutting), which have been handed down through generations in Japan.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the process of the "Introduction to Metal Leaf" workshop.
The first step is to think about the composition.
Since you will be using stencil templates prepared in advance during the workshop, those who are not familiar with metal leaf or not good at it, even the children, can concentrate on the gilding technique to create their artwork.
There are different ways to arrange the composition and patterns to scatter the gold flake even by using the same template, so feel free to dig into your creativity and enjoy the metal-leafing journey.
We provide silhouette molds of the moon and a person, however, you can always create your own design by using the vertical and horizontal compositions.
Next, prepare the metal leaf for your work.
We will be using the Brass Leaf Akakuchi and Aluminum Leaf in this course. Since the metal leaf is very thin and light, even the slightest breeze will blow it away. Therefore, it is important to make sure there is not any wind while you are preparing or metal-leafing.
In Japan, a metal leaf is transferred through two different methods, which is holding the metal leaf with a Hakubashi (箔箸, bamboo tweezers) or using the Akautsushi technique(Akautsushi is a Japanese word for transferring). Direct contact with the metal leaf may cause it to stick to the hands and ruin the metal leaf.
In this workshop, we will be using Akautsushi-gami (あかうつし紙, wax paper) which is an essential tool in the Akautsushi technique.
Place a piece of Akautsushi-gami on top of the metal leaf and then fix it with a pair of bamboo tweezers.
This technique is done on a leather cushion pad called Hakudai (箔台, gilding board), which is commonly used to facilitate the process.
Even if it is hard to hold a piece of metal leaf, once it is applied to the wax paper, you can carry the metal leaf around or hold it by hand easily.
Tips: Hold the metal leaf diagonally to apply it perfectly.
Next, it is time to apply the metal leaf.
No matter which substrate or surface you’re gilding to, the adhesive is one of the essential tools. In this workshop, we use two types of adhesive that come with different characteristics.
Therefore, you can experience both the traditional Japanese gilding method by using animal glue and the modern one with the Missione all'Acqua.
Even though both adhesives can be used in the basic gilding technique since Missione all’Acqua is made of acrylic resin, it can be very viscous and the applied surface may remain sticky for a long time even after it dries.
Therefore, it is suitable for beginners or for making detailed work. Missione all’Acqua can also be applied on specialty papers such as YUPO paper α, or other non-paper substrates.
And by using different types of adhesive, you will discover the advantages, differences, and characteristics of each.
The image below shows how Missione all’Acqua is being applied.
Next, place the metal leaf on the area where the Missione all’Acqua was applied, then smooth it out gently with a cotton ball.
Remember not to rub it too hard, or the metal leaf may peel off and ruin it.
During the workshop, the instructor will give a further explanation and tips on how to apply the metal leaf, so if you found yourself having some problems during the process, feel free to ask and seek help from the instructor.
Since the metal leaf only adheres to the glued area, the moon will be revealed once you remove the remains.
After that, it’s time for Kirihaku, a technique that is used for cutting the metal leaf into fine lines or creating patterns.
During the workshop, we will use a hole puncher to make round patterns that are later used for representing stars and planets.
Next, pick up the metal leaf with the end of the brush that has been dipped in water.
Hold the brush with glue in one hand and the brush with metal leaf in the other, then apply it in a two-fold motion.
Since the glue dries quickly, it is better to place the metal leaf immediately after the glue is applied.
Although the process can be delicate and time-consuming, PIGMENT TOKYO may be the only place that provides workshops where you can experience different gilding techniques at once.
After that, it is time to decorate by using the Sunago technique.
Metal leaf flakes or gold dust is called "Sunago (砂子)" in Japanese, and this technique is to sprinkle metal leaf flakes through a bamboo sieve on the area where glue is applied.
In this workshop, you can place the silhouette of the person and the horizon line anywhere you prefer, then you may sprinkle the Sunago to represent the night sky full of stars.
We will be using a bamboo sieve called Sunagozutsu, in which the end of a bamboo tube is covered with a metal net.
Put a piece of the metal leaf inside the sieve and rub it with a pounding brush to spread the flakes. By selecting the size of the Sunagozutsu, you can create metal leaf flakes from coarse to fine.
Furthermore, fish glue is used as the adhesive for the Sunago technique. Since the fish glue loses its viscosity on the surface of the substrate as it dries, it is perfect for techniques like Sunago when you want to apply flakes or gold dust randomly.
By varying the sparseness and distance between the Sunago, you can create an expression of a star shining faintly in the darkness at dusk or a star-filled night sky, depending on the image you have in mind.
Since the Sunago is not fully fixed to the paper, it is better to apply some pressure through a piece of Washi paper called Kirigami.
And ta-daaa! Here is what the final work looks like.
A tiny view of the night sky spread out on the black Washi paper.
Gilding tools are not something we commonly come across in our daily lives but it is a valuable encounter to be able to use a variety of techniques and tools all at once.
Currently, there are three types of workshops held regularly at PIGMENT TOKYO and these are beginner’s courses for everyone.
For more information on "Introduction to Mineral Pigments" and "Creating Original Paints", please refer to the articles below.
These workshops are open to participants of all ages and levels, so you may take a look at the following articles if you are interested in what the workshops are about.
If you are not available for in-person workshops or would like to work at your own pace, you can now apply for online workshops which include an art materials set and tutorial video for you to enjoy at home.
The art materials set for “Introduction to Metal Leaf” includes molds and gilding tools, just as in the usual workshop. In the video lecture, the instructor will explain about metal leaf and how to use the tools in an easy-to-understand way, just as in the in-person workshop. You may purchase only the art materials set or the video.
Online workshops are also available for “Introduction to Mineral Pigments” and “Introduction to Pure Gold Leaf”.
Through this PIGMENT TOKYO’s original workshop, it is a great opportunity to learn about Japanese culture and the beauty of metal leaf!