by Grace Baggot
Lay lines or no lay lines? That is the question. Whether `tis nobler to lay the gold properly or talk the
client into another toning technique. Why lay lines? Who wants them? Well, the gold has got to be toned
now doesnt it? Toning, there in lies the rub.
First lets look at toning. Toning can be described, among other things, as making an object look old.
When Michelangelo had difficulty selling his drawings in a weak market, he toned them, held them over
a smoky fire so they would appear old and more desirable. Recreating the effects of time on an object is
an awesome task. A table in its lifetime could have passed through a war or two, spent time with children,
been abused by an irate goblet flinging queen. Recently, I received a chair from Russia to work on, the side
rail of which left my imagination little room to doubt that it had been pulled from a bonfire. Time itself has
no regard for aesthetics.
Now lay lines could be considered an aesthetic way of portraying age on an object that is water-gilt. This
truly is the rub because the gold will have to be laid perfectly and then rubbed through to expose the areas
where the leaves of gold overlap. The optimum to shoot for aesthetically is evenly spaced lay lines, no
patches, no wrinkled leaves, no tears and lay lines that enhance the shape of the object. In other words,
you must lay gold perfectly all the time. If you have had the experience laying gold on flat straight moldings
for many years, you may not feel that this is challenging in the least, but what if you had to gild carved
surfaces, or only a small portion of an entire object that has already been gilt? Personally, I suffer anxiety.
Some people just paint the lines in.
There are many things to consider when deciding whether your finished object should or should not sport
lay lines. Aside from being limited to water gilding (lay lines cannot be produced on oil gilding), you
need to know how much time you can afford to spend or how much your client is willing to pay you.
You may be interested in whether or not lay lines are appropriate at all which is the question that keeps
clouding me. A toning technique that just "deposits dirt" would seem a lot simpler and at times may be
better for the object being worked on.
Where did the idea of lay lines come from anyway? When we first saw a lay line, it was because an
object had been rubbed and the gold was worn thin. When it was in good nick, it may not have had
any lay lines. When the craftsman made it, he may have been very careful to cut and lay the gold so
that he got maximum coverage in the least amount of time. The lay lines were inherent in the piece
because he had a lot of experience laying gold and had acquired a rhythmic gold laying technique.
I am sure he was as eager to get the piece out, invoiced and paid for as we are today. Now, time
comes along and thins the gold. The piece was dusted, leaned against, handled. This is the part
that perplexes. There was a time when a gilt object was sent out regularly for a "touch-up" or to be
"regilt", which simply meant relaying gold where it was worn away. There was no electricity. The rooms
were flooded with gilding when one could afford it because it reflected the candle light and made the
room brighter. Some great homes even used yellow wall covering to help illuminate a room more.
Another reason for gilding was to illuminate the object it framed. So why tone the gold? Does toning
have anything to do with having electricity?
Recently, I saw an exhibition of Italian photographs in which there was one called "Gli Mani" (The Hands).
It was of an old womans hands resting on the chest of a rather young boy who was playing with his
fingers. The concept of age and what a lifetime does to a pair of hands moved me to tears. I can appreciate
a good lay line as well as the next guy and I must say that it leaves one with a lot to think about.