Calligraphy Gilding Mediums

Aug 02, 2023

Adding real gold leaf to your calligraphy pieces elevates them like no other process can. I mean, come on, it's gold! But before applying the gold leaf, the gilding medium we use will have great impact on the look of the gold itself. While this is not a complete list of all gilding mediums available, these are the ones I have been taught to use by Master Penman Havest Crittenden, Heather Held, and Dan Mooney for calligraphic pieces. 

Calligraphy Gilding Medium Options

Instacoll: Instacoll is mustard yellow color and about the consistency of runny yogurt or traditional wood glue. You may need to gently stir it if you see that it has separated. Instacoll can be built up in layers to create a more raised effect to your gilding. When applying Instacoll, you float beads on with a brush to allow it to self-level.

Miniatum Ink: Miniatum ink is a light bubble gum pink that dries to a darker, classic eraser pink color. It's about the consistency of whole milk. You can use Miniatum Ink with a dip nib or build it up in layers to create a more raised effect. When applying Miniatum Ink with a brush, you float beads on to allow it to self-level.

Ormoline: Ormoline is very watery, about like lowfat milk. It comes in clear and a very pale blush pink (which makes it easier to see during application). Ormoline stays flat to the paper with no raised effect. When applying Ormoline, you brush on as you would watercolor.

Gesso: Sorry! I can tell you that gesso is more raised, can be polished to a higher shine, and the preferred traditional gilding medium for the purists out there... but, I've never had a chance to use it. I will tell you that it's NOT the gesso sold online or at art stores. Currently, it's necessary to make gilding gesso yourself. However, please note that gesso typically contains lead.  Soooo, you may not want to mess with it.

Examples Using Calligraphy Gilding Mediums

Here, I applied Miniatum Ink with a pointed nib (Hunt 22b). Make sure to clean your nib thoroughly after use and it will be fine for continued inking. (Side note: I like to use traditional blue Windex for cleaning my nib and brushes after using gilding medium. While I prefer the smell of the yellow citrus Windex, the original blue version contains ammonia, making it a stronger cleaning solution.)

Depending on the project, you may prefer to use real gold leaf instead of a golden colored ink/gouache. Genuine gold does have a distinct shine and the Miniatum Ink maintains a decently raised effect in the swells.

To demonstrate the effects that can be achieved by layering gilding mediums and combining mediums on a single piece, I drew overlapping ovals on hot press watercolor paper. I applied Instacoll to the alternating ovals in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 layers (in ascending order from left to right). I applied one layer of Ormoline to the lower part of the split ovals (lightest area shown). I applied Miniatum Ink to the upper part of the split ovals in 1, 2, 3, and 4 layers (in descending order from left to right). 

Notice that the Miniatum Ink (dark pink) areas are more raised towards the left and the Instacoll (mustard yellow) are more raised towards the right.

Upon gilding, the texture and depth difference between the mediums and the number of layers applied is readily apparent. Watch the video for a glimpse of the process and to see the final sample from multiple angles in the light.

The below piece is a work in progress which I sketched during class with Heather Held at the 2023 IAMPETH Conference. Upon returning home, I have continued working on the project (I'm slow!). I'm using a combination of Ormoline on the circular frame and Instacoll (three layers) on the serif flourishes.

Using the same gold leaf on the whole piece, the two mediums create a distinct look. A special thanks to Dan Mooney for the inspiration to use a combination of mediums.

Want to learn more?

Master Penman Harvest Crittenden teaches Illuminated Initials via, an opportunity to learn from one of the most respected calligraphers of our time.

Links to calligraphy gilding mediums:

Instacoll Gilding Medium - Yellow
Miniatum Ink
Ormoline Gilding Medium



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