For the Chinese, a peach symbolises longevity. The God of Longevity has always been depicted with a Chinese peach in his hand. Traditional Chinese birthday cakes (sau bao 壽包) are created in the shape of peaches. For my dad’s 60th birthday, I decided to make him a peach with 24 Carat gold.
I have never done gilding before but at the time I just happened to be designing a house that features gilded panels. So I thought I might as well give it a go. Here is how I made things up along the way:
I used Super Sculpey which is a modelling polymer clay that only hardens when baked. This allowed me time to mess about without wasting any material. I could always touch up and remake until I was happy with the form.
It is not possible to make the whole peach out of the polymer clay as the manufacturer only recommends it to be about 12mm thick. I ‘cheated’ by first creating the core using aluminium foil. It was a good material because it could easily take the heat in the oven.
After an aluminium ball was made, I covered it with a sheet of 10 to 12mm polyer clay and started to create the form of a peach my moving the clay ball in my hand. I produced the definition with the help of some simple plastic carving tools.
Gilding the peach
Only 6 minutes of baking is required for 12mm thick of clay. It was exciting to watch the baking process. Of course, this was a peach that I could not eat. After it was cooled thoroughly, I applied the gold size. The size is a thin layer of glue which after application, has to be left to dry until it has the right viscosity to act as an effective medium to hold the gold leaf. The surface for gilding has to be as smooth as possible. I sanded the peach with fine sand paper before applying the gold size. It did look like a baby’s bottom!
As I am a beginner, I used transfer leaves instead of loose leaves as the the former is easier to handle. After applying the gold with an ox hair brush, I used a squirrel hair gilders mop to dust any extra gold off. I enjoyed gilding. It is delicate but theraputic!
Making the leaves
Polymer clay leaves ready for baking
Choosing leaves to form the sculpture
Gilding the leaves
It is better to dry the gold size under a canopy to avoid dust forming on the surface. If this is not done, the thin gold leaves will cover the dust, and the imperfection in the surface caused by the dust will be exaggerated. I could not make a branch that looked real enough so I decided to gild a real one instead!
It was hard for me to determine how much gold leaves was needed for this peach so I ordered more than I estimated, just in case. It came in a book of 25, with various thickness. Following the shop’s recommendatioion, I used ‘Regular’ instead of ‘Extra thick’.
I used 24 Carat gold before it was a present for my father and I wanted it to sound grand. But I actually prefer the appearance of 22 Carat gold (Dubai gold is usually of that grade) as it has a warmer glow.
If you would like to try gilding, I recommend a book called Practical Gilding by Peter & Ann Mactaggart. It was an easy read to get my head around the basics. I even ordered some edible gold leaves to add fun to my future baking!