I have had a couple of queries about my plaster and gold feathers, so I thought I would put a tutorial up about making them. They are quite fiddly to make, but perseverance makes it possible!
They look great framed, or randomly lying about. I balance mine on top of picture frames or keep them in pots. They look like the most delicate matt china sculptures.
Feathers – you need quite strong and long ones such as pigeon/pheasant/seagull types. Strong quills and dense tight plumage are best rather than ones that have fluffy edges. Also, if you can get pale ones go for those as a preference. If you cannot find real ones lying around, ebay sell great feathers in the fishing section (used by people for making fishing flies, and much cheaper than buying via Haberdashery or Craft sections and suppliers). I have tried the ones from kids craft shops that are already dyed, but the colours are usually very bright and make it a longer process to create a pure white finished article.
Plaster of Paris – I use regular art shop/craft shop plaster. You can go for expensive fine grade versions, but you will be building up layers so the former is just as good.
Gold leaf, or gold acrylic paint or gold spray if you don’t want to try gilding.
Washing Line – You will need to hand the feather to dry, so some sort of washing line or string home-made version.
Thin Garden Wire – this is to tie onto the end of the feather where the quill is visible, sort of like a little handle.
Plastic Jug – this has to be a t least 2/3rd of the length of the feather.
A hand whisk.
Separate jug/bottle of tepid water.
Find a plastic jug that will fit your feather in lengthways once the plaster is made up. You will also need to fit a hand whisk into it so bear that measurement in mind.
Prepare the feather by twisting the wire onto one end, bend one end of the wire into a S hook shape for hanging the feather later
Mix up the Plaster of Paris. I do it by eye instead of measuring. Fill up the jug by 2/3rds and start adding the plaster to the water and whisking vigorously until it is like single cream in consistency. It starts to thicken really fast so you need to work quickly now!
Take the feather by the wire end and start rolling it around it in the plaster, tilting the jug so you cover all areas of the feather. You will find that the natural oils in the feather try to repel the plaster, so keep going until all the feather is covered. Gently tap the feather to remove excess and hang up to dry. You should have time to do one more feather with this mixture. Don’t worry if not all areas take the plaster mixture, as you will do a second coat later if it is needed. Some feathers take one coat, others need more…. luck of the draw.
After this, the remaining plaster will be trying to thicken, so add some more tepid water and whisk, you should get it thin enough to cover a couple more feathers.
Leave the feathers to dry totally and wipe out your jug asap before the plaster sets hard, use really hot water to dissolve what is left in the jug and flush the sink thoroughly for 5 minutes with hot water to stop drains blocking.
The plaster on the feathers feels damp and cold until it is fully dried out, I leave mine at least 6 hours or overnight to harden off. Then I run another plaster layer again on them if they need it. Again, let them dry totally. They will resemble very fine matt porcelain when finished.
When dry start the gilding. I had never done this until recently, and it is much easier than people think, and it has such an amazing lustre compared to gold paint.
I use diluted PVA as my size, about 50% water added, and brush it thinly over the area in smooth even strokes, avoiding puddles and runs, (as the leaf is wafer thin any marks underneath will be visible when finished). As the size dries it will become clear with a tacky consistency. To test if the size is ready to accept the leaf lightly press your knuckle to the surface, if it clicks when you pull it away it is ready. Do not test using your finger tip as it will leave a print that will show through the leaf, or will remove the size from that area.
The tricky bit – Gold coloured leaf is available in genuine gold and imitation leaf, the genuine leaf will be richer in colour and finish, different coloured metal leaves are also available. I use transfer leaf, (attached to tissue paper), making it easier to apply.
Once the size is tacky place the gold leaf on the object and brush it gently with a very soft brush. Lay the next sheet of leaf down so that it overlaps slightly, and repeat until the surface is covered. When applying to raised surfaces you may need to use small pieces of leaf to fill crevices first, and use a soft bristle brush to tamp the leaf into the grooves. Wait 30 minutes and then buff with a lint free cloth. You can apply a clear varnish if you want to, but I don’t on my feathers.
Here is a useful video showing you how to apply the leaf if you have not done it before.
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