My house, lately, has been the medallion factory.
Commissioned by my Pelican, I made these two pieces. I’ll also be showing the bits that I’m not proud of (because it keeps me humble), so there’s going to be things that just aren’t pretty. Welcome to the suck parts of being an artist: project fail.
Gabriel commissioned me for a set of two medallions, and as they were going to go on provost collars (he is a student to a Master of Defense, ergo, a provost), he asked if I could put a glass cabochon over them to protect them better. This also is a bit more period, as there are miniatures dated to Elizabethan England with glass or rock crystal cabochons. So, here’s the process I used.
What you will need:
Pergamentata, vellum, or a good cardstock – think archival-quality papers that will take gouache paint well and are relatively thin.
Gouache – I primarily use Royal Talens brand, however, this piece also has Holbein pearl gold. Use what you’re most comfortable using.
Paintbrushes – use your best paintbrushes. I would also recommend super-small paintbrushes for detail work. I use Princeton mini liner, monogram, round, and spotter in 20/0 because of the size of the piece.
Bezels – I use commercial bezels because I don’t have room in my house for a metal shop. I purchased mine at Michaels, however, if you feel like making your own, go for it!
Glass cabochons – Again, I used calibrated, commercial cabs purchased at Michaels. These fit in the commercial bezels almost perfectly!
Mod Podge – protect your hard work! Some adhesives are water based and can make your paint smear. By using Mod Podge or other similar sealants, your artwork can be protected while it’s under the glue and glass.
Adhesive of some kind – I used Liquid Fusion clear urethane glue. It has some benefits, as it’s waterproof (but water-based), but it’s also environmentally friendly and doesn’t put off gross fumes but is strong enough to glue glass to metal.
Scissors or X-Acto knife – You’ll need these to cut your piece out of the paper that you’re using.
A liner pen – Instead of relying on a paintbrush to line charges to make them pop, a fine-lined pen can assist. I used a Staedtler Pigment Liner in a 0.05 size, however, Pitt pens, Microns, and others like this work. Again, you’ll want archival quality here!
1. Measure your bezel.
This step is incredibly important, as trimming down artwork to fit can lead to lost details if the piece is too big. I learned that the commercial bezels I used are about the size of a quarter, so I used that to trace the pergamentata so it would be the right size to fit inside the bezel.
2. Draw out your artwork.
Plan where your paint is going to go. I penciled much of the art in before adding paint so I could anticipate any problems with shading. As I was working on a really small scale, it also made things go by a lot faster. At this point, I usually don’t put in lots of details, as they’ll get covered by the paint.
If you have not painted with gouache before, here’s a bit of a crash course. Gouache (pronounced “gwasche”) is an opaque watercolour, and is similar to what was used in period. Wet your gouache down so that it has the texture of milk, then use your paintbrush to paint in the colouring book lines you put down in the previous step.
Take your time and really get in there to add the details. Add dimension (especially if you’re going for a late period look – there’s a lot of great shading that happens), shadows, gilding, and other fun things. This is a time to let your imagination go wild! It’s also a great way to really show off what you can do with teeny-tiny brushes, too.
Working with tiny brushes can take a toll, so please make sure to take frequent breaks, especially if you’re not working on a slope (I don’t have a slope, so I took several stretch breaks to make sure I didn’t have back issues later).
Use a lining pen to make the charges pop, else for a later period item, sharp outlines are not a thing. (study your period art influences!)
4. Seal your piece.
Once the piece has dried, take a less than good paintbrush and lightly coat your project with Mod Podge or other sealant. If in a pinch, and you don’t have Mod Podge, white glue can work, however, the key is in lightly covering the project. At this point, the paint can still be marred by a heavy brushstroke with a wet medium, so it is best to brush it quickly. In the picture to the left, you can see there’s a slight sheen on the miniature from the dried Mod Podge.
Because gouache remains “live”, unless it is fixed in some way, wet paint (or a wet brush or medium) passed over it will activate the existing paint, and the existing paint can end up lifting into adjacent colours – which can be incredibly discouraging. Alternatively, you can use a spray lacquer, but this comes with its own issues (such as directing the spray where you want it to go).
5. Cut out your piece.
I always cut my piece out after sealing, as I find that it’s easier to work with once it’s been sealed and there’s less of a chance of the pergamentata curling from the Mod Podge by cutting it out after it’s dried.. Be careful as you cut with scissors or the craft knife – don’t cut yourself or your piece.
6. Gluing the piece into the bezel.
Fill your bezel in a single layer with the glue and let it get tacky. This prevents the piece from rolling up, wrinkling, or curling from getting damp, and it ends up with a better seal. Drop and position the painted piece in – toothpicks can help with positioning. Let dry.
7. Gluing the cabochon into the bezel.
This is tricky, and being patient is the key, else wrinkling of the piece can occur. Use a single layer of clear urethane glue, and taking care to get rid of as many bubbles as you can, gently place your cabochon on top. Using superglue can cause the image to cloud up.
Behold project fail!
This was the first set I did, which failed because I got impatient and used actual superglue. Yes, it’s heart-breaking, as I loved how the artwork turned out, however, being impatient did not help. Be patient! It can take several hours up to days for the glue to dry completely.
That being said, my Pelican is very happy with his new medallion, and yes, I’m open to most commissions for similar pieces.
You can contact me using the Contact Me form. If you’re making some for your own use, I want to see how yours turn out!