Gillie Hoyte Byrom discovers how gold powder can create a velvety look.


Queen Elizabeth I, The Pelican Portrait after Nicholas Hilliard 1547-1619, 75mm x 90mm.
Researched and painted by Gillie Hoyte Byrom 2009.
Frame: 18ct gold and silver by Robin Kyte.

In the miniature exhibited in the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design competition this year, I experimented with gold powder to create a velvety gold background to catch the light like a butterfly wing.

The original “Pelican Portrait” was painted in oil by Nicholas Hilliard (1547 – 1619), who depicted Queen Elizabeth I against a brown background. I like the challenge of translating such a wonderful work into vitreous enamel and I am fortunate in finding a client who loves the Tudor period and has purchased this piece.

For the last ten years I have been creating an underlay of gold and flux before starting the hand painted enamelling. This began when a commissioned piece failed at the fifteenth and final firing because the gold lacquer burnt out under finishing flux leaving an ugly brown stain. I had to begin all over again to find another way to make the miniature. It was a despairingly bitter lesson but what I have discovered since has paid dividends in creating a more opulent portrait miniature which is undoubtedly “enamel”.

The frieze effect is worked within about one and half millimetres of enamel over an engraved 18 CT gold plaque. I incorporate fine gold wire, foil, 23.5 CT gold powder and lacquer between layers of enamel.

The annual Goldsmiths’ competition has given me incentive to stretch my enamel painting skills. Initially, in 1995 I won the top award for a locket-size enamel portrait on copper but over the past sixteen years my personal ceiling for achievement rose higher and higher. I began to work on 18 CT gold following a demonstration at the Kempson and Mauger workshop; the enamels increased in size and the subjects grew to full-figure. I learnt how to flux over the painting from talking with Keith Seldon. Then I mastered the polishing of the finished enamel after a visit to Alan Mudd.

My recent innovation with gold powder is thanks to Dorothy Cockrell mentioning its availability from Cornelissen & Son when I attended a Guild of Enamellers’ regional workshop.

This story just serves to illustrate how we enamellers are largely self-taught, yet we can influence and help one another along individual branches of the same tree.

Gillie Hoyte Byrom