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Safety matters…

July 17, 2011

A friend of mine got her Architectural Engineer master degree a couple days ago, and I wanted to give her (beside a proper, serious gift) a funny/stupid/crazy memento, possibly related to her (future) profession. After some tought, I decided to decorate a safety helmet (the kind used in construction sites)… after all, she will have to wear one for work 🙂


I started from a standard safety helmet, and applied a layer of silver leaf. I wanted it to be shiny and metallic. I chose silver leaf instead of silver paint to have a more solid metallic effect, with the “uneven” texture characteristic to metal leaf (and because I was curious about its use). Silver and Gold leaf (and the appropriate glue) can be found in decoration or art stores, they are used, for example, to gild frames or old furniture. The process of applying silver leaf (or gold leaf) is to lay down a thin layer of glue (there is a specific glue for this kind of decoration, again, available in decoration stores), wait a minute for the glue to start settling, and then apply the metallic leaf. The silver leaf is a 10×10 cm of incredibly thin metal sheet: the idea is to cut a small portion of it with a blade (or tear apart one piece with hands) and lay it gently on the glued surface. Being really thin, the leaf fly away easily, and can collapse onto itself if moved too quickly: to move the piece of metal leaf from its support (a piece of paper) and the object, the professionals uses a very soft wide brush made by natural fur; for projects like this, it is possible to use your fingers or the wood/plastic handle of a small brush (ora  a wide brush, if you have one). Once the leaf piece has started adhering to the surface, push it against the object and smooth it out with a brush, with your fingers or with some very, very smooth tool. Now, for the real leafing process, you will need, possibly, an agate burnisher to smooth and “burnish” the metal surface to an extremely shiny finish. Here, I wanted to keep most of the irregular / uneven texture given by the multiple overlapping piece of the metal leaf and their wrinkles.

After applying the silver leaf, I let the glue settle for a couple of hours, then sprayed a couple layers of glossy paint to protect it and be able to work on top of it with some other decorations.

I wanted something painted on the silver surface and, to commemorate the degree, I added a laurel headband. I draw the outline using some imitation-lead relief paint, the kind used to do fake stained glass, which comes in small tubes, like mayonnaise or cake icing. It is dark, quite hard, and settle as a raised line: perfect for a three-dimensional outline. You can draw with it by gently squeezing the tube while moving it over the surface. After letting it set, I colored the leaves using a paint made for glass decoration. This because it is glossy (I wanted this helmet to shine) and semi-transparent (to let see through the silver leaf underneath).

Finally, on the front, I wrote her name. The letters have been done with the same technique of the laurel band, first the outline with the relief paint and then the coloring with the glass paint. Thank goodness her parents opted for a very short name, easy to write: EVA (Italian for Eve)… I hate when I have to write very long names (like Genevieve or Montgomery :)). I finished the surface with more layers of glossy paint (spray), to give more depth to the surface.

It is safe to say that 90% of the time required for this project was waiting… lay down the silver leaf, wait for it to settle, spray the glossy paint, wait for it to settle, draw the outline, wait for it to settle, color the design, wait for it to settle, glossy paint, wait for it to settle, glossy paint again, wait for it to settle 🙂 :). The actual “working” time was something like one hour but, since I worked on it only at after dinner, it took three days to complete it.

Well, the silver leaf was harder than I imagined (it was my first try), but I am pleased with the result. The neo-engineer (and the other people at the party) appreciated it… I hope she will have the guts to wear it in a real working place 🙂


From → Project

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