Summer AS 54 (2020)

Making Shell Gold

By Lady Symonne de la Croix

The examplar that I chose to copy for this piece was Khamsa of Amir Khusraw Dihlavi (d.725 AH/1325 CE)

I decided on this piece as I wanted to learn how to make 23 carat shell gold and it gave me something to work towards.

It was my first time using both shell gold and period pigments. I found that using the traditional materials was challenging but very rewarding which gave me a small insight of some of the difficulties that medieval scribes would have faced.

Inspiration video –


  • Gum arabic
  • 23ct gold leaf (loose)
  • Demineralised water


  • Saucer or small bowl
  • Glass jar
  • Muslin or 100% silk
  • Shell
  • Dropper

Step 1. Pour gum arabic (about the size of AUD$1 coin) onto middle of plate.

Step 2. ‘TAP’ (not rub) a sheet of gold leaf into GA until ‘melted’.When it appears dull, add more single sheets of leaf, tapping each one.

Step 3. Rub in circular motions. The mixture feels quite dry but dont add water at this stage. The colour will appear like ochre. Keep rubbing (takes a long time) until mix changes colour to a more deep gold ochre.

Step 4. Start adding individual drops of water and rubbing in circular motion. Mix will start to brighten.

Step 5. Keep adding water to a slurry. You will start to see a brightness.

Step 6. Filter gold water mix through a natural tight weave material – I used muslin.

Step 7. Let sit for at least 20mins until mix separates. Gold will sink.

Step 8. Carefully pour off excess water.

Step 9. Decant rest into shell and allow to dry.

Step 10. TA-DA! Shell Gold. Use in the same way you would with gouache or watercolour paint by moistening with water. Make sure it is well mixed.

Note: Makes less shell gold then I would have thought. Above photo is 18 sheets

Lady Symmone de la Croix is an artisan from the Canton of Stegby. Lady Symmone is a warranted scribe in illumination with the Lochac College of Scribes.

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