This December, Let’s Learn About…Lacquering!
What is lacquer?
Lacquer was once commonly used to decorate objects, from small containers to furniture. It is a glossy, liquid substance made from the sap of trees that grow in China, Korea, Japan, and other parts of Asia.
Many thin layers of lacquer are applied to the surface of objects — sometimes up to 20 or 30 layers. Each layer is left to dry, then polished to a smooth finish. This process of lacquering is very time consuming, and lacquer objects of the past were expensive luxury objects. Unlike in the past, most lacquer today is made using chemicals.
Many techniques are used in combination with lacquer to create beautiful visual effects. Shiny shells can be inlaid into areas carved into objects, with a thin layer of lacquer applied over the surface. Gold or silver powder dusted onto wet lacquer creates a shimmering effect. Lacquer can be red or black, depending on what it is mixed with.
Besides being beautiful, lacquer also protects objects (usually wood) against insects and water that might otherwise damage them, allowing them to survive for a very long time. The oldest lacquerwares in the world were made in Japan around 9,000 years ago!
Lacquer around the world
Because lacquer trees only grow in Asia, artists from around the world attempted to imitate Asian lacquer using ingredients available to them. In Europe they used shellac, derived from an insect. In the Americas they achieved a lacquer-like effect by mixing oils made from plants and animals with powdered minerals.