Nancy’s Painting Blog

How to Paint Better


Create Perfect Paintings will enhance your artwork and creative process, easily identify and resolve painting issues, bring more attention to your work and extend its viewing time.  Ideal for those times when we ask “Now what?” or “Is it finished?” A groundbreaking book for artists with inventive ways to critique your own art!

Other helpful sections include how to resolve creative blocks, optimal ways to use both your right and left brain, clarify your vision, prepare materials, display your work, and even that tricky notion of how to balance creating art with career. With hundreds of insights, tips, illustrated techniques and ideas, Create Perfect Paintings shows you how to push your work to the next level by strengthening your perception, visual thinking and technical skills, regardless of medium, style or level of experience.

15 thoughts on “How to Paint Better

  1. Hi Nancy, I have put a final seal of spray and GAC on my painting and it’s framed but I just watched your video Perfect Painting Solutions and I’m now thinking that my painting is too flat, not enough depth. Can I go at the painting again and then re-seal it? Or once it’s sealed, that’s it, done?

    1. Hi Winnie,

      To give you an accurate answer I need to know exactly what paint (acrylic?) you are using, which product you used to “seal” it (as you had written), which GAC product, and what order each is applied because I especially need to know what product was used as the very last layer.


  2. Hi Nancy, I used molding paste; on top of that acrylic and on top of that, in places, gold, silver and copper leaf: a sun, moon and lava. Then I sealed with Golden Archival Varnish Gloss (2 coats) and then GAC 200 2 coats (last layer). Best, Winnie. I also am now trying the Rolco Water Based size but there are no directions on the bottle and the website does not say (weirdly) approximately how long until it is tacky – 1 hour, 1/2 hr, 5 hours??? Who knows? Do you know?

    1. Hi Winnie, You asked me a direct question, which I will answer in another reply. Because first I am worried about your description of how you are sealing your painted leaf. According to your description I think you are somewhat misled, and this is inspiring me to write some instructions to help clarify this topic of sealing coats, which seems to bring up much confusion with many painters. Your sealer coat you described is the right process at the wrong time. You should be applying the Archival Varnish Gloss and GAC200 DIRECTLY after the leaf is applied (and has dried for at least 3 days). Let me try to be clearer and start from the beginning:
      After the leaf is applied, you do need to seal the leaf properly, before applying most acrylic paints and mediums (not AFTER applying paints as you had said). This is because all acrylic contains ammonia while the acrylic product is wet. Ammonia will instantly tarnish or turn imitation gold leaf to a brown color (because imitation gold leaf contains copper and that is what is tarnishing). Once acrylic dries, the ammonia dissipates and will no longer tarnish the leaf. Therefore I recommend sealing the leaf with something that is acrylic BUT very very fast drying. So fast, in fact, that the ammonia will not get a chance to tarnish the leaf, and then when that acrylic dries, the leaf is well protected from the second way it can tarnish – through exposure to air. I recommend using a solvent based varnish (such as Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss, or Golden’s MSA varnish that needs to be thinned and brush applied). You can also use most inexpensive clear coat sealers in a spray can, but the best will be ones recommended by a gold leaf manufacturer such as Mona Lisa for Speedball. Since this important step, using a solvent based sealer as a first layer of sealer, is toxic (sprays are all toxic) not everyone wants to do this step. So I also suggested a substitute, using a very fast drying hard sealer acrylic. The only one I know of for this kind is Goldens GAC200 or GAC500. The GAC200 needs to be used at temperatures above 70 degrees. If you can’t have maintain that temperature for 24 hours, then use the GAC500 or mix a combination of the two mediums. However, I want to emphasize that using the GAC mediums INSTEAD of the solvent based varnish is not as good. Therefore you need at least 3 coats (maybe more) of the GAC mediums to best protect the leaf. So in all my work, I use 2 spray coats of Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss spray, and over that I use 2 coats of a mixture of GAC200 and GAC500. And by the way, I wait one week in between the final spray coat and first GAC coats. Now lets take a look at the process you are doing correctly, but applying it AFTER your painting is complete. After your painting is all finished (after the leaf, sealer, then paint is applied) I recommend applying ANOTHER sealing layer, using 1 or 2 coats of varnish – but for a different reason then protecting the leaf from tarnishing. Here you are adding a varnish coat as an archival finish to protect the paint. So you can use any varnish that is (1) removable, (2) is glossy (or it will ruin the gold leaf effect), and (3) has UV protection to keep the paint colors from fading. Even though you can use the same varnish at the end as you did directly over the leaf (spray, though, not brush appy) I still choose to apply a different varnish on this last top coat from the one I used directly over the leaf. So I like to use Golden’s Polymer Varnish Gloss. This is non-toxic and easier to use. And one last thing….NEVER use this last product I mentioned, the Polymer Varnish Gloss as a first sealer over the leaf. This product has more ammonia in it then other products, and is not fast drying, and will most definitely tarnish your leaf. But over the sealed and painted leaf it is fine. NEVER apply GAC200 or 500 OVER the varnish when using this sealing process as a final layer. In other words, archival varnishes when used as a final final layer – are remmovable for cleaning purposes, therefore by covering the varnish with GAC mediums (as described earlier for use directly over the leaf) you are destroying the archival benefits of the varnish itself. Apologies for the long reply, but I wanted to clear up some confusion I’ve heard from others while responding to your comment.

      1. Winnie, and now to answer your question about waiting times for the Rolco water-based size. The reason the directions on the bottle are scanty, is probably because waiting times vary dramatically due to temperature and climate. It can range anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or two. All you need to do is apply the adhesive thinly as I describe in my videos and books (do not dilute, just spread thinly). Once spread, then at 10 minute intervals test the tackiness by lightly tapping your knuckle into the adhesive layer. If the adhesive comes off on your knuckle it is not ready yet. If it feels tacky like the sticky side of scotch tape, then it is ready to apply the leaf. You have about 24 hours from this time to apply the leaf.

        1. Weirdly, I used the Rolco Aquasize Water based size and there were all these flecks in it, tiny pills. I just went with it as a happy accident but don’t like it so have to throw the whole bottle out. Does that happen with this product?

          1. If there are small flecks or lumps in the Rolco Aquasize Water based size, I recommend not using it. If any of the waterbased leaf adhesives get exposed to cold temperatures for too long so they freeze, they may get defects like you described. It’s a good idea to stock up on the size during warm weather, as it may get chilled during shipment. I have had to throw away product many times, for that reason, or if the product is old.

  3. Hi Nancy, Thank you so much for the instructions. I am printing them out. The order of the sealing, the correct product is so important. I’m glad you clarified this for all of us! Winnie

  4. Hi Nancy,

    I have your book Acrylic Illuminations and am waiting for the Create Perfect Paintings to arrive here.

    I recently started a painting with large areas of imitation gold leaf to be partly painted over. That is fine.

    But then I had small highlights in gold leaf on acrylic base. As I seem to have been careless in sealing them over with GAC-200, I must have picked up some of the acrylic underpainting around them with the brush. Consequently the paint coloured the leaf with faint acrylic tint. Will this tarnish over time? Or should I apply another layer of imitation gold leaf over them and start all over again.

    I think I might have been too stingy with the cheaper paint I used in underpainting.


    1. Hi K, I’d like to answer your question, but am confused. Can you be more specific and give me some more details? What do you mean by “small highlights in gold leaf on acrylic base”? How can you pick up some of the acrylic underpainting with a brush if the underpainting is dry? If the leaf now has some acrylic over it that is tinted, and you are OK with the tint, then it should keep the leaf from tarnishing due to exposure to air. However, I want to alert you that one coat of GAC200 is not enough to seal the leaf. You need to apply 1 brush apply or at least 2 spray applied solvent based varnish coats, and then over that at least 2 coats of the GAC200. Let me know more about your issue and I’ll give you a better answer.

      1. Thank you Nancy,

        You mentioned in your book that ammonia in acrylic can tarnish gold leaf. That is what worried me when I saw the pink tint when applying GAC-200. I thought that the totally dry underpainting might be of inferior quality and was dissolved by GAC-200. I carelessly used a larger brush than was suitable for the fine highlights and the GAC-200 could somehow have dissolved the paint when the medium went beyond the leaf.

        I got the idea of using GAC-200 from your YouTube video “How to Apply Gold Leaf”. If I understood correctly that can be used instead of the poisonous spray.

        When you say to use solvent based varnish, do you mean the acrylic spray varnish that can be used as a final coat on acrylic or oil paintings like Artists’ Gloss Varnish by Winsor & Newton?

        I do appreciated your help. I have read all your books available in local library as well as the one I bought. I am looking forward to the next one.

        Kind regards

        1. Hi K,
          Ammonia is in all acrylic paint. The ammonia does not dissolve anything and it will not pick up another layer of acrylic paint, unless that paint has not been allowed to fully dry. The ammonia reacts with the copper in the imitation leaf to tarnish the leaf and turn it brown within a minute or two if allowed to stay on the leaf wet for that long. Again, I could use more details. The underpainting is red, correct? And the underpainting is UNDER the leaf, correct? Then you are applying the GAC200 over the leaf? So that would mean the GAC200 is not in direct contact with the red color, right? This is where I am confused.

          Oh now I think I understand. You applied the red color, then applied leaf but not over the red completely, leaving some of the underpainting showing through? If that is the case, then you would need the red underpainting, adhesive and leaf to dry at least a week before any other coatings of sealer like GAC200. What I am now thinking is that you are layering too quickly, so that each layer is not allowed to dry thoroughly. So when you apply the 200 you are reactivating the adhesive, which has also reactivated the red underpainting. It would be much easier if you just applied the leaf over the entire red underpainting, sealed the leaf, then went back and added red paint over the sealer. Another idea – perhaps you are not cleaning off the red adequately from your brush or you are putting the 200 into a container that has red. I have not used the Windsor Newton spray varnish you mentioned,but if it smells like solvent when you spray it then it will probably work fine as the best sealer to use directly over the leaf. Then after that has dried fully (according the the product’s label) then apply the GAC200, and then you can overpaint. So in conclusion, I don’t think the quality of the red paint is the issue, but understanding that each layer needs to adequately dry before applying the next. The key is letting the adhesive dry enough since it sounds like it is exposed in places.

          Hope this helps.


          1. Many thanks Nancy,

            I thought that acrylic is dry enough when dry. I certainly did not wait a week. I have only now come to use acrylics after discovering your books. I was trying to avoid the use of the poisonous spray you mention in your video. And yes, there was red paint around the highlights which were going to be part of hair to be painted around and over later with oil. I did not trust myself to do the foil after the painting.

            I do now understand also, most importantly, that if there was a hint of the acrylic in my GAC-200 coat, it would not have tarnished the imitation gold leaf in a long run. And I will remember to be careful with copper leaf which I am also intending to use.

            I am impressed by the speed and the quality of the help you provide.

            Kind regards

  5. Thanks, Nancy, for all of your great information.
    I have glued down my gold foil and after waiting 3 days, I will use the GAC 200 to seal it. My question is…How long do I have to wait for each layer of 200 to dry before putting on the next one? Also, how long do I have to wait after the last layer of GAC 200 to dry before beginning to use acrylic paint?

    1. Hi Brenda,
      So you are not using the solvent based varnish that I recommend. I just want to make sure you realize it is best to have this as your first sealing layer over the adhered leaf. But I know sometimes you can’t use the toxic products. This means that you need to be very very careful when applying your first coat of GAC200. If you apply it too thickly, it will slow the drying of the GAC200 and might still tarnish. If you add water in any way to the GAC200 (even if your brush is wet with water) it will bead up and not allow you to spread it smoothly. So using a soft wide brush, apply the GAC200 in a very thin manner by spreading it quickly. The GAC200 will dry very fast in a thin layer. Avoid overbrushing the GAC200. When the medium starts to get tacky if you brush over this it will get a texture to it, and look milky. Other than those things to avoid, you do not have to wait long in between coats of the GAC200. Once it is dry to the touch you can apply your next layer over it. Each layer can take as little as a couple of minutes to dry (in dry warm climates) or perhaps a bit longer (20 minutes) in humid climates. If you plan to paint using thick layers, then I recommend 3 to 4 coats of the GAC200 to create an adequate barrier between any wet paint layers and the leaf. Once the last coat of GAC200 is dry you can paint on it right away using any acrylic paint.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *