I could have sworn I covered it all with my video on how to apply gold leaf. You know that old expression “everything but the kitchen sink”? Well that definitely applies to my gold leaf video (see it for free here) which gives all the tips and tricks for creating a gold leaf surface to paint on, and then how to prepare the leafed surface for overpainting with acrylic paint. HOWEVER, it appears I was amiss to include how to prepare the leafed surface for overpainting with OIL PAINT! How silly of me. So here I go with additional information on using gold leaf with oil paint.
Real Gold Leaf vs Imitation Gold Leaf
First I want to repeat some info from the video to mention the difference between using real gold leaf and imitation (or composite) gold leaf (made with copper and zinc). In the video I explain why I choose to use the imitation gold leaf and not the real gold leaf for my painting purposes. In summary, these two types of metal leaf look exactly the same when using size (glue or adhesive) to adhere the leaf. Using real gold (involving extra expense) is worth the expense (in my opinion) when you will be showing it off uncovered and unpainted, like applying it to a picture frame, AND using a different application method – water gilding not size. Water gilding is extremely labor intensive. In my work, I cover a good portion of the leaf by overpainting it with paint. So it doesn’t make sense for me to go to the expense of using water gilding and real gold as most of this will be covered. I know there are some good reasons some of you may have for using real gold, and that’s fine. I just wanted to share my opinion.
On left is real gold leaf; On right is imitation gold leaf
How to Apply Gold Leaf
Whether you are using real gold leaf or imitation gold leaf, the techniques for application using size adhesive are the same. So for this process, please watch my video (link here) to get all the information on using size adhesive to adhere the leaf.
Applying Gold Leaf OVER Oil Paint
If you plan to use OIL PAINT to overpaint the leaf, then make sure you stop the video I mentioned above when you get to the part about sealing the leaf. That is because there are different considerations to sealing the leaf for oil paint vs acrylic paint.
1. If you are applying gold leaf OVER oil paint, make sure the oil paint is fully dry before applying the adhesive and leaf. Drying times for oil paint depend on how thick it is applied, and your climate conditions.
2. Once dry, follow my video instructions to apply the leaf using adhesive, BUT with one exception – use an oil based size adhesive, NOT the water based size adhesive. Best way to tell the difference? The oil based size will say on its container label to clean brushes with solvents, while the water based size will instruct you to clean brushes with water.
Does Real Gold Leaf Need to be Sealed?
Real Gold Leaf does NOT tarnish. So you do NOT have to seal it to protect it from tarnishing. HOWEVER, the real gold leaf is so thin (like the imitation leaf only even more delicate) that once it is applied onto your painting, and not sealed, it can be marred if mishandled. So even though you do not need to apply ANYTHING over the real gold leaf, you may still want to seal it to add some protection from getting scratched or damaged.
Are Sealing Requirements the Same for Oil Paint as Acrylic Paint?
NO! Sealing requirements are different depending on which paint you will be using to apply over the leaf.
If you are overpainting the leaf with acrylic paint, then stop reading this article and just follow my free video (link here) because acrylic paint will tarnish unsealed imitation leaf, as I mention in the video.
If you are overpainting the leaf with oil paint, you have a choice to 1) seal over the leaf before you apply your oil paint, or 2) apply oil paint over unsealed leaf, then seal at the very end over both leaf and oil paint when dry. To seal over the leaf before you apply oil paint, use a permanent sealer, as opposed to a removable varnish sealer. The varnish I recommend in the video, Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss is removable, and therefore you should not put this under oil paint, (as solvents added to oil paint could redissolve the varnish.) You can use Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss (or any solvent based varnish or sealer) OVER the final painting at the end, over leaf and paint as a final coat. If using imitation gold leaf then you MUST seal at some point within 6 months after application, so it will not tarnish from exposure to air. Avoid using waterbased sealers (like Golden’s Polymer Varnish) at any stage when using imitation gold leaf and/or oil paint. Check with the company that makes your leaf to see if they carry an appropriate sealer.
Important Reminders for Acrylic Painters
Imitation leaf will tarnish TWO ways. It will tarnish when exposed to air, and also when exposed to the ammonia in acrylic products while the acrylic is still wet. Once the acrylic dries the ammonia has dissipated and will not tarnish your leaf. SO, if you are applying acrylic paint over real gold leaf you can opt to wait to seal at the very end when your painting is complete. If you are using imitation gold leaf along with acrylic paint, you MUST seal it BEFORE you apply any acrylic paint or acrylic products over the leaf.
I know this can get confusing, but I have to add a note here. You can seal your imitation leaf using an acrylic product IF AND ONLY IF the acrylic product you are using to seal is super fast drying, (so fast the ammonia will dissipate before it can tarnish the leaf) like the Archival Varnish Spray (not for overpainting with oil paint), or for oil or acrylic overpainting you can use Golden’s GAC200 or GAC500 (but you must apply several coats of these if these are your only sealers over the leaf.)
Apply oil paint directly over real or imitation leaf without any need to seal the leaf before painting.
Do not apply oil paint OVER removable solvent based sealers. But these same sealers can be applied over the oil paint and leaf at the very end.
Apply acrylic paint directly over real leaf without any need to seal before painting (but sealing the leaf may allow the acrylic paint to be applied easier.)
When applying acrylic paint over imitation leaf, the leaf MUST be sealed before painting.
It’s a good idea to seal your painting at the very end, even if you already sealed the leaf before painting. Sealing with an archival varnish enables the painting to be cleaned, and adds UV protection