A recent email inquiry regarding gold leaf and acrylic paint just came to me, so I thought I would share the question and my response for anyone else using this cool combo. By the way, my book “Acrylic Revolution” has a full step-by-step of this technique, but my response here adds a few hints. (Click here to order the book if interested.)

Question:
Your website popped up after I googled “acrylic paint over gold leaf”. I am using a similar technique to yours but with very different imagery. My technique: rigid panels primed with sandable gesso, sand gesso to eliminate wood grain, gold leaf size, gold or copper leafing, then as many as 30 layers of acrylic glazes. Finish with multiple layers of acrylic gloss varnish. Here’s my dilemma: I accidentally dinged a finished piece down to the gesso level and I was able to peel the entire painting off the support! So now I’m disturbed about the integrity of my finished pieces.

Have you encountered this problem? How have you resolved it? Thanks for any info you care to share and I like your work very much!

Answer:
It sounds like you have an adhesion problem. But also, after you dinged the piece and were able to get a grip on the layers you pulled at it – so this can also create a problem. Sometimes layers can be stable in a painting, but if you get just the right grip and angle you can still pull them up. This doesn’t necessarily mean the layers are not stable.

But, here are some things you can do to help adhesion at 2 crucial points: the first layer of acrylic that touches the substrate, and the first layer of acrylic that touches the metal leaf.

(1) I don’t know whether your painting came off after the gesso or before, but here are some tips. When using a wood panel clean it with denatured alcohol to remove any grease. If the wood panel is very smooth lightly sand the surface to get a grit. Apply a thin layer of Golden’s Gesso (or another brand that is high quality meant for acrylic adhesion). The cheaper gessoes are OK for oil, but not acrylic. Now apply anything else you want – multiple layers of gesso are fine, but I wouldn’t water the gesso down too much (not more than 20% water).

(2) After you apply the leaf you need to apply a coat of something that will help the acrylic to adhere. In other words, acrylic will not adhere very well to metal without extra help. By using any clear glossy mineral spirit based acrylic in a layer between the metal leaf and acrylic you help adhesion. I like to use Golden’s Archival Varnish in a spray, or their MSA Varnish (same thing in a can that you can brush apply).

Also, if you apply the same archival varnish over the finished painting at the end it will help with dings.

Acrylic paintings need to fully dry for 2 weeks before wrapping them up. This 2 week period is crucial for curing the layers and during this time the painting should not get below 50 degrees, and should have air circulating around it.

More Resources & Info on Gold Leaf

My book Acrylic Illuminations has step-by-step instructions on leafing with many painting ideas on gold leaf.

Article on acrylic with gold leaf from GOLDEN

My Youtube video How to Apply Gold Leaf