Painting Secrets to Create Your Masterpiece

by | Nov 17, 2016 | Blog | 27 comments

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  1. Madhulika Ghosh

    Hi nancy
    I am from india and I have been following your blogs on regular basis. As I am about to start my first imitation metal leaf project I am confused about sealing the same. Leafing on any surface be it wood or canvas can be sealed in similar way?
    I would also request you to help me out with a indian brand varnish for sealing imitation leaf projects.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Madhulika, Thank you for your comment. I am glad to hear you will be starting your first metal leaf project. When you want to leaf on a surface, you can leaf on ANY surface. If the surface is very very glossy, like glass, then you may want to slightly sand it so the adhesive can stick better. The surfaces you mentioned such as canvas and wood are not super glossy, but instead are absorbent so that is good and these do not need to be sanded. Just apply the adhesive to them. If the adhesive sinks into the wood or canvas so that it is not sticky enough to hold the metal leaf, then apply 2 coats of the adhesive instead of just one. You do not need to seal a surface before applying the leaf adhesive. Sealing is needed to apply OVER the leaf once it is already applied onto the surface, BEFORE applying acrylic paint. Then you will seal again at the very end of your project after painting, so the second sealing process goes over prior sealed leaf and paint altogether. Does this make sense? So you asked if sealing is the same no matter which surface. My answer is that sealing goes over the leaf not the surface. So sealing process does not change according to the surface, but according to what you will be doing OVER the leaf once the leaf is applied. I am sorry I do not know of Indian brands of varnish for sealing leaf. However, almost all varnishes that smell strong mean they contain a solvent, and this means it will be fine. If the directions on the varnish label say to clean brushes with solvent or turpentine, this means it will be fine over the leaf. You do not want to use any varnish that is water-soluble (the product label says to wash brushes with water).

  2. Robin Batt

    Hi Nancy

    Firstly thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom with the community it’s fabulous.

    So, I have a question. I’ve used imitation leaf to cover a hard board (with the glue / size as per your recommendations). I didn’t seal it. Then I used paper collage with glue (Uhu and Pritt stick) to make a design.

    I want to seal it now and I’m not sure how to. I’d be more comfortable with a spray sealer I think because it’s fiddly work. I’m in the UK and it’s hard to get the GAC stuff but I found this one

    I just wondered what your thoughts were – also about the 2-4 stage process and whether that’s necessary when it’s collage on imitation leaf. COllage experts suggest Mod Podge or Shellac varnish for collage…but that’s quite different to your recommendations for gold leaf with acrylics.

    Lastly, I’m about to start my second! So if there is a better way to do this going forwards I’d love to know

    Many thanks again


    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Robin,
      I’m glad you are finding my blog articles helpful. Thank you for your comment. I do think the spray sealer you found would work fine. Even if you could get the GAC I would not recommend it at this point in your process. The GAC I suggested in my video was ONLY if you could not spray or use a solvent based varnish over the leaf BEFORE applying acrylic. That would be the only case scenario you would use it for. Definitely not at this point after you’ve applied collage, so now the surface is textural, and you are ready for a final varnish. GAC is NOT a final varnish. In fact it is not a varnish at all. You are fortunate that the leaf did not tarnish when you applied the glue stick. So next time around I recommend to apply the leaf as per the video instructions. Sounds like you got this step! Then let it dry at least 3 days before doing anything else. Next apply the solvent based spray varnish you mentioned. Let that dry a few days. Now that the leaf is sealed you can collage using a solvent based collage adhesive. Then apply a final varnish over the finished work that has UV protection. That should work!

  3. Winnie English

    How did you get seamless gold leaf in your flamingo or heron example painting in your video? I can always see my seams but in that first example in your video, you hold that bird up and there are no seams whatsoever.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Winnie,
      That’s a good question! First, the flamingo example in the beginning of the video does have seams. In a different light the seams would be more visible. The painting is also small in size, and each square of leaf is 4″ so there may only be one or two seams in that painting. I don’t try to hide the seams in my work, however, I plan out in the beginning when laying the leaf onto the surface, that the seams are evenly spaced from the edges, so I don’t end up with a seam right near an edge, looking awkward. You can purchase leaf in larger size squares (I think 6″ is the largest I found). You can also purchase the leaf in rolls and that may help eliminate seams if your surface is smaller than the dimension of the roll. It would at least eliminate most seams. I paint my surface red underneath, which comes through sometimes in the seams, making them appear (at least in my opinion) an interesting part of the painting. Historic famous Asian paintings using gold leaf all have seams, unless they are using sheets of gold paper which are much less luminous then gold leaf. Hope this helps!

  4. Winnie Schirrmeister

    THANK YOU!!! I have come back to this thread again and again and my next and next questions are answered. Thank you for explaining how to use and the purpose of these GAC 200 and 500 mediums and the varnish differences – between a varnish coat and a final varnish coat and giving us the exact names. It’s invaluable and we all really appreciate it. I have this thread in growing form in my notes. Winnie

    • Nancy Reyner

      Glad to hear this thread is helpful!

  5. Rachel

    Thank you for all of your great information!
    Once the last coat of GAC200 is dry can oil be painted on it right away? You said that that is the case while using acrylic but I wanted to double check with oils.

    • Nancy Reyner

      When applying one medium like oil over another like acrylic I recommend waiting 2 weeks. I would wait 2 weeks after applying the GAC200 before applying oil paint.

  6. Maelee Lungren

    Hi Nancy, I really appreciate all of your great videos and informative posts. I have a couple questions. When using imitation gold leaf, after I’ve sealed the leaf with 2-3 coats of the Golden archival varnish, how should I dilute the Gac 200? I had thought it was okay to dilute it a little with water but after one of your comments, it’s made me doubt that it’s okay to dilute with water. Is GAC 500 what is supposed to be used to dilute GAC 200? I’ve tested using straight gac 200 and using a slightly water-diluted GAC 200. The tested part with the water-diluted GAC 200 was slightly glossier, which I liked… Do you have any input on what is best to dilute GAC 200 with or if it’s not necessary to dilute it at all? Thanks in advance!

    • Nancy Reyner

      I do not dilute the GAC200. It is very thin already, and that is because it is a naturally thin polymer without any water added in the manufacturing. I do not know why you would want to dilute it with water. It is a very strong acrylic with very special properties (ie. strengthens adhesion between layers) and is already of a thin consistency. Since the GAC200 dries fast, some people find issues because they work with it with the top off, so the unused medium in the container starts to thicken. I recommend pouring out just the amount you will use, and putting the lid on the container with the remaining amount. Also you need to work with it quickly, and not overbrush it. Other issues arise when it is brushed on with a bristle brush, or after applying if a brush is used over it when it has started to dry, the medium can get texturized and will therefore look cloudy or matte. If you are seeing the medium look glossier when you dilute it with water, this means you are not brush applying the undiluted version correctly. By adding water you slow down the drying (and dilute the qualities and strength of the medium) but then you can work slower. I recommend working with it undiluted and after a few times you will be able to work quickly and not overbrush.

  7. Brenda

    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?

    • Nancy Reyner

      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.

  8. Kiira Sheppard

    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.


    • Nancy Reyner

      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.

    • Kiira Sheppard

      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

    • Nancy Reyner

      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.


    • K

      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

  9. Winnie

    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

  10. Winnie

    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?

    • Nancy Reyner

      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.

    • Nancy Reyner

      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.

    • Winnie

      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?

    • Nancy Reyner

      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.

  11. Winnie

    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?

    • Nancy Reyner

      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.


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About Nancy

Nancy Reyner is a professional fine-art painter with over 30 years experience using a variety of mediums including oil, acrylic, watercolor and mixed media. She has appeared on television for HGTV’s “That’s Clever,” and authored several best-selling painting books with F&W Media. She currently lives in Santa Fe, NM. Read more.
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