Landscape & Galactic Dust, 48″ x 60″, acrylic & gold leaf on panel
Working with Gold Leaf – especially for acrylic & oil painters
If you’ve seen my website and other blog articles, you probably figured out that I really really like gold leaf! I guess I just like shiny stuff! I like the challenge of combining leaf with paint. Anyone game to try? If so, this blog article provides all the details you need to dive right in.
First, I suggest watching the free video I made directly below, where I demonstrate the entire leafing process. After watching that, please return to this article for updated information. I am unable to update videos on Youtube, so here is where I add new information. The sealing steps are especially tricky. As you can see from the comments, all types of issues occur at this step. If you (1) READ this article, and (2) Experiment on a surface you don’t care about BEFORE working on your actual piece, you will get best results. And please scroll down for supply lists and resources.
Please note that these instructions are for FINE ART PAINTINGS. If you want to apply leaf on a functional object that will get physical use, like furniture, then use a commercial sealer like polyurethane – NOT a fine art sealer as I recommend below.
If you plan on overpainting leaf with ACRYLIC PAINT, it’s important to know that water-based acrylic can tarnish imitation gold leaf, (only while the acrylic is still wet), if applied over unsealed leaf. Once sealed properly, and fully dry, then the leaf will not tarnish regardless of what you apply over it. This area of sealing is the most misunderstood, so I have included below more details on sealing.
If you are painting with oil paint, there are some differences in the preparation process between acrylic and oil. So first watch the video for general application methods even though in the demonstrations I use acrylic. Then scroll down further for more helpful tips to overpaint with oil.
If you’ve seen my website and other blog articles, you probably figured out that I really really like gold leaf! I guess I just like shiny stuff! I like the challenge of combining leaf with paint. Anyone game to try? If so, this blog article provides all the details you need to dive right in.
First, I suggest watching the free video I made directly below, where I demonstrate the entire leafing process. After watching that, then return to the article for a summary of steps along with any new information. I will continually update information on leafing here, but may not be able to update in the video. And please scroll down for supply lists and resources.
If you plan on overpainting leaf with acrylic paint, it’s important to know that water-based acrylic can tarnish imitation leaf, (only while the acrylic is still wet), if applied over unsealed leaf. Once sealed and dry, then the leaf will not tarnish regardless of what you apply over it. This area of sealing is the most misunderstood, so I have included below more details on sealing.
If you are painting with oil paint, there are some differences in the preparation process between acrylic and oil. So first watch the video for general application methods even though in the demonstrations I use acrylic. Then scroll down further for more helpful tips to overpaint with oil.
There are TWO WAYS to apply leaf, regardless of whether you are using real gold leaf or imitation gold leaf. One application method uses leaf adhesive (also called gilding size or leafing size) while the other method is called water gilding, and is more complicated to do.
In my video I demonstrate using the first option I listed – leaf adhesive. Water gilding is time consuming and difficult, but results in perfectly smooth glowing gold. This is great when used on a picture frame, for example. The reason I do not use water gilding (as well as real gold leaf) for a painting surface that will be overpainted, is because in my opinion, a sleek smooth leaf surface does not easily integrate visually with the way I paint, especially when used as a painting background.
Real Gold Leaf vs Imitation Gold Leaf
There are two different types of gold leaf you can purchase – real gold leaf and imitation gold leaf. Real gold leaf is made of mostly pure gold and comes in different karats. Imitation (or composite) gold leaf is made of copper and zinc, and comes in a few variations of gold colors.
In my opinion it IS worth the expense to use real gold, as long as you also use the water gilding application, when the gold is mostly uncovered and unpainted, like applying it to a picture frame.
The benefit of using the adhesive method is that it will show some brush strokes, and therefore integrates better when used in a painting. Everyone has a different idea in mind when using gold leaf so you need to decide which works best for you.
For my paintings, I overpaint a good portion of the leaf, so it doesn’t make sense for me to use water gilding along with real gold leaf. 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.
In summary, you can use either application method – water gilding or adhesive – with either type of leaf – real gold or imitation gold. My video demonstrates the adhesive method with imitation leaf. You can use this same method with real gold. With the adhesive method, the two types of leaf will look very similar after application, because of the type of application method. In other words, when using the water gilding method, it makes sense to use real gold leaf instead of imitation gold leaf. When using the glue or size adhesive, then it makes sense to use the imitation leaf and not the real gold.
Special Note About Sealing Gold Leaf
There are two different sealing processes you need to consider, for most projects involving leafing along with paint. Let’s call these two sealing processes Pre-Paint Sealing and Post-Paint Sealing.
Pre-Paint Sealing seals over the leaf prior to painting. This is important for both oil and acrylic painters. When you apply paint over the unsealed leaf, which is very delicate, it may get scratched, marred or removed accidentally. Sealing the leaf allows for over-painting with oil or acrylic without negatively affecting the leaf. This sealing process is VERY tricky when sealing imitation gold leaf. That is because this is where you can accidentally tarnish the leaf using the wrong sealer and the wrong sealing application process. See details and tips for avoiding tarnishing below in step 6.
Post-Paint Sealing is a good idea because it provides a protective coat to seal over your finished painting. This usually involves sealing over both leaf and paint, and adds an archival finishing coat when you use an archival varnish. Archival varnishes usually have UV protection and will keep your paintings from fading. They are also removable, which means the layer can be removed for cleaning purposes in the future if needed. This is described further in Step 8.
These two sealing steps have different purposes from each other, and therefore require different products and processes. They also differ depending on whether you are using acrylic or oil under or over the leaf. I have listed the more detailed information below in Step 6 and Step 8 for each of these two sealing steps.
Gold Leafing Steps
Watch video above for details & demonstrations, then read the following UPDATED INFORMATION.
1. Prepare Surface
Paint the surface a color. You can use oil or acrylic paint for this underpainting. If you use acrylic paint you can use the water-based adhesive over it to apply the leaf. If you use oil paint you MUST use the solvent-based or oil-based adhesive to apply the leaf. This color will only show minimally under the leaf if you will be covering your surface all the way with leaf. For a classic look use Red Oxide paint color. Optional – add texture using a mixture of Molding Paste with acrylic paint color.
2. Apply adhesive
Choose water-based or solvent-based leaf adhesive (also called gilding or leaf sizing). I use water-based because it is non-toxic and I apply it over acrylic.
The best way to tell if the size is solvent-based or water-based is to read product label instructions. When it directs you to clean brushes with solvents, it is solvent-based (also sometimes called oil-based), while the water based size will instruct you to clean brushes with water. Use either type if it will be applied over a primed or acrylic painted surface. If applying OVER oil paint you must use the solvent-based adhesive and make sure the oil paint is fully dry. Drying times for oil paint depend on how thick the paint is applied, which paint colors are used, and your climate conditions. Apply thinly. Let dry at least 20 minutes before leafing.
3. Apply Leaf
Place wax paper over leaf, rub gently to create static, lift and position to place. Once placed rub lightly, then lift wax paper and repeat to leaf other areas. Allow excess overlap of leaves.
Place sheet of wax paper over leaf, then rub with moderate pressure using soft cloth. After burnishing let dry for at least 3 days (I prefer at least one week) so the adhesive is fully cured. Do not burnish without the wax paper in between your cloth and leaf or you will remove the leaf.
5. Clean Excess
Using a stiff small brush gently remove excess leaf on the sides of the panel or canvas, and wherever leaves overlap each other.
6. Pre-Paint Sealing: Seal Leaf Before Overpainting
There are two methods to seal leaf prior to painting with acrylic or oil. One involves a solvent-based varnish which is toxic and requires ventilation and proper protection. This gives a stronger coating with no risk of tarnishing the imitation leaf. Let me repeat that in a stronger way. This is the BETTER way to seal over the leaf before applying paint. It has better protection and less room for error in the application.
The other method uses a water-based acrylic medium which is non-toxic, but will require more coats as it offers a thinner coating then the toxic product. Even with multiple coats this will not provide as good a seal as the method above, when you are using aggressive painting techniques such as sanding, pouring acrylic layers, or using thick applications of acrylic paints or acrylic products. This water-based version also has some risks involved with its application. If applied using bad application habits, it can still cause tarnishing. This method requires some understanding about its application for good results. Tips for good application are described in the next paragraph. Unlike imitation gold leaf, real gold leaf will not tarnish, but sealing is still recommended so it won’t get harmed while painting. If using real gold leaf you do not have to worry about any of the cautions I am mentioning here, about tarnishing.
Very important!!! Do not use Golden’s water-based acrylic varnish called Polymer Varnish for the Pre-Paint Seal. If used directly on unsealed leaf it will tarnish the leaf. You can use it for a final Post-Paint Seal as a final coat. See Step 8.
Method 1: Water-based Sealers
Before I discuss this method using water-based or acrylic sealers, I’d like to make a big point about this NOT being the best method for sealing over imitation gold leaf. The best method is Method 2 – using solvent-based sealers, and is described in the next section below. It is easier, with less risk of error, and provides the best protection for gold leaf – real or imitation. Some people cannot use solvent-based products because they are toxic and so I am providing an alternative here.
To apply a non-toxic sealer, make a mixture combining two water-based mediums from Golden, GAC200 with GAC500, in an approximate 1:1 ratio. You can also use the GAC200 by itself. If you do then apply it in a room with temperature at 70 degrees F or above. This warmer temperature will allow the GAC200 to cure extra hard – best for sealing. By combining it with GAC500 you do not need to apply it as warm, and also this mixture allows for an easier and possibly smoother application. Brush apply one coat of the medium or medium mixture over the leaf using a smooth flat soft brush. Please note – this method will NOT work if you are substituting the GAC200 and GAC500 with any other acrylic mediums. Here’s why these two mediums together will work as a sealer over leaf, but other water-based acrylic mediums will not.
Almost all acrylic products contain ammonia while wet. Ammonia will tarnish copper, the predominant metal in imitation gold leaf. Since the ammonia dissipates by the time the acrylic has dried we can use acrylic as a sealer if it dries fast enough to keep the ammonia from affecting the leaf. GAC200 and GAC500 are extra hard acrylic and very fast drying. Other gloss mediums will not dry as quickly as these GAC mediums and risk tarnishing. Other GAC mediums will not work for this purpose (sealing over imitation gold leaf) either, as they are formulated for different purposes.
This mixture of the two GAC mediums is a bit tricky to apply as you can see from the above information. If it dries too slowly, it won’t work. It you apply it too thickly it will dry slowly. If you add water to the mediums it will dry slowly. Therefore, eliminate any water on the brush and do not add any water into the medium. Smooth it out to a thin film so it dries fast. Do not use a stiff bristle brush, or overbrush by brushing it once it starts to dry and gets tacky (which happens within seconds) so you need to apply the mixture in very very small areas, smoothing it thinly before adding more medium. If you overbrush, you will create a cloudy film that is permanent and ruins your leaf surface.
Wow! Using water-based acrylic mediums as a sealer over imitation gold leaf is quite tricky, right? Please remember I do not recommend this unless you absolutely cannot use the solvent-based varnishes I recommend below and which I also use for my own work.
How many coats of the GAC200 or mixture of GAC200 with GAC500 should you apply? If you plan on overpainting the sealed leaf with heavy applications of acrylic, or other aggressive techniques that require extra protection for the leaf, apply four coats, letting each dry to the touch prior to applying the next. One to three coats will suffice when you plan to overpaint using thin layers of acrylic paint or if overpainting with oil. Once your last coat is applied and dry to the touch you do not need to wait for a longer period and can go ahead and overpaint with acrylic or oil paint.
Method 2: Solvent-based Sealer
Please read helpful safety tips for using toxic solvents, at the end of this article.
Any permanent clear gloss spray sealer or permanent solvent-based varnish will seal the leaf. First check the label to see if it is permanent. The way to tell is from the instruction label on the product container. Removable vanishes will instruct how to remove the dried layer, while permanent ones will not. If it is removable see special instructions in the next paragraph. With permanent sealers, two coats are recommended. Once dry you can apply oil paint over it. To apply acrylic over it, lightly sand, then apply the water-based sealer over it as described above in Method 1 for best adhesion between the acrylic paint and sealer.
I often recommend using Golden’s MSA Varnish Gloss, or Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss spray for use over leaf when planning on eventually overpainting with acrylic paint. These two varnishes by Golden are what I use along with the application method described here. These are good fine-art products and seal leaf well even though they are both removable. Since they are removable, wait two weeks after application for the coating to fully dry, then apply a permanent seal coat over it using the water-based sealer I mentioned above in Method 1. You will need to do this whether you are overpainting with oil OR acrylic. You MUST apply something permanent over these removable sealers before applying paint. Once you apply the water-based medium in Method 1 over the removable sealer, you can then overpaint with acrylic once the GAC coating is dry to the touch. If overpainting with oil paint wait a week or more once the GAC coating has dried.
Important: DO NOT overpaint Golden’s MSA Varnish or their Archival Varnish with oil paint UNLESS you seal over the varnish with the mixture of GAC200 and GAC500 as instructed above. These varnishes have UV protection in them, and one of the essential resins used in the varnishes can interfere with the drying process of any oil paint applied over it.
Apply paint opaquely and/or transparently over the sealed leaf to get a variety of effects. For maximum variation and interest, allow some leaf to remain unpainted, some leaf areas to be fully covered, as well as some leaf showing through transparent paint. If you end up with too much paint coverage some of the paint can be sanded off. Here is where it helps to have substantial coats of Pre-Paint Sealing.
8. Post-Paint Sealing- final painting topcoat
It’s a good idea to varnish paintings at the very end, even if you already sealed the leaf prior to painting. Sealing with an archival varnish over leaf and paint is recommended. It enables the painting to be cleaned, and adds UV protection.
For oil painting over leaf, wait about a month for the oil painting to dry before this final varnish coat. Wait longer if oil paint is applied thickly. This final varnish is applied over the whole surface, including leaf and oil paint. Use Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss spray, Golden’s MSA Varnish, Gamvar by Gamblin or any other archival removable solvent-based varnish meant for oil paint.
For acrylic painting over leaf, I like to use Golden’s Polymer Varnish Gloss, which is non-toxic. Do not use this water-based varnish product over oil paint. However it is a good final varnish product to use over acrylic paint and the sealed leaf. And also very important!!! Do not use this product for the Pre-Paint Seal. If used directly on unsealed imitation gold leaf it will tarnish the leaf. If you did not apply enough sealer over the leaf in the Pre-Paint Seal, this varnish may still reach the leaf layer and tarnish it.
For non-fine-art projects like furniture, that will get physically used, apply a commercial sealer like solvent-based polyurethane instead of the fine art varnishes I recommend here.
More Resources & Info on Gold Leaf
Acrylic Painting Techniques on Gold Leaf Video for purchase
View paintings on gold leaf
Acrylic Illuminations step-by-step instruction book and ideas on leafing for painters
Video – How to Apply Gold Leaf
Article on gold leaf by GOLDEN.
Please note! While I highly value the tech team at GOLDEN and their expert advice, I do not agree with everything listed in their linked article above. Everything I have written here has been verified by GOLDEN’s top tech advisor. If there are any discrepancies between my article and theirs, know that I have fully tested and verified everything I wrote here. GOLDEN has expertise in acrylic, yet I have more expertise and experience with gold leaf, as it pertains to acrylic and using their products. Therefore, you may find some contradictions between my article and theirs. YES you can use GAC 200 over imitation leaf in the way I describe. YES you can use the removable varnish in between layers as I also describe. The important thing to note is that Golden is correct, that normally their products are not meant for application in the way I am using it. As long as you follow my special application instructions their products will work well for the purposes I am using them here.
Supply List & Links
Any painting surface such as canvas, fabric, canvas panels or wood panels, objects and walls.
Links for wood painting panels
Links for metal leaf
LEAF ADHESIVE (also known as gilding or leafing size)
Remember there are two choices: water-based (which is non-toxic and can only be used over acrylic) and solvent-based (which can be used over acrylic or oil).
Links for leaf adhesive:
Remember there are 2 different sealing steps and these require different products. Review this article to make sure you get the right product.
Links for sealers:
Link for wax paper:
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Hi Nancy, thank you for this valuable site!! I have followed your advice in completing my project—a beautiful full ceiling of imitation gold leaf. I now need to seal and am wondering if you have advice for more economic/practical options than these archival/art options above as in need to cover about 160 sq. feet. You mentioned solvent-based polyurethane for chairs. Although the ceiling won’t be used in the same way is this a good option? If so, is there an ammonia free brand you recommend? If not, any suggestions?
Good question! I’m so glad your ceiling project worked out successfully! I think you are asking the best way to apply sealer on a ceiling? That is something I have not done but since house painters paint on ceilings all the time, it must be possible to apply any type of coatings on ceilings.
First, let’s make this easy. ANY sealer that is solvent-based will not tarnish the imitation leaf because they do not have ammonia in them. Only water-based acrylic products have ammonia in them while still wet.
Go to the paint department in your local home improvement stores (Home Depot or Lowes are my local options). Ask someone who knows that department (may take some bold inquiring) and ask them for a solvent-based clear glossy sealer that you can apply on a ceiling. You don’t have to mention it is imitation gold leaf or they may not want to risk answering. Also ask for an appropriate brush. You will need an appropriate mask I get mine from Grainger’s online. If you don’t have the right mask (you need one very important!!) and call Grainger’s and ask for their tech specialist for masks. They will tell you which filters to get for solvents. Also wear gloves.
While applying the sealer, use the brush gently so you don’t marr the leaf. Generally the more you load up the brush with sealer (and don’t keep getting rid of it on the lip of the can) you won’t abrade the leaf. When your brush unloads most of the sealer don’t keep brushing with it, as this is where you can marr the leaf.
Well….after typing all this I reread your question. Apologies for the long answer. The short answer is yes your solvent-based polyurethane is fine.
What’s the best sealer for an acrylic paint with imitation or real gold leaf accents? Does it make a difference if it’s either? Gold leaf put on top of the acrylic.
Would a high gloss varnish like Liquitex work?
In the blog article there is more detail about your question but I’m happy to answer it here too. First I want to make sure we are both using terms to mean the same thing. A sealer is a permanent gloss coating that protects the real or imitation gold leaf from getting scratched during handling or if you are overpainting. A sealer is also needed to protect imitation leaf from tarnishing when it is exposed to either air or ammonia. Ammonia is present in all water-based acrylic products (mediums, paints, etc) while wet, but then the ammonia is gone once the acrylic is dry.
A varnish, on the other hand, is applied at the very end of the painting, as a final topcoat, to protect the whole painting. Archival varnishes have UV protection and are removable for cleaning purposes. These are very different products with different purposes – varnishes vs sealers.
So now to answer your question. If you have sealed the leaf (real or imitation gold) and you want to apply a final varnish over both the acrylic paint and the metal leaf, you can use any appropriate painting varnish. Be careful to make sure you are applying a real varnish and not a medium. Liquitex does something I don’t agree with. They have a product called a “Medium and Varnish” which is misleading as a medium is permanent and a varnish for art purposes is removable. If you want to use a high gloss varnish made by Liquitex, just check the product label and make sure it is an actual varnish and not a medium.
In summary you can use any varnish – waterbased or solvent based – over acrylic paint and leaf at the same time. Please note, though, that if your imitation leaf is NOT sealed, you MUST use a solvent-based varnish or our leaf will tarnish. Real gold leaf doesn’t tarnish so not an issue with that. And if you seal the imitation leaf with enough protection, you can use a water-based or solvent-based varnish without any tarnishing.
Hope this helps answer your question.
Just to clarify: I have to seal the leaf first with a solvent based sealer and then, varnish it on top. My only question is will the solvent based sealer ruin the acrylic painting? There’s no way for me to isolate the leaf from the painting as it was used for accent details on top of the acrylic.
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply.
Hi Nancy, thank you so much for this post! I am a novice and hoping for your advice. I plan to use imitation silver for my artwork and then I hope to add some paper layers as well as possible acrylic paint.
For the imitation silver I plan to use an acrylic+molding paste base, then water based size and the imitation silver leaf.
After that do you think I should use the water based size to attach the paper directly to the leaf? Or seal the leaf first and then apply the paper layer? Finally, what would you recommend I seal the paper layer/ entire piece with?
I always prefer to work with non-toxic materials if possible so I lean toward your water based suggestions but don’t know if that’s a bad idea with the paper. Any and all advice welcome! Thank you!
Imitation silver does not tarnish so that means you don’t have to seal it prior to painting. However, even though it will not tarnish, it is still delicate and can be scratched while overpainting, so sealing before overpainting is still a good idea.
Your plan for the base and applying the leaf sounds fine. Then you want to attach paper and acrylic over the imitation leaf. Absolutely do NOT use the water-based size for anything other than applying metal leaf. In this case first seal over the imitation silver leaf. Seal it with any clear gloss acrylic. Once that is dry, then use an acrylic gloss gel to glue the paper. Gels are thicker than mediums and make better glues. Once your paper is applied, and has dried, you can use the same clear gloss acrylic you used to seal the imitation silver leaf before. When your painting is all finished, with leafing, applying paper and paint, then you can apply an archival varnish over the entire piece. Varnishes are special products that have UV protection and are removable for cleaning purposes. I like Golden’s water-based varnish called Water Borne Varnish. It replaces a previous product they had called Polymer Varnish. Apply this varnish over an evenly glossy surface. Hope this helps!
Thank you for this post! I have a question and need some advice. I purchased the Mona Lisa Gold Leaf kit and didn’t realize it came with a SIZE and SEALER. I thought they were both size. So I applied the SEALER instead of the size and noticed how quickly it was drying, I I applied a good bit of gold leaf almost right away to some nightstand legs. Most of it stuck but I knew something wasn’t right. Once I realized I used the wrong product, it was too late. So I ended up frantically painting the size ON TOP of the gold leaf, waited for it to dry, then applied the sealer again. After it dried, I gave it a good, light sand to remove and excess. I just need to know if this will be ok long term or if I just need to sand it all off and start over. Thank you in advance for your help!
I agree that products and their titles and terms used can be very confusing.
You can always apply the size (glue) over leaf already applied, and also over sealer. So even though you used the sealer thinking it was glue, once this dries you can reapply the correct product – the glue or size – and apply the leaf. Then wait until that is dry and apply the sealer as a final topcoat.
When I read your steps I am not fully understanding what exactly you did. It sounds like you applied the sealer, then leaf, then noticed it was wrong and then applied the size, and then sealer over the size??? Or did you mean that you added leaf in between the size and sealer?
If you are sanding AFTER the sealer you are mixing up some steps. The correct steps are: (1) size, (2) add leaf, (3) burnish and remove excess very carefully, (4) seal. If you do these steps (even if they are all over your mistake) it should be fine. The important thing to remember is to wait enough time in between steps for products to fully dry.
need your assistance. i have completed applying imitation golden leaf to a wall sized canvas. which is the best sealant to use to ensure there is no tarnishing. the golden leaf i used is giusto manetti fabrica do oro e argento from italy. we had to remove the original leaf because of tarnishing. we need a strong sealant that will last. also need instructions on how to apply. i am i. need of assistance asap as i am reapply the leaf now. i ordered an acrylic protective coating top coat from golden leaf wholesalers and now i’m reading the acrylic may not be the best option. the bottom is the damaged area that tarnished. the top was sanded and now reapplied. there are two other ones that are the same size. need to complete before this wednesday. please email me so i can possibly speak to you for assistance. thank you.
I understand you have a very large leafed canvas and want to know the best sealant. The article on my blog where you wrote your question should have all the details. You can use ANY clear glossy solvent-based sealer. Acrylic is OK to use IF it is solvent based. If you use a water-based acrylic sealer you may risk tarnishing. So acrylic as a sealer is fine, just NOT water-based. You can obtain clear gloss sprays at Home Depot, Walmart or any home improvement store. If the sealer is in a spraycan it is solvent-based. If you need to seal it while it is vertical on the wall a spray would be better than brush applying a sealer, which may drip and would be best applying flat. So if you can work flat, you can brush apply Golden’s MSA Varnish gloss. If you need to keep it vertical spray with any clear gloss spray. If you are applying a final topcoat sealer, you can use Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss spray.
Hope this helps.
Nancy, I have gold leafed a deer skull (just a small part) the whole thing is flat black. I need to seal on top of the gold to keep it from tarnishing, do you recommend putting 2 coats of e 200 glossy over just the gold?
I tried in the article to emphasize that the best and easiest option to seal imitation gold leaf from tarnishing is to use a solvent-based sealer. GAC 200 is water-based. However, it can be used as a non-toxic substitute for the solvent-based sealers but is not as strong as the solvent-based sealers, so you will need to apply multiple coats. I recommend four coats. It is also VERY tricky to use and can create permanent issues on your artwork if you do not apply it correctly. It is fast drying and hard, so that is why it is the ONLY water-based sealer that I know of, that can be used over the leaf. However, if it is applied too thickly, or diluted with water, or allowed in any way to dry slowly it will tarnish the leaf. You must apply it in small sections. Once you apply it, do not brush over it too much. It gets tacky very quickly and if brushed over while tacky can create a permanent white film. Yes you can just seal over the leaf and not your black area. However, if you are using a spray, it may be easiest to spray apply the sealer over the whole deer skull. Then if you want the black areas to be matte, reapply the black matte paint, or apply a matte sealer over the black area.
Hello… I may have missed this as I have been watching your videos and reading your blogs. I am a bit confused between the leafing and the glazing. I don’t know if I seal before glazing or after. Do Seal glazing before painting my picture with acrylic.
Please tell me if this is correct:
1 Leaf the board
2 Seal the same day to avoid tarnish
3 Glaze the piece
4 Seal to allow for acrylic painting
5 Paint over glazed metallic leaf board
6 Seal for final finish
I’m happy to help clarify the process.
After you leaf the board you do NOT seal the same day. You need to wait at least three days so that the leaf adhesive dries before sealing. You are correct that sealing will help avoid tarnishing, and it will also protect the leaf from getting scratched or marred when you overpaint since the leaf is delicate.
Glazing the leaf is optional. You do not have to glaze the leaf, but you can opt to do this to shift the gold leaf color slightly warmer or cooler, or to use color transparently. Glazing is a painting technique that can be used with any surface, and at any point in the painting process. So this is a choice not something that must be done over leaf. If you do decide to glaze you do not need to seal again after glazing and prior to other types of painting techniques. In summary, the leaf needs to be sealed prior to any paint applications, but only once. No sealing is needed between acrylic paint layers.
So once you seal the leaf, you can paint using any techniques such as glazing, opaque painting, sanding, pouring, etc.
Once your painting is finished you can varnish it if you want to add this final archival top coat. You do not have to varnish, but I varnish all my paintings using fine art quality archival varnish. These products have UV protection which minimize color fading, and are removable for cleaning purposes.
Hope this helps!
I painted acrylic paint in black and white check and need to put imitation gold leaf along the edges. I plain to use Mod Podge to seal the acrylic paint then apply the liquid gold leaf once the Mod Podge is dry. Is this going to work for indoor use. It is a statue so no real wear and tear.
Your plan sounds fine for indoor use. I’m not experienced with Mod Podge or liquid gold leaf, so not sure how long they last (or if they are archival or not). But I think it should be fine. You may want to try an experiment with your process on something you don’t care about before applying it to something that is important.
Hi Nancy. Thanks for your post and video, they are very informative. I have some questions tho and hope you can help me.
I am trying to add metal leaf to my watercolor paintings, and it’s been hell so far, as to figure out how to make it work. So much research and little findings. I hope you can help me with my doubts. I will tag my questions so it’s easier for you to answer.
For now, I just want to add it to my finished paintings, not to paint over the gold leaf. I also want my paintings to be archival, if possible.
What I’ve figured out so far:
-For the size, I have found I need a water based one because any other would stain and damage my painting since it will get absorbed by the paper and spread. Correct? (1)
And as for the sealer, that’s the biggest problem I’m encountering. I’m gonna go crazy looking for something that works. I can’t use any solvent-based sealers, because any overlap on the watercolor painting would stain the paper, and when you apply it on the metal leaf it can’t be helped to get some overlay. So my only option is water-based sealers, correct? (2)
I live in Spain, so the Golden GAC200-500 are almost impossible to get. Same goes for the Mona Lisa Speedball Sealer for Metal Leaf (which seems to be what people use for sealing metal leaf on watercolor, and I assume it’s probably just a fast-drying gloss acrylic medium).
So my questions are:
-How can I find a local substitute for those? Should I just be looking for a polymer gloss medium as you say in yout video? Does it need to be hard too and fast-drying? Any will do or is it a buy-trial and error thing? (3)
-How can I know if it has worked? From what I’ve read, once the acrylic medium is dry, the ammonia should have evaporated, right? So if I have applied the medium and it has dried and no tarnishing is present should I assume it works? (4) or can it tarnish days/weeks/months after being sealed?
-Do you think trying to dry the medium with a hair dryer can help to get away with a slower drying acrylic medium? (5)
-Does one coat of the sealer suffice if you’re not going to do anything over it and just want to seal it as it is? (6)
-If I want my paintings to be archival, (besides already using archival watercolors and paper), I should just go for an archival gloss fast-drying acrylic medium? (7) or you think I still can have complications? I am also using a restoration-grade size.
I’ve also tried varnishing my watercolor first (with a watercolor varnish) and then apply the gold leaf and then a solvent-based sealer, but the results have been bad where the sealer overlaps the wc, and any wc varnish will change the colors of the painting, which doesn’t work for me.
Thanks so much in advance and I’d really appreciate if you can give me some answers.
I suggest you seal your watercolor on paper with a clear spray. You can use any clear gloss spray you find in local paint stores, home improvement stores or art stores. Do not get anything that is removable or “workable”. This will seal the paper and the watercolor. If you just spray moderately (not too heavy or too light) using the gloss spray, most of it will soak into the paper so your work should still look matte or satin, and will not be very glossy.
This shouldn’t stain your paper, however it’s always a good idea to test it first on the paper you paint on, over something you don’t care about. You could take one piece of the paper, add some watercolor strokes, then let dry and spray over half of it (cover the other half with paper or plastic) and then once dry you can see if the spray makes a difference or not. You mentioned in questions 1 and 2 your fear the paper will stain with solvent based sprays. I really don’t think so. As I mentioned before, these clear sprays aren’t too expensive getting them from home improvement stores, and you can spray your paper and see for yourself.
You do not need to get the specialty Golden GAC 200 and 500 mediums I mentioned. These are only for sealing the leaf IF you want to overpaint with watercolor or acrylic. It is not the best option, but is the ONLY non-toxic option. These mediums are very tricky to use and can ruin your painting and leaf if you don’t follow all my instructions to keep it thin and have it dry fast. The best solution is to use a solvent-based clear spray.
3. you are correct that any tarnishing due to ammonia exposure will happen right away within minutes, so once the medium has dried and there is no tarnishing then this has worked. Again I do not think you need to use water-based leaf adhesive or water-based sealers over the leaf. Your watercolor will run if you do. Do NOT use a slow drying acrylic medium ever on leaf. It will most likely tarnish it (we’re talking about imitation gold leaf, right?) and blow dryers won’t help.
6. One coat of brush applied sealer may be OK. I always recommend 2 coats in case you miss a spot on the first coat. If spraying then definitely you need at least two coats. I recommend 4 spray coats to seal. You want the imitation leaf to be protected from long term exposure to air because that will tarnish it too over time (like a year or more).
7. Archival. Working with watercolor paints and watercolor paper will never be as archival as acrylic or oil paints, and a less delicate substrate. This is why you will ALWAYS need to protect the finished work with glass and a frame. The paper will always absorb moisture if its not protected in a frame, and this can cause issues later. So don’t worry about archival for the actual artwork. You can use watercolor on paper, then use the solvent-based adhesive wherever you want the leaf. Then give it 2 medium-light sprays of gloss spray. Then frame it with UV protection glass, matt and a frame. Now it’s archival and won’t tarnish. You really need to try the solvent-based adhesive on your paper to see if it really does stain. I think it won’t. If it does, then spray with the clear spray first, then apply the solvent-based adhesive. Just to be clear, the solvent-based leaf adhesive and the clear spray are two different products. You need to test both for staining.
It sounds like you have tried what I recommend and don’t like the results. You may not be applying the right products, and/or the right products but not applying them correctly. I think a light spray of a clear coat, instead of the watercolor varnish you used, would be better. Keep the sprays light and then frame them with glass at the end for final protection.
You are welcome to let me know if you are still having issues and I will try to investigate alternatives.
Hi Nancy, thanks for this article. I have a question that I don’t think was covered. What to use as size and sealer if we want to put gold leaf on top of an oil painting ?
thanks in advance!
To best understand these applications, just realize that water-based can go over other water-based but not oil or sometimes solvent-based layers. However, oil or solvent-based can go over oil or water-based. If you want to leaf over oil painting, you would need to use a solvent or oil-based leaf adhesive. To seal, you can use any sealer of varnish that is appropriate for oil paint. Whatever sticks well to oil paint, will also stick well onto the metal leaf.
Hi nancy!! Amazing in depth, constructive correct, perfect advice on gold leafing! Wow! Huge thankyou,
I have been given 1920s gold leaf owned by SA artist maud sumner! Bye from PINTREST, “ART BY KARIN IN ZAMBIA “
Hi Karin, Glad you liked the article!
Hi Nancy, I just watched your video and found it really useful. I have a few questions though.
1. I am a watercolour artist so can I use the same products and process you’ve mentioned with watercolour paints on a paper surface as well?
2. After sealing the goldleaf, and then painting over it, can we keep adding multiple layers of paint on top by using Gac 200 over each layer?
3. After the last layer of paint is done, what do we use to seal the entire painting?
4. Lastly, can a glass frame go over the gold leaf or should there be a gap between the goldleaf and the glass frame in order for the goldleaf not to stick to the glass, or will it be safe? Thank you.
I’m glad you found the video on gold leaf helpful. Here are my answers to your questions:
(1) You can definitely use watercolor paints with this same process, with one additional step. For watercolor to apply evenly, without puddling up on the glossy surface, you will need to create a tooth or grit for the watercolor paint to absorb into. The paints will work well on the paper, but over the gold leaf you will need to add a clear tooth. The only way I know of to do this, is to use a particular product called Pastel Ground by Golden. It is a thick gray product, so do not use it plain. The trick is to heavily (and I mean heavily) dilute it with water to create a wash. Once you apply this wash and let it dry, it will have a nice grit, and will temporarily look a bit hazy. Now you can apply your watercolor. Once you finish your painting, you will now need to apply a gloss coat which will protect your watercolor, but will also bring back the shine on the gold leaf. Please do test this out on something you don’t care about to get the feel of it. If you don’t add enough water to the Pastel Ground, when you apply the gloss over the painting, the leaf won’t get it’s shine back and the Pastel Ground wash will leave a light gray film over the leaf. If you add too much water, you won’t have enough grit – but this is easy to fix as you can just apply another wash coat of the ground with less water.
(2) After sealing the leaf and overpainting, you can overpaint easily. If you are using acrylic or oil paint you will not need to seal between each layer. You only need to seal the leaf because it is delicate and will scratch while overpainting, and it can also tarnish when exposed to wet acrylic. If you are using watercolor, this paint is resoluble, which means as you apply one new wet layer over the other underlying dry layers, the layers will combine. This is one reason I don’t use watercolor, but instead use the fluid acrylics with water, which give the exact same effects that watercolor does, except the paint won’t resoften once it’s dry.
(3) When your painting is finished it is recommended to apply a varnish over the entire painting. Use a fine art varnish, which has one significant quality unlike all the other paints and sealers – it is removable for cleaning purposes. Fine art varnishes usually have UV protection in them to keep paint colors from fading. I like to use Golden’s Polymer Varnish (currently unavailable as the company can’t obtain certain ingredients) or their Archival Varnish spray, or their MSA Varnish. You can also use any other art brand of painting varnish as long as it says removable on the label and contains UV protection.
(4) A glass frame can go over the leaf. Even though it isn’t always “necessary”, I always recommend a gap (created with a mat or filler in the frame) so that the artwork (no matter what it’s made of) will not touch glass permanently. Glass shouldn’t hurt the leaf, paint, or sealers, but with long periods of time, and during hot temperatures or high humidity, the painting’s surface may be affected if touching glass over long periods of time.
My medium of choice is cement I’ve been using acrylics to much success. But now I’m experimenting with metal not metal flake but metallic acrylics and they have a Sheen to them so when I try to use a low gloss clear solvent-based exterior clear concrete sealer it tends to Bubble. What can I use over a metallic acrylic outside on cement that won’t bubble?
I’m sorry you are experiencing an unwanted bubble effect while applying the concrete sealer. Without more detail about your application process and the type of bubbles you are getting, I can surmise it is the way you are applying your sealer that is causing the bubbles. This may have been creating bubbles all along, but now over the metallics the bubbles are more visible. Applying with a foam brush will create bubbles so I don’t recommend it. Obtain a flat brush that has a narrow depth (this means it will hold less paint than a thicker one) but wide enough so you don’t have to overlap applied areas too much. The bristles should be soft not stiff like hogs hair. The softer the bristles the less bubbles are created. Hold your brush so it is more parallel to your surface instead of vertical or perpendicular to the surface (this angle removes product while the lesser angle applies it). Do not brush over recently applied areas that are tacky or slightly dry. This causes microscopic bubbles that create a permanent whitish film when dry. Also make sure that after you stir or shake your product you wait at least a few hours before using it to apply so that any bubbles created will settle.
I hope this helps you resolve your issue. I recommend contacting the company that makes your sealer and see if they have any advice to offer.
Very interesting video on using the composite gold leaf. Will egg tempera adhere to the GAC 200 or clear glass acrylic medium?
I do not have much experience with egg tempera, but knowing it is water-based, it should adhere to the GAC200, gloss acrylic medium, and any other water-based mediums. I suggest doing a small experiment first, before attempting to layer these on something you care about.
I’ve watched your video three times now and I think I’m getting it. Could you point me in the direction of a product for applying adhesive for imitation gold leaf over oil paint(I will not be overpainting). Thanks for any info.
If you are applying leaf over oil paint, you would need an oil-based leaf adhesive. Near the bottom of this blog article, above the list of comments, are links for resources. One of them is for the oil-based adhesive. Brand is Dux. Here is the link again: https://www.gildedplanet.com/oilsize.html
Even though you will not be overpainting, you will still need to seal over the leaf. You can use any oil paint varnish and apply it over both oil painted areas and leaf at the same time.
Hope this helps!
I have never gold leafed before. I want to build up a surface underneath the gold leaf. Sort of like a river of gold flowing. Do you have any recommendations? Also, what type of adhesive would you use to apply the gold leaf?
Thanks for any help you can give. Your video and article have definitely been helpful. I am going to apply gold leaf(imitation) over oil paint on canvas but not overpaint. What’s the best product for sealing the leaf so I do not tarnish it, either before or after the application of same.
To apply a sealer over the leaf and the oil paint at the same time (you can do this) just use any clear sealer that is solvent-based or oil-based. I suggest going to your local home improvement store, or even Walmart, and get a spray can that says clear gloss. These are usually under $5 so very affordable. You can also use any fine art varnish meant for oil paint, such as Gamblin’s Gamvar or Golden’s MSA Varnish. The only thing you want to avoid is a water-based sealer, which will tarnish the imitation leaf. If the product says on the container that you can wash your brush out with water and soap, then it is water-based.
Hi Nancy, thanks for sharing your knowledge on gold leafing.
I read somewhere that you need to add an isolation layer to your paintings before the final removable varnish. Is it also the same with an acrylic painting with gold leaf? I am planning on applying the gold leaf on a finished painting.
Yes it is a good idea to have an isolation coat prior to applying a final finishing varnish. The main reason is that the varnish will go on evenly when it is applied over a surface that is evenly glossy. This step of adding an isolation coat applies to almost all acrylic applications (not oil paint) regardless of whether there is gold leaf in the painting or not. Even though you are applying gold leaf as your final painting layer prior to varnishing, you should still seal the leaf with a solvent-based sealer, but use one that is not removable. I recommend getting any clear gloss spray from a home improvement store like Walmart or Home Depot. These are very inexpensive. You can then skip the isolation coat because the clear spray coat makes the final painting glossy. This means you can now apply an archival removable varnish. If the painting ever needs to be cleaned the top varnish can be removed without scratching or marring your gold leaf. And the archival removable varnish (if archival) will also have UV protection to keep your paint colors from fading. Basically in summary, because you are applying the leaf last, you can skip the water-based acrylic isolation coat, and instead use a solvent based one that is non-removable. Then apply the removable varnish. Hope this helps!
Thanks so much for all the information and answering everyone’s questions. I have been working with oil and leafing for a while and I usually use Elmer’s on top of both the leaf and the oil painting to add velvet flocking. Then when I seal I seal around the flocking. Recently I have been having some issues. The flocked pieces are pulling away from the canvas and taking the leafing with it so there is a very small gap between the canvas and the flocked element. It does not do it over the oil painted areas, just the leafed areas. Should I varnish and then add the glue on top of the varnish? I usually use Gamblin’s varnish. I am not sure what type of glue I should be using to add the flocked pieces if I go that route. Thanks so much!
Elmer’s glue is not archival. It will yellow and won’t last. It is not meant for fine art. Applying this water-based glue over oil paint will eventually come loose. To give you best advice I would need more details about your process. From your description I can’t tell if the leaf is over the oil paint, or the reverse, or both. So for now I’ll do my best. In general keep in mind you CAN apply water-based mediums and paint over other water-based mediums and paint, but NOT over oil. However, you can apply oil or solvent-based mediums and paint over other oil or solvent based as well as water-based. Leaf is metallic so this means you can use either but with some precautions. Water-based products usually have ammonia in them while they are wet, and this can tarnish imitation gold leaf. So it’s best to use a solvent-based varnish for imitation leaf. If you want to apply leaf over oil paint you would need to use the solvent based adhesive meant for leafing. Once that is applied, you will need to use a solvent based glue over the leaf and/or oil paint to stick the flocking. Use this process if you want to apply a final top coat varnish over the entire surface (leaf, oil paint and flocking). If you don’t want to apply anything over the flocking, then do the above process but apply the varnish using a brush and going around the flocking. It’s best not to glue anything after applying your final top coat varnish.
Hope this helps!
instead of using the sealants you suggest is it ok to cover using a clear epoxy resin like used for tables etc?
Yes you can definitely use epoxy resin to pour over the leaf for a glossy smooth finish. However, if you are using imitation gold leaf (instead of real gold leaf), and the resin is water-based, you may still risk tarnishing. If the resin is solvent based then you should not get any tarnishing.
I am a hobbyist and I am interested in restoring gold leaf lettering on the door glass of an 1880s era clock. Unfortunately, I have no artistic assets.
I am interested in learning an appropriate method of touching up aged lettering with the application of gold leaf.
The lettering has two different sheens of gold. The effect is most noticeable on the “A” in the image with the “1” in its’ file name. The glass in the central areas of the lettering has been etched to create that difference. I know that for a fact because I have the remains of a glass broken during the shipping of one the the clocks I acquired.
The gold leaf is applied to the inside glass surface and is back painted in either yellow or black depending upon the era of production. All Fashions were produced between 1875 and 1889. I know of no company records or other writing from that era that describes the process used.
I would greatly appreciate any advice or referral to guide my efforts to acquire the necessary techniques and skills.
Sounds like an interesting project you’ve got. I suggest first doing an experiment on an unprecious piece of glass you may have lying around. This way you’ll know if the effect you get will be compatible with your clock face lettering you are trying to restore. You referred to an image with 1 in its file name, but I only see one image you attached. It’s enough, though, for me to understand what you are trying to do. The glass would need to be etches or sanded in some way to create a surface that will allow the gold leaf to adhere.
Other than that exception with the glass surface, my instructions in the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scd3KBPsOKs&t=2s, will give you all the details you need to try an experiment first. Then once satisfied, apply the process to the actual back of the clock. Once applied you can then add a coating over over the leaf using acrylic in the black or yellow paint you mentioned.
Hope this helped!
Can a small amount of acrylic be mixed in with the gilding size in order to visually keep track of the application? Lot of small lines to cover and don’t want to overlook any areas. I can’t seem to find the answer to this question anywhere. Thanks so much for all this valuable information.
I would highly recommend you NOT change the gilding size in any way, by adding water or paint color. The size is made to perfection and any alteration will affect it’s holding power, and most significantly it’s window of tackiness. I have actually tried adding red to it to be able to see the size for a previous project, and the size wasn’t working as well so I had to redo the size. As a suggestion could you apply a satin finish over your underpainting, then when you apply the size you can see where it is because it will show up as glossy against the satin finish. Just a thought, but not sure of your process and what you mean by many small lines to cover. There may be other ways to create a process that works well with your idea instead of coloring the size.
I forgot to include my website in my comment sent yesterday.
I will be using a Trekell Ellipse Floater Panel made of birch for my portrait.
Should I gesso it first? What ground do you recommend?
I plan to apply the imitation silver leaf around the basic shape of the head and the acrylic paint on the head itself.
Just received you book in the mail – it’s fabulous!
If the Floater Panel you mentioned is unsealed, you should seal all exposed wood areas (front, sides and back) so that moisture will not enter the wood and cause warping. Here is an article I wrote on preparing wood panels for painting. https://nancyreyner.com/2017/03/14/prepare-wood-panels-painting/
This article will explain in more detail why I recommend sealing wood with a glossy sealer, and then applying gesso (which is not a sealer but will enhance adhesion between paint layers and the wood). Glad you like my book! Thanks for your comment. Hope this helps with your question.
I loved your video and have ordered your book!
I want to do a portrait of a child’s face and lovely curls on silver (imitation) leaf.
Usually I work with Pastels on Canson Mi Teints paper or Oils on Canvas. But since I’ll be painting on metallic leaf, I will use a gessoed birch board.
Can I use oil paints over the metal leaf?
If not, I thought I’d try laying out the portrait in acrylic and finishing it up with oils over the acrylic.
I would appreciate your feedback !
Thank you in advance,
Mary Villon de Benveniste
Yes you can definitely apply oil paints over metal leaf. Oil will not tarnish unsealed leaf, like acrylic can, but I still recommend sealing the leaf prior to overpainting to keep the leaf from getting marred by brushing. If you want to apply leaf over the oil paint, you would need to use the oil-based adhesive for leaf application.
Hello Nancy, thanks so much for sharing your leafing techniques. I’ve used them on book covers and canvas, with GAC200. I have a question about leafing on a giclee paper print. Is this something you’re familiar with? I’ve seen it being done on Instagram, but none of the artists have shared their techniques
Glad you are finding my leafing techniques helpful for your work. Giclee prints are not waterproof. This means it will smear when brush applying the water-based leaf adhesive directly over it. You can use the oil-based leaf adhesive instead. Brushing this won’t smear the print. Another option, you can seal your print first, by spraying with a water-based sealer. You won’t smear the giclee because you are spraying it. Once that dries, you can brush apply the water-based adhesive over that. To spray a water-based sealer, add some retarder to GAC 200 or GAC 500, and put it in an empty refillable sprayer, like a Pre-Val you can get in Home Depot’s paint department. These are very cheap usually under $20. If you don’t have a way to spray water-based sealers, then you can instead spray with a solvent-based spray. Any clear spray in a spraycan will be solvent-based and will be OK. You can use an inexpensive clear spray from Home Depot or Walmart to spray over your print. Let it dry for a few days. However, very important! If you use a solvent-based spray you will need to still use the oil-based adhesive over it. There you go! Hope this helps.
Hi, can you use cold wax medium [and oil paint ] over gold leaf (sealed)?
Yes you can. Wax and oil paint will both stick well to leaf sealed with either type of sealer – water-based or solvent-based. When using different materials and products it is always good to test your process first using something you don’t care about. Even though it should work, everyone’s process is unique and worthy of testing before applying onto something valuable.
this is very nice blog! gained more knowledge about paints
Forgive me if this is a duplicate comment; I wasn’t sure if the first one was submitted properly by me and if so, not sure I provided all the info. I’m an abstract painter, who paints in acrylic on canvas. I am adding leaf to FINISHED acrylic paintings – meaning no paint will be applied over the leaf. I am confused about what kind of varnish to use, and whether I can use it over the entire painting. On one painting, I used the Golden Archival Varnish (NOT water based) on the leafed portion only, then waited a week and brushed the GAC 200 over that (again, leafed portion only) – which I realize was probably not correct – I think if I now understand correctly, I do not need the GAC 200 if I’m not painting over the leaf? Finally, on this painting, I brushed on the Liquitex varnish on the acrylic painted portion – this is what I use on all my acrylic abstracts. Can you tell me what methods and varnishes I should use on both the leafed and painted portions of these acrylic paintings?
If the leaf is your final step, and you just want to seal the painting, you can very easily apply any solvent based varnish (like the Archival Gloss Varnish from Golden that you used) over the entire painting – leaf and acrylic paint – and let that be your final coating. You do not need to apply anything else, like the GAC200 over the varnish. I am not familiar with the Liquitex varnish you mentioned. However, if the can says that you clean your brushes with water, then it is water soluble, and the ammonia in that product will tarnish the unsealed leaf. The best varnish to seal leaf is solvent based, which means the can will tell you to clean brushes with solvents, and it will be quite odorous. Hope this helps!
Thanks Nancy for your detailed video. There aren’t too many videos about this process, so really appreciate your knowledge on this. I am new to using (imitation) gold leaf in my oil paintings and have few questions:
1. I was going through one of the comments and there you mentioned that a varnish like Gamvar can be applied to the entire painting and that would seal and prevent tarnishing of imitation gold leaf? Is that correct?
2. I am using un stretched canvas (taped to a board). So it seems I can’t use GAC 200 which is not recommended for flexible surface. Do I have any other alternative? (Of course if Gamvar can seal the entire painting then using GAC 200 becomes redundant. )
I’m glad you found the video helpful for your work! Here are my answers to your two questions.
(1) Yes you can apply any varnish that is suitable for oil paint, and apply it over the gold leaf (imitation or real) as well, and at the same time. Exposure to air will tarnish the imitation leaf, but it takes at least a few months. So as long as you apply your varnish in a few months you should not have the leaf tarnish.
(2) I agree and would not use GAC200 over your canvas, or over the leaf. To seal the leaf prior to applying oil paint, you can use ANY solvent based sealer. I suggest a clear spray you can get inexpensively at home improvement stores. Any clear product in a spraycan is usually solvent based. If you do not want to spray or use solvent-based sealers, then you can use the GAC500 instead of the GAC200. These are similar products, but the GAC500 has more flexibility. These are very tricky to use over imitation leaf. They do have ammonia in them while wet, and will cause immediate tarnishing if not applied correctly. Tips: do not apply thickly, do not let them dry slowly by adding water to the medium or having it on your brush, do not overbrush (if you brush over it while it is tacky it can form a white foam). Hopefully these tips will help, or may encourage you to use the better sealers – solvent based sprays. One important point – do NOT use any removable varnishes. Most fine art varnishes that you apply over oil paint are removable for cleaning purposes. If they are removable you will see the instructions to remove the dry layer of varnish on the product label. If you use removable varnishes over the leaf, and then use oil paint, the solvents in the oil paint mediums will remove the sealer. Hope this helps answer your questions.
Hi, your post was so helpful, however, I made the mistake of reading this after finishing multiple oil paintings. Can I save the gold leafing I did underneath this oil painting? It is starting to oxidize and I don’t know what to do. The paint is fortunately dry to the touch, I’m sure it’s still not fully cured. I figured I could apply another layer of gold leaf and spray a varnish over it. Please help me!! Thank you.
You can definitely “save” the leaf you did that is under your oil paintings. If it is starting to oxidize, that means it has been exposed to air for awhile, and is not sealed. If you seal it then it will stop oxidizing (or tarnishing). There are two choices I can recommend. First, if the leaf is still OK even with a small amount of tarnishing, then all you need to do is apply a sealer over the entire painting. Use any varnish that works fine with oil paint. Your varnish choices will all be solvent-based to be compatible with your oil paint, but then will also be fine to apply over the leaf as well. Apply at least two spray coats, or one brush application depending on the varnish you use. Make sure you follow instructions for varnish application on the product’s container label. The second option is that if your leaf has tarnished more than you like, you can definitely reapply new leaf right over the old. Clean the old leafed surface with a clean rag. Apply leaf adhesive (you can use either water-based or oil-based as long as you are only going over the leaf and not your oil paint). Apply the leaf and continue with burnishing, cleaning off the excess carefully, and letting it dry at least 3 days. After three days you can apply an oil paint varnish over the entire painting as I described above. The varnish will keep the leaf from tarnishing.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge on gilding. I am so grateful I found you and I adore your work on gold leaf. I especially love the one on your site of Mt. Fuji.
I am very new to gilding but I love the reflective quality of metal and I want to incorporate it into my work/ experiments. Recently I’ve painted an abstract oil painting on wood panel and I wanted to add gold leaf to the edges (on the raw wood, not the oil painting portion). I want to seal the painting but I’m not sure if I need to use different sealers since it’s imitation gold leaf adhered with a water-based adhesive and an oil painting. After reading your article, it seems like I can just use one sealer like the Golden Archival Varnish Spray or MSA Varnish. Is that correct or is there anything special I need to do?
Also, in the future if I ever want to add gold leaf to other types of paintings, should I always match the adhesive type to the medium type? For example if I wanted to add some to a watercolor painting –> Use water-based adhesive. Oil painting, use oil-based adhesive.
You are correct that any varnish or sealer you use over oil paint, will work very well over real or imitation gold leaf. You are also correct in that you want to use a water-based adhesive over any water mediums. If you are using watercolor, though, you will need to seal the watercolor first before applying the water-based adhesive, because watercolor will lift when any water-based product is applied over it. Instead of sealing the watercolor painting, you can just use the oil-based adhesive directly over the watercolor and this won’t disturb the watercolor painting. Just remember the rule that oil and/or solvents can go OVER oil or acrylic. BUT water-based paints and products can NOT go over oil. So if you are adding adhesive over oil paint you can use the oil-based adhesive but NOT the water-based one.
Good thinking on your part! I think you’ve got the right idea.
Thanks for the video!!! I’m a decorative artist in San Diego, though I’m from Durango and I went to St John’s in the Fe. Like you, I love to mix media. I’m mostly a plaster artist but I love to add leaf and foil to my artwork. Currently I’m doing an exterior leaf project in a very windy area. I never knew about using wax paper to do transfer work, so this was a huge technical pro tip. Thank you!!! I love your work. It’s beautiful.
We all must support each other!
I wonder if you can help me please. I am an amateur oil painter and want to add some gold leaf to the background of a finished portrait for the first time . Finding it all a bit overwhelming there’s so much info out there…I’d just like a few touches of gold leaf here and there to add some colour / sparkle to the green background – please can you advise? What should I use? Also the link to the oil-based adhesive is broken and can’t seem to find another product which is oil based. Thank you for your help!! X
Adding some bits of gold to the green background sound like a great idea! It is not difficult. Just make sure you use a solvent-based or oil-based adhesive made especially for adhering leaf. There are tons of brands and I’m sure they will all work well. Here is one I just found online from a good company: https://www.gildedplanet.com/oilsize.html
Thanks for letting me know about the broken link. I’ll fix it now.
Hi Nancy, I have been sealing my gold FOIL with 2-3 coats of Golden’s gloss medium, glazing colors on the foil, then sealing with MSA gloss spray varnish. I may have to start painting the varnish to small areas.
When the landscape painting is finished, I find the Polymer gloss varnish is to glossy, and the satin to matte, and kills the gold foil. Can I blend the two
varnishes together to find something more natural? So far, I just leave the acrylic portion unvarnished, so there is no protection.
You are lucky that you are not tarnishing the leaf by applying gloss medium on it. Or else you are using real gold leaf. Be very careful as gloss medium, if applied thickly, or if water is added, will dry slow enough that the ammonia in the product (only while wet) can tarnish the leaf. If you are getting good results with your process, then great! I’m glad you have no tarnishing issues.
Regarding your question, I agree that sometimes we want a sheen that’s in between. Yes you can definitely create your own mixture of the two sheens to get the results you want. If you use any varnish that is not gloss, such as matte or satin, it contains a white powder. It is important that you apply these varnishes over an isolation coat, or as long as your surface is shiny. If you apply a matte or satin varnish over any absorbent (seen as matte) areas you could risk ruining your painting. The varnish will sink into the absorbent surface, and the white powder stays on top. This is not fixable.
I recommend applying a mixture of 1:1 Soft Gel Gloss with water (this is the recommended isolation coat Golden recommends, over the entire painting – leaf and paint. Once that is dry, apply the gloss varnish over the entire painting. Then create your mixture of gloss and satin and apply it over the surface as your second varnish layer.
Hope this helps!
Your video was great… I was wondering why when I applied the gold leaf in some areas in my landscape (acrylic painting on canvas) that one minute it looked brilliant and then whilst I was mixing another colour of acrylic, I looked up and it turned green… I wasn’t happy about that. I’m trying to understand… does this mean if I use water based adhesive and use real gold, it will not turn green? Do I still need to seal the real gold on top? With GAC 200? And also, after if I wanted to paint on top of some areas of the real gold with acrylic paint will it be safe and not tarnish?
As I’m new to painting, can I ask you do acrylic paintings need to be varnished? And if so, can you suggest a non toxic one so won’t smell out my house? And sorry
one more question, if I finally add a varnish when painting is finished will it effect the real gold finish as don’t want to have to find out later all the hard work turns green… awaiting your response, appreciate it, thanks Bonita
The green you are getting sounds like it your leaf is tarnishing. If you are using imitation gold leaf, it is made mostly of copper. Copper will tarnish when exposed to air (but this takes many months to tarnish) or when exposed to ammonia. Ammonia is in ALL water-based acrylic products (including adhesives, paints and mediums) BUT the ammonia dissipates as soon as the product is dry to the touch. This means two things. It means (1) you need to seal the imitation leaf with enough sealer to protect it before you paint over it using water based acrylics. and (2) you must use the correct product for adhering the leaf.
The leaf adhesive comes as water-based and also as solvent or oil-based. The water-based adhesive, even though it has ammonia in it while wet, gets to a tacky feel very very fast. This means if you follow directions carefully on the container label (usually saying you need to wait 20 minutes or more once the adhesive is applied, BEFORE applying the leaf). If you are applying the leaf on a water-based acrylic that is not meant specifically to adhere leaf, then it will turn brown or green right away. If you apply the correct product but don’t wait until the correct tact time, you will also get tarnishing. It sounds like this may be your issue?
You are correct that if you use water-based OR oil-based leaf adhesive with real gold it will not tarnish. But you can also use either with imitation leaf and will not get the tarnish if you apply it correctly. Sometimes it takes some experimenting to get the right timing.
Real gold doesn’t need to be sealed to avoid tarnishing BUT it is still very delicate, so I recommend sealing it too so that when you overpaint it won’t get scratched up or marred in any way. In answer to your other question, real gold does not tarnish with exposure to air or ammonia, so sealing is only needed to keep it looking good instead of getting scratched up by handling.
Varnishing is always an option. I usually varnish all my paintings. Archival varnish meant for fine art paintings does two important things to your painting. It provides UV protection, and is removable for cleaning purposes. If you leaf is sealed properly (one coat of a sealer is not enough to keep it from tarnishing) then you can use a non-toxic varnish once your painting is all finished, as a top coat. For this I like to use Golden’s Polymer Varnish Gloss. It is non-toxic. This product will tarnish unsealed leaf, though, so you cannot use this as a seal over leaf, but once the leaf is sealed this product will be great over the sealed leaf and any acrylic paint you applied over the leaf. Again, no turning green if your leaf is properly sealed. This means at least 4 spray coats of a solvent-based sealer, at least one coat of a brush applied solvent-based sealer, and at least 4 coats of a water-based sealer (the only one you can use is GAC200 as this one dries so fast the ammonia won’t tarnish it). If you do use the GAC200 please please practice first on a surface you don’t care about. It is very tricky to use. You must use it thinly so it dries fast, and that means not adding any water, and also not overbrushing. More details about this are in the article in this post. I highly recommend watching the video I included in this post too.
Hope all this helps you get the results you want.
I have been commissioned to do an oil painting with weeping cherry blossom and the client wants the flowers to look glittery.
I was thinking of using silver leaf/flakes – is this the correct material to use?
I work quite thickly with my oils and I basically just wanted to sprinkle on a product that will give a glittery effect and also use the correct adhesive so the oil paint won’t react.
Any advise would be greatly appreciated .
Congratulations on your commission! It sounds like a wonderful painting to create. I have worked on many commissions, and want to share with you something I learned that may be helpful. Clients offer words like “glittery” and may visualize something that we don’t. Here’s what I would do. I’d take a few small pieces of cardboard, and paint them with a neutral color – or whatever general color you plan for the flowers. Then I’d try a different technique on each so that your client can pick which effect is meant my using the word glittery. Your client may just want it glossy! Here are some ideas: 1. try applying Iridescent Pearl over the painted cardboard, 2. Sprinkle the silver leaf flakes over a neutral color (or your flower color), 3. Try just using a gloss varnish or medium, 4. Try actual glitter and glaze over some of the glitter so it doesn’t stand out from the painting 5. silver leaf the flowers, then apply glazes over the leaf to shade and highlight the flowers where you want it to, 6. Apply Golden’s Glass Bead Gel on parts of the flower, let it dry, then apply a small amount of color with lots of turps so it’s washy over the bead gel. Bead Gel tends to give a wonderful glittery look as long as you don’t cover it with any opaque paint colors. Hope this helps give you some idea. As for any adhesive you want to use, it should be something compatible with the oil. Use an oil-based leaf adhesive. Hope this helps! Let me know how it goes!
I did imitation gold leaf, and sealed it with GAC200. Can I add gold leaf on top of that? Have you tried it?
Yes you can definitely add more gold leaf on top of sealed leaf. Just reapply the adhesive then leaf. Yes I have tried it. I do it all the time. Although I seal my leaf with the MSA solvent based varnish, then the GAC200 so I have a stronger seal. I don’t think it matters, though if you are going to leaf over just the GAC200 as a sealed layer.
Can I mix glazing medium and pearling medium to cover my gold leaf before it is sealed? I am not interested in adding color to the leaf I am interest in adding depth. Or would a glazing medium with transparent white work best? I am so thankful you are here to answer questions about gold leafing because this seems to be a rare topic. Thank you!!
Any water-based acrylic paint or medium contain ammonia. The ammonia will dissipate once the acrylic is dry to the touch. Ammonia will cause the copper in imitation gold leaf to tarnish within seconds upon contact. This means if you apply glazing medium or pearling medium (not familiar with this) on unsealed imitation leaf, you will risk tarnishing the leaf. You can apply these mediums over real gold leaf with no risk of tarnishing, as real gold leaf does not contain copper so it doesn’t tarnish. Applying a white glaze over the leaf will “veil” or mute it, so I’m not sure if this is the quality of depth you are seeking. Hope this helps answer your question.
Hi Nancy, thank you so much for all this valuable information and your clear way of communicating it. The question I have is related to applying imitation gold leaf to an oil and coldwax painting. The coldwax medium is a Gamblin product and mixed with oil paint at an approx ratio of 50:50. I don’t believe it has ammonia in it. I like to seal my paintings with a final thin clear coat of the coldwax med and buff once dry. Would this be enough to seal the goldleaf? thanks
Hi Colette, I do believe you can apply the coldwax medium OVER imitation gold leaf without any risk of tarnishing or other issues. However, I would not recommend applying the leaf OVER a surface that is coated with coldwax. I think the leaf adhesive (oil based or waterbased) might now adhere to the wax. You can experiment to see if it adheres. The oil-based adhesive may work, but definitely not the water-based adhesive.
What would be best brand name of adhesive to apply gold leaf to an oil painted canvas?
To apply leaf OVER oil painted canvas you must use an oil-based adhesive. As long as it is oil-based any brand will do. I’ve tried all the brands of both oil-based and water-based and as long as they are specifically for gilding (aka leaf adhesive or leaf sizing) they will all work very well. I don’t have any that I feel are better than another so do some price comparisons online to find which one is less expensive.
Hi Nancy, I want use oil paints over copper leaf. Am I reading correctly above that I could apply the leaf, apply 2 coats of a permanent sealer, and then paint over that? What permanent sealer would you recommend?
You can use any clear glossy spray sealer. There are inexpensive ones that work just fine at Home Depot and Walmart. Any clear spray should be fine. Only the expensive fine art varnishes are removable. Just check the can’s instructions to make sure it is not removable. If it is it will say how to remove it on the can.
Yes you can apply oil paints over any metal leaf, including as you asked, copper. Oil paint will not harm metal leaf and adheres very well, so you can paint directly on unsealed leaf if you are careful with your brushwork. If you don’t want to risk scratching the leaf with your brushwork, then you can seal the leaf prior to painting over it. You can use two coats of a permanent sealer. Just about any permanent gloss sealer will work. Even glossy clear sprays found in Home Depot or Walmart will work fine, and these are very inexpensive. Once dry you can paint over that with oil paint.
This was so helpful, thank you!
Thanks Karen! Glad you liked it.
WOW this video was great! thank you so much for putting all this info together. I’m really excited to start my first gold leaf project!