Nancy’s Painting Blog

How to Use Gold Leaf with Oil Paint

I thought I had covered it all with my video on how to apply gold leaf. You know that old expression “everything but the kitchen sink”? Well that definitely applies to my  gold leaf video (see it for free here) which gives all the tips and tricks for creating a gold leaf surface to paint on, and then how to prepare the leafed surface for overpainting with acrylic paint. HOWEVER, it appears I was amiss to include instructions on how to use oil paint on a leafed surface as well as how to leaf over oil paint! How silly of me. So here I go with additional information on using gold leaf with oil paint.

Real Gold Leaf vs Imitation Gold Leaf
First I want to repeat some info from that video to mention the difference between using real gold leaf and imitation (or composite) gold leaf (made with copper and zinc). In the video I explain why I choose to use the imitation gold leaf and not the real gold leaf for my painting purposes. In summary, these two types of metal leaf look exactly the same when using size (glue or adhesive) to adhere the leaf. Using real gold (involving extra expense) is worth the expense (in my opinion) when you will be showing it off uncovered and unpainted, like applying it to a picture frame, AND using a more complex application method. So instead of using adhesive you would apply the real gold leaf to your surface using a process called water gilding. In my paintings,  I cover a good portion of the leaf by overpainting it with paint. So it doesn’t make sense for me to go to the expense of using a process involving water gilding with real gold, as most of the leaf will be covered when the painting is complete. I know there are some good reasons some of you may have for using real gold, and that’s fine. I just wanted to share my opinion.

On left is real gold leaf; On right is imitation gold leaf

Does Real Gold Leaf Need to be Sealed?
Real Gold Leaf does NOT tarnish. So you do NOT have to seal it, once applied to a surface, to protect it from tarnishing, regardless of whether you will be overpainting it or not. HOWEVER, the real gold leaf is so thin (like the imitation leaf only even more delicate) that once it is applied onto your painting, and not sealed, it can be easily damaged or marred if mishandled. So even though you do not need to seal real gold leaf, you may still want to seal it to add some protection from getting scratched or damaged. In other words sealing is optional but recommended over real gold leaf.

How to Apply Gold Leaf – over a primed or acrylic painted surface
Whether you are using real gold leaf or imitation gold leaf, the techniques for application using size adhesive are the same. So for this process, please watch my video (link here) to get all the information on how to apply real or imitation leaf with the process using sizing adhesive. That process of leaf application, is the same whether you plan to later overpaint the leaf with oil or acrylic paint. However, once you apply the leaf as per my video, then read below for changes in instructions, depending on whether you plan to overpaint the leaf with oil instead of acrylic paint. These changes are regarding sealing OVER the leaf prior to painting, and then a final seal over your completed painting (including both leaf and paint).

How to apply Gold Leaf OVER a surface already painted with Oil Paint
1. If you are applying gold leaf OVER oil paint, make sure the oil paint is fully dry before applying the adhesive and leaf. Drying times for oil paint depend on how thick the paint is applied, which paint colors are used, and your climate conditions.

2. Once your oil paint is dry, follow my video instructions (link previously mentioned) to apply the leaf using adhesive, BUT with one exception – use a solvent based size adhesive, NOT a water based size adhesive. In other words, don’t use water based products OVER oil paint. Instead use solvent based products over oil paint. Note: as mentioned above, if you are applying leaf to an unpainted surface (or already primed or painted with acrylic) you can use the water based size to apply the leaf, even if using oil paint later OVER the leaf.

Best way to tell if the size is solvent based or water based? The solvent based size will say on its container label to clean brushes with solvents, while the water based size will instruct you to clean brushes with water.

Are Sealing Requirements the Same for Oil Paint vs Acrylic Paint?
NO! There are two different sealing processes we need to consider. One is to seal over the leaf prior to painting. The other is to seal over your final painting including both leaf and paint. If you plan to overpaint the leaf with oil paint, you have a choice to skip the first sealing process that goes over the leaf, prior to overpainting. Instead you can opt to only seal once at the very end, over both leaf and oil paint when dry.

If, however, you are planning on overpainting the leaf with acrylic paint, then stop reading this article and just follow my free video (link here) because acrylic paint when applied, while wet, can tarnish unsealed imitation leaf, so you do not have the choice to only seal once at the painting’s completion. You must seal both prior to painting over the leaf, and also after your painting is complete.

As mentioned above this is an optional step for oil painters. If you want to seal the leaf anyway, to keep the leaf from being accidentally damaged while painting and handling, watch my video and follow the sealing instructions with the following changes; make sure to use a permanent sealer or water based sealer (such as Golden’s GAC200 or GAC500), as opposed to any solvent based sealers (such as Golden’s MSA Varnish or Archival Varnish Gloss spray). You don’t want to use a removable solvent based varnish, because as you apply your oil paints the solvent in your paint mixtures may dissolve this varnish layer. One coat of a sealer is sufficient to protect the leaf while you overpaint with oils.

I repeat, DO NOT use Golden’s MSA Varnish (that I recommend for use as a sealer over the leaf when planning to overpaint with acrylic paint) if you plan to overpaint with oil. This varnish has UV protection in it, and one of the essential resins used in the varnish can interfere with the drying process of any oil paint applied over it. Instead, to seal the imitation gold leaf prior to applying oil paint, brush apply a mixture of Goldens’ GAC200 with GAC500 in an approximately 1:1 ratio.

SEALING OVER FINAL PAINTING – including both leaf and paint.
As a final varnish, over the leaf overpainted with oil paint, you can use Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss spray, Golden’s MSA Varnish or other archival removable solvent based varnishes as a final finishing coat. Here it is OK to use the MSA Varnish OVER the oil paint, but as I cautioned above, do not use it UNDER oil paint.

Important note: When using imitation gold leaf you must seal at some point within 6 months after application, so it will not tarnish from exposure to air.

Important Reminders for Acrylic Painters
Imitation leaf will tarnish TWO ways. It will tarnish when exposed to air, and also when exposed to the ammonia in acrylic products while the acrylic is still wet. Once the acrylic dries the ammonia has dissipated and will not tarnish your leaf. SO, if you are applying acrylic paint over REAL gold leaf you can opt to wait to seal at the very end when your painting is complete. If you are using imitation gold leaf along with acrylic paint, you MUST seal the leaf BEFORE you apply any acrylic paint or acrylic products over the leaf.

Seal imitation leaf using a water based acrylic sealer or water based acrylic varnish IF AND ONLY IF that product is applied very thinly or is super fast drying – so fast the ammonia will dissipate before it can tarnish the leaf. Do NOT use Golden’s Polymer Varnish over unsealed imitation leaf. It does not dry fast enough and will tarnish imitation leaf. As I mentioned before, Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss spray or Golden’s MSA Varnish are solvent based and therefore perfect for sealing leaf because they will not tarnish the imitation leaf. These are both toxic and you will need protective gear and safety precautions. If you want to use a non-toxic alternative such as brush applying Golden’s GAC200 or GAC500 (I use a 1:1 mixture combining both) be very careful to apply your first coat thinly so it dries fast. Also, you must apply several coats, letting each dry prior to applying the next, if these are your only sealers over the leaf before painting with acrylic.

In Summary

Apply oil paint directly over real or imitation leaf without any need to seal the leaf before painting. Apply acrylic paint directly over real gold leaf without any need to seal the leaf prior to painting. Sealing any leaf, real or imitation, prior to painting will protect the leaf from damage while handling.

Do not apply water based adhesives OVER oil paint to adhere your leaf. Instead use solvent based adhesives.Do not apply oil paint OVER removable solvent based varnishes and sealers. But these same sealers can be applied over the oil paint and leaf at the very end as a final coat.

When applying acrylic paint over imitation leaf, the leaf MUST be sealed before painting to avoid tarnishing.

It’s a good idea to varnish paintings at the very end when your painting is complete, even if you already sealed the leaf prior to painting. Sealing with an archival varnish over leaf and paint, is a recommended archival process that enables the painting to be cleaned, and adds UV protection.

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

61 thoughts on “How to Use Gold Leaf with Oil Paint

  1. Once again, Nancy Reyner, you have breathed life into work I am creating for a solo art show next year. Your comprehensive and thorough instructions help me to finish work in progress, and I am so excited with this prospect for working through paintings this summer.

    Thank you so much!

  2. Thank you for sharing this information with the art community. You are so generous with your time and information. I took one of your classes when you were in Phoenix a couple of years ago. I have been following your work since then and enjoy seeing what you are creating.

    1. Hi Paige,
      I think you are asking what type of solvent based sealer you should use OVER the gold or metal leaf, that you later plan to overpaint with oil. Is this correct? In that case you would use the exact same sealer you would use when sealing to then overpaint with acrylic. I like to use Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss which comes in a spray can, for smaller works, or ones with texture. I also like to use Golden’s MSA varnish which comes in a can, and you need to dilute it with mineral spirits (use TRPS to dilute as I found other solvents to not work as well) then you can brush apply over the leaf. Let the sealer dry about a week or more before applying any paint (acrylic or oil paints).

      1. So the sealer goes over the gold league before you paint with oil? I thought the sealer went over the leaf and oil paint at the very end?

        1. You say: “If you are overpainting the leaf with oil paint, then DO NOT seal the leaf before painting. The oil paint may redissolve the sealer. Instead paint with oil paint over the unsealed leaf, and when your painting is complete and fully dry, then apply a sealer over the entire painting – including both leaf areas and painted areas.”

          1. Hi Paige,
            Thank you for your clarification. I admit what I wrote about sealing is confusing now that I see your point. After this reply to you I will make corrections to my blog article. Yes, you CAN seal the leaf (real or imitation leaf) before applying the oil paint. However, you must use a permanent sealer, as opposed to a removable varnish. The varnish I recommended, Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss is removable, and therefore you should not put this under oil paint, as the oil paint if mixed with solvents could redissolve the varnish. In summary, (1) you can seal over the leaf before oil painting, (but you must use a permanent clear sealer for this layer). Or (2) you can seal over the leaf and oil paint after the painting is finished, thereby skipping the seal under the oil paint. In this case you can use any type of clear sealer. However when putting a final seal over a painting and want it to be archival you would want a removable varnish. (3) You can also seal twice – over the leaf under the paint, and then again at the end over both. I hope this helps. Thanks again for letting me know there is a glitch in my information. I will fix it now.

        2. I have a oil painting that I haven’t sealed yet . can I still use the gold medal leaf on top of the oil . I would like to use it on my Golden Sky

          1. Yes you can apply gold leaf over your oil painting. I recommend using the oil-based leaf adhesive and NOT the water-based adhesive so it has proper adhesion between leaf and the oil.

      2. Hi Paige,
        Thanks again for bringing some areas in this article to my attention that were confusing. I have now fixed it and hope I have answered your questions more clearly.

  3. Hi Nancy,
    Thank you so much for all your valuable information and guidelines. I use water based oil paint and wondered if it’s still ok to apply the varnish at the end of the imitation gold leaf application and over painting? Also, which is your preferred paint…oils or acrylics? Look forward to hearing from you.
    Best wishes, A Lavinia

    1. Hi Lavinia, Thank you for writing. For water-soluble oil paint you can apply a varnish at the end of your painting, over the leaf and paint, but with a couple of exceptions. First, I would recommend using a solvent based varnish (like Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss spray, or MSA Varnish in a can for brush application), instead of a water soluble varnish (like Golden’s Polymer Varnish Gloss). If you have a product and are unsure, just check the label instructions to see if clean up uses solvent or water, to tell if a product is suitable or not. If it can be cleaned up with solvents it will work, but cleanup with water will not. As for my preference, I like both oil and acrylic, however I have not used the watersoluble oils. I use oil or acrylic depending on what I am painting. For the majority of my paintings I tend to prefer acrylic because it is so versatile, easy to layer, and best for special effects like poured layers and sanding. Thanks again! Best, Nancy

  4. Hello, thank you so much for writing this blog post, it’s very helpful. What kind of oil based size adhesive would you recommend? I would like to apply copper leaf on top of areas of an oil painting and am having a hard time finding oil based adhesive. Thank you!

  5. Hi Nancy, I would like to use acrylic glazes over gold leaf then finish with oil paints. What varnish do I need to consider for this before I apply the acrylic glaze and oil paints, also what would be best to seal with at the end?

    1. Hi Alison,
      Follow instructions as per my video to prepare your gold leaf for acrylic. Then apply your acrylic glazes. Let dry for two weeks. Now you can apply oil paint directly over the leaf whether leaf areas are glazed or not glazed and still unsealed. Oil will be fine applied over acrylic or leaf without any additional process or sealer or coating. To seal at the end use an appropriate varnish for oil paints, such as Golden’s MSA Varnish gloss for brush application, or the Archival Varnish Gloss in a spray. Both these varnishes are appropriate for either oil or acrylic so will work fine with your process.

      1. Thanks Nancy! Getting my head round it all now, I purchased your book which is fantastic for me to use as a reference. Now to just be patient and enjoy experimenting. Many thanks Alison

        1. Another quick question while it’s in my head, if using just oils can I go ahead as soon as surface is guilded or should I wait a few days for the size to dry?

          1. Hi Alison, Check the instructions written on the container of size you are using. On mine, the minimum wait time is three days for the size to dry. I recommend waiting for the size to fully dry before applying either oil or acrylic paint. I wait one week just to be sure. Nancy

  6. Hi Nancy, I have decided to work with acrylics ONLY to start with, I have two products Gac 200 and golden archival varnish spray. To seal at the end of applying the leaf which one is best? I would like to paint and then try the sanding technique, once I finish sanding what gloss do I apply before I start the glazing? Thanks again for all your support and advice

    1. GAC200 is a medium, while the archival varnish spray is a varnish. GAC 200 is brush applied, while the varnish is spray applied. I recommend to use the varnish spray first over the leaf. The leaf is delicate at this stage, and can be marred using a brush unless very carefully applied. So spray your first coat over the leaf using the spray varnish. Spray as many coats as you want, letting it dry as per the cans instructions in between each coat. The more coats, the more protection. I recommend a minimum of two spray coats, four coats are optimal. Once you finish the last spray coat, and let it dry a few days (or a week if you live in a humid climate) then brush apply one or more coats of the GAC200 over the spray coats. This may seem like too many coats altogether, but they can’t hurt – and will only help keep your leaf looking its best. Since you are sanding, the multiple coats using both sealers will help you sand back the paint without going into the leaf, although you still need to be careful you don’t sand through all the layers. Once you sand, and are finished sanding, you can then brush apply the GAC200 over the sanded areas to get the gloss glow of the leaf back. Now you can glaze. When your painting is complete, you can spray the varnish over the whole painting again for a different type of protection. As a final coat, the varnish will keep the paint colors from fading as it contains UV protection, and the painting will be able to be cleaned, because varnishes (the ones that are archival) are removable. For example, I varnished a children’s mural in a school that the students painted, with my direction. Later it got graffiti on it, and I was able to remove the graffiti along with the varnish layer, and then revarnish it just like new.

  7. Brilliant guidance Nancy, thank you so much once again! really looking forward to getting started now I know for sure what process to take x

  8. Nancy,
    How would you go about using gold leaf with watercolor? I’m thinking it would have to be applied on top as the sealer would make the watercolor bead up if you tried to paint over the leaf once sealed.
    I would love to be able to incorporate leaf in some of my watercolors as well as the acrylic and oil.
    Also, if you are using cold wax with your oils would you need to seal the leaf prior to paininting?
    Thank you for your patience as this is a process I am not familiar with at all.

    1. Hi Mary Ann,
      Yes that is correct. If you used watercolor directly on unsealed leaf, the water will not only bead up, it may cause tarnishing. Water will tarnish the copper in the leaf, when it is left wet touching the leaf for longer periods of time, such as would happen using watercolor. When you seal the leaf, the sealers would all be glossy (never use matte sealer on metal leaf as it will dramatically cut the leaf sheen permanently). So this means watercolor will bead up over the sealer layer as well. However, after sealing you could then apply a product that will offer a clear toothy grit, to allow the watercolor to settle onto the surface evenly.

      Here is a way to create a tooth over the glossy and sealed leaf surface. Make a mixture of Golden’s Pastel Ground (formerly called Acrylic Ground for Pastel) using 60 – 70% water with 30 – 40% of the Pastel Ground. It should be extremely watery. Apply with a brush over any area you want to use your watercolor paints (it could be the entire surface if you want). Let it dry overnight. When it dries it looks like it has taken away the metallic gloss sheen on the leaf. This is true but only temporary, as it will disappear later when you apply a gloss medium. In the meantime, apply watercolor on this dry ground and it will feel just like watercolor paper. Let dry.

      Once your painting is complete, using watercolor paints, you would need to spray apply a solvent based sealer (or spray a water based sealer that is fast drying so the watercolor will not bleed). If you brush apply any acrylic sealer with water in it, it will bleed the watercolor paint. After this last sealing layer has dried, you will not see the previous tooth layer anymore and your metal sheen will reappear like before.

      You do not need to seal leaf prior to using oil paint, wax or oil mediums. None of these will tarnish the leaf. However, you will need to seal the leaf at some point within a few month period, so the leaf does not tarnish due to exposure to air.

    1. I would use the solvent-based leaf size over oil paint. Then following directions for that specific product, apply the leaf over the size. Let it dry, again following instructions for that size, then paint directly over the leaf with oil paint with no need to seal until your painting is complete.

  9. Nancy, I have some encaustic panels I wanted to reuse with the composition gold leaf. Can or will cold wax seal the gold leaf?
    Any information you have about gold leaf and encaustic would be most appreciated. thank you

    1. Hi Jane,
      I suggest trying it out on something you don’t care about. If you apply the cold wax over the leaf, and it doesn’t tarnish or change in color while the cold wax is drying, then it should be fine once the cold wax is fully dry. My only concern is that the wax may be slightly cloudy, and if so, may cut the sheen enough to lose the gold leaf appeal. Once you try it out you can see if the wax still allows the leaf to shine enough for your needs.

  10. Hi Nancy,

    I’ve watched carefully your video, but still I’m not sure what size adhesive to use, since I paint with oil and this particular painting is already oil painted and I’ll be given some volume to a thin surface before using a real gold leaf.
    For your information, I also work with ceramics and porcelain.
    I’m not sure you’re familiar with the Kentsugi japonese porcelain technique, but what I’m painting right now is a realistic painting of a porcelain plate.
    I hope you understood…and my question is: what size and sealing shall I use in this circunstance?
    Hoping to hearing from you soon.

    Sônia Menna Barreto

  11. Hi Nancy,

    I have watched some of your videos and read a few columns on your blog regarding gold leafing. I’ve done some test patches but I find that when I want to get gold leaf details, the gold seems to stick to things outside of the adhesive area and the details end up not being precise like I need them to be. I’m so confused about why this is happening. In one of your videos, you seemed to be able to get good edges on splatters. The gold leaf, for me at least, is bleeding into the outer edges. Any ideas on what I can do to get clean edges?

    Thanks for all of your detailed information on your blog and you tube channel!


    1. Hi PaintKatt, It sounds like you are trying to get your edges crisper where you want the leaf to adhere. If your edges are not so crisp, here are some things to check. (1) First make sure your adhesive is a strong tack (not still set). So wait enough time after the adhesive is applied before applying the leaf (check your product’s label instructions) usually at least 20 minutes. You might want to wait at least 30 minutes for a strong tack to build on the adhesive. (2) If your surface is absorbent (or matte) for which you are applying the adhesive, the adhesive may sink into the absorbent surface too quickly, then when you apply the leaf, some areas will stick and other’s wont stick as well. (3) You must wait a few days after applying the leaf, before you try to remove the excess at the edges of the design you are leafing. Perhaps you are trying to remove the excess too soon? (4) You must be very very gently when removing the excess leaf from the edges. Try using a softer brush, maybe even cheesecloth, and wipe it away very softly moving the cheesecloth AWAY from the edge. In other words, don’t remove excess by moving your brush or cheesecloth INTO the edge, but instead away from the edge. (5) I just thought of another possibility. When you apply the leaf adhesive in the design area you want, if your adhesive is too heavy on your brush, or if your brush has water on it (so you are in actuality diluting the adhesive) this may be what is causing the leaf to stick outside your desired edges. Hope this helps you resolve your issue.

  12. Hello!!! I want to use gold leaf for a background in an oil painting!!! Can I use a water based glue to stick the gold leafs on the canvas and then overpaint them, with oil painting? Should I use a black gesso, before I apply the glue and the gold leafs? Sorry for my english I’m from Greece!

    1. Yes you can apply the leaf using a waterbased adhesive to stick the leaf onto the canvas. Then you can overpaint them with oil. When you are finished painting the leaf with oil you will need to varnish over the entire painting to make sure the imitation gold leaf does not tarnish due to exposure to air. Any varnish that is appropriate for over oil paint should be fine to also go over the leaf. I suggest not waiting more than 6 months after applying the leaf, to varnish. You can also varnish the leaf before painting with oil if you prefer.

  13. Hi Nancy, first of all, thank you for your excellent information on gold leaf! I have ordered your book and look forward to trying more of your techniques. I tried painting directly on top of my imitation gold leafed panel using oil paint and found it somewhat slippery to work with. you mention that you can also use a “permanent sealer” over imitation leaf before painting on top with oils. i want to try this. Can you suggest a specific product or brand of permanent sealer? i went to the art store this am and no one knew enough to be able to help me and i dont know exactly what to look for. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Carol,
      If the leaf is slippery when you apply oil paint over it, perhaps you could try applying a light coat of one of your oil mediums sing a rag. Let that dry. Then your oil paint will not feel so slippery. That is probably the easiest way to resolve your issue. If you want to seal the leaf before applying your oil paint, I recommend Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss which comes as a spray. HOWEVER this is glossy so might be just as slippery as before. AND this is a removable varnish – not permanent. This is what I use so I know it works. You would not want to apply anything that wasn’t gloss otherwise your leaf will lose its shine. You can also apply any clear spray you find in paint departments in home improvement stores. These are fairly inexpensive and should be fine over the leaf.

  14. Wow – This is so appreciated.
    I assumed oil was out of the question.
    I’m so inspired and cannot wait to get out my oils and “art-in” my creations!
    Thank You!

  15. Nancy
    After watching your video, I used a Sepp kit to successfully gold (imitation) leaf a table. Sealed it with two layers of their acrylic clear coat. I then tried using oil paint for a spattering off technique, but little or no adhesion despite a light sanding with 600 grit.
    Having thus sealed, what must I do for adhesion without losing the golden glow?

    1. Hi Joe,
      I would think your method would give good results as to the adhesion of your oil paint over the last acrylic clear coat, especially if you have lightly sanded it. I have a couple of thoughts. First, adhesion should be strongest when the oil paint has fully dried. Perhaps you are testing your adhesion between the oil paint and the clear coat too soon, and if you wait longer the oil paint may actually adhere well. Second, if you wait for two weeks (or more) after applying the oil paint splattering, and then apply a final varnish using a solvent based varnish (like Golden’s MSA for brush application or their Archival Varnish spray) the oil paint should be protected and not delaminate, especially since you are applying light splattering. And lastly, I highly recommend calling Sepp’s tech department and ask them for advice, as it is their products and you may get some helpful tips from them.

  16. Nancy
    Thanks for the prompt response. Didn’t think of calling Sepp until today. They said their solvent-based acrylic clear coat was intended as a final coat; they weren’t surprised the oil didn’t stick. They recommended applying shellac (or lacquer) before painting. Thankfully, I was working on test panels.
    The gilding was very rewarding – thanks again for the video.

  17. Hello Nancy,
    I’m a collector of paintings and was wondering if you can give me some advice on a painting I am considering purchasing. I can email an image to you. It has a silver or gold leaf background but I’m not sure if its damaged or it’s just difficult to work with. I don’t see any rips or tears, just dark marks on some of the squares. I love the painting but it’s up there in price and I don’t want to lose any value on it. Sincerely, Tom

    1. Hi Thomas,
      Sure go ahead and email me the image of the painting. If I can see it clear enough in the photo to give you an opinion I will gladly do that. My advice is to take the painting in person (perhaps the vendor selling the painting can come with you or let you borrow it to check it out) to a traditional framer that works with water-gilding methods for gold leaf. In person they would be the best ones to ask about the piece. The vendor should have the provenance on the painting as well. My email is

  18. Hi Nancy,
    Your video on preparing a surface with gold leaf is really excellent and clear. Thank you for doing it!! I have not leafed before, and am excited about it. As an traditional oil landscape painter I have always wanted to incorporate leaf into my work. I have a question about frames I’ll use for my work. I’d like to leaf my frames so that they pick up the leaf in the paintings themselves, so want to use the same leaf for consistency. Can I use a water based adhesive for the imitation gold leaf I put on the frame, and then seal that frame with the same spray gloss varnish that I use on my oil paintings (I use Windsor Newton Artist Gloss Varnish)? Or do I need to use a different adhesive or different varnish? Can mix a water-based adhesive with a varnish used for oil paint? Thanks for your advice.

    1. Yes you can use either type of adhesive for imitation leaf. They both work very well. Your process sounds fine – using the water based adhesive on the wood frames (I recommend sealing the wood if it is raw before applying the adhesive). Then once dry you can use any type of clear sealer that is NOT watersoluble. You need to use a solvent based varnish. I imagine the one you suggested should be fine. If it smells like solvent, and the label says to clean up with solvents then it should work just fine. You would not want to “mix” together into one mixture any water-based product with a solvent-based one, but you can layer. Your last question I am not sure if you are asking this, or just wanting to know if they can be used in the same process. These two products you mentioned (the water-based adhesive and varnish for oil paint) are not going to be touching because one goes under the leaf, and the other on top. So this means that you can use both products in this manner for the same project. Hope this helps!

  19. Many thanks – that does help! I neglected to ask if your same answer would apply if I were eventually to use real gold leaf rather than imitation. And if some of the underpainting on the frame is left to show through, as you do with your leafed panels sometimes, would that matter if I used a water based adhesive and then a solvent-based varnish or should I avoid leaving some of it exposed for effect?

    1. I do not think that real gold leaf is worth using UNLESS you adhere it using a complicated process called water gilding. This is what high quality framers use when they leaf a frame. When you use real gold leaf along with the brush applied adhesive I use in the video (solvent based or water based) it can actually look worst then the imitation because it is more fragile and will crumple using the adhesive more than the imitation leaf which is stronger.
      I think where your thinking is creating confusion, is to realize that adhesive will always be under the leaf. If you want to apply adhesive all over, then apply leaf in some areas you will have exposed adhesive left uncovered. If this is the case then I recommend waiting at least a week for it to dry. Once dry you can put the solvent based varnish over it. I would NOT recommend the reverse – putting a solvent-based adhesive down, leaving it uncovered with leaf in areas, and then trying to apply a water based paint over it. But I think your idea you stated would be fine.

  20. Hi Nancy. Thank you so much for the very informative video and article on gold leafing. I’m planning to make a project in the style of Klimt’s Woman in Gold and I wanted to know what can be used to create texture such as the eye-shaped and spiral designs in his painting. I’m going to use oils. Is liquin impasto ok? Will the gold leaf have reactions if placed over liquin impasto? Any other mediums you can suggest?

    1. For texture I like to use acrylic pastes. You can use oil over these, but do not use acrylic over oil. If you are starting out on a primed surface, apply Golden’s Molding Paste to the surface to create your texture. Let it dry at least one day. Then you can apply oil paint over the texture. If you want to apply texture after you have already used oil paint, then use the Liquin Impasto. Imitation leaf will not tarnish or be affected placed over oil. I do recommend, though, using the oil based adhesive for applying the leaf over any oil paint or oil mediums like Liquin. Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you so much, Nancy! This really helps answer my question. Looking forward to more informative videos and articles from you. Keep up the great job!

  21. Dear Nancy! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. I watched your video, read your comments, and can’t wait to incorporate your advice. Looking forward to purchase your book. I hope I can use it in my oil painting practice.

  22. Hi Nancy!
    First of all, thank you so much for all this useful information, You’ve singelhandedly given me more information about gold leaf than the rest of the Internet combined!
    After reading this article about gold leaf in combination with oil paints I happily went to my local art store to buy the things I need to implement gold leaf for the first time onto my oil painting.
    I told the lady working at the art store about my plan and she showed me the gold leaf ( I’m working with imitated not real) and the adhesive (solvent based, not water based), ok, so far all good.
    But! Then she told me I had to put a sealer on the gold leaf before I put on my general finishing varnish onto the painting cause if not the imitated gold leaf would oxidize.. And that got me a bit scared of course, so I got the sealer. The finishing varnish I would use on top of my painting is a Sennelier Satin Varnish. It’s synthetic, but I was thinking of what you’ve written here about how a finishing varnish is all you need if you are painting with oils and to me that makes a lot of sense.. All this to say, I’m confused. Also, if I put down the sealer onto my imitated gold leaf can I then paint on top of that with oil paints? Or will the sealer interact with the oil paint and prohibit it from attaching properly to the underlying surface?
    Thank you so much again for all this information, looking forward to your reply.

    1. Hi Marie,

      You are right – this does get confusing! The imitation leaf is made from copper and zinc. Copper will tarnish due to exposure to air (which takes months to occur) and/or exposure to ammonia (which happens right away within minutes when using waterbased acrylic paints and products). Once you apply the leaf using your solvent based adhesive, and wait for at least a week for it to dry, then you can go ahead and overpaint with your oil paint, or leave it unpainted – your choice. You do not have to seal over the imitation leaf prior to oil painting, as oil will not harm it. You DO want to seal the leaf within a few months, though, or exposure to air will start to tarnish it. I do not understand why the art store employee would tell you to use two products – a sealer and then a varnish. Art store employees are not trained chemists and don’t always know the correct information. If you accidentally used a waterbased acrylic varnish over the unsealed leaf and oil paint, it is the wrong product and it will not adhere to the oil paint, and will tarnish the leaf. However, it sounds like you know what you are doing, and that you are using a varnish that is


      for oil paint. If it is appropriate for oil paint then it will work as a sealer and varnish (simultaneously with one product and one application) over the leaf and paint. Hope this helps. It is always a good idea to test products on a small experiment you don’t care about prior to applying it to something you DO care about.

  23. Hi Nancy. Love your books and tutorials—thanks so much! After painting oil over gold leaf, could I seal with GAC200 vs a solvent based varnish like you mention? Also, my final varnish for oil paintings is usually Gamblin’s Gamvar varnish since it can be applied while oil paint is dry to the touch (as opposed to 6 months minimum). Do you think this would be save to use over the sealers I use for the foil, whether it’s GAC200 or Golden MSA? Thanks again!

    1. Absolutely do not use GAC200 over oil paint! I’m glad you asked. I had recommended a mixture of 1:1 GAC200 and GAC500 for use over the leaf as an alternative to using solvent based varnishes to seal the leaf. This medium mixture CAN go over leaf but NOT over oil paint. In general, the rule is that you cannot apply any water-based products OVER oil paint. Instead, over oil paint, you need to use a solvent based varnish, or ANY varnish appropriate for use with oil paint. This means that Gamblin’s Gamvar (solvent based and meant for oil paint) can be applied over oil paint, leaf, and acrylic (paints or mediums). So this will work just fine over the leaf sealed with GAC200 or oil paint – with ONE esception. DO NOT apply Gamblin’s Gamvar OVER any areas you used Golden’s MSA. MSA is a removable varnish, and so it will soften if Gamvar is applied over it.

      Best process is to apply the leaf to your surface. Let it dry at least 3 days. Apply your oil paint over the unsealed leaf (which is fine) or seal the leaf before applying oil paint to protect the leaf in case you accidentally brush up against it or rub it too hard. If you decide to seal the leaf, use the GAC200 with GAC500 1:1. Apply at least 3 coats letting each coat dry before applying the next. Once your last coat is applied, wait at least a day before applying oil paint over the acrylic medium layers. When your painting is finished, apply the Gamvar over all – paint and sealed leaf. Hope this helps!

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