Gold leafing is a timeless artistic practice that is commonly used to give upcycled items a whole new lease of life or add some much-needed shimmer to a piece of artwork.
Through the art of gilding, or applying the material directly to another surface, gold leaf can transform even the smallest of things into an elegant masterpiece!
But that’s not all that gold leaf can do. If you’re a beginner to using gold leaf and want to know more about what it is, what it’s used for, and how to apply it, then this article is for you.
What Is Gold Leaf?
Yes, it is actually gold! The use of “leaf” simply translates to “thin sheets,” meaning that gold leaf is gold that has been hammered into fragile sheets usually around 0.1 micrometers or 4 millionths of an inch thick. It’s typically sold as individual sheets or in rolls.
Much like gold, you can purchase gold leaf in multiple shades and karats. The most popular type of gold leaf is variegated gold leaf sheets which serve an entire range of purposes.
What Materials Can Be Gold Leafed?
You can put gold leaf on just about any type of material for multiple reasons. Some of the more common surfaces are as follows:
Common Uses For Gold Leaf
Due to its almost regal appearance, gold leaf is commonly used as an amplifier – a way to make everyday objects look a little bit more luxurious. This is done through the process of gilding which entails applying gold leaf to just about any surface.
It’s commonly used for the following:
- To enhance artwork
- On the skin
- As decoration (including enhancing a photo frame or a book using gold leaf)
Some people also choose to use gold leaf as nail art or add some edible gold leaf to a cake for decorative purposes.
How To Apply Gold Leaf
There are a couple of simple steps you must follow when using gold leaf. We’ve outlined these below.
1. Prepare the Surface
Cover the areas of the object that you aren’t planning to apply gold leaf to with painter’s tape and then sand down the rest of the surface until it is smooth. Once this is done, remove the dust with a clean cloth and apply a specially formulated primer. This tacky surface is what will adhere gold leaf to the surface.
You should then finish this step by applying a gilding sizer, or the glue that will hold the gold leaf to the relevant surface.
2. Cut Gold Leaf to Size
Depending on the project you’re embarking on, you then need to cut the gold leaf into smaller pieces which will make it a bit easier for you to apply.
Lay it flat on a gilding cushion or other relevant surface with the matte side facing up. Then, apply pressure with your knife before you start cutting and gently start to remove the leaf from its backing. Keep the tissue paper backing for later in the application process.
If it’s easier, you can place the leaf and its backing on the surface of the object that it will be applied. Keep the backing side facing you before removing it.
3. Place the Gold Leaf On the Object
Before you begin this step, remember that the leaf will only stick to tacky surfaces. Lay the backing tissue paper onto the leaf. Once this is done, you can blow on the gold leaf which will ensure it lays flat.
4. Smooth It Out
Then, use a soft brush or your finger to gently burnish the leaf and remove air pockets, keeping the paper still to avoid tears or scratches. You can then start brushing the leaf to ensure it sticks to the object.
Using a back-and-forth motion, gently move the brush to remove the additional gold leaf. Now, your object should look like it is made up of gold instead of covered in random bits of gold leaf.
5. Finalize Your Gold Leaf Item
Check for areas where the gold leaf didn’t stick and smooth new bits over to ensure a perfect finish. For non-perishable items, it might be wise to apply an acrylic top coat for added protection from water, dust, and light.
That concludes the beginner’s guide to using gold leaf! After reading this article, we hope you now understand what it is, the materials it adheres to, the purpose of gold leaf, and also how to apply it to a surface.