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Gilding Made Easy

Sample of Gold Leaf Junk You will need:
  • Primer and brick red paint (latex is fine). If you are priming over metallic or plastic finish, your primer should be the anti-stain type, such as BIN stain away primer. This gives paint better adhesion.
  • Gold size (to stick on the gold leaf)... OR
  • Elmer's spray on glue (this is fast, cheaper than size but not as permanent)
  • Dutch gold leaf- comes in 4'x4' sheets in a package of twenty get it at art supply store about 11/pck
  • A large soft bristle brush (like a fat watercolour brush or even a makeup blusher type).

Clean surface and give one coat of primer over all. When dry, give a second coat of some kind of brick red colour. This is not carved in stone as to colour. If you have any kind of red paint, add a bit of green or black to dull it down. This is the under colour that is only going to show through the cracks in your gilding as in traditional frames etc. When dry, sand lightly with very fine wet/dry sandpaper (I use it dry) and wipe all dust off.

The next step puts on a permanent sticky surface for the gold leaf to stick to. If you are using spray, spray an even not-too-thick coat of glue over the whole object.(wear gloves and mask). Allow to dry until it's in a tacky state...usually a few minutes. You are ready to gild....OR... If you are using size, paint a thin even coat of size over the whole object. Try not to get pools of size in the cracks or on the fretwork but DON'T WORRY too much, it will just take longer to be ready if it's a bit thick. You MUST wait until the size is in the tacky never completely dries cloudy areas or obviously wet areas. This may take up to an hour depending on how thick the size. It is now ready for leafing.

Applying the gold leaf isn't hard and not even tricky. The key to success is to have a clean dry area to work in free of drafts (this stuff is light as a feather and will float almost .) Although the traditional method is to pick it up on a special brush, you can handle gold leaf by hand if your hands are clean and dry. Pick up a sheet of leaf and place it on the object trying to keep it flat and covering as much of the surface as you can. NOTE: You won't be too good at first but DON'T WORRY, you use smaller bits to fill in the parts you miss and once it is burnished no seams will show. You can even apply more size and leaf afterwards if you miss spots, without it showing.

Using your soft big brush, gently brush the gold leaf to the will crackle and wrinkle but DON'T WORRY... pick off the small bits and press them to all the uncovered areas as you go... overlapping won't matter. Keep applying the sheets and brushing down until the whole is covered. It will look a shaggy mess at this point.

Now with your CLEAN SOFT DRY brush you will go over every area brushing off the excess can use your fingers as well to push into cracks and joins. This bit is time consuming but also fun as the smooth gold surface emerges. Keep brushing, pressing and blowing off the bits until clean of "shag" You will now have a gold surface with some red showing through where it naturally cracks. If you want less red showing, go over it selectively with the size again and repeat the leafing.

When satisfied and the work is dry, you can now give it a patina if you wish. I seal it first with one coat of clear water based varnish. When dry apply a thinned down coat of raw umber (for traditional aged look) or in my case a dark purply-red that I happen to like over gold. Do this quickly and immediately start dabbing and wiping it off GENTLY with a clean soft kitchen cloth. Not jaycloth as they leave a weave pattern, but that other sort of felt-like kind. The idea is to let it gather in the seams, cracks and fretwork with less on the higher surfaces. It's up to you how much or little you want.

Hint: even when this patina coat is dry and you want to remove more, you can polish some of it of with methyl hydrate.... carefully. At last, when this is dry, give it several coats of varnish (I use waterbased) to protect the surface.

Using this process you can cover anything, even buckles, beer caps and plastic bugs.

Contributed by Pamela Allen, (B.F.A. Queens University)

About the Author:

Pamela Allen, (B.F.A. Queens University)has received 9 Artist in the Schools Grants from the Ontario Arts Council through which she has gained much experience teaching young children. In addition, she has taught in the Fine Art department at Queens both on campus and as an instructor in the Far North through the Aboriginal Teachers Education Program ( ATEP ). Pamela's teaching has taken her several times to Moose Factory and Kasabonika First Nation Reserves and most recently to Sioux Lookout. She exhibits regularly in both Kingston and Toronto and has participated in shows in the U.S. Pamela has enjoyed several artist residency "sabbaticals" in El Paso Texas, Pouch Cove Newfoundland and soon a printmaking residency in Tuscany. She works at her art full time and enjoys a spacious studio in the Kingston downtown. You can contact Pamela by sending email to

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