The Art of Applying, Sealing, and Preserving Gold Leaf for Artists and Painters

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Video gold leaf on paintings

Gold leaf has long been revered for its beauty and elegance in the world of art. Its gilded shimmer adds a touch of luxury and sophistication to any artwork. However, working with gold leaf requires precise techniques to ensure its application, preservation, and protection. In this article, we will delve into the art of applying, sealing, and preserving gold leaf for artists and painters.

The Importance of Sealing Gold Leaf

When it comes to leafing alongside paint, there are two essential sealing processes to consider: Pre-Paint Sealing and Post-Paint Sealing. Each process serves a distinct purpose and requires different products and techniques.

Pre-Paint Sealing: Protecting the Delicate Leaf

Before applying paint over the fragile leaf, it is crucial to seal it. This protects the leaf from accidental scratches, mars, or removal during the painting process. For both oil and acrylic painters, pre-paint sealing is vital. However, it can be particularly challenging when working with imitation gold leaf, as it requires the right sealer and sealing application process to avoid tarnishing.

Post-Paint Sealing: Preserving and Enhancing the Artwork

After completing the painting, it is highly recommended to seal it with a protective coat. Post-paint sealing involves sealing both the leaf and paint, providing an archival finishing touch. By using an archival varnish with UV protection, your artwork will be safeguarded against fading. Additionally, these varnishes are removable, allowing for future cleaning if needed.

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Now that we understand the importance of sealing gold leaf, let’s explore the step-by-step process of applying and preserving it.

Gold Leafing: Step-by-Step

  1. Prepare the Surface: Before applying the leaf, paint the surface with a desired color. For oil paint, use a solvent-based adhesive, while water-based adhesive works well with acrylic paint. A touch of Red Oxide paint can offer a classic look, and adding texture with a mixture of Molding Paste and acrylic paint can add depth.

  2. Apply the Adhesive: Choose between water-based and solvent-based leaf adhesive, depending on the type of paint used. Apply the adhesive thinly and let it dry for at least 20 minutes before leafing.

  3. Apply the Leaf: Place a sheet of wax paper over the leaf, gently rubbing it to create static. Lift the paper and carefully position the leaf on the surface. Repeat this process to leaf different areas, allowing for excess overlap.

  4. Burnish the Leaf: Cover the leaf with a sheet of wax paper and use moderate pressure with a soft cloth to gently rub the leaf. After burnishing, let it dry for a minimum of three days (preferably one week) to ensure the adhesive is fully cured.

  5. Clean Excess: Using a small, stiff brush, gently remove any excess leaf from the sides of the panel or canvas, as well as where the leaves overlap.

  6. Pre-Paint Sealing: Before overpainting with acrylic or oil, it is essential to seal the leaf. There are two methods for pre-paint sealing, each with its advantages and considerations. The first method involves a solvent-based varnish, which provides a stronger coating without risking tarnishing the imitation leaf. The second method utilizes a water-based acrylic medium, which is non-toxic but requires multiple coats for a thinner coating. Proper application techniques are vital for achieving optimal results.

  7. Paint: Apply paint opaquely and/or transparently over the sealed leaf to create various effects. Leave some leaf areas unpainted, fully cover others, and allow some leaf to show through transparent paint. If needed, excess paint can be sanded off, highlighting the importance of substantial coats of pre-paint sealing.

  8. Post-Paint Sealing: As a final touch, consider varnishing the painting to enhance its preservation and protect it from external elements. For oil paintings, wait for the paint to dry completely before applying a permanent seal coat using an archival varnish meant for oil paint. For acrylic paintings, a non-toxic, water-based varnish works well. However, ensure that you do not use it directly on unsealed imitation gold leaf.

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It is important to note that the techniques mentioned above are specific to fine art projects. For non-fine art projects like furniture that will be physically used, it is advisable to apply a commercial sealer such as solvent-based polyurethane.

In conclusion, the art of applying, sealing, and preserving gold leaf requires meticulous attention to detail and the right products. By following these steps, artists and painters can create stunning artworks that stand the test of time. If you are interested in exploring gold leaf further, visit Ames Farm Center for a selection of high-quality gold leaf products.

Images and video used in this article are credited to the original source.