How to Apply Gold Leaf to Canvas

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Applying gold leaf, also known as gilding, is a beautiful way to bring luminosity to a painting. Artists have been using gold leaf since ancient Egypt, where it was commonly found alongside turquoise and burnt sienna colors. Gustav Klimt, a painter from the Vienna Art Nouveau movement during the early 19th century, commonly adhered gold leaf to his figurative paintings creating beautiful contrasts between flesh and ornament. Gold leaf is also commonly seen in paintings by modern artists in Southeast Asia, where they apply individual squares onto a canvas painted with a single rich color.

Things You'll Need

  • Primed canvas
  • Acrylic paint, yellow, red or black
  • Glue adhesive
  • Gold leaf
  • Squirrel's hair brush
  • Cotton ball
  • Vaseline
  • Acrylic top coat

Apply the acrylic base color, or "bole," to a primed canvas. Yellow, red or black acrylic paint are the most commonly used colors and each has a different effect to help make the final gold leaf application more luminous.

After the base color is completely dry, brush on adhesive, also known as "size." Let it dry until it is tacky.

Slowly peel back the glassine paper from the gold leaf. Use a cotton ball with a tiny bit of Vaseline on it to lift up the gold leaf and place it onto the tacky canvas.

Gently brush the squirrel's hair brush against the gold leaf to set it onto the canvas. Keep any bits of gold leaf that become excess or tear off for filling in empty spaces.

If the gold leaf is under 22 kt, or is synthetic, you may need to paint on an acrylic top coat.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you paint a base coat in oil paint and use an acrylic top coat, it is possible to get a "crackle" result, making your painting look aged.
  • Glassine is the only paper that gold leaf will not stick to.

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