In my life there are certain things that feed my soul, inspire me and make me feel connected to Time itself…visiting art museums and galleries when I visit a new city, holding an ancient (although worthless) coin I have and tracing the raised bronze outlines, and using gold leaf in my art.
I am drawn to its metallic gleam like a magpie to shiny objects. Everything it touches suddenly radiates a warm glow that whispers back from medieval times, across the globe through myriad cultures and to one of my favorite artists, Gustav Klimt. When I see it in others creations, I am drawn to their work on a deeper level and somehow feel like I know a little secret about them…that maybe they feel the same.
There are so many creative applications that can be achieved with gold leaf…and not just the genuine leaf that costs a bit (lot) more. Imitation leaf, also known as Dutch Gold, Dutch Metal, Schlagmetal, Faux Gold, Composition Gold Leaf, and on and on… costs much less and when applied and sealed properly will fool even the most discriminating magpie.
I began adding gold leaf to my work a few years ago, and now it’s become a bit of a trademark for me. I tend towards the random with droplets and streaks but have been known to be more exact occasionally. (Although exact might be a bit of an exaggeration of the word.) I use it to create a sense of movement, to add mystery or simply to catch the light.
I highly recommend using what is known as patent leaf, unless your work is very highly textured. In that case, the loose leaf might be more suited. Overall I find the loose leaf frustrating and for me, wasteful because I literally get it everywhere! Patent leaf is gold leaf that static clings to a piece of tissue paper and makes it so much easier to apply because the leaf sheet isn’t crumbling as soon as you pick it up, or fluttering away from you like the butterfly you almost touched. If you’re a beginner with leafing, you’ll need a package of patent leaf (usually less than $10 and available at arts and crafts stores) gold leaf adhesive, gold leaf sealer, a few brushes you no longer care about and some cheap cotton gloves.
There are so many ways to use gold leaf, but this is how I do it: If I want to drip and streak it, first I finish painting. It should be noted that I use acrylic paint on stretched cotton canvas, but you can leaf over oil paints as well. Research that topic though, because there may be differences in application. Once my painting is dry, I carefully stir the adhesive which looks like thin glue. Never shake it because it creates air bubbles that will wreak havoc when you try to apply the leaf. Dip the brush and then flick and streak over the canvas. Less is more, don’t overdo it or the leaf will take away from your work. Allow to lay flat and dry. Depending on how thick the adhesive is and how humid it is where you are, that could be anywhere from 30 minutes to much longer. You’ll know it’s dry when it becomes clear and tacky. Take a sheet of patent leaf and place it gold side down on the now clear adhesive. Lift and repeat until you’ve applied leaf to all shiny clear adhesive spots. Wearing the glove, rub and burnish the leaf, to not only ensure it is adhered but also to remove any excess leaf. What is left on the sheet can be used again and again until it’s all used up, although I find that after a few paintings it doesn’t seem to want to come off the tissue paper backing. I save those and will come up with a creative way to use them, I just haven’t thought of anything yet.
Now, for the very important step of sealing the gold leaf. If you are using imitation gold leaf you must seal it, if you don’t it will tarnish over time. Genuine gold leaf does not need to be sealed. Using a clean brush, apply a thin coat of the leaf sealer over areas you leafed. When that is dry, you may apply your final coat of varnish for your painting. FYI, the leaf sealer dries glossy. Keep that in mind if you don’t normally varnish your paintings. A thin coat of a final varnish in semi-gloss, or gloss will keep the shimmer of the gold and hide any small patches of the leaf sealer that might show because of differences in sheen from the sealer and your paint. If you want to avoid brush marks, use a spray varnish formulated for acrylic paints.
Patent leaf can be cut into shapes before applying, you can leaf swirls and accent areas in your work, add drops and streaks, or you can apply it BEFORE painting and use layers of glazes to achieve luminous colors. The possibilities are really endless.
I hope you will give leafing a try, if so then you and I and Gustav will all be connected, too, and the golden thread will continue to bind us together. Connect to inspire, inspire to connect…until next time.
Amy Hutto is an acrylic fine artist living in Bath, NY. She enjoys long days in her studio, exploring the country with her husband in their new camper, and cooking risotto…because, risotto.😀 To see more of her work please click here
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