The physical properties of gold allow it to be hammered into thin sheets called gold leaf. This application of gold leaf to the surface of objects to improve their appearance and value is known as the art of gilding.
To ensure that your object looks like its bathed in golden glory, you can either use oil or the ideal water-based adhesive size in applying gold, silver or gilding metal. But take note that water-based adhesives are completely different from water-gilding methods.
This guide below aims to give you an overview of the gilding process so you can start your gilding projects with ease.
Beginners Guide to Gilding: Tips and Techniques
1. Prepare and prime the surface you want to gild
When it comes to gilding, preparation is the key to achieving the desired effect. This is also the right time to prepare the gilding supplies needed for the project.
First, sand the surface and apply a suitable primer. For better adhesion of the gold, silver leaf or metal leaf, ensure that the surface is non-porous. If you are gilding metal, make sure that the surface is completely clean and free from grease or dirt.
Meanwhile, if you want a warm rich finish to your gold leaf art, use a red colour paint or clay to prime the surface. On the other hand, if you want a cooler tone beneath the silver leaf, opt for a grey or bluish colour paint or clay when priming.
The colours act as an undertone to the gold, silver or copper leaf.
2. Apply the adhesive size
The adhesive used to fix the leaf to the surface is called “size”.
You can find either water-based or oil-based size, depending on the object you want to gild.
Remember to use water-based size indoors and never outdoors.
Water-based sizes become tacky in 20 minutes and are ready to receive the gold leaf. You will have at least 36 hours or more to apply all the leaf. This size is only ideal when you’re working on large scale surfaces such as walls or ceilings.
Oil-based size, on the other hand, has varying drying times, ranging from 1.5 hours to 24 hours. They equally have different open times.
Quick-dry oil sizes become tacky in 1.5 hours and give you an open window for about two hours. Therefore, you only have to apply enough size that you can gild realistically within the 2-hour period.
This size is suitable for small areas or higher quality projects. Remember to use a good oxtail brush to apply your chosen size in thin and even coats. Avoid laying the leaf when the size is still wet, as it will cause blotchy marks, affecting the quality of the finished product.
3. Start applying the gold leaf
There are two types of gold leaf you can use: the Transfer leaf and the Loose leaf.
If you are using Transfer leaf, take a gold leaf sheet out of the booklet and place it face down onto the sized area. Rub over the back of the backing paper gently, so the gold is released on to the surface. You can overlap the leaf for about 2mm, as you keep on gilding to fill in any gaps between the leaves.
Meanwhile, if you are using loose leaf, lift the gold leaf from the booklet very gently using a gilders tip or a soft brush. You can use a gilders mop to tamp the leaf into detailed areas of the moulding.
Once all the gold leaf is laid, allow the size to dry out beneath the leaf. Lightly brushing over the surface will create a soft burnish or shine on the leaf.
You can use skewings to touch up any gaps in the leaf. Don’t forget to inspect the finished product carefully before sealing.
5. Seal the surface.
Genuine gold leaf 22 carats and above not needing sealing and looking better without a varnish.
However, most gilded items need an antiqued finish as protection. You need to seal them in some way, especially if the surface will be exposed to heavy traffic areas or if it is prone to scratches or finger marks.
Moreover, anything lower than 22 carats can oxidise; that is why sealing is still recommended.
6. The finished product
You can now inspect the finished product and brag it to your friends or family.
After all, not many are skilled in learning this ancient art—so, give yourself a pat in the back and enjoy your own gold leaf crafts!
Mastering the art of gilding does not happen overnight. However, with constant practice, time, and the right gilding techniques, you can perfect this art.
Soon, you can easily transform ordinary objects into beautiful masterpieces covered in gold.
You can find many resources online about this ancient art that will help you channel your inner Midas touch.