If you’re wondering how to apply gold leaf to icons, you’re probably wanting to complete a piece of art centered around an important figure. Using gold leaf to highlight special attributes of icon figures is an art technique that has been around for years, and fleshing out the process is relatively simple. In this post, we’ll give you a step-by-step breakdown of how you can go about applying gold leaf to icon artwork using basic gilding supplies.

Let’s get started.

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Gold Gilding Icon

As mentioned before, the act of using gilding techniques for gilding icons in artwork has been used for years. Early works can be dated back to the Byzantine empire, as gilding was used over a variety of mediums to highlight holiness or special attributes of important persons or beings.

Today, icons are often painted on smooth surfaces, such as canvas or other mediums. As mentioned, the gold leaf used in the work usually represents the significant impact or role the figure symbolizes and thus is the reason for gold used in iconography.

How To Apply Gold Leaf To Icons

Gold Leaf for Icons

Popular icons to receive gold leaf on surface art include:

  • Jesus Christ
  • Peter and Paul
  • Saints (such as Saint Demetrios)

How Do You Stick Gold Leaf to Art?

The adhesive process of any work of art will typically depend on the medium you choose and where you plan to store the finished piece.

In general, you can expect to use oil size or water size for oil gilding or water gilding, respectively. Before applying new gold leaf to a surface, you’ll need to assess whether or not it needs sanding. Typically, iconography imprinted upon wood or wall plaster will require you to sand the surface before removing leftover dust with a soft brush.

Once the surface is prepped and ready, you’ll apply a primer and then a thin layer of adhesive to get the gold leaf to stick. “Size” refers to the adhesive used in this process, and, as mentioned before, it comes in either an oil and water base. Oil size is most typically used for gilding projects to be stationed outdoors, while internal projects can involve either water or oil size.

Before deciding which to use, know that oil based size tends to be a bit more beginner friendly but also has a shorter “tack time”. Water based size has a longer tack time, so it may be better suited for larger projects that take several hours to complete.

Applying Gold Leaf For Icon Art

If you are new to the gilding process, one additional aspect you should be aware of is the delicacy of gold leaf. Because gold leaf is manufactured by pounding gold into sheets that are thinner than a strand of hair, you’ll notice that it is often exceedingly difficult to lay across surfaces. Because of this, you may wish to use cotton gloves, tweezers, a knife, or another tool to help you lift the edge of your gold leaf sheet to apply it.

Along with tricky application, you may notice gold leaf is easily knicked or scraped once laid. Scratches over gold leaf are totally common, no matter what kind of art piece you’re gilding. To fix it, simply adhere other smaller pieces of gold leaf on unsightly patches and scratches to make imperfections less visible.

Gilding Icons: The Process

The gold gilding process for icons requires that you have a few tools on hand. Grab the following before getting started:

  • Gesso
  • A soft brush or two
  • Wax paper (optional, for pressing down laid gold leaf)
  • Oil or water size
  • Tweezers, cotton gloves, or a knife to assist you in picking up gold leaf
  • Typical supplies needed for creating your art piece, i.e. pencils, canvas or wood, etc.

Techniques of gilding icons (step by step):

  1. To begin, assess the surface you will work on. If it is wood, be sure to smooth the rough surface using sandpaper. Clear away the excess with a soft brush.
  2. Once your surface is smoothly prepared, use a soft brush to apply gesso. Gesso helps prime your surface and make it readily willing to accept the adhesive and gold leaf applied to it.
  3. After your gesso has dried, sketch your icon using a sketch pencil over the gesso.
  4. Assess your drawing to determine which areas of your icon will require gilding. To these areas, apply several coats of shellac, allowing the shellac to dry between coats. Once the shellac is dry, sand and polish the shellac so that it is completely smooth.
  5. Now’s the time to apply your adhesive. Using a soft gilding brush, carefully apply your adhesive according to package directions, only to the area of your iconography that requires gilding. Pay close attention to the tack time of the adhesive you choose, as this will affect the amount of time you’ll have to apply your gold leaf.
  6. Once you’ve laid your adhesive, it is time to adhere the gold leaf. To do so, use tweezers, cotton gloves, or a knife taking care to grab the gold leaf by the edge to transfer to your adhesive surface. Use wax paper or another clean soft brush to tack down the gold leaf so that it adheres to the piece. Remember that marks and cracks on gold leaf occur frequently and can be remediated later. For now, focus on getting a basic foundation laid before worrying over imperfections.
  7. Gently dust away any excess gold leaf using a clean soft brush.
  8. Once finished, look over your finished piece and make adjustments as needed. If you need to patch up areas, do so using small amounts of gold leaf and your adhesive.
  9. Allow your icon art to dry (usually a full day) before adding a couple of layers of shellac as a top coat for your finished work.

How to Apply Gold Leaf to Icons: A Traditional Approach to Gold Leaf and Iconography

Gilding icons depictions is a well-known way of giving honor or special recognition to important historical figures or beings in history. Using gesso, adhesive, gold leaf, and shellac, you too can create a work of art that utilizes pure gold in an artistic way that will be sure to garner attention.


Is gold leaf applied to canvas?

Yes, you can apply gold leaf to canvas. In fact, it is a great way to add sheen and highlight to any artistic piece.

Where can I purchase gold leaf?

We recommend you purchase gold leaf from a trusted seller online, especially if you’re looking for pure gold.

Can I use regular glue to apply gold leaf?

You should only use oil or water size that is specifically designed for gilding purposes. The exception to this rule is when laying gold over food In this case, you’ll simply use a bit of water to get the gold leaf attached.

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