Using gold leaf for artwork is a great technique for adding depth, shine, and highlight to any given piece. While you can certainly add gold leaf to a painting, there are also a variety of other ways you can use gold leaf to create impressive art pieces that will attract the eyes and communicate a powerful message to onlookers.

So, how can you get started? It’s easy. You only need a few tools, a bit of knowledge, and basic skills to accomplish beautiful artwork using gold leaf. Let’s get started.

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How To Use Gold Leaf For Artwork

What Is Gold Leaf Used for in Art?

Gold leaf is used in a variety of ways in art. Both imitation gold leaf and genuine gold leaf can be used.

The most common way gold leaf is used in art is to create drama, highlight, or communicate a message. Icon artwork, for example, is often created using genuine gold to emphasize the impact, role, or grandeur of the person the art piece displays. In addition, gold leaf can be used to highlight certain aspects of a painting, such as the wings of an angel, the lips of a person, the antlers of a buck, and so much more.

Gold leaf in art is often used to convey a message. Apart from the icon art example we provided earlier, pure gold can also be used to draw attention to certain areas or details on a project and in so doing, communicate to the onlooker that the highlighted area is of importance.

Lastly, gold leaf, and other types of metal leaf, including silver leaf, copper leaf, and the like, can bring a luminous glow to 3D sculptures and other pieces of art using either oil based adhesive or water based adhesive.

It’s important to note that gold leaf can adhere to a variety of surfaces, including food, but you’ll need to use different forms of adhesive depending on what you choose. While we won’t get into all the adhesive types here, know that making yourself aware of the differences and using the right kind of adhesive for your surface is extremely important for ensuring your final project yields the expected results.

How to Use Gold Leaf in Artwork

Using gold leaf or other types of metal lead in artwork will require different techniques depending on the art project you’re taking on.

You’ll need to keep in mind the types of surface you’re working on (canvas, wood, glass, metal, paper, etc.). And you should tailor your supplies and adhesive according to that.

In addition, you’ll need to assess whether or not your project will remain indoors or will be transferred outside. Only oil based adhesive is plausible for outdoor use, so it is very important to determine where your art piece will stay once finished in order to choose the correct adhesive.

Lastly, artists will need to consider what type of gold foil they will need to use in accordance with their project needs. Artwork that will be displayed indoors or outdoors but is laid in real gold leaf will not require a sealant. In fact, it is highly recommended that you don’t seal genuine gold transfer leaf or genuine gold loose leaf. Doing so may change its appearance over time.

If you are using another type of metal leaf or are using imitation gold leaf, using a sealer is not only plausible but is also recommended. Any metal leaf that isn’t genuine gold is prone to tarnishing, so sealing your gold leaf or metal leaf with varnish after the laying on of these gold leaf types will help protect the delicate sheets or flakes from tarnish over time.

Gold Leaf in Art Step-By-Step

Remember that the process that you use to add gold leaf to art will vary depending on the project. For this example, we’ll be instructing you on how to apply adhesive and gold leaf to sculptures or other dimensional pieces.

To see examples and get information on how to apply gold leaf to canvas or oil paintings, please see our related blog posts.


  1. Begin by preparing your workstation. Your work area should be free of drafts, and preferably, indoors. You’ll want to lay a dropcloth or newspaper down before you begin working, in order to ensure that the surface you are working on remains undisturbed.
  2. Inspect the surface of the item you are attempting to gild. Depending on the surface, you may need to sand it first and clear away the excess. Surfaces like wood or plaster may require this sort of prep. Surfaces like glass may need a simple cleaning before proceeding. You’ll just need to ensure that the area is fully dry before continuing on.
  3. Using a natural bristle or foam brush, apply your primer according to the package direction to the surface receiving the gold leaf. Not all surfaces require primer, but some do. If you choose to use a primer, select one that will reflect well through the surface of your metal leaf. The color of the primer will serve as an “undertone”. Thus, yellow or red-tinged primer is most appropriate for gold leaf primer application.
  4. To ensure your gold leaf adheres properly, ensure that your primer is fully dry. Once dry, follow the directions on your oil or water based adhesive with a brush. You will need to allow your coat of adhesive (also known as “size”) to come to tack before you begin laying on your gold leaf. This occurs when your size is slightly sticky; it shouldn’t be too wet or too dry.
  5. Finally, you can begin laying on your gold or metal leaf using a steady hand and delicate technique. Using cotton gloves, tweezers, a knife, or wax paper are all helpful ways to aid you in carefully laying gold leaf over your dimensional artwork. Patch up any damaged areas or recesses in the gold leaf using additional gold leaf at the end.
  6. Tack down your laid gold leaf using a natural bristle brush. Use another soft brush to gently clear away any excess gold leaf. Once your project is covered in smooth gold, you can allow your artwork to dry.
  7. Depending on the type of leaf you used, you’ll seal the artwork using varnish or leave it as is, if you are using genuine gold metal leaf.

There Are Countless Ways to Use Gold Leaf For Artwork

There are a multitude of creative ways to use gold leaf in artwork. Whether you are applying gold leaf to a painted image or on an object found in nature, there are many ways you can creatively add dimension and highlight to art pieces. Just be sure to use our method and tips for applying leaf to certain surfaces. Especially depending on the location the artwork will be stored.

You’ll also want to be especially careful when attempting to seal gold leaf on artwork. After all, it may not always be needed.

We hope this helps.


Can you put gold leaf on acrylic paint?

Yes, you can add gold leaf to acrylic paint. Use either oil or water based size when doing so. And be careful not to seal genuine gold leaf when finished.

How do you get gold leaf to stick to painting?

The traditional way to stick gold leaf to a painting is to use oil or water based size. “Size” is simply a fancy way to say “adhesive” in the gilding arena. Without the use of adhesive, your gold leaf will not stick to any painting; at least, not long term.

Is it common to use gold leaf on artwork?

You may not see every painting or art piece with gold or metal leaf utilized. However, it is an awesome way to add highlight or significance to a piece.

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