Whether you are doing a thrift shop flip on a piece of furniture or want to update the decor around your home, knowing how to antique gold leaf is a worthwhile skill. Sure, shining gold leaf that looks newly minted is gorgeous, but there are times when you cannot deny the appeal of an antiqued look. This ultimate guide will show you exactly how to antique gold leaf.
Step One: Seal Your Leaf
Before you begin antiquing gold leaf, it is important to protect it. Seal the gilded object with either an oil-based or water-based varnish. Why are you doing this? If you try to apply an antique glaze over an unsealed section of gold leaf, it will lose the reflective quality of genuine gold.
Is a sealant necessary? It depends on the gold leaf:
- Imitation gold leaf: Also known as composition gold. This often contains a small amount of brass, which will oxidize over time. A seal will form a barrier over the imitation gold leaf, keeping it from tarnishing.
- Genuine gold leaf: If your gold leaf is 23 carats or higher, then you do not have to seal it. However, in high-traffic areas, like a kitchen or living room, you may wish to enhance its durability with a sealant.
Selecting Your Varnish
Most often, you will find that oil-based varnish is the most popular barrier. It comes in semi-gloss or satin. Oil-based varnishes prevent any moisture or air from affecting the metal and act as a layer between the gold leaf and antique glaze.
Water-based varnishes are also an option, but they do have a tendency to bead up on slicker surfaces, which may pose a problem. Be sure to do some research on brands to select a top-quality varnish.
Step Two: Prepare Your Antique Glaze
Next, you will blend together paints that make for the classic antique look. The type of paint is up to you. Some people know how to antique gold leaf very well using only a handful of stains. Others prefer the rich colors of acrylic or oil-based paint.
There are three colors that you need to mix together to form the antique glaze:
- Raw umber
- Burnt sienna
- Van Dyke brown (also known as Cassel or Cologne earth)
Play around with the ratios to see which blend you prefer.
Thinning the Glaze
Once you have blended the raw umber, burnt sienna, and brown paints together, you will need to thin them out. If you use oil-based paints, select mineral spirits. Water-based paints can use water. Mix in little bits of thinner at a time to adjust the quality of the glaze.
Step Three: Apply the Antique Look
Using a soft brush, apply the glaze in a thin coat over the gilded surface. Keep the brush moving as straight as possible along the surface. Try to avoid any lumps or uneven streaks.
Step Four: Soften the Feel
Next, grab a second dry brush. This one is going to run over the glaze, dragging it along the gold leaf in the opposite direction. Smooth out the paint as you go.
Keep a rag handy, as you will need to remove any excess paint from the bristles before moving on. Sometimes the glaze will bead up, so you will need to let it momentarily set before running over it with a dry brush.
At this point, there is the option to use decorative treatments and effects, such as rag-raggling, color washing, marbling, wood graining, weather, and speckling. Physical distressing with sandpaper is also an option.
Step Five: A Little Buffing
This is the step that ultimately answers how to antique gold leaf. After the glaze has been smoothed, it needs to be buffed in some places. Look at the surface. There should be some recesses, crevasses, and other areas where you can leave a greater portion of the antique glaze. Other areas can be deemed “high points,” where you can take a rag and buff away some of the paint.
Approach this step with an idea of what naturally happens to gold over time. Patinas and aging happen naturally, but there are some elements that accelerate the process, like dirt, oil, and dust. Mimic that.
Step Six: Finishing Touches
As you go over the surface you are antiquing, you may notice that some spots need to be darkened with more paint or buffed a little harder. Take your time, customizing the piece to suit your vision. When you are satisfied with the finished product, let the glaze dry before applying a second coat of sealer to protect your newly antiqued gold.
What if I Want to Gild and Antique Something at the Same Time?
Let’s say you have purchased a white picture frame and want to upgrade it with some antique gold leaf. You can use another method to get the same result as mentioned above.
To do so, you will paint the frames with an undercoat. This can be any color that you wish to expose, but if you want that distressed or tarnished look, go with a gray, brown, bronze, or even black. Once the undercoat dries, you will need to apply an oil-based gilding size. Leave it dry to the point of stickiness.
Apply your gold sheet, pressing it down with a cloth—never your fingers. Continue until the surface has been covered. It’s okay to miss some spots, as this will help it look more aged. Use the antique glaze mentioned above, following the steps up to the buffing section.
Afterward, sand the edges of the frame (or the surface you are antiquing) to make it look more worn. This also exposes some of the acrylic undercoat.
Voila, you are done.
Now You Know How to Antique Gold Leaf
Even though fresh gold leaf looks great, there may come a time when you need to know how to antique gold leaf. Keep this ultimate guide in the back of your mind. Fortunately, antiquing gold leaf is not a long or difficult process. All you need is a little bit of paint and a rag for buffing high points. After that, you can customize the steps to suit your creative vision.
You can apply an antique gold leaf glaze that consists of dark brown, umber, and sienna. You can also use sandpaper with fine grain to destroy some of the shine.
A quick trick is to take a coat of high-quality acrylic paint that is a touch darker than gold in color. Rub the paint lightly into the crevices of the piece. The color will soften the metallic nature of the gold leaf, giving it an older feel.