Utilizing silver leaf for art is a novel way to add a uniquely glimmering element to virtually any art piece. How you will go about using silver leaf in art will depend on the surface you’re gilding and the intended result. In this post, we’ll go over common uses for silver foil when it comes to artwork, as well as how it is applied to canvas.

So, if that sounds like something you’re interested in, keep reading. We’re diving into the details now!

Table of Contents

What Is Silver Leaf in Art?

Silver leaf adds a special element to art pieces much like gold leaf. This brightly hued metal leaf is great for highlighting certain aspects of a piece or can make an entire sculpture shimmer and shine. Silver gilt art projects work well as home decor paintings, statues, or upgrades to old sculptures. There are many other ways to use this aluminum-esque metal, but even for advanced artists, it can be hard to know where to start.

silver leaf for art

Do You Need Glue for Silver Leaf?

For beginners, it can be hard to determine exactly what type of glue is is needed for gilding. To get proper adhesion, you’ll need to choose between oil or water based adhesive.

Oil and water based adhesives are often referred to as “size”. Size is simply the “glue” that holds gold and silver leaf to a particular surface. The same is true of copper leaf. Both transfer leaf and loose leaf require this type of adhesive, and no, it isn’t likely to be found amongst your normal stash of scissors, Elmer’s glue, and other arts supplies at home.

Before you attempt to purchase your size, you’ll need to think about which type of adhesive is best suited for your project. While most art surfaces will readily accept either adhesive type, the truth is that one may suit your needs better than the other, depending on the project and its location.

The main thing to keep in mind when deciding between the two adhesive types is where your piece of art will be stationed. If you plan to house your art piece outside, make sure to use oil size. It is only this type of adhesive that can withstand certain weather elements and, thus, is the only one suitable for outdoor use.

Use water size when gilding on glass or items that will be stored indoors, but know that this type of adhesive is best for those that have experience gilding. Nevertheless, water size has a longer tack time which means that it stays tackier for longer during the gold leaf application process.

How to Apply Silver Leaf to Art

Since there are so many ways that you could potentially use silver leaf for art, we are going to focus on one specific artistic medium: canvas. This is one of the easiest ways to experiment with using silver leaf in art. 

You’ll need the following supplies to get started:

  • Painted canvas (ensure that the paint is entirely dry)
  • Several soft clean brushes (including a gilding brush, optional)
  • Cotton gloves, tweezer, or knife for silver leaf application
  • Water based size
  • Wax paper, optional
  • Acrylic varnish


  • Start with a canvas that has already been painted (otherwise apply to bare canvas). Ensure that the paint has dried on the art piece before proceeding.
  • With a damp soft brush, gently apply a thin layer of water to your painting. Remember that your burhs need only be damp… too much water may cause issues with adhesion.
  • From here, apply your water based size to the areas you wish to gild using the same damp brush. Make sure that the layer of adhesive is thin.
  • Wait for the size to become tacky. Never apply silver leaf over adhesive that is still very wet or that is completely dry.
  • Carefully apply either your loose leaf or transfer leaf sheets to the areas that have adhesive. Use tweezers, cotton gloves or a knife to keep the silver leaf from flying around due to drafts and static charge. Use a clean and dry soft brush or wax paper to gently tack down the silver leaf to make it stick. If you notice imperfections as you go, try not to worry. This can be touched up at the end before applying your acrylic varnish.
  • Once all of your silver leaf has been applied and you smooth down the leaf, it is time to clear away the excess. Use a dry brush to apply quick strokes across the surface of the canvas to dislodge any hanging excess silver leaf. Feel free to save the excess silver material for other art uses.
  • Use other pieces of thin sheets of silver leafing to patch up any gaps, holes, or slight imperfections in your work.
  • Once the adhesive has dried (usually a few days) apply a varnish to your artwork to help prevent it from dreaded tarnish.

How to Use Silver Leaf in Art

Consider the following practical ideas for using silver leaf in art:

  • To create metallic angel wings
  • As a metal appearance for 3D sculptures or home decor
  • To highlight certain areas on statues
  • As icon gilding*

What Can I Use Instead of Silver Leaf?

If you want to use another metal leaf other than silver leaf, look into purchasing pure gold leaf or copperleaf.

If you want the look of silver but simply do not want to use pure silver leaf, try using gilding wax, silver flakes, or even metallic silver paint to get the job done.

Silver Leaf For Art: Dazzling Versatility

Using silver leaf sheets for art is a great way to add dazzling highlights to any art project. From silver leaf paintings to 3D sculptures, there are multiple ways to use silver leaf as inspiration for a myriad of awesome art pieces. Get creative and see what you can come up with!


Do you need to apply a top coat to pure silver?

Yes, you do. Unlike genuine gold leaf, pure silver needs a top coat to keep it from tarnishing. You can use a clear spray varnish or a sealant of your choosing. Whatever you do, be sure not to apply a top coat to pure gold leaf. Doing so may cause the leaf to acquire a milky and hazy glaze over it after a few years.

Is silver leaf affordable?

Actually, yes. While it might not cost you as little as a bottle of paint, its brilliant glow is well worth the added cost… and silver leaf likely isn’t as expensive as you may think!

Does silver leaf ever tarnish?

Yes, silver leaf tarnishes. This is the reason that we always recommend adding a top coat after applying silver leaf sheets.

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