Wet gilding refers to the process in which gold leaf is applied using water. Water gilding is different from oil gilding because it offers its own special look and finish. Water gilding is ideal for laying gold leaf on top of specific items and it is better than oil application when it comes to certain objects. In this post, we’ll explore more about the wet gilding technique, as well as discover whether or not it is the right method for you when applying gold leaf.

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What Is Wet Gilding?

Wet gilding is the process in which gold leaf is applied to a base material using water. Typically, the water used is combined with the animal hide of some sort, with the most common being rabbit skin. Other materials, such as red bole and gesso will also be needed as it provides a smooth base for the gold leaf to rest upon.

Wet gilding is different from oil gilding and has special properties worth mentioning. One of those special properties is that items laid with wet gold leaf gilding (otherwise known as gouache gilding) can be burnished. Burnishing allows the gold leaf to be polished and produces its own unique look that is different from oil guild techniques.

Another difference to pay attention to when choosing to apply gold leaf using water is where you intend to use your gold lain piece. Surfaces that will be exposed to water or the outdoors should not be lain with gold leaf using the water gilding method. Instead, any decoration or art piece containing gold leaf should be applied with oil gild, as only this type of gilded surface can actually be used outdoors.

What Is Wet Gilding Technique?

What Is Wet Gilding Useful For?

Wet gilding is an ancient method of laying gold leaf that is useful for a variety of tasks. Although you shouldn’t place anything that has a layer of gold via wet gilding outdoors, water gilding still has benefits and uses that make it a worthwhile way of learning to lay gold leaf.

Gold leaf gilding is often used to make repairs to items already containing gold leaf. In addition, gold leaf applied with water usually showcases the dimensionality of an object better and can also show off fine details. Water gilding is great for layering certain items in gold leaf though it isn’t always great for taking on very large projects.

Some of the most common pieces that water gilding is used for include:

  • Frames
  • Artwork
  • Indoor statues
  • Furniture

Wet Gilding Technique

Wet gilding is a particularly laborious process, especially when compared to oil gilding. In the segment below, we will provide a general overview of using the wet gilding technique.

Wet Gilding Method

Preparing premixed bole:

  • Premixed bole is combined with rabbit skin glue. In order to do this, you’ll want to soak rabbit skin glue overnight in water. Heat this mixture before adding your bole. Allow this new mixture to set overnight before moving on to the next step.
  • To apply your bole, heat it in a double boiler. Give a light coat of water to your surface before applying your bole. Then, apply a thin layer of bole over the water and allow it to sit for 7 hours or overnight.
  • Next, you’ll want to apply several more layers of bole before allowing it to dry again for at least 7 hours overnight.
  • Smooth the surface of the bole with sandpaper, horsehair cloth, or other methods. This allows the gold leaf to lay as smoothly as possible.

Prepare your water size:

  • Prepare your water size by adding neat Vodka to the water with a bit of rabbit skin glue. You’ll want to heat this mixture carefully and allow it to cool before applying your gold.

Gold leaf application:

  • Once you’ve got your surface ready and water size prepared, you are ready to apply your gold leaf. The process of applying gold leaf with water can be tricky, as the gold leaf is delicate and can crumple easily. Any and all breezes can cause your gold leaf to drift, so be very careful when handling it. 
  • When applying your gold leaf, wet the surface with your water size. Then, using careful technique, lay your gold leaf onto the surface. Remove any air bubbles with your application brush. Note: If holes appear in your gold leaf, simply re-wet the area and lay another piece of gold leaf to cover it.

Imitation Gold Leaf For Wet Gilding

If you aren’t wanting to use a precious metal like pure gold or silver, you can surely use imitation gold leaf (STORE LINK) using water guild adhesive instead. The color will be different, but you’ll likely still love the results. You should also note that you may be able to burnish imitation gold leaf. However, the gold leaf must have been applied with water and not oil in order for this to be feasible.

Wet Gilding: A Laborious But Rewarding Process

Though wet gilding, also called gouache gilding, can prove to be more laborious than oil gilding, this ancient technique is beneficial for a variety of projects. Whether you are looking to repair a previously gilded piece or are wanting to lay your gold leaf afresh, water gilding is a great way to add precious metal or imitation leaf to frames, wood, furniture, and more.


Is wet gilding preferable over oil gilding?

Yes and no. Whether or not water gilding is preferable over oil gilding will depend on the item to be gilded and its use. Items that have a large surface area will be touched often, or that will be placed outdoors will need to be oil gilded. However, if you have items in which you want to show off particular details or want to showcase an extra shimmery sheen, the wet gilding method would prove a much better choice.

Should I take on wet gilding projects as a beginner?

We wouldn’t recommend it. Because water gilding is a process that takes time, patience, and skill, we recommend starting with oil gild before learning how to water gild your projects.

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