How to Use Gold Leaf

jewelry vertical amy renea a nest for all seasons

Do you remember the background from my square and bugle bar bracelet tutorial?  Notice that cool, shiny base the bracelet is sitting on?  Is that just paint?  Well, not so much.  Metallic paint can NOT hold a candle to the real thing.  That super shimmery finish comes from none other than GOLD.  Real gold.   Slivered off into the tiniest sheets of paper that are so light and fine they feel like angel's breath, that finish is created with sheets of gold leaf.  We call this finish "gilding" and Consumer Crafts offer both gold and silver leafing.  This is a project that takes a VERY light hand, a lot of patience and a little bit of crafting know how!  Ready to take the challenge?  Join me today as we gild some canvases!

Supplies Needed:

When you first start out with the leaf, you will probably break a piece of two.  There is definitely a learner's curve in learning how to handle it.  Most gilders recommend using a brush to pick it up to avoid the oils on your fingers, but I found that using VERY dry and lotion free fingers gently gave me the most control over the sheets.  Experiment with a couple to find how you can best handle the leafing, but do NOT try this anywhere with a breeze or children running through the room.  Disaster will ensue!


Spray or brush a very light layer of adhesive over the canvas.  It must be SUPER thin or else the leafing will buckle and bubble too much.  I tried a multitude of adhesives with varying degrees of success (sticky embossing powder made me want to CRY!) and the best was a 50-50 watered down modpodge lightly brushed onto the canvas.  Lightly pick up the leafing and set it onto the canvas, focusing on getting good corner pieces.  Let the leafing fall onto the canvas (it will wrinkle - that is OK!) and it will adhere itself.  DO NOT touch it at this point!

gilded squares on canvas amy renea a nest for all seasons

The way I created these canvases was to lay out a loose grid of sheets and then fill in with paint.  The larger the canvas, the more sheets you will need and the greater chance you will tear a large portion and are doomed.  My advice?  Start small!

A few wrinkles are fine for this aged canvas look, but big bubbles are not.  Once the leaf and adhesive have had a few minutes to set, VERY gently start pushing bubbles out towards the edges.

wrinkles in gilding

When you are finishing, the wrinkling adds a cool texture and aged look, so don't worry about those wrinkles, 
but make sure buckling and bubbling are smoothed out early or they will cause holes later down the road.

closeup gilding

Back to the process though.  Once your six sheets (for a small canvas, more for larger) have dried and hardened slightly, it is time to add a little paint.   I did the edges in copper, the in between spaces in gold and then blended the two here and there throughout the canvas.  The trick is to leave as much of the pure leafing visible.  That gold paint just can't compete with the shimmer of that true gold.

gilded canvas halfway amy renea a nest for all seasons
gilded canvas painting amy renea a nest for all seasons

If the leaf starts to move AT ALL, stop painting in that area and leave it alone.  Come back to it when the leafing has dried some more and is more stable.  To blend the paint colors, a little bit of that watered down mod podge can help and further seal the canvas.  Again, just use a LIGHT hand.

gilded canvas spraying glue amy renea a nest for all seasons

When the canvases are totally dry, you can use them in a variety of ways.  You can add vinyl lettering on top, use the gilded canvas as a base for a painting or any other type of artwork you can dream up!  I use them as-is for the base in photos (like that bracelet up top!) and also as a little hint of shimmer at my workdesk.

posy full view
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A photo simply cannot capture the glimmering brilliance of this gold leafing.  You literally cannot work on this project in the sun because it blinds you.  You try working on the canvas, then look up and you can't see anything but dark, dark shadows.  Do it indoors!  The way the light coming in the windows glimmers off the canvases is akin to magic and makes me want to gild just about anything and everything!

So will you take a chance on this complicated craft?  Is it worth the glimmer and shimmery delight that is pure gold???

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