Applying Gold Leaf

Arctic Dreams/Drawing the Line in the Snow by Patricia Bellan-Gillen
Arctic Dreams/Drawing the Line in the Snow (acrylic gesso, graphite, silverpoint ground, acrylic and oil, 84×120)

Genuine gold leaf comes in small squares attached to thin sheets of paper. Professional gilders apply the material in a methodical, careful manner. I am not interested in a perfect application, so I go through far fewer steps.

Arctic Dreams/Drawing the Line in the Snow (detail) by Patricia Bellan-Gillen
Arctic Dreams (detail)

First, I lightly sand the area where the leaf is to be applied and paint the sizing (glue) exactly where I want to attach the leaf. When the sizing is tacky to the touch, the paper sheet with the leaf is pressed to the spot and gently rubbed. The paper will release the leaf to the glue. Then I carefully brush the leaf with a very soft brush to help burnish the leaf in place and remove the excess. Real gold leaf will not tarnish so it doesn’t need to be varnished.

In this context, the gold leaf suggests the wealth that might lie beneath the surface of the snow.

To read more about Patricia Bellan-Gillen’s process
in the January/February 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine,
click here and order your print or digital copy.


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