A friend of mine asked me the other day if I knew anything about gold leafing. I gave him a quick rundown on how it’s done, and he thought he might try it on a picture frame he is working on. Gold leafing is not really a difficult thing to do. However, it does take some patience, a few tools and, of course, gold leaf.
The first tool you need is a two-inch brush for pouncing. Pouncing usually refers to ornamenting by hammering on the reverse side. In this instance, the brush is used to hammer or push the gold leaf into cracks, curves, corners or whatever.
Gold as thin as gold leaf does not take much pressure to make it conform to whatever it is being placed on. A gilder’s tip, which is a thin camel hair brush, is very thin and about four inches wide, about the width of a page of gold leaf. This brush is used to pick up the pages of gold leaf. A one-inch varnish brush and some natural cotton complete the list of basic tools. Petroleum jelly is handy _ I’ll explain its use later.
The last thing you’ll need is a book of gold leaf. Gold leaf comes in books of 25 sheets. The sheets are separated with tissue on each side of the gold-leaf page. It can be purchased in hobby stores.
Gold leaf is simply gold that is pounded into very thin sheets. It is pounded by hand between leather sheets and can be as thin as .0001 millimeter. Making gold leaf is an art in itself. Gold leaf has been used for centuries by different cultures in their art and architecture. Japanese artists in ancient times used to paint on gold leaf. Gold does not oxidize like other metals and remains lustrous. It has even been used in expensive desserts where a sheet of gold leaf is placed on top of a fancy piece of cake.
A picture frame is a good project to begin to learn gold leaf on. Select a simple frame without many gingerbread frills. To begin the job you’ll have to size the frame with a coat of four-hour spar varnish. Use your one-inch varnish brush to apply a uniform coat of varnish. This coat of varnish is what is going to hold the gold leaf in place.
The hardest part of the job will be determining when this coat of varnish is ready to receive the gold leaf. In humid climates, it may take a little longer for the varnish to dry. Two and one-half to three hours would be about the right length of time.
You must make sure that you do this in a completely lint-free area. To test the surface to see if it is ready for the gold leaf, touch the surface with your knuckles. It should be just slightly sticky; it will pull on the skin just a bit.
Now you’ll need to use the gilder’s tip to lift a page of gold leaf from the book. Here’s where the petroleum jelly comes in. Some professional gold leafers put a little petroleum jelly on the back of one hand so they can lightly grease the bristles of the gilder’s tip. Take your brush and gently wipe it over the petroleum jelly, then wipe off any excess. Next, the bristles should be stroked a few times to work in the petroleum jelly. This will help the brush to pick up the gold leaf more easily.
The gold leaf will cling to the gilder’s tip, but it will pull away smoothly when the gold leaf is brought in contact and sticks on the sized frame. The gilder’s tip allows you to fold the gold leaf around the surface of the frame more easily than if you would try to do it directly from the book. When you really get proficient, you can place pages directly from the book.
One trick of the trade is to cut sheets of gold leaf using your fingernail. If you only need half a page of gold leaf, place a piece of cardboard under the sheet, fold back the tissue and use your fingernail to cut off the piece. You can also cut the pages using a moist tooth pick. If you don’t use the cardboard, you could split a number of sheets. Remember, the gold leaf is thinner than a human hair.
The next step is to pounce the gold leaf using the soft two-inch brush. Use the tip area of the brush and tap the gold leaf into all the cracks and creases and hollow areas of the frame. You must pounce the gold leaf very lightly; you don’t want to tear it. After you have covered the entire frame with gold leaf, use your cotton to burnish the gold.
I hope you have found this information helpful. Gold leafing can be fun and can make some really plain items look quite beautiful.