13 Ways to Use Silver and Gold Leaf In Your Paintings

Gold and silver leafing, otherwise known as gilding, became an artwork styling dating back to the 23rd century BC when Egyptians used gold foil leaves in tomb paintings.

Of course, gold may have the highest value, but you can use plenty of other forms of metal leaf in your artwork, such as copper leaf and tin leaf. 

You can find gold leafing used in various painting mediums, even on decorative objects such as picture frames and even edibles like cupcakes.

Whatever form of gold leafing art you try will add a special luminous effect to the artwork. 

If you’ve always wanted to venture into using genuine gold leaf in your painting but perhaps let intimidation keep you from trying, this article will put that to rest. 

We’ve provided thirteen different examples of artwork using silver or gold leaf sheets to inspire you to put aside your fears. The proceeding tutorial on using these metal sheets in your artwork will then help you get started. 

1. Linear Abstract Art

Adding sheets of gold or silver to your abstract art will take it from bland to surreal. 

Simple linear abstract art can use silver foil transferred to textured acrylic for a great conversation piece above the couch like this one on Etsy.

You can also add gold leaf to geometrical artwork that breaks up the monotone values of black and white. This painting is a great example. 

2. Angel Wings

Angels are undoubtedly ethereal creatures that artists cannot capture without an immense amount of light. Gold foil sheets certainly do the trick.

A bestseller in the art world is to create angel wings with a palette knife using thick acrylic layered with gold leaf. 

Check out a real-time tutorial video here.

3. Magically Lit Night

When the sun goes down, some things twinkle in the night. Gold flakes or foils can best represent this natural glow. 

From stars to lightning bugs to the moon itself, there are plenty of subjects to inspire your artwork. 

4. Golden Clouds

Have you ever gazed at the clouds on a sunny day and swore that they shone like 24 karat gold?

Why not try to represent that amazing sight in your art? This artist did just that. 

Ready to give it a shot? Here is a simple tutorial on using gold leafing to outline clouds. 

5. Inspiration by Klimt

Klimt Gold Leaf Inspiration

Gustav Klimt used gold foil in many of his paintings. So much so that they named the period he created these paintings his “Golden Period.” 

He used extensive gold gilding in his famous paintings like The Kiss, The Tree of Life, and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

You can study his artwork and create your version of gilded golden art. Who knows? You may even begin your own “golden period.”

6. Cityscape

When you are in the middle of the city, you may see all the dirt and grime, but if you step back and see a city from the skyline, it looks much more beautiful. In fact, you could say it even shines.

Some artists choose to capture this in their artwork with the use of silver or gold foiling. 

7. Metallic Leaf Collage

At times, composition gold loose leaf is best in a collage of your choosing. 

There are many examples that can highlight the value gold leafing can bring to your artwork, from a watercolor collage to an acrylic collage

8. Shimmering Botanicals

If nature inspires you most, you may create botanical prints as your favorite work of art.

You can make yours twinkle and sparkle by using real gold foil like this or this

9. Geode Art

Geode art has become quite the trend. Adding gold or silver accents to your geode art can help to set it apart from the rest. 

10. Highlight a Portrait

There are some luminous pieces of art that showcase the use of gold foil to highlight a portrait. 

Whether your portrait is a modern watercolor painting or a more traditional oil-based painting, adding gold leaf to your portrait will add an ethereal personality to your subject. 

11. Golden Gilding Background

Many historic golden paintings started as an entire gilded canvas before adding any paint.

This process may take considerably more gold leaf sheets but can make a more significant impact. Learn how to gild your canvas with this tutorial

James Mousley has many beautiful paintings that use this technique.

12. Chinoiserie Style Paintings

Egyptians weren’t the only early civilization that used gold leaf in their paintings. Chinese dynasties also used gold to create emperor-worthy artwork.

You can create your Chinoiserie-style painting either by laying the gold down first or using gold to paint over the background

13. A Sparkle of Sun Rays or Moonlight

Gold leaf is a perfect way to display the rays of the sun and the ethereal glow of the moon.

This painting uses gold foil to reflect the sun off a hot air balloon, while this one uses gold as the sun itself and its reflection on the water. Both artists represent their subjects very well. 

How to Apply Silver and Gold Leaf to Your Artwork

You can use gold and silver leaf with acrylic, oil, or watercolor paint. The trick is to know how to do it depending on which art supplies you are using. 

This breakdown of the correct technique to use edible gold leaf in artwork will help you DIY gold leaf paintings successfully.

Prepare Your Surface

The surface that you choose can be canvas, heavyweight paper, or panel, depending on the type of paint you use and the effect you want to create. 

You will first need to underpaint your surface with one color, whatever color you want to peek through under the gold. 

If you only use gold leaf as an accent to an entire painting, you will need to complete the image first. 

Some artists add molding paste to their acrylic paint for a textured piece of art. You must add it before the gold leaf.

Apply Adhesive

After you are pleased with the paint, you need to seal the paint with an adhesive. This process is also known as gilding or sizing. 

If you are using watercolor paint, you must use water-based adhesive. You must use oil paint with solvent or oil-based adhesive. You can use acrylic with adhesive, but many painters prefer to use water-based.

Ensure the paint is fully dry before applying the adhesive. The drying time is different depending on the type of paint. Watercolor simply needs hours, acrylic can be fully dry overnight, but oil needs at least three days to a week to fully dry. 

This adhesive can either be sprayed on or applied with a paintbrush. Whichever method you choose, make sure you add a thin layer and let it dry for more than twenty minutes before you begin leafing. 

If you cover your entire surface with gold leaf, you will need to spray the adhesive over the whole surface. Otherwise, paint on the adhesive to the area that you want the gold to stick to. 

Apply Gold or Silver Leaf

Many artists put on cotton gloves before they begin this process to protect their hands and reduce wasting gold leafing, especially when using loose leaf gold sheets.

If you use loose leaf, cover the leaf with wax or tissue paper (patent leaf already adheres to wax paper). Lightly rub the paper to cause friction to pick up the gold.

Gently transfer the wax paper, gold side down, onto the desired area of your artwork and rub the paper again, this time a little harder. This will cause the gold to stick to the adhesive.

Burnish the Leaf

Once you have your leaf where you want it, cover the area again with wax paper. Using a cloth, rub harder than before to press the leaf into the painting.

Remove the wax paper and let it sit for three to seven days; the longer, the better, before attempting any other steps. 

Remove Excess Leaf

Once the leaf adheres, remove the excess gold leaf by brushing lightly with a stiff brush in a shoveling-type motion. This type of brush is called a gilding brush, and with a little static charge, this brush will pick up any loose gold leaf for easy cleanup. 

Seal the Gold Leaf

Once again, spray the leaf with adhesive and optional gloss varnish. This seal will protect the leaf so that you can paint it without damaging it.

Of course, skip this step if you are laying gold over paint. 

Paint Over the Leaf

Once the last coat of sealer is applied and dried, add whatever paint you need to complete your painting.

Post-Paint Seal

Lastly, add a post-paint sealer to the entire project to protect your paint and leaf from UV damage and more.

How to Use Gold and Silver Leaf Pens

For small details that can be difficult to add with foil sheets, it is best to use gold and silver leaf pens

These pens deliver a smooth, controlled flow of gold and silver paint from a small tip, best for adding outlines, dots, and tiny highlights.

What to Look for In Gold and Silver Foil

What to look for in gold and silver leaf

There are many different brands and types of gold and silver foil available for purchase at art supply stores. 

Before you jump on your Amazon app, add the first product you find to your cart, and proceed to checkout, it’s best to ensure that you are actually buying a product worth the money. 

Size

When deciding on which gold leaf to purchase for your project, you have a few options when it comes to the size of the leaf. 

When making your choice, you need to be sure that you choose one that would be workable and fits the needs of your painting. 

You have the choice between whole gold foil leaves and variegated gold leaf flakes. Applying leaf to a surface is much easier, especially if you have a larger area to cover.

Flakes are tiny and you must apply them with tweezers. But if your project is small, this may be the right way to go.

If you choose to use gold leaf sheets, you still have a choice to make; patent leaf or loose leaf?

Patent leaf, also known as transfer leaf, is usually larger and has tissue paper backing.

Loose leaf is usually smaller in size, and you need a gilder’s tip to apply it to your painting.

The Mona Lisa Speedball line has high-quality products in each type; patent leafloose-leaf, and flakes.

Color

Depending on the brand and additives, gold leaf sheets come in a variety of colors. Of course, you always have the option of using different metals such as silver and copper.

Some gold leaf has a darker tone, while others are of a softer tone. Some are so light that they almost seem to look like white gold.

You may notice different hues such as pinks, blues, and greens in some products. When it comes to color, preference is the only thing that should determine that. 

Shine

Some gold and silver leaf products that lack that shiny intensity. If you want something brilliant, you need to be sure you choose the right product.

Typically, imitation gold leaf won’t shine quite as bright as real gold. 

Price

First of all, the price of the gold needs to fit your budget. 

Imitation gold leaf doesn’t look as pretty as 18 karat gold leaf, but it's significantly cheaper. Using this type of gold foil is sometimes better for beginners until they get the technique down.

Imitation gold leaf is more susceptible to tarnish, however, so keep that in mind. 

Quality

Again, real gold is better, and the higher the karat, the better the shine.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t find high-quality foil sheets without them being pure gold. 

You will want to look for a product that has good durability. You don’t want it to fall off your painting easily before you get a chance to seal it. 

Conclusion

As artists, experimentation with a new medium is what keeps things interesting. Gold and silver leaf are certainly an interesting choice and can set your piece of art apart.

As all new things take practice, it may take some time before you perfect the use of gold leaf in your paintings. You can use the ideas and methods in this article to keep practicing until you feel confident with gold leaf.

And when you want only the best gold leaf paper supplies, be sure to shop Rileystreet Art Supply.