Gold leaf has been used not only for flat surfaces but also for three-dimensional objects in both the West and the East.
Although the glue/medium used varies depending on the type of substrate and metal leaf, PIGMENT TOKYO recommends the following two mediums for beginners.
The first is animal glue. Animal glue, also known as Nikawa in Japanese, is a binder made by boiling animal skins, tendons, and bones in water, then concentrating the solution and cooling it down to solidify it. The animals used for making the glue also vary across countries, regions, and periods, such as cattle, deer, and pigs, and also include fish, whales, and other aquatic creatures.
When applying metal leaves by using animal glue, we recommend our original product, Pig Glue for Sizing 20％. As indicated in the product name, the concentration of this animal glue is 20%, so it must be diluted with water to the appropriate percentage for use.
This medium is ideal for Japanese painting and other expressions using animal glue as the main binder. However, since it is a natural material, it is necessary to warm it up before use and it feels different according to weather conditions, therefore, it might take some time for beginners to get used to it.
The second medium is Gilding Size (Missione all'Acqua), a water-based adhesive for metal leaf application.
I recommend this for those who want to use it casually out of the container, like an acrylic medium. The main difference from the previous Pig Glue for Sizing 20％ is that this medium is water-soluble acrylic resin specially made for metal leaf application.
Boiling in hot water before use is not necessary and it also has a moderate viscosity that allows you to draw lines like calligraphy. Because it does not dry quickly, you can take your time and work without being in a hurry.
Metal leaf was applied on the Bamboo Washi for Watercolor with Gilding Size (Missione all'Acqua).
It can be used on various substrates but is more suitable to use one with low absorption.
Another bonus of this medium is that it can be applied to smooth surfaces or materials such as plastics and acrylic resins by coating them with a glass primer or other primer. Therefore, it is not only for painting purposes but also for crafts and handmade hobbies.
In this article, I would like to demonstrate how to apply metal leaves on three-dimensional objects by using the Gilding Size.
Here I have a wooden brush stand and some egg-shaped wooden pieces.
Other than wood, you can apply metal leaves on acrylic sheets or glasses by coating them with a primer.
The following tools are what I use for metal leaf application with this Gilding Size.
・Nylon Brushes（Flat and Round Types）
・Goat Hair Flat Brush
（※A Gilder’s Leather Cushion Pad and a Gilder’s Knife are tools for cutting metal leaves. They are not used in this article.）
In this article, I will demonstrate using Silver Gold Leaf and Silver Leaf, yet, there are a variety of metal leaves made of metals, including gold, silver, copper, platinum, aluminum, etc. There is also a series of colorful metal leaves called Colored Silver Leaf; they are silver leaves tinted by synthetic resins and dyes or pigments, and you can find more detail about them in the following article.
How to Apply Gold Leaf to Your Artwork
As mentioned above, since Gilding Size is made of acrylic resin and the medium might damage the brush if you use a soft one like a goat hair brush, please make sure to use a stiff nylon brush.
Although the brush used for scraping the remaining metal leaves after the application does not matter which type of bristle, I chose a soft goat hair brush to not scratch off the fixed metal leaf.
Now, let’s get started!
① Apply the Gilding Size
Pour the Gilding Size into a plate and apply it to your substrates with a nylon brush.
If applying to a surface that has been pre-coated for reducing absorption in advance, only one layer will be required, but if the surface is still absorbing the medium, apply several coats and allow it to dry before the final coat.
Apply the coating until the surface feels slightly sticky when touching it.
Since the metal leaf is very thin and easily affected by even a slight breeze or static electricity, applying baby powder to the bamboo tweezers and your hands reduces the effects. Moreover, remember to turn off the air conditioner in the room, you could work with the leaf more easily.
Next, let’s prepare the metal leaf by setting a sheet of wax paper. The wax paper is used for transferring the metal leaf. It allows us to use our hands to lift the metal leaf and move around smoothly.
③ Apply Metal Leaf
Glue metal leaf gently to where Gilding Size is applied.
The key to work faster is to start applying metal leaves from the edge of the surface.
After that, apply some pressure gently with a cotton ball. Please note that the metal leaf may peel off if you pressed too hard.
Remove the remains with a flat goat hair brush and you can keep the removed metal leaf separately in a container because we can later use it as Kirimawashi (metal leaf flakes).
If the whole area is not covered at once, you can use smaller pieces of metal leaf to fix the details. The Kirimawashi flakes also can be used for fixing too. After applying the metal leaf, again, apply some pressure gently with a cotton ball.
⑤Layering Metal Leaves
After drying, you can apply another color of metal leaf on top of it with the same Gilding Size.
Since the base was plain wood, I chose a silver metal leaf. As I mentioned before, the bonus of using this Gilding Size is you can paint around easily like acrylic paint.
⑥Use of Kirimawashi ( Metal Leaf Flakes)
You can create random patterns with metal leaves by gluing Kirimawashi laying on the paper palette. It is fun to see these random patterns popping up in your work.
By doing so, there are many ways of expression just by overlapping two types of metal leaf.
When Gilding Size is completely dried, you can polish the metal leaf by using an agate burnisher. As a general guideline, let it dry at room temperature for at least 24 hours and work only after it is no longer moist.
In addition to applying on flat surfaces, it is possible to create lines with gold or silver leaf.
It is very fun and interesting that we can apply these metal leaves intuitively by using this acrylic type of medium even without having plans or calculations.
Although I chose wooden objects to apply metal leaves in this article, you can also use glass or acrylic resin as your substrate by coating them with a glass primer. It might be interesting to make gilded objects by applying metal leaves onto plastic or other materials.
Moreover, it would be fun to make glitter eggs during Easter time too!
Therefore, it’s your time to try the metal leaf application with the Gilding Size and perhaps you will be mesmerized by the shimmering colors unique to metal leaf.
Translated by Atsumi Okano and Nelson Hor Ee Herng
PIGMENT TOKYO Art Materials Experts