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Metal Leafing the Easy Way

This Metal Leafing method reduces the number of steps required and gives a very good effect. It's ideal for leafing large areas or complicated surfaces quickly.

metal leafing

Traditional water gilding results in an exquisite surface, but it's a meticulous, lengthy process. This easy method reduces the number of steps required and gives a very good effect. It's ideal for leafing large areas or complicated surfaces quickly.

Step 1
Paint the object or surface with acrylic paint. Here, a Daniel Smith Style 5901 Raw Maple frame was painted with Red Oxide Golden Acrylics. Use a soft brush such as the Daniel Smith Series 33-33 Synthetic Bristle Brush to minimize brushstrokes which could remain visible once the leaf is applied. Paint in the direction of the grain, and pay particular attention to the edges, where paint can accumulate. Earthy reds or yellows are typically used as base coats for gold leaf, while black, blues or earthy reds are often used for silver leaf.

Step 2

Step 2
Allow the base coat to dry thoroughly. Then, again using a fairly soft brush, brush on a thin, even coat of Daniel Smith Quick Size. This is the adhesive the leaf will stick to. Allow the Quick Size to set up for at least a half hour and up to an hour, until it is tacky. Test it by tapping it with your knuckle; it should feel dry and tacky and should not feel wet or transfer to your knuckle. Variations in heat and humidity will affect how long it takes to set up. If you're leafing a large surface, apply the quick size in sections you'll be able to leaf within an hour or two.

step 3

Step 3
Now begin laying the leaf. Composition Leaf was used for this project. Though extremely thin, it is thicker and much easier to use than Genuine Gold Leaf, but it does tarnish, so you may want to handle it with thin white cotton gloves. Slip a piece of leaf off the backing sheet, adhering one edge near the lower outside edge of the frame, then bring it up and over the face, smoothing it down lightly as you go with a soft brush. We used a soft, inexpensive sumi brush, but any soft brush works. The excess will tear away when you brush it. Continue laying the leaf, overlapping edges slightly, then brush away the excess and smooth it with a brush. Leaf applied in this manner can be buffed lightly with a piece of soft cheesecloth to even out the surface, but should not be burnished with a hard agate burnisher, which can easily tear the surface since Quick Size is fairly soft. Pointed agate burnishers can help push the leaf into small crevices if you're leafing a complex surface, however.

metal leafing

It's easy to leaf small shapes using Safety-Kut Soft Printmaking Block stamps to apply the Quick Size.

Step 1
Carve your stamps, using a Speedball Linoleum Cutter. These simple shapes were drawn freehand with a pencil, then cut out. Safety-Kut is a breeze to cut, and it's thick enough to handle and stamp easily once the shapes are cut out. The process described here also works with store-bought rubber stamps, even ones with fine detail.

metal leafing

Step 2
To apply the stamps to a painted surface, make sure the paint is bone dry. Otherwise, the leaf may stick to the entire painted area, not just the areas with Quick Size. Once your paint is dry, brush the Safety-Kut stamps thinly with Quick Size and stamp them in the desired pattern. Do not let the stamp slide, but if it does, wipe the size away with mineral spirits, let the area dry and try again. When you lift the stamp, you'll see the shape created by the size. Clean stamps thoroughly with mineral spirits. Allow Quick Size to become tacky and nearly dry before applying the leaf. Cut small pieces of leaf and adhere them to the sized areas. Tap the leaf down gently with a soft brush or cloth and let it sit for a few minutes, then gently brush away the excess, leaving only the shapes.

metal leafing

Step 3
The stamps can also be used on glass or porcelain. Degrease the surface with rubbing alcohol or glass cleaner, then proceed as described in Step 2. Porcelain plates embellished this way should be considered purely decorative, but you can protect the leafed areas with varnish if you wish. Stamping shapes on the back of a clear glass plate is quite effective. After the leafing is completed, let it dry overnight. Then the back of the plate can be painted or the sized areas can be varnished with acrylic varnish or polyurethane. For a reverse painting, metallic leaf can also be applied to picture glass, then painted over with oils, acrylics or Porcelaine 150. Frame with the plain side of the glass facing the viewer.

Materials List

  • Speedball Linoleum Cutter
  • Safety-Kut
  • Quick Size
  • Composition Leaf
  • Daniel Smith Style 5901 Raw Maple frame
  • Red Oxide
  • Golden Acrylics
  • Daniel Smith Series 33-33 Synthetic Bristle Brush
  • Gold Leaf
  • Silver Leaf
  • White Cotton Gloves
  • Cheesecloth Agate Burnisher
  • Sumi Brush
  • Mineral Spirits
  • Rubbing Alcohol or Glass Cleaner
  • Acrylic Varnish or Polyurethane
  • Porcelaine 150