How to Do Gilding
A Newcastle Arts Centre Guide

Gilding is the application of very thin sheets of gold leaf to any firm surface.

It is an old craft skill which traditionally has many trade secrets.
These notes are an introductory guide to modern practice and are no substitute for professional training.

1) PREPARATION (n.b. the gold will repeat the texture of the prepared surface.)

RAW WOOD - Sand smooth, apply a coat of sealer, sand once more lightly. For a smooth finish
gesso can be applied to the sanded wood, sand between coats with a very fine grade sandpaper.

GLASS & VINYL - Make sure surfaces are free of dust, grit and oil based residue.
Wipe over with methylated spirits.

PLASTER & TERRA-COTTA - Seal with two coats of sealer after thoroughly cleaning
with either detergent and water or meths.

PREVIOUSLY PAINTED OR VARNISHED OBJECTS - A general clean and light sanding will surfice
unless the paint is thick, uneven, or chipped. In this case the piece should be thoroughly stripped, then sealed.


After preparing the surface apply one or two coats of bole, ( traditionally used to create the ‘eggshell’ paint
applied beneath the gilded surface), try C. Roberson + Co. Red Ochre Dark Hue Classic Bole, or for
modern gilding acrylic paint acts as a satisfactory basecoat. Dilute the acrylic paint slightly with
a matt medium so that the finish is less shiny, and ready to receive the size and leaf that will be applied .


Size is either a water or oil based adhesive used as a mordant to attach metal leaf to a surface.
A water based size dries quickly and has a usable tack life. An example of a water based size is
Gedeo Gilding Paste, or alternatively an acrylic medium or a good PVA glue thinned to a
milky consistency can be used. A traditional oil based size such as Japan Gold Size works
best on hard smooth surfaces but will take longer to dry sufficiently to accept the leaf.

Apply size over the bole/ acrylic painted base coat in smooth even strokes, avoiding puddles and runs,
(as the leaf is wafer thin any marks underneath will be visible when finished).
As the size dries it will become clear with a tacky consistency. To test if the size is ready to accept the
leaf lightly press your knuckle to the surface, if it clicks when you pull it away it is ready. Do not test using
your finger tip as it will leave a print that will show through the leaf, or will remove the size from that area.

Size will remain tacky for some time.,
though if leaving overnight make sure the surface is covered and dust free.

4) APPLYING LEAF - the tricky bit

Gold coloured leaf is available in genuine gold and imitation leaf, the genuine leaf will be richer in colour
and finish, different coloured metal leaves are also available. Leaf also comes loose or as transfer,
(attached to tissue paper), making it easier to apply. Loose leaf requires special tools and skills
therefore we advise that you start with transfer. Wear cotton gloves when handling to avoid tarnishing
when working with silver or imitation gold, or rub talcum powder on your hands.

Once the size is tacky place the gold leaf on the object and brush it gently with a very soft brush.
Lay the next sheet of leaf down so that it overlaps slightly, and repeat until the surface is covered.
When applying to raised surfaces you may need to use small pieces of leaf to fill crevices first,
and use a soft bristle brush to tamp the leaf into the grooves. To get a shiny metal finish
use a burnisher - a pen like tool with a smooth agate stone as a point.

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details @ Newcastle Arts Centre, 67 Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 1SG.

phone 0191 2615999

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