Gilding with imitation gold leaf

gilding with imitation gold leaf

Imitation gold leaf is an alloy made from brass, copper & aluminium it comes in different shades, the shade I use is a close match for the colour of genuine 23 carat gold leaf.

This is a very underestimated material in my experience. I found many different uses for this gold leaf substitute over the years.

Each book of imitation gold leaf contains 25 leaves about 5 inches square, it handles in the same way as genuine gold leaf but as it is a little thicker it is more forgiving in use.

When genuine gold leaf is used outside it has to be protected with a clear varnish, imitation gold leaf is the same, it has to be protected with a clear lacquer, but this is not a problem as almost all the glazes and ageing processes shown on this site call for the leaf to be given a coating of lacquer of some sort.

Technique for handling gold leaf

You do not need a lot of equipment to be able to gild successfully, but handling the leaf can be a problem for the inexperienced.

To handle the leaf you will need a minimum of equipment.

A gilding cushion and a gilding knife, are the only major items, the other materials, vaseline, cotton wool, pumice powder and the leaf itself are very cheap.

One hint, if you can find a straight edged cutlery knife from the 1950's or before you will have a very good gilding knife.

As handling the leaf is so important I have provided here a step by step illustrated method which follows. This subject is also covered in detail in my manual which is available from the download page.

handling gold leaf

First scoop out about half a teaspoon of pumice powder with your gilders knife and put it on the cushion. It is vital that your cushion is free from any traces of grease and the pumice acts to degrease the cushion





The gilding knife should not have an extremely sharp edge or it will cut into the leather of the cushion, rather it should be slightly rough. Using the gilders knife spread the powder over the surface of the cushion, use the edge of the knife, not the flat blade, and gently scrape the powder back and forth so that it covers the entire cushion. This will remove any traces of grease from the cushion.

Wipe the blade on the cushion to remove the powder from the knife, then brush of the surplus powder from the cushion again with your gilders knife. Take some care that you remove traces of pumice powder from your knife by wiping the knife on the cushion.


Gold leaf handling

Open your book of leaf and insert the blade under one of the leaves of gold. Some gilders use a shield around the cushion to prevent drafts from blowing the leaf around; I prefer to have a space where no drafts can get in. I suggest strongly that you should put the cat out when gilding, they can be so curious I have found.







Gently lift the leaf of gold over to your gilders cushion and lay the leaf out as flat as you can, practice will make you perfect at this. If the leaf does not lie down perfectly flat, you can gently blow down onto to the surface of the leaf; your breath should flatten out any irregularities.







laying the gold leaf down flat

I would say that this is flat enough for you to work with. What we do next will depend on what we are gilding; I am preparing to gild the edge of a picture frame so I need small pieces of leaf to work with. If you are going to gild a large flat surface you may decide not to cut the leaf into smaller pieces, generally I have found that smaller pieces are easier to handle, but were I about to gild a large flat surface I might cut the leaf into four to work with or even work with single sheets.





For this piece of work I am going to gild the edges of a frame so I am cutting up the leaf into smaller pieces, this frame is simple for the purposes of illustration but of course if you are dealing with a complicated surface smaller pieces will help you anyway. Gently draw your knife through the leaf exerting a moderate pressure while doing so, if the edge of your knife is sharpened correctly one cut should be enough to cut the leaf.





Here you can see all the separate pieces of leaf cut up and ready to use.











picking up the vaseline prior to gilding

Next put a dab of Vaseline on the back of your hand a smear it over your hand in a circular motion to distribute the grease all over the back of your hand, we do not want blobs of grease left, rather a thin film should be distributed over surface.







Get a small pad of cotton wool and press it lightly onto the back of your hand which has the grease on.









With the lightly greased pad of cotton wool you will find that you can now easily pick up the pieces of leaf. 


There are other ways to handle leaf, but this is easy and predictable.




If you have greasy skin you may find that rubbing the cotton wool pad down the side of your nose will pick up enough grease for you to pick up the pieces of gold leaf. All this did for me was to give me a sore nose, but I have seen it work with some people, I just mention it in passing.


Someone said recently that my manual helped to bring the process of gilding to life, up to that point this person only had text to guide him.


OK, I spent some time illustrating how to handle the leaf because it is important to be able to handle it properly. The rest of the process's are simpler by comparison. Next let's have a look at the adhesives used in gilding. click here.




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