Falling in love with Leaf!

Gold leaf, Copper leaf, Silver leaf, Variegated leaf – I am in love with them all. I never knew you could actually put metal leaf onto canvas. I thought the ground would be too unstable, that it would have to be more solid, such as wood or plaster. But you can and it creates a glorious effect – not only to look at, but also to paint on.

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I use imitation gold and silver leaf because it is so much cheaper and, given it is such a fiddly business, I don’t want to be worrying about the price of the leaf that gets irretrievably stuck to my fingers(!) Imitation gold leaf is made from bronze and a combination of copper and zinc. Imitation silver leaf is made from aluminium. And then there is variegated leaf, which is imitation leaf heated to create fabulous patterning.

Variegated gold leaf on canvas with the heated patterning

I remember my father went through a phase of gold leaf. Leaf is so delicate that you cannot have any breeze in the room or it will just fly away. It is gossamer thin and can develop a life of its own, wafting freely around the studio. The leaf has to be carefully conveyed from its packaging to the canvas through the use of static electricity. My father had a special gilding brush for this but fortunately for me there is now a more modern way of doing it – using wax paper squares, the kind used to separate burger patties. The leaf statically adheres to the wax paper which makes it easier (still not easy) to transfer it horizontally onto the surface of the canvas. The canvas has been coated with size which remains tacky for days and provides a secure bond for the leaf.

Newly laid copper leaf

The leaf then needs to be left for three days, after which the unglued stray edges are very, very gently brushed away. The whole surface is then burnished with a soft cloth. Following this the leaf needs four coats of sealant to ensure protection from damage as well as from tarnishing.

The final result is a entrancingly glistening surface which can be painted on if desired.

‘Arabian Seas’, oil, acrylic and copper leaf on canvas, 4’11” x 3’11” – 150 x 120cm and Archie the studio dog

This piece absolutely lights up the room!

I am on a leaf roll now. My future painting plans include silver leaf with green seas, gold leaf with turquoise seas and variegated leaf with colours I have not envisioned yet. So happy!



  1. I love the effect of leaf and hadn’t really thought that there were various types – I was stuck with gold. I love the way you blend paint with leaf but wonder if it feels like a different process for you from pure painting. It sounds so delicate and meticulous – all the concentration! – whereas your painting style is often much more fluid and free?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, you know me so well!
    Learning how to gild has been a laborious process for me. At first I found it so fiddly. I’d get very frustrated with yet more leaf sticking to my fingers or falling to the floor. But as I learned the technique I began to love it – well, you would when it results in such beauty. A beauty you can’t get from anything else. I have also learned to paint in a rather more disciplined free style, if that makes sense, so that I have more control over it. I still revel in the freer painting. It is where I lose myself.
    But put them together and it is just heaven for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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