A demonstration of my techniques for using gold leaf gilding in an oil painting.
- 12 oz. primed cotton duct canvas, stretched
- Artist-quality paints – I prefer Zellen (a South African brand). Acrylics: white cobalt blue, black,; oils: cadmium red, mars red, alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, zinc yellow, sap green.
- Acrylic extender.
- Texture paste: I mix my own with equal parts of talcum powder, white acrylic and mod podge glue.
- Squeezy bottle.
- Brushes and palette knife.
- Imitation gold leaf.
- Any quick-drying oil-based clear wood varnish.
- White spirit vinegar.
- Oil medium made with genuine turpentine, refined linseed oil, alkyd oil medium (Liquin by Winsor & Newton).
Before applying imitation gold leaf I carefully paint the areas to be gilded with a quick-drying oil-based wood varnish. Because wood varnishes will continue to darken and yellow overtime, do not use the varnish to seal the gold leaf or any part of the painting. If the varnish dries the gold will not stick to it, therefore I only do small sections at a time. When dry, I apply white spirit vinegar to give the gold a slightly distressed look. The vinegar should stay on for at least 24 hours before cleaning it off with water.
At this stage I stop using water-based paints and move on to oils. I set the gold leaf by giving the entire painting a thin layer of oil medium. This medium consists of one third refined linseed oil, one third turps and one third alkyd oil medium (such as Liquin). The oil medium gives my oil paint better flow, transparency and quicker drying time. I use glazing to change or deepen my colours. When light shines through the different colour glaze layers it reflects from the layers underneath, mixing optically and causing light diffusion and glow. The process is slow, but the results are not attainable by any other means of oil painting. I deliberately did not put in any three-dimensional detail into the trees, gold ground or sky, because I wanted to create a surreal effect and cause my main subject, the child and rabbit, to ‘pop out’.
I have primed the canvas with a cobalt blue and white acrylic mixture to create a cool tonal mood, then I sketched my image with dark blue pencil – Lead pencil will be difficult to cover with subsequent transparent oil layers.
I’ve applied texture paste made from a third part Talcum powder, a third part light blue Acrylic and a third part Podge using a squeeze bottle and pallet knife.
Next I lighten the girl and rabbit with white acrylic that has been thinned with an acrylic extender and bottom with black acrylic to separate the ground from sky.
To create the impression of leaves in the background, I applied varnish then tore off small bits of imitation gold with my fingers and placed them carefully. Once the varnish was completely dry I use white spirit vinegar to tarnish the gold leaf gilding. Then I covered the whole painting with a thin layer of oil medium to set the gilding.
For the foreground trees I mixed one part phthalo blue, two parts ultramarine blue, one part Prussian blue and one part titanium white. For the next layer of trees I added one part titanium white to one part blue mixture, then two parts titanium white to one part blue mixture for the furthest trees. Next, I added a thin transparent layer with a mixture of five parts Vandyke brown to one part Prussian blue and oil medium to throw back the background and accentuate the detail formed by the texture paste. I used a round brush to apply this layer and a rubber-tipped brush to scrape it off again, thereby filling in the grooves and leaving a slightly blueish tint.
After 24 hours drying time I began to paint in the deep shadows, shades and main tones of the girl, flower and rabbit, with my Vandyke brown mix. I used a thin straight-edged sign-writer’s brush and a rigger for darker details and a softer round brush for defining or softening the edges. This layer is traditionally referred to as a ‘dead colour’ layer. When dry, I painted in a mid-tone for the skin tones with a mixture of one part alizarin crimson, two parts cadmium red, one part Mars red and one part burnt sienna, forming a warm flat red transparent layer.
The highlights and mid-tones were painted with titanium white thinned with oil medium. The hair of the rabbit was painted with a sword liner.I’m basically creating a monochromatic effect by combining dark transparent tones with thinned-out opaque white highlights. The following layers will include transparent glazing and then semi-opague and opague colouring over the dry surface of the painting.
When the previous layer was dry I began to apply brown skin tones with a transparent layer of one part burnt sienna to one part Vandyke brown and oil medium, then sharpened the highlights and mid-tones by painting another thin layer of titanium white and oil medium.
Enchanted Forest II, oil and gold leaf gilding on canvas, 90cm by 90cm. I added two more transparent layers of burnt sienna and Vandyke brown to the child, allowing at least 24 hours drying time between each. Finally I gave the entire painting a very light tint of one part Prussian blue ro one part sap green and oil medium, to cool down the flesh tones and unity and seal the painting. The oil medium dries to a matt finish.