Golden Inspirations: Gold Leaf Painting

gold leaf sheet

Today, I turn my attention to the glory of Gold Leaf. This is a traditional media which has been in practice some 5000 years, beginning in ancient India.

Gold leaf is manufactured by hammering real gold into paper-thin sheets.  Today, faux versions of gold (actually made from copper) makes the practice of using it much less cost prohibitive.

madonna con bambino

Gold leaf was widely used during the great dynasties of Egypt, as well as in Eastern and Western Europe, evidenced by Byzantine icons and medieval altarpieces.  It is still popularly used in religious art, in both the west and the east, due to the fact that it’s luminous hue and brilliance gives an enlightening appearance to almost any image it is paired with.

heron, song dynasty

Asia has utilized gold-leaf backgrounds in their fine paintings of animals and nature for throughout generations of dynasties, and hundreds of years. These fine renditions of wild life are still their most popular form of art.

Gustav Klimt is the most famous artist of the 20th century to have used gold leaf as a primary aspect of his expression.

Images of nature become iconic expressions of beauty when the details are isolated against the warm and brilliant tones of gold (click to view enlargements).

Gold leaf was traditionally paired with egg-tempera painting, a method that used egg yolks as the pigment binder, and was a predecessor to the creation of oil paints.  Oil glazes also work very well above gold-leaf, allowing the gold to shine through thin veils of paint.

Gold leaf can also be paired with acrylic painting.  Even small fragments of gold leaf within a composition can add sparkle to the whole canvas.  It can be worked into abstract paintings, as well as those that focus on representational themes.

Compositions built around white have a classic effect when paired with gold.  Artist and illustrator, Jackie Morris frequently employs gold leaf backgrounds in her paintings, which range from humorous rabbits to elegant birds.


More Mixed Media Artists who incorporate Gold Leaf into their work:

Patricia Miranda and Julia Garcia


Annie Howell-Adams


Laura Barkley and Bettina Hartas

Selena Trieff and Theresa Abel

Erica Steiner

Here’s a couple of my own experiments that utilize gold leaf:

In “Thistle Garden”, I used a type of variegated gold leaf, which has a pattern of greens and copper, as well as gold tones.  This was paired with oils on plexiglass.

In my painting, “A State of Grace”, I used copper leaf, silver leaf, and less traditional mediums including a glue texture, powdered copper, and shavings from steel picture frames (the left over dust from a frame store I worked at).  This was created on reverse-glass.  The top layer is painted with oil on glass.

Art Inspiration Articles:
View the index of all of my articles that are created specifically for class projects: www.eyeconart.net/blog/?page_id=540

admin Nov 4th 2008 08:02 pm 2 Comments Trackback URI Comments RSS

2 Responses to “Golden Inspirations: Gold Leaf Painting”

  1. [...] Paper thin gold leafing [...]

  2. Annie Howell-Adamson 18 Sep 2009 at 6:11 am link comment

    Nice entry about gold leaf….I just wanted to add that sometimes I try to make gold leaf leaf look spontaneous….it is anything but that. It is a strong element to work with….also like painting over it with transparent paint.

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