Technical Papers

Gold Leafing - Why and How Is It Used?

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020 by Mia Angle

Applying gold leaf is a common procedure in many historical restoration projects, whether it be in museums, churches, government buildings, or sites protected by The Antiquities Act of 1906 (which can range from the previous homes of historical figures to national monuments).

Gold leaf has been used in historic architecture for centuries to symbolize wealth, status, and in some cases, divinity. Its brilliance and scarcity make it a natural representation of these qualities. However, it is also incredibly sturdy when applied correctly, which allows the structure it is laid upon to endure the test of time.

Gold leaf application is not particularly complicated – more so, it is a painstaking and delicate process. The surface must be stripped completely to provide a stable substrate to apply the gold leaf too; the stripping process removes contaminants, old gold leafing that has been worn away or damaged, and other dirt and debris. Here at Scholar Painting LLC, we use products such as Drummond Peel Away to successfully prepare the surface.

Gold Leafing - Why and How Is It Used? - Image 1The weather must also be monitored. High winds, humidity, or precipitation can halt the entire process. Rain or snow are commonly avoided in the painting industry for obvious reasons. Humidity, too – but for gold leaf, in particular, humidity can cause sticking. Not only to the fingers of our application experts but to the surface prematurely or even to the other sheets of leafing. The wind is a problem in all steps of the application process. Obviously, we do not want the delicate little sheets of expensive gold leaf to fly out of our hands! But once it's applied, excessive winds can lift the edges, too. President of Scholar Painting LLC emphasizes the importance of keeping an eye on the forecast: “Any of these conditions could cause the installers more difficulty, or even ruin the installation.”Gold Leafing - Why and How Is It Used? - Image 2

On days where the conditions are perfect, our contractors can move forward. After stripping the surface, an adhesive called sizing is applied to the substrate. When the sizing is ready for gold leaf application, the sheets are applied with a small, soft brush. If the gold leaf was packaged on tissue paper for ease of use, that tissue paper is then peeled away to reveal the gold leaf beneath. Our applicators take all the time they need to make sure the gold leaf is applied with as little overlap as possible to avoid waste – they will even use small scissors or razors to cut the sheets of gold leaf into smaller pieces when necessary, rather than overlapping. After the entire substrate is coated with the gold leaf and set, the second coat of sizing is applied. Then, to make sure no spots were missed and that the coating of the gold leaf looks and feels even, our applicators apply a second coat of leafing.Gold Leafing - Why and How Is It Used? - Image 3

While the process may seem like a lot of work, because of its resilient quality and historical significance, the process is most definitely one worth bringing with us into the future while we preserve the past.



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