The Finished Portrait Drawing & Applying Gold Leaf

The portrait drawing is finished!  For this post, I have documented the step-by-step process of how I added the gold leaf and completed the drawing.

Preparation for Leafing

First, this is the drawing as it looked around the time of the last post:
Next, I darkened the background to near-black using sharpened 4B and 6B pencils:

I keep the pencils sharp to render a solid, dense background value.  I work with a lot of pencils so I do not have to disrupt the momentum of drawing in order to sharpen.


Although the negative space is to be entirely covered in gold leaf, I still shade the background: the gold leaf tends to break apart during application and subsequently will appear dull, uneven, or cracked in areas - it is not a perfect shiny surface - so having the dark background gives the gold/negative space a density and a sense of  spatial depth that would not occur if the this area were kept white.

After the background was complete, I sprayed it with a matte final fixative (Krylon #1311).  After the fixative, I coated the black, negative space areas with matte medium (not the surface of the portrait or the leaves).

I use matte medium as a protective coat for the paper because the leafing requires both an adhesive and an oil-based varnish/sealant.


The leaf is so thin that any texture on the surface of the matte medium will show through the leaf ~ this can be used to create a subtle surface texture to the leaf (the brush strokes in the upper right corner are intentional).

By the way, until this piece I had not used matte medium over pencil rendered as a solid black value; I have used it when adding gold leaf to drawings, but not on a solidly-shaded background as above.  What I discovered is that it makes for a truly marvelous, non-reflective black (note to self:  use the matte medium to darken values on the next drawing that I create that requires a really, REALLY dark black).


Next, came the adhesive for the gold leaf - again, I painted only on the dark, black background areas.  The adhesive dries with a low-tack surface - just enough to hold the gold leaf firmly in place before varnishing.

Applying the Leaf

I do not even try to be precise when applying the gold leaf; I vaguely remember Martha Stewart demonstrating the application of silver leaf to the back of a sheet of glass to make a mirror - she mentioned that the leafing should not be perfect, as the point of hand-leafing was the sense of imperfection.  Of course Martha is right ~ embrace the flaws in the leafed surface and allow them to happen.

I do use the real gold - it is twice as much in price, but I do not skimp on supplies for my art (although I would probably not use the real deal to leaf something decorative such as a frame or a mirror):


The leaves come in a little book with tissue paper between each of the leaves (leaves between leaves!); it is advisable not to sneeze, talk or breathe...these little sheets of gold are lighter than tissue paper:


I apply the sheets in rows and columns, with a somewhat crude alignment:

(By the way, the above photo is a good example of how dark the pencil has become with matte medium painted lightly on the surface).

Once I have two or three leaves in place, I use a soft watercolor brush to smooth out the surface.  I gently remove the bits of leaf covering areas that do not have adhesive and apply them to any tears or gaps between the leaves.


The entire surface is now coated in leaf:


However, this is not a stable surface, as the leaf can easily be rubbed or scratched off, so a varnish/sealant must be used on top of the leaf:


The sealant deepens the yellow and cuts down on the garish reflection of the gold so the surface is a more muted metallic.  Notice the strokes of matte medium that are showing through as surface texture (bottom left of the photograph).


And, here it is ~ complete and as of yet untitled:

Graphite and gold leaf on Arches hot press watercolor paper, 22 x 32 inches (image) on a 26 x 41 inch sheet of paper


Currently Reading:  Neil Gaimon Anansi Boys

Currently Listening to:  Regina Spektor Far