Basic Gold leaf handling Tutorial

This is a quick guide to the basics of handling and moving gold and silver leaf without loosing too much! It can be tricky to use as it's so very, very thin, and you will find it easily sticks to the skin. So here are a few quick and dirty tips and tricks to make it a little easier

Real Gold/Fake Gold;

I get so annoyed at people in craft shops trying to sell me 'real gold' when I know it's fake leaf! Even though it does look the same, the differences are in size. Real leaf is almost never sold in anything larger than 3inch books, (between 65-85cm; 95mm for silver) and fake is always about 140-160mm. The only exception is copper leaf, which is always real. Real gold sticks to itself when press, fake does not, which is why you see the characteristic square- pattern on cheap 'gold' & lacquered plates etc. When correctly used real gold joins vanish. You can buy both types as loose or transfer (transfer is lightly pressed into wax paper to make it easier to handle), but I will show you how to use loose.

The tools;

The best thing to get is a 'Guilders Cushion' which is a piece of good chamois leather over some slight cotton wool padding. You can make this yourself, and my first cushion I used a chamois from a car shop over a bit of block-board. It did eventually wear out as I was a little too enthusiastic cutting. If you buy a commercial made one it will often have a strap underneath to hold it, and a tracing paper shield to protect from draughts. You will also need a guilders knife which is a long, very sharp, and flat to pick up the gold with. You could improvise with a sharpened old kitchen knife, but there really isn't anything as good as the real thing. Keep this sharp, and don't let anything nick the cutting blade else it will cause the leaf to tear - it'll then be useless.

 Tip1!! Use some rouge paper from the gold leaf to rub over the surface of the leather, helps get rid of grease and keep it non-leaf-stick! Major tip 2!!!! Buy some guilders whitening if you can, or use talc, rub this into your hands and fingertips and LIGHTLY over the sides of the blade. This will stop the gold sticking to the grease on your fingertips if you have to touch the leaf.

Step 1; Put everything on a flat surface, somewhere draught free. If a bit of leaf blows away DON'T try to grab it as it will stick to your hands, wait to it settled before rescuing it, you can pinch between thump and forefinger to pick up most bits.

Step 2; Gently press down and slide the tip of the knife under a sheet of leaf. If it sticks, stop, press down into the cushion a little more, and carry on weaving side to side slightly.

Step 3; Once fully under, with the knife in the centre of the square, you can now life the leaf. It should drape evenly over both sides.

Step 4; This is the tricky bit, putting it down on the cushion. Some people 'roll' it off, personally I give it a sharp upward lift then down so air get underneath causing it to billow up. Whatever method you use it might need a few more partial lifts to get to a near flat position; this is really where practise really helps.

Step 5; It's probably nearly level or maybe slightly crinkled? Just over the centre about 12inches away, purse your lips, give a very light sharp puff down on the leaf. It should hug down to the cushion and iron itself flat as if by magic!

Step 6; Put the knife directly down on the leaf and with long fluid steps 'saw' the leaf back then forward. With a sharp knife this is normally enough to cut it.

Step 7; With the knife still down, push gently to one side to finish dividing the leaf. If you get any stray tags joining the bits together you haven't cut it enough, and should re-cut these now.

Step 8; Continue cutting until you have the leaf divided into squares or rectangles the sizes you wish to work with. I often divide mine into six as rectangles as each is just the size I use for my little world studs (yes, they use that much gold!)

Step 9; If you are gilding at this point you would lift them with a guilders tip (along ultra flat sable brush. Lightly bushed over the face it picks up enough grease to hold a bit of leaf to it, not static charge as some mistakenly think). However I am going to use some left over rouged paper from previous gold leaf books to package them into useable bits that can easily be slid out onto a marver later.

Step 10; Push the tip of the knife down and THEN slide it under the amount of leaf you wish to pick up.

Step11; Lift and lay down on your rouged paper, fold the other half over. Now press the knife down again and start slowly and evenly pulling the knife out.

Step 12; If at this point the gold starts coming away with the knife you can just put your fingers onto to hold in place. You now have a small package of neatly trimmed leaf that can be slid out easily onto your marver when it's time to use!