Gold Leaf

After running out of a coveted type of gold leaf from a supplier that is no longer in business, I've been getting up to speed on this material that is so key to my art practice. It's what is used to create the tiny glimmers of bling in most of my Playing With Fire series.

 Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 7  (detail) .  Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 21.5 x 18 x 2.75 inches. ©2013. Private collection.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 7 (detail)Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 21.5 x 18 x 2.75 inches. ©2013. Private collection.

The issue has been not only color but the form that it comes in. Did you know that there are at least 16 different shades of genuine gold leaf? Depending on your taste (literally, as some of it is edible), it ranges from really bright and intense to white gold. Just like gold used for metalwork in jewelry, the amount of actual gold in the mix determines the color. There are other forms of metal leaf including copper leaf, variegated leaf, and tin leaf.

 Ranges of genuine gold leaf on top of a work in progress. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2018

Ranges of genuine gold leaf on top of a work in progress. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2018

The other consideration is the form the leaf comes in: loose, transfer or ribbon. Loose is the trickiest to work with and requires great skill. Transfer (shown above) is lightly tacked to individual pieces of waxy paper for easy transfer and release onto the artwork. Ribbon is similar, only cut into long ribbons of paper (good for framing and borders). My preference is transfer leaf, although I work with the others as needed.

 Ribbon gold leaf. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2018

Ribbon gold leaf. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2018

Genuine gold leaf is, of course, more precious than imitation, and also pricier. Imitation can be beautiful but is limited in color and must be protected from tarnishing.

A lot goes a long way, however - if you can afford it, genuine leaf is the best choice. With names like champagne gold, moon gold, lemon gold, palladium, and platinum I find the real stuff hard to resist.