On Saturday I attended an all-day workshop with my friend and neighbour, Jean, with a local artist who does some amazing things with gold leaf. Silver leaf, too. Gold (and silver, too) leaf is just that -- an amazingly thin, delicate leaf (sheet) of gold. You can buy real gold or fake stuff; I have both 23k loose gold leaf and imitation gold leaf, and both work well. Real gold leaf is thinner, more delicate, and can be etched into once applied to the surface. Real gold cannot be touched with your fingers and must be applied using a brush. Imitation gold is heavier, cannot be etched into nicely, but is easy to handle as you can apply it with your fingers.
To apply leafing, first lay down a ground of acrylic paint, watercolour, or pigmented acrylic inks (like those used for caligraphy). A special adhesive called gold size is painted onto the area you wish to leaf and let to dry. Gold size remains slightly tacky when dried and the leaf will stick to the adhesive. Pick up a small piece of leaf (using a brush with real gold and fingers for imitation) and lay it down over the adhesive. Pat into place using a stiff bristled brush. Brush away excess leaf -- save the crumbs for dusting onto another project!
Pretty easy, and so pretty! :)
Here are two sample pieces I worked on at the workshop:
(click for larger image)