Gold Leafing: A Beautiful Alternative Photographic Print Process

Text and Photography Not Attributed To Others by Joyce Wilson

I’ve been fascinated since childhood with gold and silver things. I cherish a tiny gold engraved vase that belonged to my grandmother, and a silver art deco jewelry box … a gift from my father to my mother during their courtship. And so about 10 years ago, I became obsessed with the idea of incorporating gold leaf into my photographic printing process

It’s important, however, to know the history and the background of gilding first.

The use of gold leaf in art dates back to ancient cultures. In Egypt gilding was employed for its ethereal aesthetic and used to decorate statues of gods and sacred objects. The Romans used gold leaf to depict people on medallions and pendants, and gilded portraiture is found throughout Byzantine art depicting religious themes. Renaissance artists became known for their gold-ground paintings

Klimt. Japanese Screen

Gustav Klimt “The Kiss”, 17th Century Japanese Screen

In addition to religious icons, gold leaf was also used in illuminated manuscripts during the Middle Ages. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Japanese artists incorporated golf leaf into the paintings found on folding screens, and they began to paint directly onto gold leaf to produce their own gold-ground depictions. In modern art, the use of gold leaf is most commonly associated with Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.

I spent several months researching and experimenting and had a wastebasket full of failures before developing a formula to inkjet print photographic images over gold leaf, a process similar to the method the Renaissance artists used for gold-ground.

Silver Leafing, Copper Leafing

Silver Leafing over Green Kozo, Copper Leafing over Red

The first element to consider is selecting a photographic image with enough light tonal values in the background to allow enough of the gold to be visible. Dark images, in most cases, will not be acceptable. The gold leaf is adhered to a substrate of archival art paper. It is not necessary to use coated digital photographic paper for the substrate. I like to use Kozo paper, a thin, slightly textured Japanese rice paper and adhere this first to the substrate and then adhere the gold leaf over this leaving some of the red color of the paper to bleed through in random areas and around edges. After the gold layer has dried, a coat of digital ground is applied. The digital ground allows the ink to adhere…the ink will bleed and run without the ground coating.   The digital ground needs to set and dry overnight. Once completely dry, the substrate is placed in a printer with an enhanced matte print setting used

Gold Acrylic Paint

Gold Acrylic Paint over Red Kozo

I now use an Epson 3880, and have been printing these images on Epson and Canon printers for the past 10 years. Epson and Canon will not support this kind of crazy “art”, but I’m a rebel and prefer to push the boundaries of photographic art. I’ve had a few minor glitches, but to my thinking, it’s well worth the end results.

If you are faint of heart, this may not be something you want to try.

Silver Acrylic Paint

Silver Acrylic Paint over Pink–Student Work

This process works really well and is much less expensive using metallic acrylic paint.

Color background is used and then the background is painted over with gold, copper or silver patina as the metallic ground.   It became necessary for me to teach with this technique due to budget restraints. The 23 carat gold can be as much as $75 for a 25 sheet pack of 3.75” x 3.75”. Imitation gold, copper and silver prices range from $15 to $25 for 25 sheet packs.

Silver Acrylic Paint

Silver Acrylic Paint over Blue–Student Work

This is such a beautiful process and the images always glow. Check out my website www.joycewilson.com to see a selection of gold and copper images. Go to Collections and find “Treasures”. Information about future workshops on this technique can be found on the website or you can email or telephone for information. jw@joycewilson.com     805-682-2955

Keep shooting, Keep soaring. The camera is the best medicine!

Also See: Experience The Subtle Art Of Collage