I have been working with artist’s gold as a background to some portraits.  It took some time to learn how and when to apply the gold, but when I got it looking right, I knew I would have to varnish the final piece. Preserving artist’s gold is important because artist’s gold is not real gold, and will tarnish over time.

I was hesitant to varnish before doing all my research and testing a piece, because I believed the varnish might reduce the shine of the gold. I’m glad to say that I have found a varnish, and tested some pieces, and my gold continues to shine. Here’s what I did:


This is one sheet of artist’s gold, which I have placed on a board for testing. At the time, I was testing other things, like the effect of gold paints over gold leaf, and the contrasting effect of some metallic powders applied with different media. This is my “before” picture.


I began by applying my varnish (I selected Artisan Water Mixable Gloss Varnish because I work with the Artisan oils) to the very edges of the gold leaf. I wanted to make sure I covered all the edges first, since missing a section of the edge could mean inviting some tarnish in later.


I covered the entire area, and didn’t notice a discernible change in the reflective shine of the gold (or the other media on the gold). The varnish line continues to be visible around the outside of the piece, even after the varnish has dried.


When I applied the same technique to some small oil portraits I am working on, I began by covering the edges, and then systematically worked inward towards the painting. I wanted to cover this gold now because I have been taking my time on this portrait, and the gold is a variegated… I wasn’t sure I would be able to spot tarnish if it started to appear. On a finished painting, I would work all the way to the dried oil paint of the portrait, and then varnish the entire portrait including the gold again in 6-12 months. Waiting the full 6-12 months ensures that the paint has fully dried before applying the varnish, and in the meantime, your artist’s gold leaf has already been protected.

I’m sure there are many other methods and products out there, but this one tested well in my studio!