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About Gold Leaf in Art

Tutankhamun death mask

Historically, the use of Gold started with the discovery by the ancient Egyptians. Gold was the colour of the Gods,

The Pharaohs and the Sarcophagi widely used it to decorate rooms in the pyramids, death masks and tombs.

See the striking image of the death mask of Tutankhamun. 

There is too much information relating to the history of gold, to list here so I will skip to the 1800’s where the use of Gold Leaf arrived at a turning point and fashionable period in art history.  Gold leaf was used by many artists to decorate sculpture and paintings and became very much associated with the well-known Artist Gustav Klimt

There are many visual art materials in the colour of gold. There are pastes, paints of acrylic, oils, inks and liquid metal. Most of these are coloured metal in liquid form. They can have strikingly beautiful effects in a painting or work of art but generally have little or no actual gold in them. There are generally two types of gold leaf.

One is known as "imitation gold leaf”. It is easier to handle and of course, much cheaper in price but it is not as reflective or beautiful as the real deal.

The other one, the “genuine gold leaf” is what is says on the tin.  A real and shimmering gold leaf.  The genuine leaf is traditionally cut and hammered from real gold. The sheets are available in different carat ratings and different weights.

To be sure of stability and longevity, it is better to use at least 22 carat. 

I mostly use 23 or 24 carat, the heaviest weight available and usually an Italian gold. The best I can get my hands on. It varies in cost with the price of gold going up and down and is often hard to get a supplier of the good stuff.

Sculpture image: "Michelle, The Healing Hare" by Lorraine Fenlon

Painted on Fibreglass sculpture for the Jack & Jill Foundation 2015

Michelle, The Healing Hare
The Hook Lighthouse, Wexford

Inspired by the old negative film rolls (where you had to hold the strip to the light to see the image), I grew my idea for my gold leaf work. 

I wanted to create simple but high quality beautiful images of landmarks and iconic structures, like an elaborate drawing bathed in gold and I am so excited that this idea came to me.  The process of these paintings is technically referred to a “gilding” rather than painting.

I have many different process stages before I get to finalise each piece. This can be tricky but very enjoyable too. I actually find it very therapeutic and find myself in a 'zone' and before you know it, it is hours later.


Although there are many artists using gold leaf, I may be the only artist using it in this particular way and it is even more exciting to receive acceptance into the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland in recognition of them and a feature in the Irish Examiner .


I am continuing to experiment with this medium to see where it takes me.


Talk to me about commissioning your favourite place or image.

Image: "The Hook Lighthouse" by Lorraine Fenlon 2022

23 Carat genuine gold leaf, ink, etching and acrylic.

All images are copyrighted by the artist and all rights reserved ©
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