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  • Writer's pictureLynne Kornecki

Add a Midas Touch: Teacher Explains Step-by-step Metal Leaf Application to Her Latest Oil Painting

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Combining oil painting and gilding creates museum-quality artwork that captivates viewers and seductively plays with light. Here is Denise Laurin's "Little Geisha", not quite finished, she says, but almost there. Watch this figure come to life in the step-by-step photos below...

GUEST ARTICLE by Denise Laurin, Fine Artist & Educator (Bio at conclusion)

From the glittering icons of the Byzantine style, the stunning folding screens of the Kano school in Japan, to the work of Gustav Klimt, the use of metal leaf in art has captivated me.

Because my intention is to make metal leaf a significant feature in my work, I have been experimenting with it for a while now. “Little Geisha” is a gilded oil painting on which I am currently working. At last, I feel very close to unraveling the mysteries of combining oil paint and gilding!

To begin, I used a gesso board gilded with silver leaf* (See vendor suggestions below). I placed the leaf down in squares in the manner of the Kano school. (Learn more here: The Kano School of Painting | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (

Next, I sealed the silver leaf with shellac. Gold and silver leaf are fragile thus they require sealing. Applying a protective topcoat on silver leaf is urgent because it tarnishes quickly.

My second step was to decide on a subject and make a simplified yet accurate drawing of the contours and main features on drawing paper. Then, I traced the drawing with tracing paper and transferred it to the gilded surface using a #2 pencil. With raw umber and a #2 round brush, I covered the pencil lines. Next, I laid in the main values as an underpainting still using only raw umber. The texture in the hair was achieved with a flat brush and a fan brush. I let it dry overnight.


During the next session, I added gingko leaves freehand in raw umber on the left and in the hair ornament on the right. I refined the values in the kimono, adding more subtleties. I did the same on the face, however this photo is a combination of steps. Allowing the paint to dry overnight, I began to work the contours of the face using a grisaille (achromatic) palette, as you can see here.


Now for the fun part…adding color. This next image represents three separate sessions to build the oil color layers in the face. Geishas wear opaque white make-up, so it is important for me to capture that, while still evoking the impression of living skin underneath. I used a limited palette of Vasari brand oils: Titanium White, French Indian Red Extra Pale, French Ochre Havana Extra Pale, French Golden Ochre Extra Pale, Rosebud, Capucine Red, Alizarin Crimson, and Gamblin Portland Grey Medium and Radiant Blue. There is no color on the silver background, just reflection.

Color Layers on Face

“Little Geisha” is unfinished as of this writing. However, I am looking forward to bringing this painting to a refined level of completion.

INTRODUCING THE AUTHOR, Denise Laurin Fine Art | Denise Laurin Visual Art

Through Denise Laurin Visual Art, Denise accepts portrait commissions, offers presentations on a variety of art topics, and provides instruction in academic oil painting and drawing.

She is a figural artist who works in oil, gold leaf, pastel, graphite and charcoal. She holds a B.A. in Art and Art History and an M.A. in Art History from Northern Illinois University. To hone her skills, Denise studied oil painting and gilding with Brad Kunkle. At the New York Academy of Art, Denise studied anatomy and painting with figural artist Peter Cox.

With contemporary realist David Kassan, she studied charcoal portraiture. Her mentor was the late Grace Cole, a Chicago-based artist with whom she studied painting. Before launching her fine art career, Denise taught art and art history on the college level for twenty years.

Prior to that, she owned a graphic design firm and was named Woman of the Year by Women in Design/ Chicago. Exhibitions include the Fine Arts Building, the Chicago Cultural Center, and other locations. Between 2009-2014, she lived in New York City, where she exhibited with the Northern Manhattan Artists Alliance and led a group show under the auspices of MoMA.

Denise offers Zoom workshops in the technique described in her article, and in-person classes at the Naperville Art League. For more information, please contact



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