It’s always nice to have a bit of shine and glitz on stage with metallic objects, but the direction that you take to get those pretty finishes can lead you down several different paths. Nicole Deibert, Head of Scenic Art at Citadel Theatre walks us through her step-by-step process to create dimensional golds, silvers, and coppers that have fabulous levels of contrast and depth. Let’s see if we can make those paths clear to navigate, because metallics can be quite fussy but the results are worth it!

The first place to begin on any project is always at the budget and planning stage.

The biggest expense when it comes to painting or applying metallics is dependent on what kind of metallic you use. Do you want to paint the metal or are you looking to apply gold or silver leaf? What is your desired effect and how much room do you have for materials and labour in your budget? Does it need to be as shiny as metal leaf? Will wrapping paper be an acceptable substitute?

What I have found in painting metallics is that the cost is definitely wide-ranging and usually very expensive, but more importantly there are different opacities to the metallic paints – which means that you may have to put much more thought into your base colour as it may be able to be seen through the metallic top coat.

I will be referring to two different metallic paints in particular; Rosco Off-Broadway Metallics and Modern Masters Metallics. The options for metallic paints from Rosco is rather limited as they have 5 metallics to choose from; 3 different golds, a silver and a copper. Modern Masters has about 8 different golds, 6 different silvers and 3 copper tones to choose from; they also have many different colours across the spectrum. The other bit of info that Modern Masters gives is the opacity of the paint. They’ll specify whether the paint is semi-transparent, to semi-opaque, to opaque. I would argue that all of the Rosco metallics are semi-transparent to semi-opaque.

I also find that the pricing per gallon of Rosco and Modern Masters is rather comparable, but another advantage to MM is that you can buy smaller quantities – 6 oz and 32 oz containers are also available and you can get them through many different suppliers. (Benjamin Moore Paints carries them in Canada.)

Next, let’s get to painting!

Once you have prepped your surface, you need to choose a base coat. This step is very important, especially for semi-transparent or semi-opaque metallics – even metal leaf – as the leaf will not have 100% coverage unless you take the time to fill every little crack with metal leaf.

In this photo, you see two identical frames with different base coats. Image credit: Nicole Deibert

For golds, I suggest base colours of something like Rosco Off Broadway Yellow Ochre if it’s a brighter gold, and Burnt Sienna if it’s a more antique gold. Also, if you’re on a budget then Benjamin Moore usually has a “contractor grade” paint (in Canada, it’s Ultra-Spec) and their Red Oxide 2088-10 is a beautiful colour and has excellent hide.

For silvers I suggest basing with either a grey (tone depends on how bright or dull the silver should be), or possibly a blue base like Rosco Sky Blue.

For coppers I would suggest either an orange or more of a burnt sienna/burnt umber, again depending on how bright or dull the piece is going in the end.


A Step-by-Step approach to painting Gold

In a workshop, we divided these frames into quadrants and used four different kinds of gold paint. From top left: Modern Masters Pharaoh’s Gold, Rosco Antique Gold (which I suspect was tinted a little darker at some point), Scheffield’s bronze powder* in Rosco ColorCoat, Rosco Gold.

*I need to mention that you can’t really find this product anymore, but we had some on the shelf. Mica powders can be used as a replacement.

We applied some metal leaf sizing specifically only on the raised areas, and then added some gold leaf. I find this very effective if you want to get a bright gold effect, but don’t want to spend the money/time to do a leaf treatment over the whole entire surface. You can use many different products as the sizing; one of the other things I’ll use on larger surfaces is 3M Fastbond Contact Adhesive. It’s stinky (use a respirator!) but it’s a liquid and applies easily, and is much cheaper than the size that you get from the art store. This is especially when you’re working on a large scale. I do find that the Fastbond certainly takes some work to wash out of brushes, but Murphy’s Oil soap, a wire brush and some elbow grease will do the trick.

Left: Frames after application of gold paint. Right: frames after application of gold leaf. Image Credit: Nicole Deibert


After applying the leaf, you’ll need to start adding dimension to the finish by indicating a bit of aging to the metal.

When you do an internet search on distressed metals, you’ll see that golds tend to have a warm brown grunge, silver tarnish is a muddy black, and copper develops a turquoise verdigris.

Step 1:

The first step that I like to do with gold is to create some dark, rich tones on it. Walnut Ink is my go to. I specifically like to use the crystallized walnut ink and dilute it into whatever medium is appropriate for my piece – Rosco glaze, Stays Clear, or an artist gel medium.

This product is VERY concentrated, so a heavy walnut ink should be around 3 tbsp of the crystals to 6 cups of liquid medium.

Dilute the crystals in a small amount of hot water first; sometimes it takes time to get it all dissolved. Add a small amount at a time and stir with a stiff brush. Then add the mixture to your medium. If you can’t source the crystallized walnut ink, then Golden’s Transparent Brown Iron Oxide would be the next best product, however for large projects the Golden paint gets very cost-prohibitive very quickly. The transparent quality of Golden’s paint make it worthwhile to use, as scenic paints end up with a milky film. The other thing to know is that while the walnut ink is beautiful, it is fugitive. This means that if you don’t seal it after it dries it will re-hydrate with water… no matter what the medium. In the past I’ve used gloss gel medium, both Stays Clear Low Lustre and Stays Clear Gloss, Rosco Clear Acrylic, Rosco Colorcoat, and even industrial floor wax. Every time I wipe the dry surface, the ink comes off a little bit. Also know that since it does this, when you apply the sealant, it will be removing the ink a bit so you may need to minimize your brush strokes depending on what your piece is.

Detail shot of Golden’s Transparent Brown Iron Oxide. Image Credit: Nicole Deibert

You can see in this photo, that the ink is applied, then wiped off the higher areas, then softened/stippled with another brush to remove any brush or rag marks. Depending on how concentrated your mixture is, the shadows can get VERY rich and dark.

I have a video on my Instagram page showing the application process of the walnut ink on a rosette for a show that I was working on at the time.

Step 2:

My next step is using Golden Liquid Acrylic in the Sap Green hue. I always use it diluted, so even on large projects, it is usually worthwhile to invest in a bottle of the paint. You won’t need to apply it absolutely everywhere, but definitely in the shadows and a little breakup here and there.

I had a designer tell me years ago that gold always needs green; it just makes it look richer.

Again, the transparency of the colour is why I use the Golden paint as scenic paint has opacity or milkiness even when it’s really thin.

Step 3:

The last step is to use Golden’s Liquid Acrylic in Transparent Red Iron Oxide. Dilute it in whatever medium you choose and use it sparingly. It’s just meant to be a little glow here and there.

Detail of rosette without sealer and the red iron oxide contrasted again a rosette with the full process. Image Credit: Nicole Deibert

Here is an image of some rosettes; one has just walnut ink on the gold leaf and the other has the full process and a glossy clear coat on top. You can see that the rosette on the right definitely glows and shines much more. It doesn’t take that much more time to do, but the end result is certainly worth it. I’ve done this same procedure on gold paint, gold leaf, and even gold wrapping paper that I was using to make a huge frame appear as shiny as if it had been covered in gold leaf.

Finished image of frames after all steps have been completed. Image Credit: Nicole Deibert

Adapting the Process to Paint Silver


The same basic process applies to silver as far as applying the paint or leaf is concerned. It’s just the top colours that I change up to create a distressed silver. I tend to use Golden Raw Umber and Paynes Grey as my two colours that I add to grunge up the silver.

A side note: I find the Rosco Off Broadway Silver to be very transparent, so ensure that you do a sample and get the base colour to your liking as it will certainly read under their paint. The Modern Masters Silver paint is very opaque.


Adapting the Process to Paint Copper

This is a bit of a different beast altogether as when copper oxidizes in reality, it gets dark brown, then develops a turquoise or cobalt verdigris to it, depending if it’s in an acidic or basic environment. Copper can get tinges of magenta to it as well if it’s been heated and quenched in water. Copper can also become a warm brown with certain patinas. The colours that I use to darken copper start with Golden’s Turquoise Phthalo, then Van Dyke Brown. In all of these darkening steps, the paints are always in some kind of glaze medium, and I apply the paint, wipe off the excess and then soften with a brush. After the darkening, I focus on verdigris. These areas will be matte, as if it’s rust on steel. Something like Golden’s Cobalt Teal, or if on a large scale Ben Moore Fairy Tale Blue 2055-50 is good as a start. With copper finishes, I tend to get very colourful. If your leaf doesn’t read very pinky/orange, then you can add some Quinacridone magenta and Nickel Azo Gold. Always source out reference images, as there can be a HUGE variance in this metal depending on its aging process. If you want some contrasted bright areas on the copper, you can see on this rosette that I’ve also added a very little bit of Golden Green Gold, just for tiny spots of limey brightness.

For a deeper look into creating pretty patinas, check out our earlier article here!

For a couple of alternatives, the following images are the 16’x24’ gold frame that had been wallpapered with Uline gold wrapping paper and a metal shield done up with paint and leaf as comparisons

16’x24’ gold frame treated with Uline gold wrapping paper. Image: Nicole Deibert

Shield showing a variety of paints and applied leaf. Image: Nicole Deibert


In the end, make samples, have your source images, and play around! Depending on your budget, you can still achieve a fabulous metallic finish… even by using simple wrapping paper from the dollar store.

Nicole Deibert is the Head Scenic Artist for the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Nicole has been painting for roughly 20 years, is member of IATSE Local 210, and has spent most of her professional career at the Citadel, with a short stint at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. Her other interests lie in photography and cooking. Instagram: @nixpaints

  1. desigzguy 2 months ago

    You mentioned you bought leaf on amazon for a very reasonable cost. Where did you find thebest deal?

    • Author
      Nixpaints 2 months ago

      Thanks for your question! I essentially did a search on Amazon for gold leaf (I was looking on as I am in Canada) I found a pack of 300 sheets of leaf – 100 silver, 100 copper and 100 gold and I think I paid somewhere around $16. I found many different packages to choose from. You can choose all gold leaf or the mixtures of leaf. It essentially comes down to what you’re personally looking for. I wanted the tri-pack.

      They come in separate packages, and the leaf is separated by tissue, but unlike the Mona Lisa artist pack, everything is loose and can easily (almost too easily) separate and so i store the leaf on paper plates, and stack them one on the other so they don’t all blow away.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



©2020 Guild of Scenic Artists

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account