Reproduction of 1909 Looff figure
Carved by Chuck Kaparich
The early carousel animals were often decked out with gold paint. It is used as an accessory just as one would wear jewelry. Often the same principals apply. Gold with warm colors, silver or brass with cool colors. The early painters used gold powder combined with a medium. This medium acted as a binder to hold the powders together, a vehicle to apply the paint and a dryer which enables the whole combination to dry. This was then sealed with shellac, lacquer or varnish. The shellac method usually involved a tinting with orange pigment to further enhance the gold effect.

Today we have much of the same options. The powders are available which can be mixed with any pre-made oil paint mediums. They can be mixed with acrylic mediums or can be topped off with the tinted shellac as well.

The key thing to remember is that none of the paints contain anything that will make the gold durable. If you are going to apply it to a high wear area you must top it off with a durable clear coat of some type. This is also necessary for real gold leaf as well. Both paint and the real Gold Leaf will tarnish. The clear coat will slow down this process.

Picture 1 shows a carousel figure that has been done with Gold Leaf, gold paint and silver paint. It would be difficult to tell which areas are which unless a very close inspection is done. This is a reproduction of the actual Looff horse that rides on the Spokane Carrousel. The real "Prince" is done entirely in gold and silver paint.

Rather than deal with powders, you can purchase metallic paints that are premixed. Avoid those that contain Thulene as they are very toxic. Their colors are very bright but are not worth the hazard. There is acrylic based gold, (somewhat dull) Odds and Ends (linseed oil based) Midget ( plastic based) and One Shot (may contain lead) and Krylon brands.

Limited Edition Rocking Horse
By Bob Cherot
The Midget brand is difficult to touch-up but can be used on non-wear areas. Their colors are confusing to me. The brass looks like gold, the gold looks like brass. The clear coat must be the "new" polyurethane (water clean-up ) or it will attack the plastic base. The powders are not very durable and must be consistently mixed for continuity. The Odds and Ends brand are bright, have a consistent color, and can be touched-up. They are compatible with all types of clear coats. The One Shot is easier to use for pinstriping on small detail, flow on in a consistent layer for larger areas but are somewhat dark and dull in the gold range. All the brands are available in brass, gold, chrome, silver and copper. There are several other brands available but the ones mentioned are readily found, are reasonably priced and come in a 1/4 pint bottle.

I do not use the antique gold in any brand as the paint will tarnish with age to this shade and the paint seems to be "hotter" and will curdle any undercoat that has not cured out for several days. This makes it more difficult to work with. The copper shades also age more quickly so I avoid these as well.

The main trick in applying gold paint in the undercolor or prime coat. It must be flat, meaning when dry it has no luster. It should be a color. A dull Army green under brass or a light gold, a rusty brick red under a warm gold, a dark black-brown under a antique gold effect. You can mix this undercolor by using a flat paint such as flat black with red oil pigments or red enamel. The green is done by mixing either white primer or flat white with green and orange. Be sure this base color is completely dry before applying the gold. This means at least 24 hours for oil based paints.

Pictures 2 and 3 shows an angel that is primed with chocolate brown, then dry brushed with dark rust brown. The gold is then applied by brushing across the carving in order for the brown to show through. This gives a rich antique gold effect.

When applying on a smooth surface the next important factor is the brush strokes. Apply the paint by placing it on a VERY smooth surface with strokes going in the same direction. DO NOT go back and forth. As the medium is a "hot" mix do not go back and touch up as you paint as it may curdle the paint you have already applied. Wait at least a day with oil based or until complete dry with acrylic based to do any touch up. If you apply a second coat it will take care of any touch-up and add more depth and finish to your project.

Picture 4 shows gold stitching, a gold stencil with shadows to look like brocade and gold tassels tinted with tube oil paint as it is applied. There is also a smooth gold application on the bit and jewel circle. The fun of painting with the metallic paints is in the different effects that can be achieved. You can: Mix the tube oils and enamels to get tinted golds and silvers. (This will slow down their drying time) Swirl it into wet paint for a marble effect or splatter the gold dust on wet paint for a lapaluzzi look. Stencil with it and then outline it for depth. One coat is subtle, two coats is outstanding. Dip a comb or fork in the paint and drag it across a wet or dry painted surface. Dry brush it on a carved surface that is based coated any darker color. Mix the chrome or silver paint with white enamel and another color for a pearlescent look as in Picture 5. The band organ in Picture 6 shows the aged, tarnish gold. The same band organ in Picture 7 after restoration with a stenciled surround in the background.

Clean up: With most premixed golds, other than One Shot, there is such an active dryer in the paint that it will dry on your brush while sitting in paint thinner. Pre-clean your brush by rubbing in oil painting medium, or linseed oil, or lacquer thinner, or even Neets Foot Oil. Then wipe the brush and proceed to clean with regular paint thinner. Do not use your cleaning thinner for cleaning any of your other paint brushes unless they are then cleaned with soap and dried before reusing. The "hot" mixture left in the brushes and thinner may effect your other paint applications otherwise.

Good luck with your gold project and if you have any questions be sure to e-mail by clicking Here.

Photo: 1 Reproduction carving by Chuck Kaparich.
Photo: 2,3 Rounding boards for "The DreamMaker" carousel by Montana Carousel Company
Photo 4: Limited Edition Rocking Horse by Bob Cherot
Photo 5, 6: Spokane Looff Carousel and Ruth Band Organ

Odds and Ends, manufactured by Plasti-kote of Medina, Ohio, 44256

Click to order

Bette Largent is a professional carousel horse restoration artist from Washington State, and the author of Paint The Ponies, a guide for those who are interested in learning the art of painting carousel figures.

Click Here for information on ordering her book.

Click here to display our site map
  If you're using a mobile device, or if you're
having trouble with our menus
Try Our Mobile Site!

All materials on are
(c) 2004-2024 Gary Nance
unless otherwise noted.
All Rights Reserved.