DIY: Gold Leaf Tortoise Shell

This week's DIY is up there as a favorite of mine — I've never attempted gold leafing before, but it was incredibly easy and only took an hour or so!

I've had my eye on the Nate Berkus for Target tortoise shell sculpture ever since it came out, but I hesitated to buy it. The colors weren't quite what I wanted, and the $40 price point seemed a bit steep for the quality. I kept my eye on it, and when it was still in stock months later, and on sale for $25, I bought this ochre colored one and knew I'd find a way to make it work.

Initially I thought about spray painting it, but happened to find instructions on how to use gold leaf, and knew it would give a more dimensional look and make the shell pop against our navy bedroom walls.

Metal leaf is available in many different types and colors, and you can find it sold in kits at any local art/craft store, like Michael's or Pat Catan's. It works on most porous or non-porous surfaces, so you can apply it to almost anything, and really bling-out your house!

Now for the how-to!


Object of your choice / tortoise shell

Gold leaf kit (with leaf sheets, adhesive, and sealer)


A soft cloth


1) Before shot - not bad, but not great either.

2) Using your paintbrush, spread the adhesive evenly over the surface. According to the package instructions, the adhesive needed to air dry for 30-40 minutes to become tacky enough for the leaf to stick.

3) Begin applying the gold leaf, one sheet at a time. The sheets come in small squares, and are very delicate. They might even break apart a bit before you place them on the shell — it's okay, keep the little pieces nearby for when you need to fill in small gaps. 

Press the leaf gently onto the surface with your fingers, then smooth the leaf out carefully with a soft cloth. Work in sections, filling in the gaps with your scrap pieces as you go. The tricky part about the surface of the shell are all of the grooved lines — the full sheets won't reach down into the cracks, so you can fill those areas with leftover pieces after you finish the main body. 

4) Using the cloth, smooth out the leaf, pressing carefully and moving in circles. The leaf won't look totally seamless, which is okay, it's what gives the finish more dimension! Once you've inspected the shell to make sure the gaps and sides are covered, you'll spread the sealer over the entire thing. The sealant keeps the gold leaf from coming into contact with the air, which prevents the gold from tarnishing.

Let the shell dry overnight before hanging or placing back among your decor.

And that's it! The whole project cost only about $35, and easily looks twice the price. I haven't been able to find anything with this impact anywhere else, and in such an accessible price range. Well worth the effort! Would you guys ever try gold leafing?