Gilding is quite the ancient and versatile craft! It is the application of thin sheets of metal, often precious, to another surface. It has a history that goes back thousands of years in Africa, Egypt and Greece and has been practiced as a time honored skill in cultures around the world.
The Society of Gilders, of which I am a member, also has a nice description of some classic forms of gilding here.
How I started gilding:
In my youth, many of my art projects included gold media - paints, spray paint, paper, ornate metal pieces etc. - but it wasn't until I did a year and a half of volunteer service starting in 1997 in the formal sacred Bahá'í Gardens in northern Israel, that I saw gold leaf gilding.
These Bahá'í Gardens surround shrines in Haifa and Akká Israel that are very sacred to Bahá'ís and are also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Contributing to the serenity of the gardens and shrines are many gilded gates, lamps and ornaments. During my service, I noticed a man touching up some of the gilded ornaments. He noted my interest and asked if I'd like to see the work up close and of course, I said yes! This kind man was from Belgium and had been volunteering his talents as a gilder in Israel for 16 years. He let me prep wash a chandelier for gilding and place one precious little leaf of gold on the wooden door to our most sacred shrine. He also showed me his gilder's kit that dated back to his school days! I was only able to spend a few hours watching him gild but I was fascinated - and hooked! Sadly, he passed away a few months later but I never forgot him and the gift he gave me by sharing his craft.
Eight years later and back in the US, I started bringing gilding into my art work starting with a 16" diameter dome painting in Portland, Oregon and then expanding into manuscript gilding, colored pencil illuminations, glass, wood, metal, rock, plaster, leather and other forms of gilding.
Suppliers I use:
I purchase my metal leaf (primarily 24 kt gold and pure palladium) from W & B Gold Leaf. They are a truly fantastic four-generation family owned business. They are the only company remaining in the US that still beats their own leaf and are extremely helpful! Another company that I purchase supplies which I would recommend to any gilder or person interested in calligraphy is John Neal Bookseller. There are many other wonderful suppliers as well both in the US and abroad.