Varnish is an important ingredient for ensuring that your artwork stays looking its best for as long as possible. It also serves to protect your artwork from various harmful elements such as dust, dirt, oil as well as UV radiation. For those of you wondering if you should varnish your artworks, and how best to do it, this post is for you! There many different products available and we will be discussing a handful of them here. Varnishing an artwork acts to even out the surface of your artwork. You may notice that some areas in your painting appear glossy, while others are more matt – varnish can fix this! And it will not only give you a uniform finish across your work, and will also revive the colours that have gone flat (this often happens with dark colours). Choose your varnish carefully, and make sure that you only use fine art varnishes on an artwork – hardware varnishes could potentially ruin your masterpiece!

Varnishing an oil painting
Varnishing an oil painting can be a tricky thing, mainly because oils take so long to dry. Even when an oil painting may feel dry to the touch, it can take months until it is fully cured or oxidized. The reason so many varnish labels warn you to wait 6 to 12 months to varnish an oil painting is because oil paint requires oxygen to cure, and without it, the paint will never fully cure. Varnishing too early will make the paint unstable in many ways, making it more prone to cracking, flaking, and yellowing. It is also possible that varnishing too soon can lead to the varnish being absorbed into the paint beneath – thus leaving you without a “protective layer” and possibly with an uneven surface finish too. Varnish is considered a sacrificial layer on an artwork, one that can be removed when the artwork becomes dirty and dusty. Often turpentine or mineral spirits are used to remove varnish, and afterwards a fresh, clean coat can be applied.

Dammar Varnish:
This is one of the more traditional varnishes and falls under the category of “natural soft varnishes”. Dammar come from tree resin hence the “natural” aspect, and can be thinned and removed with spirits such as turpentine and mineral spirits which make sit a “soft” varnish (as opposed to Amber and Copal varnishes, which are also made from resin but need to be thinned and removed with hot oil). It has a luscious quality to it, but it is prone to yellowing and cracking over time.

Retouching Varnish:
This is quite a popular choice amongst oil painters as it can be applied before the artwork has fully cured. The downside to this is that it must be removed after a few months and replaced with a final picture varnish.

Final Picture Varnish:
As the name suggests, this is final varnish coat to be added to a painting. This should only be done once the painting is completely dry (6 – 12 months), as once applied the paint beneath will no longer be exposed oxygen. Final varnishes are often available in gloss, satin or matt.

Gamvar:
We are so excited to be stocking this awesome product all the way from the USA and here’s why: you can varnish your oil paintings as soon as they feel dry. Yep, you can varnish your oil paintings, with a final varnish after as little as a few weeks! This stuff is really awesome. It has been created in such a way that it allows the painting to breathe beneath it, acting as a permeable membrane but also to protect your artwork as well as any other final varnish can. To check if your artwork is ready for an application of Gamvar, simply press your nail into the thickest part of your painting – if the paint feels firm and dry, you can varnish! It goes on clear, dries clear and is virtually odorless. It is available in matt, satin and gloss.

Spray varnish:
There are a few varnishes available on the market which come in an aerosol can. This allows for easy application, although special care must be taken to ensure a light and even coating across the entire artwork otherwise, you may end up with an uneven finish. As with a final picture varnish, this should only be used on a completely dry oil painting (i.e. after 6 – 12 months).

Varnishing an acrylic painting
While varnishing an acrylic painting may not be as common, it is still a good idea as it will provide a protective coating to your artwork. As with oil varnishes, there are many different products on the market, including water-based varnishes. Some varnishes can even be used on both oil and acrylic paintings, such as Gamvar, and the Schmincke Universal varnish. Acrylic-only varnishes are also available. Acrylic paint dries much quicker than oils, but you should still take special take to ensure that your acrylic painting is thoroughly dry before applying a layer of varnish – it would be a good idea to wait at least a week to be safe!

 

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